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Express Tribune Editorials – 15th May 2016

The anatomy of extremism

Five ‘hardcore terrorists’ are to be hanged for their involvement in the Safoora Goth massacre and the murder of human rights activist Sabeen Mehmood in Karachi last year. The five are all said to be active members of al Qaeda. Whilst we continue to have deep reservations over the death penalty, we also have a serious concern about the path these individuals took that ends at a death sentence, and the implications for society as a whole.

The report of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) reveals that at least one of the killers was highly educated, a graduate of the Institute of Business Administration and not a man, according to his friends and associates, likely to be the cold-blooded killer that by his own admission he is. All of those convicted were affiliated however tangentially with al Qaeda and were sympathisers with and inspired by the Islamic State. This did not happen overnight nor in isolation. These men had common purpose, they worked and planned together, reconnoitered their targets and killed casually, without remorse, believing their crimes not to be crimes at all but the will of a higher power.

A picture emerges of educated, articulate men being drawn to radicalism and then extremism, who had no difficulty in getting training, who blended with the background and hid in plain sight. They selected targets on a sectarian basis or simply because, in the case of Sabeen Mahmud, did not like what she said and what she represented as a secular liberal. The truly alarming aspect of the JIT report is how commonplace, how ordinary, how unexceptional these killers were. How easily they had access to weapons and how well they were trained. They came from educated middle class backgrounds and had been to the best schools. They worked in — indeed were recruited from within — multinational companies that thousands of aspiring young people would seek to work for. It cannot — must not — be assumed that these five men are unique because they are not; more they are symptomatic of the profound malaise that afflicts the nation, a malaise for which no cure is currently being sought.

A dash of hypocrisy

For those unfamiliar with medieval siege warfare, a man was ‘hoist with his own petard’ — or put simply, was foiled by his own plans to harm others — when he got hurled at a castle wall by the same throwing-device that his bomb (the ‘petard’) was attached to, with generally messy consequences. A similar outcome is not expected in the matter of the revelation that Imran Khan has owned an offshore company in his past but the metaphor is apt nonetheless. The confirmation came from Mr Khan presumably as a preemptive move as the information regarding his offshore activities in the UK in 1984 was in the public domain anyway and about to be made hay with by any number of media outlets. It transpires that Mr Khan did nothing illegal, he merely acted on the advice of his then accountant in order to mitigate the burden of tax that the British government was imposing — 35 percent at the time. This was, and remains, standard practice for people wealthy enough to attract hefty taxation and is mostly within the law.

The property in London was sold in 2003 and the proceeds brought to Pakistan where they were utilised for the construction of Mr Khan’s current residence in Bani Gala. All legal and above board. Where the petard, hoisting thereof, comes into play is in the matter of Papers Panamanian and the strident pursuit by Mr Khan of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif whose name does not appear in said papers but who has family members that do. The petard currently aloft is engraved with a statement from Mr Khan to the effect that the only reason that people open offshore companies is to hide ill-gotten wealth or to evade taxes or both. So Mr Khan owns up to avoiding British taxes as he is entitled to do and has done nothing illegal in Pakistan. Neither, seemingly, has the prime minister so far. Does anybody detect the faintest whiff of hypocrisy in Mr Khan’s revelation? We merely pose the question in the public interest.

Cleaning up the police

The Sindh Police recently dismissed 1,800 personnel hired as reserves between 2012 and 2014 for being appointed illegally. In a statement to the home department’s standing committee, the IG Sindh stated that wrongdoings in the hiring process were revealed when it was found that 80 per cent of the appointees were said to belong to the same district while 400 supposedly had identical physical measurements. This was all allegedly done at the behest of senior police officials who had received bribes to issue fake appointment letters. The IG has promised that these officials will be given “exemplary punishment”. Strong words from an organisation which failed to detect wrongdoings in its hiring procedure for over two years after the fact.

The development raises significant questions regarding the checks and controls in place within the Sindh Police to ensure fair hiring. Is there no way to independently verify the documents provided by applicants? What about internal and external audit mechanisms to ensure that hiring processes are not circumvented? And finally, why did it take so long for this blatant corruption to be revealed? The last question can be answered if one takes into account that the country’s police departments suffer from systemic corruption at all levels, some of which comes to light but most gets ignored simply because it is so blatant that it is considered to be a built-in feature of the system. In theory, hiring processes in government departments are supposed to be stringent because there are several mechanisms in place to give an equal chance to all candidates, methods to detect flaws and frauds, and accountability after the process has been completed to ensure fairness. That senior officials in a police department can get away with issuing fake appointments to 1,800 individuals and not be held accountable for years, goes to show how deep the rot is. One wonders what ‘exemplary punishment’ will fit this flagrant crime committed by the very officials who are meant to protect public interest.

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