The fight against terrorism
Pakistan is fighting a long war, and as of the last week has won a significant battle in that war — but it is far from over. A statement issued by the army coinciding with a visit to forward positions by Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif, said that terrorists had been driven from their last redoubts in North Waziristan Agency. The operation has been ongoing since mid-June 2014 and terrorists that had been forced out of other parts of the agency had made a stand in the strategic Shawal Valley, difficult mountain terrain on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Around 800 square kilometres have been cleared and over 250 terrorists reportedly killed.
Whilst the announcement is welcome, the COAS was careful to append a caveat. Once again, the army has done the job it was asked to do and done it well, but Part two of the operation is in civilian hands, albeit with military assistance, and it is the resettlement of those temporarily displaced by the fighting (TDP) and that is a major task. Many have lost their homes and livelihoods, their flocks and the small bazaars they conducted daily life in. There has been considerable damage to the already threadbare infrastructure, which is going to need replacement and not just repair on the most urgent basis. The COAS also called for the “breaking of the nexus” between the terrorists and their facilitators which sit outside the tribal areas, and let it not be forgotten that there were anyway facilitators within the local population before the operation started, and it is unlikely that their sympathies will have swung 180 degrees in the period they have spent in displacement.
It is the failure to run a parallel operation to de-radicalise displaced persons that is the soft underbelly, the vulnerability that ultimately may determine the success or otherwise of Operation Zarb-e-Azb overall, and not only in the fastnesses of the Shawal valley. This was a job for the civilians and on the current evidence it is unfinished business — which may prove to be a costly error.
Some justice for Kasur
The sexual abuse of children, sometimes for a profit but more often merely to gratify the abuser, is widespread in Pakistan. It has gradually emerged into the light in recent years as children are more willing to expose their abusers, and law enforcers are more willing both to listen to children and take them seriously, believing what they say. As evidenced by innumerable studies across a range of countries and cultures, children very rarely falsify accusations of abuse, they mostly tell the truth. The blanket denials that were the initial response to the allegations made by children in what became known as the Kasur Incident in 2015 were typical for Pakistan — and some other countries. But the incident, once the various layers and obfuscations had been peeled away, proved to be one of the largest single cases of sustained sexual abuse of children ever recorded in the country.
To the surprise of many, not least those accused, the case came to court and on April 18, two men were sentenced to life for their role in the paedophile ring which abused dozens of children over a decade in Punjab. Unusual as a successful prosecution is for child abuse, what may be equally significant is the fact that three police officers were sacked for negligence in failing to follow up the case after the matter was reported by dozens of families. The police were tardy because some of those accused of blackmail, sodomy and extortion were members of a wealthy and influential family, the kind of family that has a high expectation of impunity if any of its members are implicated in a criminal act. The courts have now vindicated the children. There will be a degree of closure for some of those involved but for many, perhaps most, the stain of abuse will endure for their entire lives. For the victims, it truly is a life sentence. The Kasur Incident now stands as a landmark and the children of Pakistan can draw strength and courage from it. Their abusers can be caught and will be punished, an outcome we fully support.
A new leader for the UN
Something of a quiet revolution is in progress at the UN, but it is making few headlines. The term of the current secretary general of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, is almost over and the selection of his successor is underway — but not in the same way as it has been historically. How the UN selects its secretary general has never been entirely transparent. Even the candidates may not all be publicly declared. But in an age when the world demands transparency in all things, such secrecy is no longer sustainable. The UN recently took a step into the unknown, allowing all countries to question the eight candidates for the post. All members of the General Assembly are able to ask the candidates — who for the first time include women — on matters as diverse as just how they would resist pressure from the most powerful nations to how they would handle allegations of sex abuse by UN peacekeeping forces.
Under the UN Charter, the secretary general is chosen by the 193-member General Assembly on the recommendation of the 15-member Security Council (SC), which in practice means that the five permanent members of the SC effectively have a veto over who gets the top job. Let us not be deceived into thinking that there is an outbreak of democracy at the UN. The result is just as likely to be stitched up in a backroom deal by the five permanent members of the SC much as it has been for the last 70-odd years, but it does seem that there is a chink in the SC armour for the first time. The Q&A sessions are being billed as a potential game changer and that may be so if there develops a critical mass of countries that are lining up behind a single candidate. In that event, it may be difficult for the SC to sideline them and impose its own choice. Traditionally the post rotates by region, and the east European nations are arguing that it is ‘their turn.’ Watch this space, goes the saying.