THE World Day of Social Justice on Feb 20 went unnoticed in an environment that called for collective introspection by society and state. Without socio-economic justice, we will not succeed in eliminating the hydra-headed monster of terrorism.
In a recent meeting called by the prime minister to review implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), the issue of madressah reforms was candidly debated in the presence of key federal ministers, all four chief ministers, the army chief, intelligence heads, chief secretaries and provincial police chiefs. Lack of social justice, poverty, and failure of the public education system emerged as the main reasons for the proliferation of mosques and madressahs through which various sectarian and religious outfits fight turf wars for economic gain and political power.
While the madressahs promoting and perpetuating violence do not deserve any leniency, a large number of religious seminaries need to be regulated properly. It has been correctly decided to register all of them within a time frame after a proper mapping exercise. Their source of funding should be subjected to audit. The foreign students in some madressahs need to be accounted for and their identification documents subjected to close scrutiny. It would be a significant achievement if these religious schools are eventually placed under the provincial and federal education departments.
However, the long-term issue is that of social justice. Under Article 25 of the Constitution, it is incumbent upon the state to provide free education to children within a specific age bracket. The state must decide if it is willing to incur expenditure on the free lodging, food and education of thousands of children from poor families. In the long term, the state must consider opening a public boarding school wherever there is a private madressah in a village or town.
The long-term issue is that of social justice.
The distinction between the haves and haves-not will have to be removed if we want social justice. Is it too big a burden for the state and our philanthropists to support and sustain a uniform and equitable system of public education for the middle and poor classes?
Let us face another fact: the elite have generally sidelined the poor, forcing them to seek refuge in urban slums and ramshackle irregular housing colonies that lack basic civic amenities. The poor are left unattended by the state institutions to fend for themselves. The instinct for survival attracts them towards crime or militancy. The only places they feel empowered are mosques, madressahs, and religious congregations where their vulnerability translates into anger. Disgruntled youth end up becoming cannon fodder for the forces that propagate an ideology of hatred and persecution to advance their political agenda. This is how innocent seekers of knowledge in the religious seminaries became the Taliban who were nurtured as proxies by our security establishment.
While endorsing NAP, the present military command realises its past mistakes in creating distinctions between the ‘good and bad’ Taliban. There can now be no such distinction: all non-state actors who promote violence will have to be eliminated. It was heartening to hear the army chief articulating his strategy to take on all the proscribed and banned militant outfits.
While the TTP and its affiliates are being targeted in earnest, the sectarian outfits launching repeated attacks against Shias should get equal attention of the state security institutions including the intelligence agencies. An important breakthrough has been achieved by accounting for the dreaded Lashkar-i-Jhangvi terrorist Usman Saifullah Kurd in Quetta recently. The state security apparatus should relentlessly pursue sectarian militants throughout the country.
However, while the military can capture or kill the combatants, the investigative skills of the police are needed for convicting alleged terrorists. Even the worst offenders deserve due process and justice. It is important to avoid militarisation of police services. They should not be trigger-happy and must absolutely avoid resorting to extra-judicial killings. While the military is on public trial as to how and when they deal with all the banned militant outfits, the police should be fully accountable as per law for their professional obligations under NAP.
The issue of political interference in police matters finally became a policy issue in the recent meeting of the apex committee in Karachi but for me it is not a healthy development that the military may get involved in police administrative issues. Will the police now look to the military commanders for security of their tenures or for different assignments? This should not happen. The chief ministers must demonstrate the political will to give the police command administrative and operational autonomy.
The military should not call the shots in police matters. We must choose the democratic path where an independent judiciary and operationally autonomous but highly accountable police ensure the rule of law and administer justice.
The writer is a retired police officer.
Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2015