Lessons from Quetta

By Ayaz Ahmed

Like other terrorist and militant attacks, the incumbent government has largely forgotten the recent deadly attack on the lawyer community in Quetta.

It is axiomatic that the cowardly attack has deprived the already under-developed and backward Balochistan of some of its intelligentsia, but the democratic government is still doing nothing serious to protect the remaining intellectuals of the province in particular and the rest of the country in general.

In today’s globalised and digitised world, terrorists and militants have become manipulative at changing their disruptive terror tactics so as to successfully inflict more and more damage to the enemy. They have adopted modern techniques of indoctrinating, recruiting, training fighters and shifting their centre of gravity with the aid of the ubiquitous and unruly social media.

On the other side, Islamabad is still apathetic and seems to not be interested in changing its quixotic policies and clumsy means of permanently rooting out terrorists, militants and hate-mongers of all strides. If the leaders at the helm deliberately refrain from calibrating clear-cut, all-comprehensive and pragmatic counterterrorism and counter-militancy strategies, the country will presumably continue to reel from the spectre of ominous terrorism and militancy.

As often seen, the protracted vacuum, opacity and shortcomings in Pakistan’s leadership have immensely helped hardcore and outlawed terrorists to strike anywhere with relative ease and impunity. Whatever anti-terror statutes have been crafted by the lawmakers, the majority of these fitful and stopgap measures are yet to be wholeheartedly executed in letter and spirit without discrimination.

Under mounting pressure from some religious parties and militant outfits, the government has mostly displayed an outright reluctance to round up religious militants from central Punjab. This sort of compromise can very easily further complicate the militancy landscape of the country in the foreseeable future.

Modern terrorists have ably employed a well-calibrated narrative to acquire adequate support from a large section of society. They inculcate revengeful and venomous feelings in embittered students of seminaries against the state and its institutions.

Needless to say, the majority of the people in Pakistan are oblivious of true Islamic teachings and their relevant interpretations. This makes them prone to be led by inaccurate ideologies promoted by the Taliban, assorted sectarian groups and the rampaging Islamic State. Despite the long existence and practice of such warmongering terrorist and militant ideologies, the government has yet to formulate its own effective counter-narrative and disseminate it with the aid of the media, education system and civil society.

 There are some 35,337 madressahs providing religious education to around 3.5 million students in the country. Undoubtedly, some of these religious schools are didactic, imparting true Islamic teachings to millions of students. But a significant number of them are non-registered and involved in indoctrinating young students with extremist, fundamentalist and terrorist ideas for misguided jihadi objectives.

Alarmingly, it is believed that some mainstream religio-political parties are affiliated with some of the seminaries that are churning out terrorists and militants.

 The federal government, along with the provincial setups, has provided a clean chit to these hotbeds of extremism due to the backlash of resurgent terrorists and religious parties. More alarmingly, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial administration has recently granted $3 million to Maulana Samiul Haq’s Haqqani madressah.

This is in direct violation of points 10 and 18 of the National Action Plan (NAP), which convey the state’s resolve to register and regulate madressahs and eradicate sectarian terrorism. The state should be cognizant of the fact that if one terrorist is killed in Operation Zarb-e-Azb, 100 more are prepared by these seminaries.

However, it is a welcome sign that the Sindh government has formulated the Madressah Registration Bill 2016 to regulate over 7,500 registered and 3,000 non-registered seminaries of the province. Though Maulana Fazlur Rehman has warned of street protests, he lacks significant assembly presence in the province to block it. Now, he will resort to his street power to mount pressure on the provincial government, but the Sindh government should bravely withstand such tactics for the sake of security.

Though the army has determinedly decided to launch a combing operation against assorted terrorists and militants hiding in Balochistan, the role of the police is of paramount importance to make the operation a success for the long term.

Being a civilian law-enforcement agency, the police can easily identify criminals and apprehend them. But the nondescript police of the country are under-resourced, ill-equipped and undertrained to play any supporting role in this regard.

Lack of proper training, sophisticated weaponry and massive politicisation of the police has made the force impotent, and it is clueless on how to flush out non-state actors and their strongholds in the country.

Due to the prevailing insecurity, a large number of lawyers and judges often decline taking on cases of hardcore terrorists. Those who dare are targeted in broad daylight. Therefore, terrorists keep striking the state’s institutions, public places and intellectuals.

The thriving business of drug smuggling has made the terror-infested tribal areas and Balochistan more vulnerable to regional terrorism and militancy. A large amount of narcotics produced in Afghanistan is easily transported and shipped to the world via some insecure littoral areas of Balochistan. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has lately identified Pakistan as the major route for the Afghan drug trade.

In this disruptive trade, some political leaders of Balochistan and government officers are thought to be directly involved in earning millions of rupees. More alarmingly, terrorist, militant and sectarian groups have a large enough share in this illicit business. Such blatant complicity of political leaders with drug smugglers and militants has been one of the major causes of lingering instability in the country.

It is time the above-mentioned major causes of terrorism, militancy and insurgency were ascertained and resolved on an urgent basis. The current piecemeal and selective measures are not enough to cleanse the country of these evils.

The writer id editor of The Asia Watch.

The article was carried out by The News on August 31, 2016.

Lessons from Quetta


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