Random header image... Refresh for more!


‘Unregulated madrassas must be tackled to fight extremism’ : op-ed

by Naveed Ahmad in The Express Tribune, Sept 9, 2017
The writer based in Doha and istanbul is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa.

The narrative about counter-terror in Pakistan is equally reactionary and lame as is the idea of negotiating with terror groups. A single-handed approach of military operations has proven defective too. Madrassas or religious seminaries have been long blamed for present day extremism and militancy after successfully creating foot soldiers for Afghan uprising and succeeding against the Soviet Union.

It is alarming that the killers of Sabeen Mahmud or Daniel Pearl were not poverty-stricken radicals or brought up and brainwashed on charity. Like them, hundreds of others subscribing to the fanatic interpretation of religion, sect and ethnicity have had exposure to the universities and occasionally to the best schools abroad.

The rogue children of classical middle-class can be found in sectarian and ethno-nationalist camps. The numbers have been soaring and not just within Pakistan but also within the expatriate community. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, in particular, spew alarming trending topics and fearsome reflections therein. Sectarian and ethnic militias go cyber through tools like ‘Telegram’ and ‘Signal’ much before any given sleuth, journalist or academic. Truly, the challenge of extremism and fanaticism is bewildering.

Despite their diminishing significance owing to changing trends and tools, madrassas remain an elephant in the room. Bizarrely, the regulation, moderation and mainstreaming have been tasks the executive served better with rhetoric than action may it be Musharraf, Zardari or Nawaz at the helm.

During over four years in power, Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N failed to take concrete steps in stemming soaring religious intolerance. An ill-advised decision of reviving the ‘Pakistan Madrassa Board’ has reduced the state’s role from regulator to a competitor, also seen as a giant step backwards.

As per a report presented by the government in the Senate early in 2015, at least 23 madrassas were tracked across Pakistan for foreign funding. There exist madrassas that receive informal funding from foreign sources to propagate hard-line views to the younger generation. The sources of foreign funding vary from Iran and Iraq on one hand, and some Arab influential in the Gulf on the other. However, Islamabad could not find traces of a foreign government explicitly funding any religious seminary due to an absence of official and formal dealings.

According to the ministry of religious affairs, some 200,000 youth ‘graduate’ from over 26,000 madrassas every year. Graduates from these intuitions either mostly remain jobless or work as prayer leaders for just Rs 10, 000.

Though there was no governmental oversight on seminaries’ curricula and funding sources, the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto discontinued the formality of registration in 1996. That very decision led to the mushrooming of unregistered madrassas in the country. Not many availed the option to register themselves when Pervez Musharraf offered concession until September 30, 2005.

Only two attempts were made since 9/11 to bring the autonomous madrassas into the mainstream academic setup.

Not only did Musharraf amend the Societies Registration Act of 1860, requiring madrassas to register with the government and submit audited financial statements along with a list of donors every, he also lost his interest in reform owing to political challenges from the opposition.

Through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the umbrella organisation of seminaries – Ittehad-e-Tanzeemate-Madaris Pakistan (ITMP) – he also consented to include compulsory science and art subjects at matriculation and intermediate levels. The government formed a regulatory body within a month. The parliament could not prepare the draft legislation for review by the seminaries’ leadership and missed the chance.

Despite bitter sectarian differences, several clergy leaders tend to unite whenever madrassas have been threatened for operating illegally, radicalising the youth and having dubious funding sources. To strike parity with the mainstream academic institutions, the situation necessitates a greater role in determining the madrassas’ curricula, quality of teachers and examination standards.

With the conclusion of ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azb’ in most parts of Waziristan, unregulated and shadowy madrassas must be tackled as part of a grand strategy to curb radicalism and extremism. The state has to come forward and assert its writ beyond the agency to curb extremism, backed by local or foreign support.

Islamabad needs to reactivate the ITMP as per the original vision evolved after a consensus of management of leaders of various madrassas. The government has neither the capacity to nationalise them nor the ability to deal with angry mobs, protesting and jamming the economy already under IMF debt.

The challenge does not merely require executive or constitutional remedies. In fact, besides registration and mainstreaming of mosque and madrassas, training of religious teachers and imams has to be mandatory, widespread and stringent. The financial help from the Gulf States will not stir conspiracy theories amongst the religious cadres in Pakistan.

Over the decades, a spike in sectarian as well as ethno-nationalistic fanaticism has not been addressed in an overarching systemic manner. The culture of intolerance and drifts to impose Senate views or ways of life are not unique to Pakistan alone.

The world underwent a mammoth task of de-radicalisation after the World War II when it faced the challenge of curbing ‘Nazism’. Ever since scores of success stories against extremism and intolerance emerged, each rooted and accustomed to its peculiar setting. Excessive use of force, military courts or policing could not have helped them achieve Europe, which it did in the post-war era.

Pakistan lacked a holistic approach to learn from the existing body of knowledge and adapting practical and theoretical facets of successful strategies and methods to de-radicalise the society and bring the fringe elements back to the mainstream. Using a coherent theory of radicalisation and de-radicalisation and integrating it into typology and methodology of projects can do the trick.

Two de-radicalisation centres setup after the Swat operation offer a good pilot project. Nevertheless, academia and experts have yet to delve deep in devising ways to measure effectiveness, standard methods and procedures for such programme from the national perspective.

For that matter, Understanding De-radicalisation: Methods, Tools and Programs for Countering Violent Extremism by Daniel Koehler comes handy by building what amounts to the genuine theory of de-radicalisation programmes.

Besides, Pakistani society longs for restorative justice policy whereby the social trauma – which can even be dubbed as post-traumatic stress disorder – could be addressed. Television, whether news or entertainment, have to shy away from propagating violent scenes while the censor board must also not evaluate films, national or foreign, on the same touchstone.

Regrettably, the academic institutions have not been part of the de-radicalisation campaign.

The old-fashioned debating forums and essay writing contests or intra-district and inter-provincial exchanges have gone obsolete. Participation of youth in extracurricular activities, including sports, should be reflected alongside his academic grade.

Similarly, the grassroots economic development also hits at the heart of poverty. Lack of jobs in the private and public sectors is a trial requiring immediate remedy. Expanding vocational training centres under strict regulations for quality education cannot be delayed any further. To start with, stress should be given on districts with higher poverty and extremist trends for imparting technical training.

The most daunting aspect of radicalisation is the one Pakistan is least prepared for, the cybersphere. That is where self-radicalisation occurs, eventually, the youth embracing a certain extremist group, which may or may not indulge in active terrorist acts. As much as social media is tantamount to urban Pakistan’s pulse, it also presents the opportunity to create content to counter extremism. Banning social media outlets or blocking certain Twitter or Facebook accounts equates to brushing the dirt under the carpet.

A hyper-nationalistic rhetoric mistaken for counter-terror narrative fails to engage an isolated and confused mind. Based on a comprehensive theoretical framework drawn from global success stories of de-radicalisation, a holistic strategy has to be put in action with political will trickling down from the very top. Time is always of the essence.https://tribune.com.pk/story/1501029/unregulated-madrassas-must-be-tackled-to-fight-extremism/

September 9, 2017   No Comments

Is Pakistan Willing to Lose America?: op-ed in The New York Times, Aug 29, 2017

(The writer, a policy analyst and columnist, worked for Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs between 2011 and 2013).
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — For the past 16 years, whenever the United States has been faced with the reality of a failing war in Afghanistan, it has blamed Pakistan. Efforts to bring freedom to the valleys of Afghanistan, this narrative claims, have been thwarted by a double-dealing “ally” that takes American aid while supporting its enemies.

The narrative inadvertently casts American presidents, generals, diplomats, spies and others who have been part of the war effort as credulous dupes and casts poor light on the American military, stuck in a quagmire despite having the world’s most advanced weapons and largest financial resources. It also assumes that Pakistan has a clear interest in harming both the United States and Afghanistan.

Those assumptions are wrong.

Pakistan joined President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism reluctantly but proved itself an effective ally in the fight against Al Qaeda and helped decimate its ranks. That contribution was sullied by Pakistan’s failure to locate Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States established a partnership with Pakistan over a decade and a half — handing out substantial amounts of aid, sophisticated weapons and the status of major non-NATO ally. Pakistan continues to require American military hardware, and middle-class Pakistani children continue to dream of attending American universities and of working on Wall Street. The United States is the biggest market for Pakistani exports, and Pakistani-Americans form its seventh-largest diaspora group.

China’s rising global status, and its explicit push for regional influence, has reduced Pakistan’s dependence on the United States, but the rumors of the demise of America’s importance in Pakistan are greatly exaggerated.

Despite these factors, neither the United States nor Pakistan has gained all that it would like from the relationship. Pakistan has not been able to convince the United States of the validity of its primary interest in Afghanistan — preventing it from becoming a “proxy for India” and stemming fears of “encirclement” in Pakistan despite India’s proclamations of merely offering economic assistance to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s leaders have recently taken to brazenly welcoming an ever-increasing Indian footprint in Kabul and beyond. Pakistani hawks used to be merely suspicious of collusion between the most anti-Pakistan Afghans and the Indian establishment. In the past two years, that suspicion has turned into conviction.

For its part, the United States has failed to convince Pakistan of the urgency of its primary interest in Afghanistan — shutting down the Haqqani network, the principal planner and executor of the most lethal terrorist attacks in Afghanistan over the past decade. Pakistanis have hemmed and hawed, offering up low-level Haqqani operatives and occasionally trimming the space available to them.

And the Haqqanis have evolved from a relatively minor player in the Taliban world to being the dominant operational group. The United States doesn’t believe that the rise of the Haqqanis was possible without support from Pakistan.

Neither Pakistan nor the United States has been able to convince the Taliban to negotiate in good faith for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan — the one supposed issue on which there is a complete convergence between the two countries.

The torturous United States-Pakistan relationship has seen several dramatic lows. It is only the American grievances that have been registered; the humiliations seem reserved for Pakistan. Everyone remembers the killing of Bin Laden in 2011 and the subsequent embarrassment of Pakistan. Few recall the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers on the border with Afghanistan by American forces later that year.

American military leaders have publicly heaped scorn on Pakistan. But American spies have killed ordinary people on the streets of Pakistani cities, while the United States government has dissembled about their status. American officials who have appealed for a more nuanced understanding of the country have been forced out of their jobs and even investigated by federal agents.

Pakistan is hardly innocent of its own failures. Terrorists facing sanctions from the United Nations freely cross borders to attack neighboring countries without any fear of being intercepted, and some even appear on television, conferred with a respect most politicians would crave. Pakistan has a damning ability to behave in ways that has often left even its friends shaking their heads in disbelief.

President Trump’s threats and his unpredictability have filled Pakistan with anxiety about what may be coming despite a difficult history. American drones have already dropped tons of ordnance; Navy SEALs have already dropped in to assassinate terrorists; American military and civilian assistance has already dropped to a trickle of what it was. And the trust between Pakistani generals and American commanders in Afghanistan is already at a historical low.

President Trump’s speech has only aggravated the concerns that motivate Pakistan’s behavior in Afghanistan. Mr. Trump’s call for greater Indian involvement in Afghanistan has stoked the fire that burns deepest in Pakistan. On this, it is not the Pakistanis who are irrational but those who attempt to minimize Pakistan’s concerns. Pakistan would not risk the wrath of the United States if its concerns were imaginary.

Pakistan’s willingness to lose American patronage is the clearest indicator that its interests in Afghanistan are not a product of ambition, or grandeur, but of deep and existential fears about the damage an unchecked India can do to Pakistan.

Until Americans learn how to have an honest conversation with India about what Pakistan sees as its proxy warfare in Afghanistan and its brutal occupation of Kashmir, no amount of threats to Pakistan will help. Countries can be weaned from many things, but not from protecting themselves. Pakistan is definitely a problem in Afghanistan, but it is a problem of America’s making.https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/29/opinion/is-pakistan-willing-to-lose-america.html?ref=opinion

August 30, 2017   No Comments

United against terrorism: edit in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2017.

Over the years it has become virtually impossible for Pakistan to let down its guard against terrorists in the same way as it is probably hard to expect these radical soldiers of destruction to sit tight and abandon their war against the state, its institutions and its people. The battle, one must remember, is for the soul of the country and must be fought till the end. The terrorists are believed to be no more than a few thousand. And though we have suffered thousands of fatalities in the ongoing war, the thought of more sacrifices has neither deterred the military nor left the people despondent in any way. Terrorism in all its forms is currently producing among the masses a pronounced sense of revulsion and loathing — which one hopes will be used to build a stronger national resolve to destroy the infrastructure of terrorists and allow them little or no space to exist, provided all of us rally closely behind the military’s operation against militant outfits. On Sunday, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa drove home the point by underscoring the need for all the country’s institutions to work together in a bid to vanquish terrorism. His remarks resonate with every citizen especially on the eve of Pakistan’s 70th independence anniversary and a day after a suicide bomber on a motorcycle exploded himself in front of a military vehicle in Quetta, killing eight soldiers and seven civilians. Some 40 others were also wounded in the attack. The suicide attack took place within the perimeter of a high security zone that includes both the Balochistan Assembly and FC Hostel. The timing of the assault makes it clear that the militants who staged it wanted to disrupt the celebratory mood in the country ahead of August 14. Our compatriots would do well to counter such nefarious designs that are intended to dampen spirits. A more holistic approach would help to bring down the threat of terrorism. We need to encourage more segments of society to work for the cause through a series of initiatives designed to counter the vast propaganda machine of ideological extremists. It is not a task that can be performed in isolation because it needs greater coordination and collaborative measures among all Pakistanis.https://tribune.com.pk/story/1480844/united-against-terrorism/

August 14, 2017   No Comments

Lahore terror strike – edits Aug 9, 2017

Vigilance in Punjab—claims and performance – edit in Pakistan Today, August 9th 2017.
Despite tall claims by Punjab police and CTD about the success of combing operations in the province, Lahore still remains in the cross hairs of the terrorist networks. Last month, 26 people, including nine policemen, were killed and 58 others injured in a suicide attack on Ferozepur Road. In April, six people including army personnel died in a suicide hit on a census team on Bedian Road. On February 13, over two dozen people including two senior police officers were killed in a suicide blast on the Mall.

In the latest incident of the sort a massive truck bomb ripped through Lahore’s Bund Road on Monday night, leading to two dead and 46 injured. The powerful blast damaged, partially or heavily, more than 100 vehicles including cars, mini-trucks and motorcycles parked at the stand. The truck had remained parked for three days and despite residents of the area having reported to the police the presence of a suspicious vehicle no action was taken. Incidentally, Nawaz Sharif’s cancelled Sunday rally was scheduled to pass through the route where the truck was parked, leading some to conclude that the former Prime Minister might have been the intended target. The large store of explosives in the truck could also be used to launch a major attack inside Lahore.

What surprises one is how the truck managed to reach Lahore after traveling 698 kilometers unchecked. The explosives must have been loaded either in Swat from where it started its journey or somewhere on the way to Lahore. That it managed to pass through several check posts in both KP and Punjab undetected speaks volumes about the efficiency of the security system on the route. The city was saved from what could have been a much bigger tragedy by sheer chance. This raises questions about the efficiency of Punjab police, the provincial CTD as well as the major security agencies of the country. www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/08/09/vigilance-in-punjab-claims-and-performance/


Lahore under attack, once again: edit in Daily Times, Aug 9, 2017.
The truck bomb blast in Lahore on Monday night that claimed a life and injured over 45 people appears to be a result of criminal negligence. The explosives-laden truck was carrying fruit. Intelligence on the possibility of an attack was conveyed to the relevant departments on August 1, and it was clearly mentioned that terrorists may hide explosive devices in fruit or vegetable stands. Yet the authorities appear to have taken no action.

Former Prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s cancelled Sunday rally was to pass through the same route. The locals quoted in the media have said that the truck was present at the site for more than four days and the authorities were informed about its presence but they remain unmoved. The provincial government will have to make strict security arrangements to secure the GT Road rally especially given the intelligence concerns about security on the occasion. But it should be ensured that this doesn’t result in a lack of adequate security in the rest of the city particularly at places, which are vulnerable to terror attacks. Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s efforts to make the provincial capital a ‘Safe City’ will not see the light of the day if such small and big attacks continue to take place. While we laud the police for thwarting a terror activity by killing four Taliban militants in the city on Tuesday — a day after the Outfall Road blast, it is time to demand capacity building of the police department.

In a number of previous attacks that took place in Lahore, timely action could have prevented the situation. The provincial police department is known for nepotism and politicisation. It is about time the Punjab government introduced reforms in the department so as to enable the police to work in a proper and meaningful coordination with the provincial Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) and other relevant institutions especially the intelligence agencies. The recent attacks in Lahore should serve as a reminder for the government to fix the basics in the province. What good is investing billions of rupees in public infrastructure when public safety has not been addressed? Furthermore, Lahore and its environs are known for the presence of banned militant outfits that seem to be autonomous and even free to form political parties. *

August 9, 2017   No Comments

Nationalist leaders condemn enforced disappearances

report in The Express Tribune, Aug 8, 2017
HYDERABAD: Sindhi nationalist leaders have, in chorus, condemned the enforced disappearance of political and human rights workers, journalists and writers in Sindh.

“Instead of paying heed to the contentions of political workers, subjecting them to torture and harassment is a violation of human rights and democratic liberties,” said Sindh Taraqi Pasand Chairperson Dr Qadir Magi.

Their reaction came after the recent disappearance of human rights campaigner Punhal Sario and a local daily newspaper editor, Inam Abbassi, from Hyderabad and Karachi respectively. Magsi alleged that Sindhis are being subjected to such tortuous suppression because of their political opinions concerning the provincial autonomy and control of natural resources.

“We strongly condemn this act of enforced disappearance.” He went on to accuse the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led provincial government for failing to protect its subjects.

In his statement, Qaumi Awami Tehreek President Ayaz Latif Palijo said that activists and writers are subjected to this inhuman treatment because they exercise their internationally-acclaimed right of freedom of expression. “They are not terrorists, extortionists or militants. Their crime is only that they want a different political system, rights or control over the natural resources.”

He urged the courts, government, elected representatives, media and civil society to support their demand for the release of Sario, Abbassi and other peaceful activists. “The party [PPP] that claims to have won the mandate from Sindh shouldn’t limit its efforts for release of these people to lip service. It should approach all forums for safe recovery of these men,” Palijo said.

“The people of Sindh are being whisked away as if Sindh isn’t a part of Pakistan, but a colony,” said Awami Jamhoori Party’s leaders Inamullah Shaikh and Abrar Qazi while calling for the immediate release of all the missing men.

They demanded that the federal and Sindh governments ask the intelligence agencies to explain why these people are kept at secret places and not produced in the court of law for their alleged crimes.

Sindh Human Rights Defenders (SHRD) and civil society activists who protested in Hyderabad on Sunday for Sario’s release, demanded that Pakistan should immediately ratify the United Nation’s convention on enforced disappearances.

SHRD’s advocate, Ali Palh, said all forums including the court, international human rights organisations and other stakeholders will be approached for the recovery of Sario.

August 8, 2017   No Comments

Missing in Sindh: edit in Dawn, August 8th, 2017

Missing in Sindh: edit in Dawn, August 8th, 2017
AN all-too-familiar and sinister pattern is beginning to repeat itself in Sindh. The past few weeks have seen increasing agitation against enforced disappearances of political activists in the province. On Thursday, Punhal Sario, the leader of the recently formed Voice for Missing Persons of Sindh, was also picked up from Hyderabad by — according to an eyewitness — around a dozen men in police commando uniforms. Then on Saturday, some family members of the self-exiled separatist leader of the banned Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz, Shafi Burfat, were whisked away from their residence. A number of demonstrations by civil society groups were taken out on Sunday from various cities in the province, such as Sukkur, Jacobabad, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Umerkot and Mithi to protest the rising incidence of forced disappearances, among them those of rights activists, journalists, writers etc, allegedly at the hands of intelligence personnel.

Even a single case of enforced disappearance is one too many, but when those protesting the abductions, and the family members of the missing, are themselves disappeared, it is an even more ominous development. It speaks of an increasingly authoritarian state accountable to no one but itself and willing to go to any lengths to crush all dissent. Balochistan has long been a theatre for abductions by state-affiliated elements. While the security situation in the province makes verification of such cases extremely difficult, it can be said with some certainty that enforced disappearance has been used as a tool of state repression to counter nationalist sentiment in the area. More recently, the war against terrorism has provided a pretext for carrying out enforced disappearances in the rest of the country as well, with the highest incidence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is a measure of the impunity with which the state operates that it continues on this course despite a Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances having been set up by the government on the orders of the Supreme Court. The result, far from containing unrest, has only created bitterness among those who have been affected and is a boon to separatist propaganda. Inexplicably enough, there exists legislation — some recently enacted — that enables law enforcement to arrest, investigate and prosecute those suspected of being engaged in seditious acts. Why then do such self-destructive tactics remain in practice? Is the state blinded by its own power? https://www.dawn.com/news/1350207/missing-in-sindh


August 8, 2017   No Comments

IS footprint: edit in Dawn, August 2nd, 2017

AS the militant Islamic State group faces setbacks in its ‘heartland’ of Iraq and Syria, the terrorist outfit will seek to establish itself in ungoverned spaces elsewhere. Afghanistan — long suffering from conflict — seems to be an ideal location for the self-proclaimed ‘caliphate’ to put down roots. On Monday, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the Iraqi embassy in Kabul; fortunately, there were no mass casualties, unlike earlier attacks by the group in Afghanistan. The group first appeared on the Afghan radar in 2015 and has jostled for space and influence with the hard-line Afghan Taliban. American military officials say there may be around 1,000 IS fighters active in Afghanistan. Due to a long, porous border and a complicated relationship, often Afghanistan’s militancy problems spill over into Pakistan; the case of IS is no different, as the militant group’s fighters are believed to be concentrated in Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan.

This country, of course, has an ambiguous history where acknowledging IS’s presence is concerned. While officialdom has mostly remained tight-lipped about the presence of IS in Pakistan, rarely does a day go by without reports of militants belonging to the outfit being killed or captured appearing in the media. For example, as reported in this paper on Tuesday, police claimed to have killed two IS fighters in a Karachi ‘encounter’. The suspects were believed to be involved in the killings of police officers, as well as targeted sectarian murders. Around 12 suspected militants killed in Balochistan’s Mastung area in June were also believed to be associated with IS. In fact, parts of upper Sindh — especially along the Balochistan border — are said to be an area of concern as IS sympathisers are reportedly active in the region. Transnational militancy is a nebulous phenomenon; it does not recognise borders or national sovereignty. That is why it is imperative that Pakistan and Afghanistan work together to neutralise the threat of IS in both countries. This may be difficult to achieve, given the often tense relations that prevail between Islamabad and Kabul. But as IS and militants sympathetic to its ideology have shown elsewhere, if a vacuum is left — as was the case in Syria and Iraq — IS will move in very quickly to fill it. That is something neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan can afford. Therefore, a joint policy to counter IS is the only way forward. https://www.dawn.com/news/1349018/is-footprint

August 2, 2017   No Comments

Terrorism Scene- edits Aug 1, 2017

Hunting the terrorists: Editorial in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2017
Apart from the obvious costs in terms of lives lost and the expenditure of the state in combating terrorism, there are aspects that are less obvious, with a malignant ability to metamorphose by groups thus engaged being one of them. This is a relatively recent phenomenon as groups that hitherto had been dubbed ‘terrorist’ — the IRA in the UK and the ETA in Spain for instance — changed little in structural terms throughout their histories. The terrorism of the 21st century is a different beast. It is fragmented, highly mobile and self-actuating, capable of independent thought and action on the part of an individual not formally linked to any known group and also capable of large-scale coordinated attacks across borders.

Against this background all governments, including Pakistan, are tasked with maintaining the safety of the populace and fighting the terrorists — wherein lie several difficulties. Today we learn that the CTD in Karachi is in receipt of intelligence reports that sectarian organisations were ‘now receiving support from Islamic State (IS)’. It will be recalled that the presence of IS in Pakistan has been denied on innumerable occasions by the current government. There are warnings that if sectarian groups supported by IS ‘joined hands’ their operational capacity would be enhanced and in upper Sindh an escalation of attacks may be expected.

Terrorists are good at what they do. Highly trained and motivated they have no recruitment problems, and in a society such as Pakistan which has been drip-fed radicalisation for decades they find a sure footing. Terrorists do not exist in a vacuum. They need food, water, shelter and transport. That they find those with ease is where the counter-terror battle needs to focus, and this the state has cardinally failed to do. Unless and until the state decides to no longer tolerate terrorism the people of Pakistan are going to continue to die of its effects. Terrorism. It’s a matter of choice. https://tribune.com.pk/story/1470946/hunting-the-terrorists/

Militants in prison: edit in Dawn, August 1st, 2017

INERTIA followed by a flurry of action, and back to inertia again — that is usually the cycle in Pakistan, but such an approach does not address systemic shortcomings. Sindh’s prison department is currently going through an ‘action’ phase, triggered by the escape of two militants belonging to the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi from Karachi’s Central Prison in June. This entails shifting a number of ‘high-profile’ inmates lodged in the province’s largest jail to other detention facilities elsewhere in Sindh. In the first phase, around 20 undertrials and convicts affiliated with banned outfits have been moved to Sukkur and Hyderabad jails on the advice of intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. The development is not surprising. A CTD inquiry into June’s audacious escape at the Central Prison revealed shocking details of how militants — including some of those convicted of multiple heinous crimes — were practically running the facility, having intimidated or bribed the prison staff into submission.

The perils of detaining in one location large numbers of violent extremists — who inevitably have resourceful and well-organised accomplices on the outside — have been illustrated several times. In April 2012, the Pakistani Taliban stormed Bannu jail in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and freed some 400 prisoners. In July 2013, a similar assault on the Dera Ismail Khan prison allowed 175 inmates to escape. There have also been attempts to spring prisoners that have come within a hair’s breadth of succeeding. For instance, early last year, a group of militants was allegedly on the verge of executing a daring plan to set free around 100 high-profile prisoners in Hyderabad prison, including Omar Saeed Shaikh, convicted of Daniel Pearl’s murder. Scattering dangerous inmates among several jails thus makes sense, and has been resorted to several times before. But this is a piecemeal, ad hoc tactic that does little to tackle the endemic problems that plague the prison system. Sindh’s Rs1.5bn project for a high-security jail are still on paper, an inexplicable delay considering the number of violent criminals incarcerated in the province, especially in Karachi. Indeed, in Pakistan at present there is only one high-security prison, which is in Sahiwal. Aside from infrastructure, jail reforms, both in terms of security protocols and the selection, training and pay scales of personnel, are sorely needed to institute long-term change. Only that can keep dangerous individuals behind bars, where the state has placed them so that it can fulfil its duty to secure people’s lives and property. www.dawn.com/news/1348851/militants-in-prison

August 1, 2017   No Comments

Rights Transgressions: edit in The Nation, July 30, 2017

With questions of political and economic uncertainty on the horizon, issues related to human rights often get sidelined in the country.This has not gone unnoticed in the international community – a committee of the United Nations recently pointed out that the Pakistani state has to address a large number of failings on the human rights front.From abductions by state institutions to increasing the tempo of executions through the death penalty, the Pakistani government has not done enough to protect the rights of its citizens; in fact, on many occasions, it has colluded in the marginalisation.

The UN’s dissatisfaction with the state of human rights in Pakistan is to be expected.The protection of human rights has not been one of the priorities of the current government.
But perhaps the UN committee’s findings lay bare the lack of human rights in explicit terms – pinning the blame on laws that do not adequately address rights, the inability to dispense justice to victims and the willing participation of state institutions in torture, enforced disappearances and a number of other transgressions imply that the problem is all-encompassing.The laws that need to be passed to guarantee human rights often aren’t, even when they are implementation is a problem and finally, the institutions that are sworn to protect not only fail in their duties but also add significantly to the problem.

The government’s lack of control over intelligence and law enforcement agencies for instance, is a glaring failure on its part – citizens are picked up, tortured and killed for charges unexplained, all under the guise of national security.False accusations and lynchings through the blasphemy law are on the rise and press freedom is consistently clamped down upon through overt and subtle threats to journalists.

The standard argument in defence of state-sponsored human rights abuses is always that the protection of national security trumps human rights.But while it is important to remember that Pakistan is a country fraught with turmoil, and certain steps of the government perceived to be harsh have been deemed necessary there have been too many occasions where the state has gone too far, or not far enough.Even if we take the security situation into account, there must be some measure of accountability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies; at the very least, all of them should be answerable to the government, which is not the case currently.Beyond that, the state is expected to make more of an effort towards safeguarding rights – laws such as the draconian cybercrime law has exacerbated the issue of rights instead of protecting them (which was the state intention).
There is a need to focus on one of the most important aspects of governance – the protection of basic and inalienable rights.http://nation.com.pk/editorials/30-Jul-2017/rights-transgressions

July 30, 2017   No Comments

Panchayat orders rape- Editorials, July 28, 2017

Panchayat-ordered rape; edit in Dawn, July 28th, 2017
THE latest report of a panchayat-ordered rape has revived memories of the ‘verdict’ of another unofficial ‘court’ that resulted in the horrifying gang rape of Mukhtaran Mai in 2002. It was her ‘punishment’ for her brother’s alleged rape of a young woman. Convention required that she bear her fate in silence — just like so many others whose spirit and bodies have been broken by such physical assault. Instead, with courageousness that cannot be lauded enough, she chose to speak out about her ordeal, becoming a global figure in her campaign for justice for women against whom heinous crimes are committed in the name of ‘honour’ — often as a result of a parallel adjudication system that has no standing in the eyes of the law. The result of her bravery was widespread revulsion and outrage at home and abroad, and a sustained focus on eliminating crimes of ‘honour’ in this country. In the years since, Pakistan has passed both federal and provincial laws that variously seek to curb such crimes and outlaw the holding of jirgas or panchayats. It is also claimed that the awareness of law-enforcement authorities regarding crimes against women has increased. But have we really witnessed a tangible difference? Not at all, it would appear, given the news that surfaced on Wednesday that a teenaged girl in Multan district was recently subjected by a panchayat to gang rape as ‘honour revenge’ for her brother’s alleged rape of a minor.

Official circles have since seen a fair amount of commotion. Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar has taken suo motu notice of the incident, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has formed an investigation committee and ordered that a report be produced within a few days, and suspension orders have gone out regarding several officers at the police station concerned. The police have registered FIRs and several members of the panchayat have been arrested (though not the alleged rapists). Even so, there is reason to be concerned whether the child in question will ever see justice. The fact remains that in spite of the focus in recent years on crimes of a sexual nature, and increased reporting of such cases, societal attitudes are proving to be hard to alter. The only way to achieve this is through the exemplary enforcement of the law. The state must take the recent outrage as a litmus test of its resolve. https://www.dawn.com/news/1348129/panchayat-ordered-rape


National Shame: edit in The Nation, July 28, 2017
Many a time, the remedies provided under the panchayat are not adequate or suitable for the offence committed.Justice in Panchayat is done with the help of local customs.Oftentimes, the offender does not get punished for the crime, rather, one of their family members face the brunt of his crime.This notion of justice does not conform to the established legal setup in the country.

One such tragic event occurred in Multan, lately.A man raped a 12-year-old girl on July 16.And in order to correct the wrong done to the victim, the Panchayat decided that the victim’s brother would rape the sister of the offender.Though the police have made some arrests after an FIR was launched, the question one needs to ask is; will these people be punished? Those who were involved in the case of Mukhtara Mai were set free at last.

The state till this day has failed to stop such barbaric practices that Panchayats carry out under the banner of local customs and traditions.Every now and then, newspapers cover stories of those who fall victim to the cruel decisions of panchayats.It is without any doubt a state failure that to this day, violence against women in rural areas is prevailing for a long time.It is standard practice for the government to hide its head in the sand whenever such actions are highlighted.Most of the times, proceedings of these panchayats do not care for the legal rights of women.But not only that, the decision taken in this case tells us that the objectives of the panchayat as a justice system are also completely different from the one in place through the constitution; the constitutional legal system punishes as a means of retribution, rehabilitation and deterrence, where the panchayat is only out for revenge.

The decision the Panchayat in Muzzafarabad made reveals one ugly and bitter facet of our society. It shows us that there are still parts of this country where a woman is treated as an object.She is looked down upon and is asked to sacrifice her life for a crime which she has not committed in the first place.http://nation.com.pk/editorials/28-Jul-2017/national-shame

End panchayat politics: edit in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2017
Is there an act more violent, barbaric and traumatising than rape? Treating this issue as taboo has had serious repercussions, and the consequences of our societal closeting of this brutality are becoming increasingly obvious. Of course rape deserves criminalisation of the perpetrator(s), but what is worse is the pervasive panchayat system (village council) in Pakistan that takes the law into its own hands. In such a system bereft of accountability, the panchayat’s decisions are often ruthless and downright cruel.

In Multan on July 16th, a 12-year-old girl was raped by a man while cutting grass in a field, according to the FIR filed at the police station. On July 18th, the panchayat ordered the victim’s brother to rape the perpetrator’s sister as an act of revenge. How is the revenge justified when the victims of these rapes were faultless, just like the victims of all rapes? According to the police, the sister of the accused was dragged to the area where the panchayat was convened and was raped before the men and her parents.

What is unfortunate and in dire need of recall and scrutiny is the bill that the National Assembly passed in February of 2017, which gives legal and constitutional cover to the centuries-old panchayat systems in the country, to ensure speedy resolution of petty civil matters and reduce the burden of litigations on the courts. As evident from this case, panchayats are incompetent for the resolution of any civil matters. It is also apparent that civil matters are not “petty”—not when the course of lives is determined, and irrevocable scars inflicted.

Although the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, has taken suo-motu notice of the sexual assault, one can hope that this translates into action. Until the time of writing, reports have come in that 25 panchayat members have been captured. It is vital for the restoration of humanity and justice that all 40 are incarcerated and punished for this savagery. Panchayat politics needs to end and the government must take serious measures to protect women and girls from abuses prevalent in our country.https://tribune.com.pk/story/1468027/end-panchayat-politics/

July 28, 2017   No Comments