July Issue 2013

By | Cover Story | Published 11 years ago

No day goes by without incidents of terror in Pakistan. Bomb blasts, target killings, suicide attacks, sectarian killings, attacks on police stations, check-posts, jails, mosques, imambargahs, schools, shrines and government installations — all have become business as usual here. Satirist Wusat Ullah Khan best describes the conundrum in just one sentence: “Fool-proof security means every fool should have his own security!” The government and security agencies seem helpless before terrorists, sectarian monsters, jihadis and criminal gangs. Even graves are not safe in the citadel of Islam. Religious fanatics are desecrating graves of Ahmadis as a part of their ‘religious duty.’ Are we destined to live in a perpetual state of fear or can we put an end to this reign of terror?

I posed this question to a senior general who retired last year. He was willing to answer my questions — but on condition of anonymity. We had a 90-minute conversation at his place over a cup of tea. He was of the view that military operations were not a sustainable solution for addressing terrorism. “The civilian leadership fails to ask ‘what next?’ when considering military operations as a solution,” says the general. “The government had lost its writ in Swat. The military started an operation and reclaimed the area in 2009. There were just five police stations before the operation. Now there are more than 10, but the civilians are still reluctant to take charge from the military. The police department does not have the capacity to maintain law and order. Terrorists know this well. They are waiting for the military to leave the area and for the civilians to take charge so that they could re-establish their control over the area.”

The retired general identified three problems in the police department — corruption, incompetence and political interference. The first two will take a lot of time but the third one can be addressed today — if there is political will. “Why can’t the politicians stop their interference in the internal matters of the police?” asks the general.

Sindh’sChief Minister Qaim Ali Shah complained on June 29 in the Sindh Assembly that the chief secretary, IG police and DG Rangers were not under his control. All three are appointed by Islamabad and the provincial government cannot even summon them. Although the 18th Amendment gave the provinces some financial autonomy, they still do not have administrative autonomy.

The general advises the government to make the police autonomous like the armed forces if it really wishes to control terrorism. “The chief ministers should be appointing the IGs and that’s it. All other appointments, transfers and similar affairs should be handled by the IGs. The tenure of every IG and police officer should be pre-determined. Presently, the SHOs do not know when they will be transferred. They are appointed by one person, suspended by another and transferred by a third power.”

The general is probably right. Some months ago, in an interview with BBC Urdu, the former police chief of Indian Punjab, Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, had the same take on fighting terrorism. He too advised Pakistan to strengthen its police and make it autonomous.

Meanwhile, independent analysts keep reminding the public that Pakistan’s Afghan and Kashmir policies are a major factor behind rising terrorism and sectarianism in the country. In response, the general said that it was realised during Musharraf’s regime that those policies were a fiasco. We saw a paradigm shift in the country as a result of those policies, but we also lost control over militant groups. We were living in a house of glass and yet we were throwing stones at others. And today, the same groups are now used by India, Afghanistan, the US and, to some extent, Britain to attack Pakistan.

ISI caught Shahzain Bugti red-handed with two truckloads of heavy weapons that he was transporting from Afghanistan into Pakistan but the judiciary set him free, stating that there was insufficient evidence!
The general observed that every single institution in Pakistan is in a mess. He came down particularly hard on the Supreme Court. “The chief justice, instead of taking unnecessary suo moto actions, should have strengthened the lower judiciary. The judges in lower courts are frightened and timid. They are afraid to punish terrorists. The police and army risk their lives to arrest terrorists but the lower court and the higher judiciary set them free, saying that the prosecution did not present any witnesses.”

The general visited Swat recently with his family and met the locals whose biggest concern was about the fate of more than 2000 terrorist suspects the army had arrested during military operations. The people told the general that Swat would go back to square one if these terrorists were freed. However, the ground reality is that they will be freed sooner or later because neither the army nor the police have sufficient evidence to satisfy the courts to punish them.

“If dozens of terrorists attack a military check-post and kill some of our soldiers, and we also kill some of the terrorists and arrest them, is it not enough to prove that they were terrorists? But the superior courts set them free. This badly demoralises the police and the army. The acquitted terrorists then target the police/army personnel who had arrested them. We have already seen this happen in Karachi, where police officers who arrested terrorists were assassinated in target killing incidents.”

“No politician wants to be part of the parliamentary committees on defence and security because there are no opportunities to make money here. And those who finally make it to the committees are totally clueless. Whenever they summon a general, he prepares himself thoroughly. But he finds himself facing goofs.”

The general thinks that civilians can bring the army under their control but it will be possible only once they strengthen institutions and improve their reputation. “The army would never dare to impose martial law if the country’s leaders were honest and had the moral strength, as well as if the institutions were strong. I am surprised to see how they select members for parliamentary committees on defence and security. No politician wants to be part of such committees because there are no opportunities to make money here. And those who finally make it to the committees are totally clueless about defence and security matters. Whenever they summon a general, he prepares himself thoroughly. But he finds himself facing goofs and, therefore, he naturally manages to influences their decisions.’

The general’s advice was to strengthen parliamentary committees on defence and security and bring qualified parliamentarians in such committees. He believes that Musharraf’s trial under Article 6 at this stage is a step in the wrong direction. There are far too many pressing issues that must be addressed first.

The Pakistan army started three de-radicalisation programmes in FATA and Swat to bring militants back into the mainstream. The programmes are aimed at teaching skills and imparting education so as to enable them to earn their own livelihood. The initiative was taken by the army but it cannot run it forever. The civilians should have taken control of it by now but they did not even bother to acknowledge them. And according to the general, lack of political ownership is an additional factor that is undermining our capacity to fight terrorism.

Mohammad Shehzad is an Islamabad-based journalist and researcher.