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Failure on terror front

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By Afrasiab Khattak-The 110 pages damning report by Justice Qazi Faez Isa-led Inquiry Commission on Quetta terror attack of August 8 has categorically exposed the hypocrisy and double-dealings of the state institutions in their policy and action on terrorism. The report has been submitted to a three members Supreme Court bench led by the Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali on Thursday (December 15) and made public despite the government’s efforts to keep it under wraps.

He report is an indictment of some state institutions over their inaction for rooting out the menace of extremism and terrorism. Now we know why the government has been so reluctant to conduct a judicial inquiry into high profile terrorists attacks, such as in the APS Peshawar and many other terror incidents. We can also understand better now why the report of the Abbottabad Commission was not made public. Powerful state institutions have too many skeletons in their cupboards to face the public when it comes to fighting terror. Unfortunately terrorist networks are still considered strategic assets and used as instruments of policy in both internal and external affairs despite the pious noises made to the contrary by civil and military leaders over the last many years. Pakistan has squandered years in denial of the terror problem and even when it grudgingly came to concede the existence of the problem it has failed to muster political will to eliminate the threat from its roots. Civil and military leaders have been hiding behind accusations against each other for being unwilling to take on some of the most notorious terrorist networks. General Pervez Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation” and the present government’s National Action Plan (NAP) have proved to be camouflage for the policy of double-dealing.

The Qazi Faez Isa Commission has rightly pressed the state to come on to the front foot in confronting the menace of extremism and terrorism. According to the report the problem has been aggravated due to the lack of political will on the part of state institutions to implement ATA, NACTA Act, Pakistan Penal Code and most importantly the Constitution of Pakistan. Proscribed terrorist networks are thriving in the atmosphere of appeasement. The Commission has particularly pointed out the meeting of the Minister Interior with the heads of three banned organisations- Sipah-I-Sahaba Pakistan, Millit-i-Islamia and Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat on October 21 that made a mockery of the anti terror campaign. The venue of the aforementioned meeting was Punjab House, the official guesthouse situated in the red zone of Islamabad. So if this is the condition in Islamabad under the very nose of the state and government what can one expect in far away places like FATA, Muridke and Kuchlak (near Quetta)?

Non-implementation of NAP, for obvious reasons, remains one of the main issues discussed by the report. No position taken by the government can justify non-implementation of the NAP. The report suggests concretising some of the points in the NAP for effective implementation. Interestingly the  federal government initially agreed to have parliamentary oversight but subsequently backtracked on its commitment.

The report also touches upon the pathetic situation of NACTA that was supposed to play a pivotal role in countering terrorism but which has been robbed of its mandate by the arrogance of the Ministry of Interior and intelligence agencies. NACTA has been begging for cooperation but to no avail. Similarly the question of coming out with a counter narrative to extremism and terrorism is also discussed in the report with some detail. It is in fact the epitome of the lack of political will on the part of state to combat terrorism, because “good terrorists” will be negatively impacted by it. Most of the unregistered and unreformed religious seminaries remain the main source of sectarian extremism and terrorism as their education systems are based on sectarianism although the hateful content in curricula makes students in mainstream educational institutions also vulnerable to the menace. But as long as the factories creating sectarianism are in production it is bizarre to just run after individual products. The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that some reckless and ruthless elements even tried to use rge sectarian card to influence the decision of the Prime Minister of Pakistan in appointing the new COAS recently. Sectarian divisions have been eating into the vital organs of Pakistani society and its ingress in state institutions is a sure recipe for disaster.

The report of the Supreme Court Inquiry Commission on the terror attack is valuable not just for understanding the loopholes in policy and action against extremism and terrorism in Quetta or Balochistan but it also sheds light on the failings of the state at the national level. Its dozen-plus concrete and specific key recommendations are of vital importance for plugging the gaps in the state’s counter terrorism strategy. It’s high time to start the judicial inquiry into all recent major terrorist incidents to find and analyze facts for drawing proper conclusions that can become a basis for launching an effective and meaningful war on terror instead of playing games.

Be that as it may the most important thing just now is the possible reaction of the Pakistani state and government to the Supreme Court Inquiry Report. Will they receive the report with an open mind and go for a complete overhaul on the policy and strategy level? Will some heads on political and bureaucratic level role for their substantial failure in performing their duty? Will the state stop hiding and distorting facts and come clean on past obfuscations? Will the policy of fighting the war of attrition in neighboring countries change? Will Project Taliban come to a close? It obviously involves a total rethink of the security and foreign policy that is easier said than done. The existential future of the country is going to be decided by answers to the questions mentioned above. At this point the status quo is not an option. Internal implosion remains a threat and there is also going to be an international fall-out. The world is going to judge Pakistan on the basis of this report coming from the highest judicial forum of the country. In the absence of visible and practical corrective measures it may become impossible for Pakistan to avoid indictment as a state sponsoring terrorism.

The writer is a senior leader of Awami National Party (ANP) and retired senator.