The attack against APS Boys Peshawar that killed over 140 innocents was termed as a ‘turning point‘ in the war on terrorism. The sheer brutality of such an attack meant we could no longer ignore difficult realities and the nation was united against all militants without favour. This was made apparent by the unprecedented move of issuing a non-bailable arrest warrant for Lal Masjid Abdul Aziz. After two months have passed, though, it appears that we have finally turned full circle and today we find ourselves back in the same place we were the on 15th December.
After intense protests outside Lal Masjid, FIR was registered against Abdul Aziz and a non-bailable arrest warrant was issued for the religious leader after he refused to condemn the attack against APS Boys Peshawar. This was seen by many as another sign that the atrocities committed in Peshawar had finally pushed the nation past the tipping point against extremism and violence. While this was taking place, another scene was unfolding that received much less attention, but has much more serious implications for any hope that things are changing for the better.
It is with this view that many are supporting the establishment of military courts that should be able to not only protect the judges and lawyers involved, but also use critical evidence without exposing sensitive intelligence methods and sources. But military courts have their own problems.
The drawback being discussed most often is the harm that will be done to credibility of the civilian judiciary if the military takes over this function of government. However, the civilian judiciary has already destroyed most of its own credibility as noted above. The bigger question should be whether a military court will be any more likely to tackle the complex problem of jihadi extremism or whether it will be another weapon against the Army’s existing enemies.
There is no doubt that military courts will be busy and that convictions will be swiftly delivered, but other doubts remain. Will military trials include groups friendly to Army like Jamaat-ud-Dawa? Or will the courts be another weapon against those considered enemies like BLA? Will military courts be used to silence those who project pro-Taliban ideology like Abdul Aziz? Or will they be used to silence those who ask embarrassing questions like Saleem Shahzad? Will military courts expose the jihadi networks, or will they perpetuate the narrative that every terrorist is part of RAW-CIA-Mossad conspiracies?
There is little doubt that civilian courts are not up to the task of trying and convicting hardened terrorists. Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that military courts will be much better.
Update: This post originally included a photograph that claimed to show a judge kissing convicted terrorist Mumtaz Qadri. The authenticity of this photograph has been disputed and the image has been removed.
We have reached a consensus. Zero tolerance for terrorism. Terrorism will not be allowed to flourish on our soil. All terrorist groups will be dealt with across the country. Ban on death penalty has been lifted and already six hardcore terrorists have been dispatched to hell. So we are in a agreement about one thing: We are all against terrorism. The problem is we don’t agree about what is the definition of ‘terrorism’.
The registration of FIR against Abdul Aziz is a welcome development in the aftermath of this week’s tragedy. Most inspiring were the crowds who gathered outside Lal Masjid and refused to be intimidated as they demanded justice and an end to support for terrorism. However, I still worry that we are getting our hopes up too quickly.
We are once again hearing about ‘zero tolerance’ for militants and that ‘Good Taliban Bad Taliban’ policy is finished, but mention of Hafiz Saeed and Jamaat-ud-Dawa is glaringly absent from any such talk.
While people protested outside Lal Masjid, they was another demonstration going on in support of Abdul Aziz and the ideology he promotes. Members of ASWJ turned out in force to show their support even while threats of suicide attacks were thrown about. Registering a FIR against Abdul Aziz is one thing. Registering a FIR against Ahmed Ludhianvi is another.
Inshallah the martyrdom of those 141 angels in Peshawar will finally spark real change in this country. But don’t think it will be instant. Reversing decades of creeping extremism will require a long struggle, and it will not be easy.