A public holiday has been announced and all schools will be closed in Peshawar to observe second anniversary of APS attack. There are some who say that the better observation would be for all children to attend school, which would be a greater defiance of the terrorist threat, but the most important is that we take the time to think about how to prevent another massacre from taking place. The only way to do this is to directly take on extremism completely and without any exceptions.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb has made important progress in reducing the ability of anti-state militants to carry out attacks, but it has not come near the claimed success of ‘breaking the back’ of militants. They may be less common, but major terrorist attacks continue, including those targeting students such as the attack on Bacha Khan University and the deadly attack on Balochistan police college in Quetta earlier this year.
However it is not only these attacks that show the threat of terrorism continues. ASWJ backed candidate Maulana Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi, son of Sipah-e-Sahaba founder Haq Nawaz Jhangnvi, was elected to Punjab Assembly just a few weeks ago. Only a few days ago, a mob of thousands attacked an Ahmadi masjid in Lahore. Today, while we are memorialising those innocent students who were killed by extremist militants, there religious extremists are literally marching through the streets of Lahore.
Today we remember the lives of those innocent children martyred by extremist militants, but have we forgotten the promise of zero-tolerance for extremism and tackling militant groups without exception?
Army’s anti-terrorism campaign has been a huge success. We know this because we are reminded of how successful the Army has been by their crack media team such as the series of Tweets from General Asim Bajwa declaring operation Zarb-e-Azb “a phenomenal success” further projected by media that has been recruited as just another wing of ISPR. Gen Bajwa’s Twitter profile proclaims that “Truth Prevails”, and as far as we know everything that the Army’s top PR manager says is the truth, and the successes and sacrifice of our brave soldiers should be appreciated. However, without denying the great successes of Gen Raheel and Zarb-e-Azb, if “Truth Prevails”, we must also face the limits of military power in finally ridding our country of the menace of terrorism.
Pakistan Rangers raid on MQM headquarters in Karachi has taken over the national discussion. By Wednesday afternoon there were no less than four different hashtags related to the raid trending on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, attitudes are divided about whether the raid was a positive or negative. I find myself in the second camp, not because of any love for MQM but because I think the action will do more harm to democracy and the armed forces than it will against any criminal elements hiding in 90.
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.
Nawaz Sharif has lifted the ban on death penalty, and Gen Raheel has signed the death warrants for six convicted terrorists. The reaction has been fairly predictable, with right-wing hypernationalists beating their drum to hang someone, anyone, in the streets and left-wing human rights activists worrying about whether death penalty makes us no better than the killers we are killing. I have a different opinion than either of these. I’m not going to lose any sleep over whether a terrorist loses his life. Hang him if it makes you feel better. Hang him from a lamp post if something about that makes you feel more like a man. But don’t expect me to be there cheering it on, either, because it won’t matter. It won’t make one bit of difference.