Bahawalpur and Parachinar: Where Is Accountability?

Parachinar attack

Across media, there has been a common reaction to the tragedy in Bahawalpur. How do we hold those responsible accountable? However, as much as it is receiving the most attention, Bahawalpur was not the only city to suffer an immense tragedy.

Death tolls from twin terrorist attacks in Parachinar and Quetta have climbed to 85, with hundreds more injured and more deaths to possibly come. Meanwhile, four police officers were killed during iftar by unknown gunmen in Karachi.

The treatment of these events in the public discussion is worth noting. Here is what Dawn had to say about Bahawalpur:

Bahawalpur tragedy is numbing not only because of the vast number of dead and injured, but also because it was totally avoidable.

This raises the question, have we become numb to terrorist attacks because we have decided they are not totally avoidable?

Parachinar in particular is a warning sign. It is a heavily guarded place that has been the target of repeated attacks. After an attack earlier this year, Army established 24 new security posts in Parachinar in April. Two months later, terrorists once again carried out an attack. Is it unavoidable?

In its editorial on Saturday, Dawn hit the nail on the head perfectly:

The problem appears to be that any particular attack is not regarded as a failure of defensive networks and that none has led to meaningful accountability or change in standard operating procedure.

With Bahawalpur, the question might be who to hold accountable. In Parachinar and Quetta, the questions are much more difficult. Is it even possible to change ‘standard operating procedure’? Are we willing to accept the victims as mere ‘collateral damage’ (as an ex-DG ISI termed the victims of APS massacre) of our national security policies? It’s hard not to believe that this decision has already been made in higher quarters.

After years of denying that we provided sanctuary to Taliban, PM’s advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz finally admitted what everyone already knew: We had been hosting Taliban on Pakistani soil for long. So too FO has claimed that there are no anti-Iran militants on Pakistani soil, despite the obvious. So too we see ex-ISI men gathered around LeT chief Hafiz Saeed rallying for jihad against India.

It is hard not to believe that jihad and militancy is part of our official national security policy. But if it is not, it is hard to believe that we are doing everything possible to eliminate jihadi mindset and militancy from society. The question is not who to hold accountable, though. That is obvious. The question is whether accountability is even possible.

What do you think?

Musharraf

Are extremists are becoming mainstream, or the mainstream is becoming extremist?

Ehsanullah Ehsan and Nareen LaghariThe appearance of Ehsanullah Ehsan on TV will go down as one of the largest media blunders in history. That this was orchestrated by ISPR cannot be doubted. The captured TTP spokesman was in Army custody. He did not hire a PR team to arrange his interview. No, it was obviously a plan of Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor’s team. But why? The answer is obvious. Part of it was explained by Mohammad Hanif in his article that the powers that be don’t want anyone to read:

With his appearance, the Pakistani Army seemed to be sending this message: You can kill thousands of Pakistanis, but if you later testify that you hate India as much as we do, everything will be forgiven.

It’s not just anti-India message that the TTP leader was giving, though, it was more. In his ‘confession,’ Ehsanullah Ehsan even pointed a finger at Israel. The narrative here, to use the Army’s favourite expression, is not that militancy is illegitimate, it’s that these militants are illegitimate.

However, after this fiasco blew up in ISPR’s face, they were given a second chance. Ehsanullah Ehsan is hard to feel pity for. He is the same who was gladly announcing the brutal massacre of children at APS Peshawar. As he is ushered off the stage, though, the second performer steps into the spotlight.

Enter Noreen Leghari.

Nareen Laghari interviewLike Ehsanullah Ehsan, Noreen was also involved in terrorism. However, her target were Christians, and she did not get the chance to carry out her evil plans. Now that she has been captured, she has realised her mistake. Noreen’s confession is not as detailed as the confession of Ehsanullah Ehsan, but her role is different. A medical student, Noreen has pointed a finger at social media. You see, this is how she was radicalised. Social media. On the internet. Not in our own society.

Noreen Leghari is the anti-Malala. She was not resisting radicalisation, she was gladly radicalised. She was not an innocent victim of extremists, she was an extremist. Only she got carried away. It could happen to anyone, even a bright university student.

Even a humble daughter.

Noreen Leghari was arrested only two weeks ago in a raid on a Daesh hideout. During her two weeks in custody, she has been deradicalised. She is not working with human rights NGOs, she is working with Army. She is not giving speeches on problems in Pakistani society in foreign cities, she is giving interviews here about dangers of social media and external threats to Pakistan. And she is not denouncing jihad. She is denouncing misguided jihad. In other words, it is the difference of ‘bad‘ jihadi vs ‘good’ jihadi.

Apologists explain that Army is that by mainstreaming extremists like these two, we will set off a chain reaction and other extremists will be mainstreamed also. What is not clear, though, is what is our definition of ‘extremist’. Until we know this, how can we know whether extremists are becoming mainstream, or the mainstream is becoming extremist.

blasphemy riot

PSL Final: A glimpse of the possible, and the danger of complacency

Lahore PSL FinalIt was spectacular. The most historic PSL Final held in Lahore among glittering lights and screaming fans was a much needed reprieve from the doubt and despair that crept back again after last month’s string of terrorist attacks. But it was much more also. It was a glimpse into the greatness in our country that is being held back by extremism.

If we are going to successfully see the possible become the norm, however, we must avoid the trap of complacency. We should be proud of what we accomplished. We had our moment one the world’s stage and we shone brightly. But we did not defeat terrorism.

The successful match brought out our national pride on social media, but it also brought out dangerous delusions. There were the hypernationalistic pro-Army accounts that once again tried to steal the nation’s prize for a few only

Obviously security agencies deserve our respect for their role, but it was more than just Armed Forces responsible for security. It was police also. And it was us, the citizens, who made sure that everything went accordingly. Credit goes to all of us, not just Armed Forces.

These posts were part of the misguided trend that has appeared of #VictoryAgainstTerrorism. We must be careful about declaring every successful event as a victory against terrorism because doing this suggests that terrorism is the norm and being able to do anything without an attack is unusual. PSL Final was a victory of Pakistan in every respect – sport, civil society, government, LEAs, business, etc etc etc.

Worst, though, is that trends like #VictoryAgainstTerrorism could allow some sense of complacency to creep back in. If we learned anything from Zarb-e-Azb, it’s that declaring victory prematurely and trying to win a fight via press release is a recipe for failure. Raddul Fasaad is in its infancy. It must be given time to mature and root out the threat of militant groups and the extremist ideology that feed them.

Hours after PSL Final wrapped up, 5 more soldiers were martyred in another militant attack. Their sacrifice is the reality that the successful PSL Final was not a sign of the success of Raddul Fasaad, but a sign of why it’s so important to finally pull extremism out by the roots and let Pakistan’s greatness shine through every day.

Six months after APS Peshawar, we have lost the plot completely

APS Peshawar

16th December was supposed to be a turning point. The brutal massacre of hundreds of innocent children at APS Peshawar had finally awoken the nation and united our resolve to defeat the real enemy – the jihadi extremists that had killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis since the last ten years. It is almost six months since that black day, and where are we now? The truth is not encouraging.

Continue reading

Can you untangle FO’s statement on ISIS?

Foreign Office spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah

Earlier this year, Foreign Secretary Azaz Ahmed Chaudhry admitted that Islamic State poses a “serious threat” to Pakistan. What seems obvious is newsworthy because it contradicted the long standing position of the Foreign Office that there is “no evidence” of ISIS presence in the country despite all evidence to the contrary. This week, the government returned to previous denials, but with a bit of a twist. Speaking at the weekly media briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah gave the following statement:

“There is no footprint of ISIL in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan have no ideological, ethnic or linguistic affinities with the organisation and its members. However, we have seen some pamphlets and wall-chalking. That is no proof of the presence of ISIL in Pakistan. Nevertheless, we are cognizant of the threat the ISIL poses. Our security agencies are aware of this threat and will take appropriate measures, if needed.”

This statement is an amazingly twisted web of contradictions that leaves little confidence in the government. How can the government say that no one in Pakistan has ideological affinities with the organisation? Has the FO spokesperson not seen the video of Jamia Hafsa students?


The FO even admits in its statement that “we have seen some pamphlets and wall-chalking“, but then terms all of this as “no proof.” Actually, pamphlets have been distributed since months demanding cooperation of people and recruiting supporters.

This is not “proof” for the government? Are they waiting for the self-described Khalifa to open its Embassy?

Then there is the claim that “our security agencies are aware of this threat and will take appropriate measures”. If there is no Islamic State presence in Pakistan, how can it be a threat that our security agencies are aware of?

Trying to unravel this web of doublespeak has only given me a headache. I am left with this question, how can we be expected to trust that the state to take the jihadi threat seriously when it continues to issue blatant denials that contradict obvious reality?