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

Iran Rejects Saudi Alliance, Now Border Heating Up. Coincidence?

jaish-al-adl

Security situation on the border with Iran is heating up. Ten Iranian border guards have been killed by militants from Pakistan side and Iranian government has issued a statement declaring that “the Pakistani government bears the ultimate responsibility of the attack”. This accusation can be understood in two ways: Either we do not control these areas as much as we claim to, or we do control these areas and the state is pursuing some strategy of using militant proxies to annoy Iran.

The possibility that we do not really have control of these areas is probably true. Despite media events showcasing surrender of hundreds of Baloch insurgents at a time, attacks against FC soldiers continue and jihadi literature is being openly distributed by state-approved militant groups posing as ‘relief’ organisations in areas controlled by Army. The spread of such extremist ideology is impossible to control, and Army’s tight controls on reporting from these areas means no one can be sure what is the actual security situation.

However there is another possibility, which is that the border attacks have heated up as a response to Iran’s rejection of Saudi military alliance led by ex-COAS Gen Raheel Sharif. FO has been trying to bring Iran on board with the Saudi military alliance despite their belief that there is a ‘hidden agenda‘ in the scheme. Foreign Office officials have rejected Iran’s claims, saying that the alliance is for good of all Muslims and is not against any country but terrorism. Could these attacks be orchestrated to pressurize Iran into joining the alliance? Or are certain quarters taking a page out of an old play book to send a warning about what can happen if preferred policies are not accepted?

Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua said last week that ‘We have no border issues with Iran and our border with Iran is friendly’. Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan has given a different view, warning that ‘we reserve the right to give a firm response to such acts of terror’.

We are already facing rising tension with Afghanistan and India. We cannot afford to open another front against Iran also.

Jadhav Death Sentence: Show of Strength…or Weakness?

kulbhushan jadhav

Indian national and alleged spy Kulbhushan Jadhav has been sentenced to death. It is a surprise news not because of the outcome, but because it is the first time most have even been aware that there was a trial. This is because the trial and sentencing were conducted in secret proceedings by the military. It is not my intention to question the results of these proceedings. As far as I know, Commander Jadhav is a spy and is guilty of the things he is accused of. However, also as far as I know, he is not. This is the problem. And while the accused will suffer the most from the situation, I believe we, too will not come out of it without our own scars to show.

There will be many reasons given to justify the secret military trial, most of which will point to reasons of national security and protection of counter-terrorist intelligence operations. These may be part of the rationale, but I do not believe they account for everything. Rather, I think this entire affair has been conducted in a manner intended to avoid a repeat of the Raymond Davis fiasco. In that situation, an admitted spy who killed two ISI men in broad daylight was given access to his Embassy and public trial by a civilian court. As a result, the accused was ultimately freed in a deal arranged by DG-ISI Lt Gen Shuja Pasha. The aftermath of the Raymond Davis episode has not been forgotten, either by the public or state officials. Protestors took to the streets across the entire country, and the credibility of the state suffered as it was seen as showing weakness before the American empire.

Kulbhushan Jadhav’s case is on the one hand more serious than the Raymond Davis case, and the other hand much weaker. For long, Pakistani leadership has pinned the blame for terrorism, particularly in Balochistan, on ‘foreign governments and intelligence agencies’. In 2015, Army specifically blamed RAW for instigating terrorism in Pakistan. With the arrest of Jadhav a year later, it seemed like the Army finally had their proof.

Soon after Jadhav’s arrest, though, things began to break down. ISPR released a ‘video confession,’ but that only raised more questions than it answered. Why, for example, would an Indian agent refer to terrorist activities in Pakistan as “anti-national”? And why was the confession recorded in English? Authorities were convinced that they had the proof they needed, though, and were prepared to take their case to the UN and finally put India in its place. Then came the famous admission of Sartaj Aziz in December 2016 that agencies had “insufficient evidence” to prepare a dossier against Jadhav.

Then, three months later, Sartaj Aziz announced that a FIR had been registered and Jadhav would be prosecuted. Now, only a few weeks later, the entire case has been concluded and the accused has been convicted and sentenced to death in what has to be the fastest trial ever conducted in history of Pakistan. Obviously, it was all done behind closed doors. Who knows what the facts are? Our only choice is to accept the word of the Army who has an obvious interest in seeing the accused convicted and executed. The entire national security narrative has been built on the back of this one man, along with the credibility of the military’s anti-terrorist strategy which has been called into question again due to skyrocketing terrorist attacks.

Given only one choice, we are unable to be truly convinced. As a consequence, there will remain a lingering doubt. Did we sacrifice an innocent man in order to protect a narrative? Why was the accused denied consular access per diplomatic norms? Does the fact that the weak ‘video confession’ is being promoted again mean that this is the only evidence we have? If the case against Jadhav was strong, why keep the evidence hidden away in secret military trials and classified ‘dossiers’? These are questions that will haunt the proceedings. The more one looks at the facts, the more it looks like Kulbhushan Jadhav has been convicted and sentenced in a manner scripted to make the state look strong against India, but the way it was handled could unintentionally result in the opposite.

Arrest Militants Not Scholars

Protest release Dr Riaz AhmedIn January, several bloggers including Professor Salman Haider mysteriously disappeared. After initial outcry about the fate of the disappeared persons, soon they were facing allegations of blasphemy. Soon later, the missing were returned just as mysteriously as they disappeared. There has been no official report of what happened to these bloggers and activists, but according to Ahmad Waqass Goraya there is no question that he was picked up and tortured by state agencies. The state has never admitted any involvement in the incidents, however even after the international embarrassment the Islamabad High Court has now instructed FIA to investigate the victims further and if possible bring them back to Pakistan to prosecute them under laws. While the entire nation was distracted by this case of kidnapping and torture of liberal activists, terrorists carried out a bomb attack that killed 25 and injured almost 100 innocents.

In February, terrorists struck again, this time killing at least 99 people including innocent women and children in a week of bloody attacks across the country.

Week of deadly attacks

Soon after these attacks, Defence Minister demanded a Parliamentary Commission to investigate an article by Husain Haqqani, and Pakistan Rangers arrested two Karachi University professors who were preparing to give a press conference. One professor Dr Riaz Ahmed has been remanded to jail on accusation of supposedly possessing an unlicensed weapon but the real issue was mentioned by SI Shahid Pervez Khan who told the Court that the professor was advocating on Facebook for the release of so-called ‘blasphemous’ bloggers even though the bloggers have faced no charges and no evidence has been given against them. So why security agencies are arresting these scholars?

There have been at least 17 terrorist attacks already so far this year, over double the number during same period last year. Civil and military leaders are on the same page and both claim that terrorists have been defeated even though they are ramping up attacks. Worst, both civil and military leaders have shown more interest in harassing and targeting scholars than actual militants who are carrying out attacks and killing people. If terrorism is going to be defeated in reality and not just in slogans, state agencies will have to carry out operations against extremist militants, not scholars.

Another suicide blast in Parachinar despite ‘strict security’

Parachinar bombing In January, a suicide blast tore through a vegetable market killing dozens and injuring nearly 100 innocents. COAS Gen Bajwa visited the site, and ‘strict security arrangements‘ were made to prevent another attack. Today, less than ten weeks later, another suicide attack has been carried out in a Parachinar market, this time outside a main imambargah. According to police officials, there were multiple attackers who not only used bombs but also fired randomly into crowds of innocents.

Many questions will be asked, but one that must not be overlooked is what happened to the ‘strict security arragements’ that were made after the last terrorist attack only a few weeks ago? Were these withdrawn once the Army chief had left? Or were they never really made in the first place? Or were the security arrangement made, but they were not good enough to stop the terrorists?

We have had enough ISPR videos, enough bold statements, enough victory announcements. What we have not had is the truth. The national leadership including both civil and military leaders need to take the people into confidence. We have had every success explained in full detail, but nobody can explain about the constant failures? If anyone is reading this, please listen. We want to trust you and give our full support, but to do this we need you to trust us and give us your full support also. Right now we are mourning another attack. We are filled with questions and doubts. We do not need to be reassured. We are past that now. We need to know what you are going to do differently, because what has be done till date is obviously not enough.