Military Courts Offer Little Hope

Debate over the decision to set up new military courts highlights the failures of both the government and the military in tackling terrorism. Recent orders to release hardened terrorists like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s Malik Ishaq and Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi are only the latest examples of civilian judiciary’s long record of failing to convict even the most brazen terrorists.

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.

#PeshawarAttack: What’s Different This Time?

Candle light vigil in Islamabad

Peshawar attack has been termed a ‘game changer‘ in government’s response to militants, and the nation appears united unlike it has been since long. Official numbers report that 50,000 Pakistanis have been killed by jihadi terrorists since 2001, but it was the 141 killed on 16th December that have finally crossed the tipping point. It was an act of brutality and cowardice on such a scale that it has shocked the world to its core because the attack targeted children.

The TTP have killed thousands in their seven-year insurgency, but [foreign affairs and national security advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Sartaj Aziz] said the nature of the Peshawar attack was radically different from what had gone before.

“It was targeted at the children, and those children who were injured, they fired back upon them to kill them,” he said.

The response has been swift. Nawaz Sharif lifted the ban on death penalty, and COAS quickly began signing death warrant for convicted terrorists. Today, the first two met their fate.

The popular belief is that this time, everything is different. The attack was different. The response is different. And now, the future will be different. But I worry about what was really different, and what that means for us.

The Taliban’s attack was inhuman. That cannot be denied. But targeting children is actually not new. In 2009, Taliban ambushed a school bus in Hangu killing several school children. In 2011, Taliban attacked a school bus outside Peshawar, killing four children. In 2013, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi carried out a bomb attack near a school that killed children.

A spokesman for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni group, claimed responsibility for the bomb in Quetta, which caused casualties in the town’s main bazaar, a school and a computer centre. Police said most of the victims were Shi’ites. Burned school bags and books were strewn around.

And just a few months ago, 15-year-old Aitizaz Hasan sacrificed his life to save his schoolmates when he stopped a suicide attack against his school in Hangu.

These are just a few examples of children being targeted by jihadi terrorists. What was different this time?

Obviously, the scale. Every child’s life is precious, but the evil required for killing so many at once is shocking beyond belief. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether the same response would be taking place if the school had been in Hangu and not at an Army base.

The executions that are now taking place only add to my concerns. I have no pity for the lives of Dr Usman and Arshad Mehmood, but I cannot help but notice that these were the two who were chosen to be first executed in response to the attack against school children.

Usman a former soldier of the army’s medical corps, was executed in relation to an attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan Army in 2009 in Rawalpindi. Arshad Mehmood, was executed for an assassination attempt on former military ruler, General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf.

The nation is united right now, and the state is responding. I pray that this week’s tragedy is truly a ‘game changer’, and that there will be no tolerance for any terrorist, whether they are attacking Army officers and their families, or some poor Hazara farmers.

Ulema Council’s Qualified Condemnation of Militancy Highlights Double Standards

Pakistan Ulema Council

Pakistan Ulema Council issued a condemnation of IS militants on Friday as reports of infiltration by the jihadi terrorist group across the country. This condemnation of IS militants by the respected clerics is welcomed, but the qualified statement highlights dangerous double standards toward extremism and militancy that must be addressed.

The PUC statement only addresses one group (IS) and includes the following qualification:

“The PUC appeals to people and youth in Islamic countries to not cooperate with any violent group whose teachings or actions are against the teachings of Islam and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).”

The problem with this statement is that it gives a free pass to violent groups who do believe their teachings and actions are in line with Islam and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). In other words...all of them.

Freeing Pakistan of the scourge of extremist violence requires a comprehensive, unqualified condemnation of militancy. No exceptions. Until then, qualified condemnations will not only be fruitless, they will continue to provide an ideological justification for terrorists of all stripes.

The rot has moved from the limbs to the heart

The news that TTP have declared allegiance to ISIS is not surprising. Taliban commanders have mentioned working with ISIS since several months. This is a bad sign for Pakistan when we have already spent $2 billion on Zarb-e-Azb operations that show no signs of progress. But actually, this is not the worst news for Pakistan, even if it is the most sensational. Jihadi extremists working with jihadi extremists is to be expected. What should worry us most is not the state of militants, but the state of our own civil society, which appears to be descending into a state of rot.

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Indian Currency in North Waziristan…Really?

Indian Rupees

Operation Zarb-e-Azb has been heralded as a turning point in the war against terrorism. This new direction has received the support of the whole nation who could not longer bear the cost of tens of thousands being killed by the jihadi terrorists. The new direction has also pleased the Americans and Chinese who had grown impatient with Army’s lack of interest in breaking up militant camps. Underneath the new rhetoric, however, there lies a familiar bed of anti-Indian propaganda.

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