Sunday, December 28, 2014

SPECIAL COURTS FOR 'A SPECIAL COUNTRY’

Concerns about the Special Courts (SCs) to be set up under military presiding officers continue to be voiced from diverse quarters. Co-chairperson of the PPP Asif Ali Zardari, in his speech at the seventh death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto in Garhi Khuda Baksh, expressed his apprehension regarding the misuse of the SCs against politicians like himself and Nawaz Sharif, who could find themselves s behind bars if such a development occurred. The constitutional amendment under preparation for bringing in the SCs should not, he warned, become a ‘black’ law, based on the experience of previous such steps in the past. He categorically rejected the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban binary. He reminded his audience that if the massacre of PPP’s jiyalas in Karachi in 2007 on Benazir’s return had been taken seriously, subsequent tragic incidents including Peshawar could have been avoided. 

While there is weight in this argument, it should not be forgotten that of the seven years since the tragic event in Karachi, the PPP was in power for five years. However, that government failed to either do much about the spread of terrorism itself or persuade the security establishment to do the same. In fact, the COAS at that time, General Kayani, after the military offensives in Swat and South Waziristan, dragged his feet over the necessary tackling of the terrorist safe havens in North Waziristan despite the fact that he had sufficient time to do this after he received an extension in his tenure to six years. Asif Zardari also tried to allay the apprehensions regarding his differences with son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, whose absence was keenly felt by the young workers of the party at the commemoration, which saw declining numbers this year as a reflection of the internal crisis of the PPP. Asif Zardari also attempted to scotch rumours of a falling out with Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the head of the PPP-Parliamentarians, asserting that Makhdoom would never betray the party and there were no cracks amongst the leadership. Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah wanted Benazir Bhutto’s trial to be conducted by the SCs, which he said were accepted with a heavy heart while accepting the exigencies of the present situation.

Meanwhile MQM’s Farooq Sattar in a press conference in Karachi also added his voice to the concerns swirling around the SCs. He emphasised sticking to the sunset clause of two years for the SCs, and argued that local governments, citizens’ vigilance, community policing systems were necessary in the fight against terrorism. The SCs, he said, were only a temporary solution and that parliament should ensure the effective functioning of the so far moribund National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), He said his party only agreed to the setting up of the SCs after strong assurances from the government that their functioning would be restricted to terrorism-related cases. Farooq Sattar offered all the manpower of MQM to ensure the security of schools in the aftermath of the Peshawar massacre, pointing to the fears of school managements, parents and children in this regard. Lawyers in Karachi too expressed themselves in favour of strengthening the existing criminal justice system as the long term solution to the terrorist challenge, regarding the SCs as a temporary measure.


The Peshawar tragedy and the steps announced by the government in its wake have not gone unnoticed worldwide. While the massacre has been widely condemned amidst a show of sympathy and solidarity with the victims and the people of Pakistan, concerns regarding the lifting of the moratorium on executions continue to reverberate. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif to urge a halt to executions. However, the PM argued that extraordinary situations required extraordinary steps while reassuring the Secretary General that legal norms would be respected while dealing with all terrorist cases. The PM consulted his legal aides on Saturday regarding options for setting up the SCs and asked that all parties be taken along in the constitutional amendment and other steps. He also emphasised that legal protection be provided to members of the armed forces in the context of anti-terrorist operations and sectarian terrorists be included in the ambit of the strategy. The PM has set up an umbrella monitoring committee and under it 15 sub-committees with time frames for finalising their recommendations. While the government seems to be getting up to speed on the National Action Plan, no one should labour under the illusion that this will be a short war. Staying the course therefore is of utmost importance. DT

MERE AZIZ HUMWATNO!

I am changed man, meray aziz humwatno, after tragic Peshawar incident. I have resolved that we are now going to definitely take on the terrorists and destroy them. Definitely. Definitely maybe. Inshallah. Perhaps pukka. You will see, by God’s will and sort of firm resolve of political and military leadership of fractured state of Pakistan. Slightly firm resolve. Or should I say, almost firm resolve, hain ji? There is no doubt that these Taliban are barbarians. They are a criminal network. They are behind kidnapping of people also. Sometimes they keep people as ostriches until ransom is paid. Where they keep them, we hear from escapees, are like consternation camps of Nazis where they kept Jews.

This mindset has destroyed peace of our land. We are all brothers and sisters. On occayion of Christmas, I gave such a nice, sweet speech about all of us being same to same. I said even mosques are like churches and other places of worship. Only difference is that roof of mosque is doomed, unlike church which has poking roof. I have been saying these sweet things so that no pogroms against Christians take place during Christmas holidays. Afsos (sorrow) that total of holidays is only two, sadly. Total is when you add up all the numbers and the remainder is the animal that pulls Santa Claus on his sleigh.

For Christmas, American ambassador asked us to see Nativity Play at embassy. In the play, His Excellency played the main prat. British High Commissioner had a minor prat and I told him that next year he must have the main prat because Britishers are batter actors than Americans. All diplomats present spoke of time of reckoning for Pakistan. They said it was now or never. To show off my knowledge I said, “what a pity we don’t have a Joan of Arc. She was great lady who was burned as a steak.”


The Danish ambassador started laughing, “Well, what do you know!” he exclaimed and laughed and laughed. “Excuse me, Excellency”, I said, “I know a lot. The Danish are from Denmark. The Norwegians are from Norway. And the Lapdancers are from Lapland.”
Courtesy TFT

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

IT’S ‘NOW OR NEVER’ FOR GOVERNMENT AGAINST TERRORISTS

Since the Peshawar tragedy, the security and law enforcing agencies have become hyperactive. All through the length and breadth of the country, reports speak of raids, encounters and the killing or arrest of alleged terrorists. Thus on Monday, 15 ‘terrorists’ were gunned down in Afghan Basti near Al Asif Square, Karachi, and one captured in a raid claimed to have been conducted on a meeting of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) Khan Zaman Group. Another suspect in the Peshawar attack was picked up in a raid on Mohalla Khursheed Abad, Karachi. At least 120 suspects were rounded up in the Mansehra district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Amongst the 117 suspects arrested in Islamabad in a ‘search’ operation, 20 are said to be Afghans. 

In contrast with this flurry of raids and arrests, Malik Ishaq of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is being freed after the Punjab government withdrew its application to extend his expired detention, raising questions about the consistency of approach of the anti-terrorist drive and whether the judiciary’s penchant for sticking to the letter of the law needs appropriate legislation to deal with the special exigencies of the terrorist challenge. One anomaly that has already arisen is the staying of executions of five convicts by the Lahore High Court and two by the Sindh High Court. Both sets of suspensions of executions were based on the defence questioning whether trials by military courts of civilians were kosher, and whether their proceedings met standards of due process. The prosecution has been instructed by Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif to appeal the suspensions in the light of the current hanging spree the authorities seem bent upon as a deterrent message to the terrorists.


Even if all the ‘successes’ of recent days of the anti-terrorist drive are taken at face value, the question lingers what miraculous improvement has occurred overnight in the security and law enforcement agencies’ capabilities to lead them unerringly to the alleged terrorists. Or is it the case that these elements were already known but the requisite political will and ‘go-ahead’ signal from the higher authorities was missing till now? Given the track record of our police and security agencies, it would not come as a complete surprise if the pressure from on high to ‘show results’ is leading to sweeps and dragnets that are more interested in numbers killed and arrested rather than the credibility and provability of any and all charges against those killed or detained. In other words, are our police and security establishment genuinely laying hands on the enemy or simply indulging in karwai (action for show)? The question is critical to the success or failure of the seeming newfound determination to root out terrorism and, as PM Nawaz Sharif put it, their facilitators and defenders in the cities and villages throughout the country. 

The Senate in its debate on the Peshawar incident has come up with some interesting arguments. Demanding practical steps to counter the internal security threats, the members of the upper chamber of parliament asked the government to ensure not only the hanging of terrorists but also those who kill people in the name of religion, pointing in particular to the murderer of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. They were of the view that the Peshawar tragedy was a total failure of the federal and provincial governments and intelligence agencies. They demanded an effective and meaningful operation against the terrorists and their supporters, apologists and all those who mislead people by misusing the name of religion. Meanwhile a new controversy has broken out about reports that the threat of an attack like Peshawar had been intimated months ago by the intelligence agencies but it seems there was no one in charge of following up on the information and taking necessary pre-emptive steps. And that is the glaring hole in the current counter-terrorism regime: the lack of a coordinating, decision making centre that can bring together disparate agencies and data to mount an effective riposte to the terrorists’ plans in a proactive manner rather than simply react (and that too in knee-jerk fashion) to actual attacks and atrocities.

Pakistan is at a moment of truth. How we go forward from here will determine if this is also a history changer or one more hiccup along the road of our confusion as a state and society. Without a consistent policy against all forms and manifestations of terrorism, whether outward facing or internal, the country cannot find the badly needed salvation from this threat that it craves. 

Courtesy: Daily Times 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

THE BLACKEST DAY (16 DECEMBER, 2014)

THE SMALLEST COFFINS ARE THE HEAVIEST

There are times when the barbarity we witness is so gut wrenching and horrific that we are left without words. Tuesday’s attack by Taliban militants on the Army Public School in Peshawar has left the entire country enveloped in a thick shroud of silence and grief, united in our disbelief that anyone, even the militants who have killed and hurt so many in this land, could stoop so low as to kill so many innocent children. At the time of writing this, news reports are coming in that as many as 141 people have been killed, 132 of them students, with scores more injured. These students were helpless, targeted and eliminated by Taliban suicide attackers and gunmen determined to inflict as much damage as possible to the heart and soul of this nation. Reports tell of how militants stormed onto the school premises during assembly time in the morning, with one detonating his suicide jacket, and opening indiscriminate fire on the hundreds of children. They went from classroom to classroom shooting the children in the head at point blank range — one survivor told of how children belonging to army backgrounds were picked out and gunned down.
 
The siege lasted till the later hours of the evening with reports telling of seven militants being killed by the army. Terror stricken parents gathered outside the school and hospitals, looking for their dead and injured children. They had left their homes in school uniforms and were retrieved in body bags. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility. There is no way the country and its leadership can let this one go; there is no way a solid, chapter-turning decision cannot be made after what is, no doubt, a national tragedy.

For the last many months, we have been urging the government to reassess its counterterrorism strategy, to take the right steps and initiate the right policy so that we do not witness this kind of atrocity. Last year, the PML-N government drew up the National Security Policy (NSP) to show that it was ‘serious’ in countering the growing terror threat in the country. Much noise was made about the strengthening of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) to coordinate and assemble all efforts to fight the terror threat. However, we have yet to see any concrete steps taken to bring the moribund NACTA to life or the NSP to fruition. In this very space we have been cautioning the government and military to not be complacent or think that the terror threat has abated since the start of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in June this year. The military operation was expected to knock the militants onto the backfoot and degrade their communication and organisational structure but there was always the promise of a blowback. Despite these constant reminders, the authorities were lulled into complacency. December 16, 2014 was the culmination of that false sense of security and we are now gasping for breath. This has been a year of some high profile targets: Karachi International Airport, Wagah border and now the children of Peshawar. Where is the famed NSP? Where is NACTA now?


The government and military must understand once and for all that we are at war. There are no two ways about it; the nation is paying the cost in the blood of its people and now its children. What is needed is a proper counterterrorism strategy that will pr-empt terror attacks before they happen; there is no point in providing security and protection after the fact. Intelligence gathering, security forces and the police are all needed to bring together this kind of umbrella organisation. What is needed is a long-term response. What is needed is a final end to this terror. What is needed is a fitting response to the blackest day we have ever lived through. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

JUNAID JAMSHED OF JJ AND J. UNDER A DOT!

The singer turned fashion house owner turned Islamic preacher Junaid Jamshed also known as JJ during a talk show committed an act of blasphemy. A First Information Report (FIR) was registered against him at the Police Station Risala, Karachi, on 2 December 2014 on the directives of a District and Sessions Court (South) after mounting pressure from influential Sunni clerics at Numaish Chowrangi. The owner of JJ and J. (read J Dot) - mens’ Shalwar Kurta brand, Jamshed is currently incommunicado and his whereabouts are unclear.

The dark stain of the blasphemy laws has been turned on its head in a twist that is as ironic as can be. Junaid Jamshed, the pop star-turned-orthodox Islamic preacher, has been charged with blasphemy after some inappropriate remarks made by him in a televised sermon. He was speaking, in his usual misogynistic manner, about the nature of women and used the example of Hazrat Aisha, the revered wife of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) to illustrate his point. This act of his has unleashed the ‘blasphemy mob’ with many clerics distancing themselves from Mr Jamshed — particularly those belonging to the Tableeghi Jamaat of which he is a part — and one cleric from the Sunni Tehreek getting a blasphemy case filed against him.
 
Things are not looking good for Junaid Jamshed. He even posted a teary, desperate video of himself apologising for the remarks he made, stating that his ignorance is to blame. However, even after that statement of regret, reports are now emerging that the famous religious preacher has fled to the ‘secular’ shores of the UK in fear of his life. After more than a decade preaching God’s word and being a known figure on the sermon circuit, Junaid Jamshed has been damned by the blasphemy madness that has taken Pakistan in its vice-like grip.


While some may be amused by the fact that a staunch religious preacher is being cannibalised by his own, the whole affair is certainly no laughing matter. We have been seeing a frightening upswing of blasphemy cases recently with people being lynched and murdered — the most atrocious being the burning of a Christian couple in a brick kiln — by the ‘protectors’ of the faith, angry mobs driven by the vitriol of the nearest mullah. Now that a famous cleric is also receiving the same kind of treatment we can rest assured about one thing: this monster does not discriminate. Something must be done.

Whilst many sane, levelheaded individuals may not agree with the gender bashing and orthodox ideologies of people such as Junaid Jamshed, one cannot condone anyone, including him, being subjected to the barbaric treatment that all blasphemy accused are given. They are shot in jail cells by members of the police force, they are tortured and killed by manic crowds and no sense of mercy seems to prevail. This has gone on long enough. The blasphemy laws must be amended before all logic and rationale completely abandon this land.