May 01, 2016

Pakistan: No respite from Terror

Yohannan Chemarapally

THE slaughter of more than 70 innocents on Easter Sunday in the “Gulshan-e-Iqbal” children's park in Lahore has once again brought to the fore the serious threat posed by terrorist outfits to the security of the Pakistani State. The attack carried out by a suicide bomber was ostensibly targeted against the minority Christians who were celebrating Easter. But more non-Christians were killed in the attack and a large number were children. A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, the Tehrik-e-Taliban, claimed responsibility with its spokesman claiming that “Christians in Lahore celebrating Easter were the targets”. The attack, he said, was also a message to the government of Pakistan that similar attacks would continue till the government acceded to the demand of introducing strict Sharia laws in the country. The last big terror attack carried out by the TTP on Pakistani soil was on the secondary school in Peshawar in December 2104 which resulted in the deaths of more than 133 school children. Following the attack, the Pakistan government lifted the moratorium on executions which was in place since 2008. Last year, Pakistan carried out the most number of executions in the world, though only a minority of the cases involved terrorist acts. After December 2014, under the anti-terrorist “emergency laws” that were passed by the civilian government with support from all the major opposition parties, the army was given powers to try terrorism suspects in special military courts bypassing the civilian judicial system. The army also launched massive combing operation in big cities like Karachi using the “extraordinary powers” conferred on it, to arrest or eliminate terrorists and militants that are waging war against the State. CRUSHING DEMOCRATIC DISSENT AND TRADE UNION RIGHTS The Pakistan army also launched a big military operation in the autonomous North Waziristan region which led to a huge rise in the number of internal refugees along with the deaths of hundreds of militant fighters. As a result, there has been increase in terrorist blow back within the country. The army at the same time was used by the security establishment to crush democratic dissent and trade union rights. An anti-privatisation strike by PIA employees in Karachi was suppressed by involving the military. Cadres of major opposition parties like the PPP and the MQM have been arbitrarily detained in Sindh province. Balochistan, which is experiencing a separatist insurgency, has long been subjected to anti-terrorism operations by the military. By the end of 2015, the military had arrested more than 95,000 people under the emergency laws framed after the Peshawar school attack. Only around 2000 are said to be “hard core” militant suspects. There is no doubt that Pakistan has been among the countries worst affected by terrorism. It has been estimated that in the last four years more than 1700 people have been killed in more than 170 incidents of terrorist related violence. In a bid to further widen the sectarian divide, the Shia community has been specifically targeted. The Christians in the country too have been singled out with churches and schools being the primary targets. Innocent Pakistanis have also lost their lives to the drone and missile attacks launched by American drones. These attacks have intensified after Barack Obama entered the White House in 2008. Many of the drones used in the attacks are based inside Pakistan. A recent report in the American media based on official documents reveals that nearly 90 percent of those killed in drone attacks are civilians. Drone attacks targeting Ayman al Zawahiri, the al Qaeda leader in 2006 when he was reportedly hiding in Damadola, a Pakistani village, had resulted in the deaths of seventy six children and 27 adults. Zawahari remains unscathed so far. There have been many similar strikes in Pakistan that have killed hundreds of civilians. The American drone attacks have instigated many terror attacks in Pakistan and other countries. The latest terror attack in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, happened at a time when religious fundamentalists are openly flexing their muscles on the streets of Pakistan. In Islamabad, thousands of protestors rampaged through Islamabad's high security “red zone”, destroying vehicles and surrounding the parliament building, to commemorate the death of Momtaz Qadri. He was convicted and hanged for the killing of the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer in 2011. Qadri, the personal bodyguard of the governor, had objected to Taseer's progressive views on the “anti-blasphemy law”. It took the Pakistani authorities many days to disperse the protestors from the capital after prolonged negotiations with their leaders. The army had to be finally called in to persuade the protestors to leave. Among the demands the clerics leading the protests put forward, was the immediate implementation of Sharia law and the expulsion of all those professing the Ahmadiya faith. The protestors, who mainly belonged to the “Barelvi” school of Islam, wanted the immediate hanging of the Christian woman, Asia Bibi, accused of apostasy whom Taseer had tried to defend. A Pakistani court had sentenced her to death for the alleged crime of committing blasphemy. AGAINST NEW LAW ON VIOLENCE ON WOMEN In recent days, conservative Pakistani clerics have another 'cause celebre'. They are vociferously protesting against a new law passed by the Punjab state government, called the “Protection against Violence against Women” Act. The law prohibits husbands from beating up their wives. Stringent punishment awaits those who violate the law including prison terms and the wearing of security bracelets. Religious parties and their allies in parliament have opposed the law, calling it un-Islamic. They have threatened to launch agitations all over the country if the Punjab government does not repeal the law at the earliest. It is therefore obvious that terrorism is flourishing in a climate that fosters it, encouraged directly or indirectly by internal as well as external forces. With the latest terror attack, sections of the Pakistani Taliban which seem to be moving closer to the Daesh (Islamic State), have sent a strong signal that they are now very much in an active mode in the Punjab province, the political stronghold of the Sharifs and the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). The Pakistan prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, canceled his participation in the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington in the last week of March at the eleventh hour following the developments in his home town. There were reports that the Pakistan premier would be meeting with his Indian counterpart on the sidelines of the summit. Sharif while announcing the cancellation of the visit said that he was determined to eliminate “the extremist mind set” from the nation and take the war “to the doorstep of terrorist outfits”. The US State Department said that America would work with Pakistan “to root out the scourge of terrorism”. The Pakistan military did not waste much time to launch its counter-terrorism operations in the Punjab after the attack on the Children's Park. The ruling party led by the Sharif brothers, according to reports, would have preferred a more nuanced “carrot and stick” approach while dealing with the militant and terror groups in the Punjab. Apparently, if reports from Pakistan are believed, both the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif and the chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, were not consulted before the army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif ordered regular army units and paramilitary Rangers to begin anti-terror operations in the province. It was the military spokesman who announced the beginning of the operations, not the civilian government. In the first 48 hours of the operation, the army said that it had arrested 5200 people on suspicions of being either militants or being “terrorist sympathisers”. In the last week of March, the Pakistani authorities also dramatically announced the arrest of “an Indian spy”. Kulbushan Jadhav, a senior “retired” officer in the Indian Navy was shown on Pakistan media, “confessing” to subversive activities in Balochistan. The Pakistan information minister, Pervaiz Rashid and the military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, accused India of sponsoring and orchestrating terrorism and separatism. From available indications, New Delhi is caught in a delicate situation. It is sticking to its stand that Jadhav was a legitimate businessman who took premature retirement from the Navy. The timing of the video release featuring the “Indian spy” caught on Pakistani soil coincided with the visit of a five member Pakistani investigating team to Pathankot, the site of a terror attack in January this year. India blames the attack on terrorist from Pakistan. It was the first time that India has allowed an investigating team from Pakistan to visit the country. The Pakistani authorities have arrested many Jaish-e-Munammad (JeM) activists in connection with the terror attack in Pathankot.