Within hours of the Islamabad court carnage on March 3, Pakistan’s chief justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani vowed to take the culprits to task. The next day, he ordered the installation of security cameras at all court premises.
The prime minister (Nawaz Sharif) expressed his displeasure over the attack, saying “it does not augur well for peace talks.” The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, the umbrella organization of Pakistani extremists) dissociated itself from the incident but refrained from condemning it. The government, embarrassed by the continued string of attacks all over the country, lapped up the TTP statement, giving credence to the widely-spread perception that individual groups associated with the terror outfit may be carrying out subversion on their own.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan seems to believe so too. That is why both the minister and his boss Nawaz Sharif are adamantly pursuing talks as a panacea to the raging violence, despite the fact that a couple of members of the original negotiators’ team never gave success even a ten percent chance.
Even if we give Khan and Sharif the benefit of doubt, the so-called Ahrarul Hind, the group that claimed responsibility for the Islamabad attack, is not doing anything different from what Hakimullah Mehsud stood for all his life – rejection of the state of Pakistan in favor of an Islamic emirate. Nor has Mullah Fazlullah (the chief of TTP and Pakistan’s most wanted man) recanted Mehsud’s anti-Pakistan mission. Equally vociferous is Maj Haroon alias Mast Gul – the Jamaat-e-Islami/Hezb-e-Islami commander who fought and dogged the Indian army in Kashmir in the late 1990s – about his pro-Sharia pretense. And all of them exhibit no qualm whatsoever for their gruesome tactics like sending in suicide bombers or planting bombs to kill innocent Pakistanis. They even claim to slaughter captured security forces personnel.
Discussions with on-ground intelligence officials, private observers and reporters – all of them familiar with the militant organizations – reveal that it is fatally naïve to believe in the claims made by the phony Ahrarul Hind. With a near consensus, they all believe that militants camouflage their identities under various names.
Pakistan’s political leaders seem scared and bent on according space and greater legitimacy to the forces of terror. They are knowingly submitting to the will of terrorists by begging for talks because they don’t want upheaval in their constituencies. Punjab, so it seems, is paramount to the interests of the rest of Pakistan. The Islamabad attack has questioned several officially propagated myths.
Firstly, administrative measures – even if elaborate – cannot be enough to prevent dedicated, ready-to-kill- and-die attackers. Unfortunately, administrative retooling comes across as the answer to a politically motivated rebellion embedded in religion. The new security strategy also clearly seems to be the product of a bureaucratic mindset. By coming up with the idea of a countrywide rapid reaction force consisting of tens of thousands of people itself is an administratively self-defeating, financially draining and politically self-serving policy. The armed force, the police and intelligence outfits already maintain and continue to expand anti-terror squads, which can also be called a rapid reaction force. What can such a force do in the case of a suicide mission like the one on the Islamabad courts? Why create another administrative white elephant then? Can new security forces, security check posts and barriers really prevent determined and focused attackers? And what is the point if the force swings into action only after the incident?
Violence in the last decade has demonstrated that administrative measures can hardly prevent terrorists from carrying out targeted operations.
The siege of the army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and the Manawan police training academy in Lahore, the strikes on Kamra airbase and Peshawar airport, and the attack on PNS Mehran naval base are examples of how insurgents can strike at will. The element of surprise and spontaneity – blitz action – is always on their side.
Chaudhry Nisar addressing a press conference on February 20
Secondly, the raid flies in the face of official claims that Islamabad is very safe – an emphatic claim the Interior Minister made after his bureaucrat colleagues had warned of threats facing the capital.
In a presentation to the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Interior on February 20, Director General of National Crisis Management Cell Tariq Lodhi had described Islamabad as an ‘extremely dangerous’ city because of sleeper cells of banned organizations including Al Qaeda, the TTP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Another official, quoted by the APP news agency in early March, spoke of the risks that slum settlements in and around the capital represent. Around 98,000 people are illegally living in 24 slums of the federal capital, the official said. These slums have become a nuisance for law enforcement agencies and a safe haven for kidnappers, terrorists and other criminals, many of whom are illegal foreigners, “with criminal records and whose activities are being closely monitored by law enforcement agencies”.
Thirdly, the police and the administration’s state of preparedness stood exposed once the armed attackers began their mission. It exposed the official response as much as the “lone wolf” Sikandar did in August last year.
Fourthly, the attack amounts to an assault on the judicial system of Pakistan – very much in synch with the TTP’s core objectives. It raises a major question as to whether the government is ready to embed state security policy in the tenets of sharia as wanted by a small band of professional murderers or will it put its foot down in defense of whatever liberal/Anglo-Saxon is left of Pakistan? We need to clear this conceptual confusion first.
Then, the war against terrorism requires non-intrusive, technologically-backed preemptive systems and not new armies of security personnel. Pakistan needs state-of-the-art surveillance systems, and not sub-standard Chinese screening equipment that the previous government bought and turned into junk within months. Compromising national security for cheap equipment is no less than treason.
Finally, the government doesn’t have to look for enemies in the mountains of Waziristan. They are very much in the heart of Islamabad, rejecting the constitution, threatening the state with the army of 500 female suicide attackers. The real force-multipliers occupy the pulpit.
All the government needs to do is to indiscriminately enforce various sub-sections of the Anti Terror Act of 2013, particularly sections 8, 9, 11-E, and 11-M. They all relate to acts of terrorism, collection of donations for and by proscribed organizations, spread and propagation of sectarian hatred, and incitement to violence.
Even the 1965 Loutspeaker Act is flouted all over, even in Islamabad. No strategy will work until already existing legal tools are enforced across the board.
Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies
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