17
December

The Threat Within

Published in Hilal English Feb 2014

Written By: Zafar Hilaly

Whether or not a global clash of civilizations, a la Huntington, is likely, we in Pakistan, seem to be in the throes of something similar. Currently, the cause for which so many gave their lives... a democratic Pakistan comprising free elections, an independent judiciary, a free press, guarantee of individual rights and equal status of minorities... is pitted against the Taliban's version of the Sharia imposed by force. In other words, Taliban, who believe the prevalent (Western) system of government is a sort of an infection and the cause of the nation's ills are battling against those, who believe in the constitution, democracy and freedom. Few leaders in the past had also attempted a similar 'top-down state sponsored Islamization' that surely caused negative consequences for the state and society. This fight has divided the country and fuelled the visceral loathing the protagonists have for each other and, what is worse, has also dangerously exacerbated shia- sunni differences.

The reader may say we know all this, so why repeat it? The answer is because few believe we will be able to find a compromise... the usual fudge... between two very contrasting beliefs and somehow muddle through. Well, we won't. There is no possibility of communication and accommodation between them because the values, concepts and principles they embrace are profoundly different. Their respective national visions which were always irreconcilable have become unbridgeable with the addition of violence to the lethal brew which already divides them. Anyway, to try and persuade the opposing sides to agree to democratic rules of political participation, or to get the Taliban to commit to pluralism and respect for equal rights for all, must fail as they are contrary to the Taliban's version of the Sharia. In any case, the Taliban (and their sympathizers, too) often get divided by personal rivalries, ideological differences and disputes over turf and money. At the last count, there were over fifty different militant groups in the country and not all know what they want.

There is little point in trying to retrace our steps and ask why or what went wrong; and certainly none in assigning blame. Such a debate will only intensify feelings of frustration, resentment and victimization. But, alas, to some extent that's unavoidable or else confusion, already rife, will become rampant and deplete our fighting morale.

If the Taliban were an organization bent only on robbing and killing for money by now they would have provoked a wave of resentment in the populace and been destroyed. But that's not the case. In some parts of the country, the Taliban are viewed by the poor and disaffected populace as the panacea for decades of misrule. Many are happy to accept the Taliban's offer of prompt, albeit, rough justice in return for obedience. Hence, the challenge that the Taliban pose to the state is more compelling, and the danger they pose greater than that offered by a mafia-like organization or local warlords. The Taliban is a formidable foe with an extensive local and regional intelligence network. Its followers have penetrated just about every segment of the society and even in few cases, the state. That was evident in the attacks on Pakistan Army, Pak Navy and Pakistan Air Force installations and Headquarters. The assassination attempts on former President Musharraf; Mehran Base; GHQ, Kamra Base, Benazir Bhutto's murder and most recently that of SP Chaudhry Aslam are but few examples. In each case intelligence was crucial to the success or near success of the attacks by the terrorists and their abettors.

It's no secret that few men of the Taliban's ilk, and of the same political and religious persuasions as them, are to be found in every nook and corner. Therefore, the battle against them would not be won unless they are ferreted out, with the verve, gusto, determination and spirit the venture requires; a premonition bolstered by the faltering Karachi operation. If that was not bad enough, what's infinitely worse is that in the victims' eyes, the state is viewed by few as not a credible deterrent. An anemic, ineffective response; far too few enemy corpses have all demonstrated that though the rhetoric may be loud, the bite is somewhat toothless. So much so that in the minds of the Taliban, the state hardly possesses a deterrent. As a society, we have overdone the appeasement. We have bent over backwards to accommodate the extremists; we have allowed them to flourish and expand, and given it virtually free access to the media. Those militants sentenced to death are not being executed although the TTP continues their killings of our armed forces personnel without any similar self imposed restraint. Worse, the apathy in effective response led to an easy and merry-making escape of Taliban terrorists from Bannu and DIK jails. Earlier we appeased the Taliban by not only adopting their version of the sharia in Swat, but allowed them to take control of daily administrative functions.

There was, in truth, only one option for the country and that was for the political leadership, the Army and various Governments in the provinces to stick together and resist this extremist religious zealotry by extending as much modern-ization, democratic rights and fruits of economic development as they could to the people of the FATA. That was always a far preferable option to an annihilating military response. In case of dialogues or operation, we will have to achieve a definitive edge; and one that is clear to the world and is irrefutably so in the minds of the enemy. The fact is that we must leave the enemy in no doubt about the heavy cost it would pay for hosting our enemies, let alone killing our soldiers. Once this lesson has been learnt, talks are likely to produce the results each sides can live with. In the inheritance in our possession... Pakistan... we have a great treasure to guard and which represents nearly a hundred years of sacrifice both on and off the battlefields. We not only have a great treasure, we have a great cause. And now, surely, the time has come to ask ourselves: Are we taking every measure within our power to defend that cause?

Are we? I am sure a true answer would not appear far fetched! We must protect our country, our people, our values and our future.
The writer is a former member of Pakistan Foreign Services and contributes regularly for print & electronic media. Besides his stint as an Ambassador, he remained Special Secretary to Prime Minister for foreign affairs and national defence. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
16
February

A Case for Samjhauta Express Massacre

Written By: Naila Inayat

“It has been eight years and I am still seeking justice for my husband’s killing,” says Hameeda Begum.

Her husband Abdul Majeed Khan was one of the 68 Pakistanis and Indians who were killed exactly eight years ago in the blasts in Samjhauta Express near Panipat on February 18, 2007. But Hameeda, like several other relatives of the victims, is still awaiting justice. “The government has forgotten us, no one talks about the terrorism that took away the father of my children. I spoke to Abdul when he was at Delhi station. He was excited about returning home and ‘meeting the kids but he never returned,” says Hameeda. Samjhauta Express or the Friendship Express, a weekly oldest train service between Delhi and Lahore was attacked at midnight and two carriages were set off after the train had passed Diwana station near the Indian city of Panipat. 68 people were killed, of which it was reported that 50 were Pakistani, while several were injured.

Today, as the families of the Samjhauta Express victims wait to see the perpetrators of the heinous incident brought to justice, in the last few years there hasn’t been any progress on the investigation of the case by the Indian Government. “Although, Samjhauta Express terrorist attack happened more than two years before Mumbai attack, it is very disappointing that India has not shared findings of Samjhauta Express terrorist attack investigations despite assurances at the highest level,” said Foreign Office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam at a press briefing last month.

Previously, in November 2008 it was reported that Indian officials suspected the attacks were linked to Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit, an Indian Army officer and member of Hindu nationalist group ‘Abhinav Bharat’. Purohit himself claimed that he had "infiltrated" the Abhinav Bharat and he was only doing his job. The Indian Government has always been critical of Pakistan for not doing enough against the alleged collaborators of 26/11. The recent case in argument was Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi’s bail from federal capital-based Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC). The ATC had granted bail to Lakhvi in Mumbai attacks case but the law enforcement agencies detained him in another case. Meanwhile, the question arises how the mastermind of Samjhauta Express, Swami Aseemanand, was granted bail in last August by the Punjab and Haryana High Court? Aseemanand had pointed to the involvement of the Indian military officers and some organizations linked to major political parties being part of the attack.

Yet, no uproar from the Indian media. According to the Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA), the continued attacks on temples across the country led Swami Aseemanand to promote “Bomb ka Badla", which led to the bombing of Samjhauta Express. The probe into the conspiracy of the explosion brought out a deadly plot that was inspired by "quite upset" attitude of Aseemanand with the terror strikes on temples like Akshardham in Gujarat, Raghunath Mandir in Jammu and Sankat Mochan Temple in Varanasi. This, according to the NIA charge sheet, built up deep vengeance against the minority community in the hearts and minds of Swami Aseemanand. Product of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), he is now accused number one in the Samjhauta train blasts; accused number three in a bombing at Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid that killed 11 people in May 2007; and accused number six in a blast at the dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan, that killed three people, in October 2007. He is also named, but not yet charged, in two attacks in Malegaon, Maharashtra, in September 2006 and September 2008, that together took lives of 37 people.

India which complains that the trial against Lakhvi has intentionally been dragged over six years but with eight years passed by the case against Aseemanand is not going anywhere either. There has been no breakthrough in the Samjhauta case until now. And under the current BJP government led by Narendra Modi who has been an activist for the Hindu right-wing paramilitary RSS for his entire political career, the chances for a better equation blur. He remains committed to his ideology of Hindutva which says that India should be an exclusive Hindu nation state in which minorities are treated as second-class citizens or worse. The recent heat taken by the BJP-government over the issue of forced conversions is an example in itself and ideological manifestation of the new government. The challenge will always remain for Modi as Prime Minister of a secular state to focus areas that can boost confidence in bilateral ties with Pakistan. Not failing Pakistan at Samjhauta can well be the beginning.

The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. Twitter: @nailainayat
16
March

Counter Terrorism Force (CTF)

Pakistan Army’s Training to Balochistan Police

The provincial capital of Balochistan echoed with loud slogans as the passing out parade ceremony of Balochistan’s first Special Combat Unit (SCU) commenced in Quetta on February 19, 2015. The spirit and morale of security personnel of this unit from police, which has been raised as a part of the Counter Terrorism Force (CTF), was sky high as they pledged to face the challenges of internal security and were determined to bring peace to Pakistan. The training was held at CTF Training School Quetta under the direct supervision of Pakistan Army. The training modules included sharp shooting, sniper, planning assault, fighting room combat, rappelling, VVIP protocols, unarmed combat, quid pro quo assault fire techniques, rural and urban warfare, and post incident protocols.

Pakistan Army has been actively involved in rendering all types of assistance to Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs). The police has not only been trained by army from time to time but has also been provided with equipment including weapons and ammunition. The occasion was graced by Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif as the Chief Guest. General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army Staff, Governor Balochistan, Muhammad Khan Achakzai, Chief Minister Balochistan, Abdul Malik Baloch, Commander Southern Command, Lieutenant General Nasser Khan Janjua, and other civil and military officials attended the ceremony along with a large number of guests.

200 Corporals including 18 women completed their training and participated in the parade that was followed by a mock exercise. The personnel demonstrated their skills and received appreciation by the audience. While addressing the gathering, Prime Minister said, “It would be a prolonged war and victory would need mammoth struggle. We have to combat terrorism with courage, tolerance, patience and wise decisions.” He also appreciated the role of Special Services Group and Pakistan Army in the training of Balochistan Police and CTF. He urged the officers and soldiers of CTF Balochistan and police to perform their duty with discipline, a sense of responsibility and impartiality. Towards the end of the ceremony, Prime Minister and COAS distributed merit certificates to the high achievers of the course. Constable Sharif Khan was declared as ‘Overall Best Male Student’ whereas Constable Palwasha Fida was awarded certificate as the ‘Best Female Student’.

09
March

Terrorism and Extremism - Let the Silent Muslim Majority Count

Written By: Lt Gen (r) Shafaat Ullah Shah

The recent spate of terrorism in Bacha Khan University Charsadda, Paris, Jakarta, Lebanon and a Russian flight from Egypt to St. Petersburg have further amplified the imminence of terrorism and how it affects our daily lives. These carven acts by ISIS, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups show their reach and wherewithal in disturbing the world peace. The prime objectives of these attacks could have been varied. While suicide attacks in Beirut are another instance in the proxy war between Salafis and Shias in Lebanon, the prime intent of multiple terrorist attacks in Paris and Jakarta could have been to internationalize the wrath of ISIS in response to the Russian-led operations in Syria and discouraging tourists, retarding economic growths. The planting of a bomb in Russian aircraft was a requite to Russian force projection in Syria. Barbaric act of terrorism against a soft target in a university in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa against innocent students was the likely result of counter-terrorism campaign against terrorists in Pakistan.


Muslims are fighting a war within Islam against the outlaws of Islam, the Khawarij. Yet, as we have painfully seen, these terrorists and outlaws threaten the entire world. Though, Muslims have been and will continue to be the worst sufferers of these terrorist attacks. From statistics, maximum deaths have been caused by the radical terrorists to the Muslims besides the negative economic outfalls. Only in Pakistan, more than 60,000 lives, including civilians and soldiers, have been lost besides incurring economic losses of more than 107 billion US Dollars. Even worse, consequent to terrorist attacks in the West, there is bound to be a backlash against the Muslim communities in non-Muslim countries in terms of physical assaults, economic deprivation, hate campaign, denial of jobs etc. Thus the primary onus for addressing the issues of terrorism and extremism is both a compulsion and an imperative for the Muslim World.

 

terrandextir.jpgIslam, in essence and spirit, is a religion of peace which abhors violence. This is a belief shared by majority of Muslims but rejected today by rest of the world due to radical Islam. While there are radical elements present in other societies, their numbers and magnitude of violent acts do not make them much dominant on a global stage. Thus message of a tolerant and peaceful Islam needs to be spread both, within a Muslim society and to promote interfaith harmony.


In every Muslim society, while around 10% extremists and seculars might exist, the majority is the moderates practicing Islam to varying degrees. Yet the minority is holding the majority as hostage to their brand of radicalism. Any outside influence or measures to change perceptions or bring moderation to Islamic practices is viewed with skepticism and is not likely to improve the situation. The change and modernization has to come from within. The redeeming factor is the 'silent majority' that needs to be invoked and make its presence felt rather than being intimidated by the extremists. There is a consensus that the root causes of terrorism are unresolved disputes affecting the Muslim world, social injustices, lack of education, job opportunities and revenge for uses of force against Muslims. While it may be virtually impossible to ingress religious beliefs enshrined over a period of time, the other issues are addressable. Every extremist has a family. Any changes in his/her behaviour pattern or an evidence of radical tendencies is most likely observed and noticed by them. The initial findings of terrorist attacks at Bacha Khan University manifest involvement of facilitators in providing guns, transport and passage. If any one of them, for the sake of humanity, have divulged the intentions of terrorists to the authorities, the impending act could have been aborted. The father of Abdelhamed Abaaoud, suspected ringleader of Paris attack, after the incident, confessed that his son was a psychopath and a devil, a fact if apprised earlier, to the concerned authorities might have prevented his involvement. Similarly, he would have had friends and colleagues with whom he would have shared his views prior to the heinous act.


In the controlling of extremism, madrassa, and mosque play an important role besides parents. Clerics assigned to those institutions cast an everlasting imprint in shaping the personalities of their pupils. Some of them may have radical views which need to be checked. The state has a role in ensuring the projection of balanced views and imparting madrasa education which nurtures a responsible, enlightened individual, capable of shouldering responsibilities in a society. The pupils, their parents and the community at large also have a role to play in case the clerics deviate from the right path and unduly thrust inordinate views. Neighbours and landlords can also play a role in determining suspicious activities and its reporting to the authorities. This system of checks could create an effective deterrent to a would-be terrorist. Respective governments must also facilitate this interaction by publicizing telephone numbers, designating centres and analyse information to corroborate facts and convert it into useable intelligence.


In this age of media galore and prominence of civil society, both have a significant responsibility in providing a counter-narrative against extremism. Any reporting of impending act of terrorism by a member of society needs to be recognized and suitably projected on media instead of glamorizing the terrorist’s acts. Media should boycott messages of terrorists and its over projection as an 'internal policy' and work ethics, as much as possible. Terrorists germinate on financial support, instances of financial aid sustaining terrorists can be somewhat controlled by those working in banks and other financial institutions in identifying suspicious transactions or large volumes to unidentified clients. Individuals and non-state organizations funding extremists’ groups must also realize their responsibilities in putting a stop to these donations, likely to perpetrate extremism.


Terrorism and extremism continue to affect our lives and that of future generations and require an all embracing response from the Muslim society in particular. It is imperative for all segments to realize the seriousness of this, ‘present and real danger’ and be counted in thwarting this menace. This is the right thing to do: to stand up for our values and do everything possible to protect our religion, our people and our nation.

Lt Gen (Retd) Shafaat Ullah Shah is presently serving as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Jordan. He has also been Commander Lahore Corps and remained Military Secretary to the President. He is author of 'Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan' (published 1983). This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 

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