Saturday, 9 April 2016

Expecting the impossible

After a week of ambiguity, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met with COAS, Raheel Sharif and called for better coordination between intelligence agencies operating against terrorist networks. According to the reports, PM Nawaz Sharif gave his blessing to the ongoing operation in Punjab. “Coordinated operations are underway against terrorists, hardened criminals and ferraris by law enforcement agencies including Rangers, Punjab police, CTD, assisted by Pakistan army in southern Punjab,” said a statement by ISPR.
Lahore blast was a severe blow to the government for so many obvious reasons. Hub of ruling PMLN’s political activities, Punjab was considered prone to militant presence. With a deadly attack that took 73 lives and injured more than 300, TTP-JA announced its arrival in Punjab.
What followed the attack was a ridiculous drive for point scoring, blame games and confusion. As always, Army was the first one to jump in the bandwagon of taking credit as DG ISPR, Asim Bajwa tweeted Chief of Army Staff had met with the military high command to authorize a military operation against militants in Punjab – without any consultation with civilian authorities.
DG ISPR announced, ‘Number of suspected terrorists and facilitators arrested and huge cache of arms and ammunition recovered’, in raids, which he said were carried out by Army and Rangers with the help of intelligence agencies.
Legalities aside, there are many questions which someone should have answered. For instance, if our intelligence agencies can take such swift action in hours’ notice, why were such actions not taken before the blast? If the raids were conducted solely by military based on intelligence provided by military intel agencies, why was the intelligence not shared with civilian agencies? Also, if our agencies as efficient as they looked after the Lahore blast, why do such attacks occur – at all?
Counter Terrorism Department Punjab has been conducting intel-based operations against terrorists for months. Malik Ishaq, the much-feared sectarian terrorist and head of LeJ was killed in a reported encounter with CTD in July last year. After Indian government’s claims that Pathankot attack was a product of JeM, PM Nawaz Sharif ordered action against its centers across the country, CTD Punjab raided and closed down several offices. ISIS cells busted in Daska was also the handiwork of CTD.
With reports of COAS ordering the Punjab operation to be an all-out military venture, many in media known for their allegiance started a misleading campaign to take credit away from CTD – which has proven its worth. However, there are capacity issues and limitations for CTD as well. Now that civil-military stalemate is supposedly over, it is hoped that Army will keep CTD in loop.
Another dent to the civil-military balance, which is already imbalanced was the feud with Iran. If there is one department taking full advantage of Twitter, it is ISPR. Right after COAS, Raheel Sharif’s meeting with Iranian President Rouhani, DG ISPR tweeted that interference of Indian RAW in Pakistan’s affairs, especially in Balochistan was discussed with the President. In a Press Conference later that day, the latter blatantly denied having discussed the issue – casuing a major diplomatic embarrassment for Pakistan.
While Twitter is a good medium to give away fast updates, shouldn’t there be a check on what information is to be given out in Public? Such matters are ideally handled diplomatically, using the proper channels, rather than discussing them on a public platform. Iran, which also happens to be an ally of India, was forced into an awkward situation.
If we look at our relations with our neighboring countries, India and Afghanistan are hostile, Iran is uncertain and unresponsive to our ‘solid proofs’ of RAW’s presence, which leaves us only to China. Meanwhile, India is strengthening its ties with all our neighbors, as well as our ‘brother Islamic countries’ – the latest being Saudi Arabia.
Some optimistic ones among us, which includes me, saw hope of better relations with India post Pathankot. Taking Masood Azhar in custody, sharing intelligence about expected attacks on India with them, sending an investigation team to probe Pakistan’s links with Pathankot attack – all pointed towards confidence building between both countries.
All hopes fell flat when a member of JIT sent to India announced the attack was stage by India itself with no Pakistan connection. He described Indian allegations as ‘vicious propaganda’ against Pakistan. These comments coincided with three apparently different events. First, a ‘serving RAW officer’ was caught red-handed by Pakistani authorities whose confession video was presented before media. Second, India demanded access to Masood Azhar. Third, China blocked Indian move in UN to add Masood Azhar in a blacklist of international terrorists and proved to be the good friend that China is.
Now that Joint Investigation Team, which was probing the Indian allegations after Pathankot attack has apparently denied any involvement from inside Pakistan, will Masood Azhar be freed? It also leads to the Punjab Operation question. It is being conducted predominately in South Punjab, which includes Bahawalpur – the HQ of banned JeM. Will any action be taken against it?
According to a report in Dawn, Jamat-u-Dawah has set up ‘Darul Qaza Sharia’, an alternative court ‘to dispense justice among people in light of Sharia laws.’ It is a sheer violation of the constitution and can be seen as a state within a state. Why not start an overdue operation from Chauburji, Lahore?
As these curious questions still remain unanswered, many anticipate how far is the military willing to go to clear Punjab of all sorts of militants. However, chances of giving up ‘good militants’ policy from the recent events look grim.

Umer Ali

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad. He focuses on human rights issues, social problems, and more. He can be reached at:umeraliasghar5@gmail.com, and on Twitter at: @iamumer1.

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