By Zahid Hussain
May 20th, 2015
YET another massacre, yet another day of mourning. An endless macabre dance of death unfolds. The 45 Ismailis killed execution-style last week seem another statistic in the spiralling list of victims of terrorism just like the Peshawar schoolchildren slaughtered in their classrooms.
No amount of bloodbath shakes us out of our inaction. There are a few statements of condemnation and then it is business as usual. It is always easy to dump the blame on a ‘foreign hand’ while the murderers act with impunity. Are we in a state of denial or is this simple expediency? It seems to be a combination.
After a brief lull, the terrorist attacks have returned. One believed the country had changed after the Army Public School carnage last December. The entire political and military leadership were said to be on the same page. But what page?
While the militants operate freely, the space for moderate and saner voices is shrinking fast.
They were supposed to have agreed on a National Action Plan to combat terrorism. But does anyone remember what that much-hyped plan was all about? The roadside massacre of 45 innocent Ismaili men and women reminds us of the solemn pledges made by the national leadership in the aftermath of the school carnage.
Six months down the road, the National Action Plan is all but dead with no tangible signs of even the watered-down plan being enforced. True, those 20 points can hardly be called a coherent strategy. Yet there was some hope of their being taken seriously by the national leadership.
We have not seen even a single point being put into action. So it is not surprising that tragedies like the Karachi bus carnage continue to happen, making citizens, particularly religious minorities, even more insecure.
While the militants operate freely, the space for moderate and saner voices is fast shrinking. The authorities have yet to track down the murderers of Sabeen Mahmud and one is not sure if those involved in the Ismaili carnage will ever be apprehended though they have publicly claimed responsibility.
A critical examination of how many of the 20 points have been seriously pursued gives a very dismal picture. Though parliament swiftly passed the 21st Amendment, the establishment of military courts to try hardcore terrorists is now in abeyance pending the Supreme Court’s decision on their legitimacy. The military court is just a minor point of the plan.
Meanwhile, there is no movement on other critical issues such as reforming the judicial system and enforcement of anti-terrorism laws. The government has long backed out from acting against radical seminaries and blocking foreign funding for them under pressure from the religious parties. That has further encouraged them to expand their activities.
What is most alarming is that almost all banned militant and sectarian outfits continue to operate freely in defiance of the law, publicly inciting violence against religious and sectarian minorities. The government has not even taken action against the clerics who had reportedly issued fatwas against the Ismailis.
Radical religious and hate literature are freely distributed and mosques are used for preaching violence. All such places and activities were supposed be banned under the action plan and the Protection of Pakistan Act. The National Counter-Terrorism Authority remains dormant and coordination among various intelligence agencies is yet to materialise.
It is also a huge fallacy that the civil and military leadership are on the same page. It is true that the civilian leadership is paying second fiddle to the military that has already taken over internal security responsibilities. This is largely because of the inaction of the civilian leadership which has left a huge vacuum for the military to fill.
It is more of an abdication of power by the elected authorities. This has worsened the chaos and disarray in the counterterrorism policy. There is no proactive counterterrorism strategy and the entire battle is reduced to mere fire-fighting without any clear policy direction.
True, military operations in the tribal areas may have helped to destroy the militant training centres and safe havens. But the far greater problem includes the terrorist and extremist networks operating in the mainland, particularly in major cities like Karachi. How can one expect to fight terrorism when banned outfits continue to operate under new banners and radical clerics and madressahs fuel religious extremism?
That raises another question of whether the state has really made a paradigm shift on militancy and religious extremism. There seems to be little evidence of it despite the army’s relative success in the war against the Taliban insurgents in the tribal areas. The authorities have shut their eyes to the growing radicalisation in society.
The leaders of banned outfits like Hafiz Saeed and Fazlur Rehman Khalil are allowed to address public rallies and appear on TV channels, and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, was released by the court apparently because of lack of evidence.
Another alarming development is that some militant and sectarian groups have merged with the self-styled IS (Islamic State). A group associated with the IS has claimed responsibility for the latest bus carnage. It is not the first time the group, that has roots in the Middle East, has reportedly been involved in such an incident of violence. The execution-style carnage is the hallmark of the IS.
Leaflets calling for support for IS jihadists have been seen in parts of northwest Pakistan in recent months and pro-IS slogans have appeared on walls in several cities. This group looks upon the Shia sect (including Ismailis) as ‘non-believers’ and ‘deserving of death’. But the government remains in a state of denial about the IS presence in Pakistan.
Pakistan continues to bleed with the state still groping for effective and a coherent counterterrorism strategy. Like the Peshawar school massacre, the ghastly carnage of Ismailis may have shaken us, but with a national leadership still in a state of denial there is little hope of exorcising the monster we have ourselves created.
Zahid Hussain is an author and journalist.