Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published by NDTV on April 6, 2016. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from NDTV’s  website without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Pathankot air base

I concluded my last piece, which I wrote for NDTV almost two months ago, by stating that India-Pak relations were returning to razor’s edge. That is exactly where we are now in the aftermath of the terror assault at the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot. After a visit to India, the five-member Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which was formed to assist India, is set to present its report to  Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had formed the JIT after taking Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in confidence. Needless to say, Mr Modi faced flak from the opposition after his government allowed the Pakistani team of investigators to visit the air force base.

On April 4, some sections of the Pakistani media reported that the JIT will claim that the Indian forces had killed the terrorists “within hours” but turned it into a “three-day drama” to get international attention. Pakistan Today, not a prominent Pakistani newspaper, cited JIT sources as saying that the Indian authorities had “staged” the attack to “malign Pakistan” and persuade the world community that Pakistan is involved in terrorism.

Protest DemoAs expected, the report caught the attention of the Indian media. The demonstrations against the visit by the Pakistani investigators held by the activists of Indian National Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) outside the Pathankot airbase, are a stark reminder of the fact that the bilateral ties between the two countries are layered with emotions, ego and chronic bitterness even as there is an attempt at unprecedented cooperation on a terror investigation.

Whilst I don’t think that the JIT report will go to the extent of blaming India for staging the Pathankot attack, it is likely to deem the evidence given by the Indian authorities as insufficient and inadequate. According to sources privy to the details of the JIT report, the investigators have claimed that the Indian authorities failed to provide sufficient evidence of the involvement of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar. The report adds that to instigate criminal proceedings, Pakistani authorities need to have sufficient evidence and credible witnesses against the Masood Azhar.

Pakistani JIT Pathankot Air BaseAccording to the source, the JIT’s report says Indian authorities did not cooperate well with  the Pakistani JIT, offered just limited access to desired places, and evidence offered does not allow the four attackers to be established as linked to either the Jaish or its leader Masood Azhar. Pakistan will seek further cooperation and more information from the Indian authorities on the Pathankot attack to take further action on the FIR registered against the alleged attackers of the Pathankot airbase in India and their abettors. The fate of the FIR numbered 06/2016 seems bleak at the moment. In case India does not provide further evidence, the FIR is likely to be dismissed by Pakistani authorities in the light of the recommendations set forth in the JIT report.

The relations between Pakistan and India, amid all the hoopla surrounding the meetings between the Prime Ministers of both countries, which were heading in the right direction before the Pathankot incident, are back to Square One. An expected meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington could not take place since PM Sharif cancelled his trip after a huge terror attack at a playground in Lahore.

With such a gloomy state of affairs in bilateral ties, where do the two countries go from here? The answer does not sound promising at the moment.

Source: Pak’s Pathankot Report Will Cite Insufficient Access, Evidence

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published by NDTV on February 10, 2016. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from NDTV’s  website without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Taj Hotel Mumbai


David Coleman Headley, a Pakistan-born American national who helped plot the deadly Mumbai terror attack in 2008, has testified that that he visited India seven times before the attacks to scout potential targets for his handlers in Pakistan. During the deposition, Headley repeated the statements he had made earlier in 2011 while testifying in a US court – he said that Pakistan’s main spy agency, the ISI, was involved in planning and executing the attacks which lasted for three days and left 166 people dead.

The news of David Headley’s deposition met with a rather cold response in Pakistani newspapers and electronic media. While a couple of Urdu and English newspapers carried the news, almost all the leading television channels in Pakistan gave no or very little coverage to Headley’s testimony in which he more or less repeated what he had already told a US court.

David HeadleyThere could be a couple of reasons behind the snubbing of Headley’s deposition by Pakistani media at large. One is that David Headley, formerly known as Syed Daood Gilani, was never given any significant coverage in Pakistani media even when he was being tried in a US court where he first stated that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency provided financial, military and moral support to terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizbul Mujahideen. Pakistan, remember, has always insisted that the ISI has no links to Lashkar-e-Taiba and has categorically denied a connection of “state actors” to the Mumbai attacks.

The other reason which might have kept Headley’s deposition out of the headlines in Pakistan is that it contained nothing new apart from the revelations made by Mr Headley during Monday’s hearing that that two failed attempts to carry out terror attacks in Mumbai were made in September and October 2008. Last but not the least, any statement directly accusing Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency ISI of planning and executing a terror attack would be deemed as anti-Pakistan material among Pakistani media and ultimately won’t see the light of day in Pakistan.

The only notable reaction came from the then interior minister of Pakistan, Rehman Malik. Talking to reporters in Islamabad, he claimed that David Headley was an agent hired by Indian intelligence agency RAW and that India itself was involved in the 26/11 attacks. While these claims would sound outrageously absurd to many readers on both sides of the border, Mr Malik could not care less about that.

While declaring David Headley a RAW agent, Rehman Malik, who now chairs a committee on interior and narcotics control in Pakistan’s Senate (the upper house of parliament), also questioned India’s intelligence failure, pointing out that the terrorist entered India repeatedly without any problems and spent two years photographing and filming potential targets.

Zaki LakhviIndia has long sought Mr Headley’s deposition in a bid to establish a direct connection between the Pakistani authorities and the deadly attacks in Mumbai. It has alleged this clearly and submitted evidence, but the Headley statements will help generate pressure on the Pakistani government to take action against those who masterminded the Mumbai attacks. Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, one of the main accused in 26/11 and a commander with the outlawed militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, was freed from jail last year. Lashkar founder Hafiz Saeed, who moves freely throughout the country, recently praised the Pathankot air base attack and warned of others like it while addressing a public rally in Muzaffarabad.

David Headley’s deposition has come at a time when Pakistan has just given a clean chit to Masood Azhar, chief of the outlawed militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, in the Pathankot attack. According to media reports in Pakistan, the investigators termed evidence provided by India insufficient and claimed that some lower-rung members of the Jaish could be behind the terror attack on the Indian airbase last month. Earlier, Pakistan had told Delhi that cell phone numbers submitted as evidence by Indian
authorities had no record in the country.

What all this adds up to is the return of India-Pak relations to razor’s edge.


Source: Pak Media Virtually Blacks Out David Headley’s Revelations

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published by NDTV on January 20, 2016. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from NDTV’s  website without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)


Bacha Khan University


Pakistan finds itself reeling after yet another terror attack on its soil. Heavily armed militants stormed Bacha Khan University this morning in Charsadda, about 50 kilometers from the city of Peshawar, and opened indiscriminate fire on students and staff members where they had gathered for a poetic symposium to commemorate the 28th death anniversary of renowned Pakhtoon leader and proponent of non-violence Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as ‘Bacha Khan’.

Umar Mansoor, a commander in the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistani (TTP) and the mastermind of the attack on the Army Public School Peshawar in December 2014, first claimed the attack. But the official spokesperson for the Pakistani Taliban disowned it. More than 21 people are reported to have been killed and at least 60 others injured during a two-hour rampage; officials fear the casualties will rise. Four terrorists were shot after the security forces launched a remarkable counter-terror operation in the university’s premises in a bid to control the damage.

Bacha Khan UniversityThe investigations into the terror attack are underway, but we must not avert our eyes from the fact that the attack was the result of yet another intelligence failure and a major security lapse, especially when only three days ago, rumors of security threats to educational institutions triggered the closure of schools in the same region.

In many ways, today’s attack was reminiscent of the gruesome December 2014 terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar which left over 140 dead – most of them children. The message behind today’s attack is the same. 13 months ago, they targeted a school being run by the Pakistan Army that is actively combating terrorists and eliminating their hideouts in North Waziristan. Today, they attacked a university named after Bacha Khan, the man who laid down the foundations of the politics of the secular Awami National Party that has rendered a number of sacrifices for standing up against the Taliban. The message given by the terrorists is loud and clear: standing up to them has a price, and more often than not, you have to pay that with your blood.

More than the identity of the outfit that has claimed the attack on Bacha Khan University, the people of Pakistan in general and those at the helm of affairs in the country in particular need to counter the mindset of the terrorists and the ideology they preach in the name of Islam. These terrorists are afraid of education. They are afraid of the power of knowledge. The very same mindset and the very same group targeted Malala Yousafzai in October 2012, attacked the Army Public School in December 2014 and stormed a university today, apart from  deadly attacks on polio vaccination teams across the country.

Despite the ongoing operation against the hardcore militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the TTP’s ability to strike in the settled areas of the country should be a matter of concern for Pakistan’s civil and military leadership. The rot is surely deep and Pakistan is passing through extraordinary circumstances which demand extraordinary measures. While it is obvious that it’ll take significant amount of time to eliminate terror from Pakistan, the more worrying part is that the state of Pakistan has shown no clear intent or political will to counter the mindset that has been a major hurdle in developing a counter-terrorism narrative in the country.

After the horrific terror attack on Army Public School that jolted Pakistan’s civil and military leadership, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a comprehensive roadmap to counter terrorism in his 20-point agenda known as National Action Plan.

While the plan looked good on paper, the situation on the ground remains disturbingly awful and unchanged. The plan talked about countering hate speeches and extremist material, choking funding for terrorists and terrorist organizations and dismantling communication networks of terrorist organizations. Point 3 of the plan stressed the commitment to ensuring that no armed militias are allowed to function in Pakistan, while points 10 and 11 talked about the registration and regulation of religious seminaries and a ban on the glorification of terrorism and terrorist organizations through print and electronic media.

Ground realities suggest that little has changed since then – so much so that the incumbent government itself has accepted that the progress on National Action Plan has been unsatisfactory.

Manohar ParrikarThere is another aspect of the attack and that directly affects the already fragile and vulnerable relations between Pakistan and India. Hardliners in Pakistan are linking today’s terrorist attack to a statement given by Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar after the Pathankot terror attack in which he said that “Those who harmed us will feel the pain”. Former interior minister of Pakistan Rehman Malik went as far as to blame Indian intelligence agency RAW for this latest attack on Pakistani soil. The two reckless statements mentioned above underscore the need to show restraint and maturity in the face of adversity. The authorities on either side of the border need to realize that they should not play into the hands of the terrorists.

As far as Pakistani authorities are concerned, they need to focus on the security threats to Pakistan posed by militants who not long ago enjoyed state patronage, and show the intent to take on terrorists without making any discrimination.

Source: How We In Pakistan See Today’s University Attack

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published by NDTV on January 15, 2016. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from NDTV’s  website without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Pathankot Air Base


In a dramatic turn of events after the Pathankot airbase attack, the Pakistani government claims to have arrested members of the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammad. Following a high-level meeting of top military and civil leadership yesterday, the statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said that, acting on “actionable intelligence” provided by India regarding the attack on the Pathankot airbase, the offices of the banned militant group are being traced and sealed.

But the statement issued by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office raises questions over the efficacy of such bans on the militant groups in Pakistan where they are soon reincarnated them with a different name to continue their operations right under the government’s nose. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad are some of the appalling examples of the state’s failure to apprehend such groups after banning these groups and the people associated with them. After the attacks on the Indian parliament back in December 2001, allegedly carried out by the JeM, the government of Pakistan banned the militant group in January 2002. 14 years after the group was banned, the government of Pakistan admitted that the offices of the banned group are being traced and sealed only now. The very fact that the JeM was able to operate offices despite a ban leaves a lot to be desired on the part of the state of Pakistan.

Many in Pakistan believe that the government is also under pressure from American officials to take swift action against the outlawed JeM. Five days ago, US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to PM Sharif on the phone, who assured the US that Pakistan is carrying out investigations in a transparent manner to bring out the truth in the Pathankot terror incident.

Hours after the high-level huddle of senior civil and military officials concluded in Islamabad yesterday, media reports revealed that the banned JeM chief Masood Azhar was taken into “protective custody” and questioned over the Pathankot attack. While a federal minister and a former general confirmed on a television talk show last night that the law enforcement agencies have only taken Masood Azhar into protective custody, Pakistan’s Foreign Office today expressed ignorance about the supposed house arrest of the JeM. It’s pertinent to note that the officials have neither confirmed nor denied the arrest of Masood Azhar since the government finds itself in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t conundrum. However, sources close to the JeM chief have confirmed that he has been detained by the Pakistani authorities. While the confusion persists over the JeM chief’s arrest, its existence is not without a few reasons.

Masooz AzharOne of the reasons behind the prevailing confusion over the JeM chief’s arrest is that the government of Pakistan is wary of a possible demand from the Indian government to handover Masood Azhar to them for further investigations. A confirmation in this regard can land Nawaz Sharif in hot water. The government is also mindful of a backlash from the likes of Jamat-e-Islami and other right-wing parties who protested sharply against PM Narendra Modi’s surprise surprise visit to Pakistan on Mr Sharif’s birthday.

The other reason behind the confusion persisting over the arrest of Maulana Masood Azhar, one of the Afghan jihad veterans, is that he enjoys close ties with the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan would be walking on a tight rope if officials confirm his arrest and end up straining their ties with the Afghan Taliban where Pakistan is trying to regain some sort of strategic control.

Hafiz SaeedLast but not the least, a confirmation of the arrest of JeM chief Masood Azhar will incite groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, now known as the Jamat-ud-Dawa and headed by Hafiz Muhammad Saeed which apparently enjoy state patronage.

For Pakistan, the real challenge is to make sure that action against the outlawed JeM us converted into prolonged and consequential measures to prevent the militant group from resurfacing stronger. The state of Pakistan needs to shun its policy of good and bad militants. To permanently seal offices of the militant groups and successfully prosecute those responsible for cross-border terror attacks, a great deal of evidence will need to be gathered. For this purpose, both the countries need to work together and make coordinated efforts to combat terrorism. India’s acceptance of Pakistan’s request to send a Special Investigation Team to probe the Pathankot air base attack is an encouraging development in this regard.

There is a silver lining amidst all the confusion. Both countries have agreed to reschedule Foreign Secretary level talks. Whatever the terrorists intended to achieve with the attack on Pathankot airbase, the governments of India and Pakistan appear to have thwarted with their restraint and mature response.

Source: Why Pak Can’t Say If Jaish Chief Is Arrested


Joint Statement

The External Affairs Ministers of India, Smt. Sushma Swaraj led the Indian delegation to the fifth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process in Islamabad on December 8-9, 2015. She called on the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and held discussions with Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sartaj Aziz.

The EAM and the Adviser condemned terrorism and resolved to cooperate to eliminate it. They noted the successful talks on terrorism and security related issues in Bangkok by the two NSAs and decided that the NSAs will continue to address all issues connected to terrorism. The Indian side was assured of the steps being taken to expedite the early conclusion of the Mumbai trial.

Both sides, accordingly, agreed to a Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue and directed the Foreign Secretaries to work out the modalities and schedule of the meetings under the Dialogue including Peace and Security, CBMs, Jammu & Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, Economic and Commercial Cooperation, Counter-terrorism, Narcotics Control and Humanitarian issues, People to People exchanges and Religious Tourism.



December 9, 2015

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published in The Nation on August 8, 2015. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from The Nation without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

PTIPakistan Tehreek Insaf parliamentarians have made their way back to Parliament after facing stiff resistance from Maulana Fazlur Rehman-led faction of the JUI and the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement after PTI’s claim, that General Elections 2013 had been systematically rigged and manipulated to rob the party of power, were put to rest by an inquiry commission headed by Chief Justice Nasir ul Mulk. Imran Khan and his party strongly believed that their mandate was stolen by the PML-N & Co and thus they were deprived a chance to come to power. Rejecting election results have been a familiar trend in Pakistan’s political arena since 1970. The parties which lose elections come up with rigging allegations and refuse to accept the results. Against the alleged rigging in the 2013 general elections, the PTI organised a long march last year which left Lahore on August 14 and reached the capital on August 16. The long march was followed by a sit-in which lasted over 126 days. The sit-in was called off when a group of terrorists attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar which left 150 dead including 132 schoolchildren.

During a year old campaign Imran Khan vehemently accused former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry, former caretaker CM Punjab Najam Sethi, the PML-N, the ECP and returning officers of hatching a conspiracy to bring Nawaz Sharif to power by manipulating the mandate given by the people of Pakistan. However, Imran Khan lost his case before a panel comprising of three judges of the apex court which was formed to probe General Elections 2013 against rigging allegations as an indirect result of an agreement between the PML-N and the PTI.

In one of his interviews Imran Khan alleged that a brigadier of Military Intelligence was among those who rigged the general election against the PTI. When Mr Khan was asked to name that officer, he said that he will name him in his next public speech. His followers kept on waiting for the announcement of the MI’s brigadier’s name, but that never happened. The former captain hopped to other targets instead of naming the army officer. Notwithstanding repetitive demands from different quarters, Imran Khan neither named that army officer nor he dared to reiterate that claim ever again.

BBThe 1990 general elections are the only polls in Pakistan’s electoral history which were proven to have been systematically rigged and engineered according to the verdict issued by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the Asghar Khan case. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was the victim as ISI robbed her of power by bankrolling a group of politicians. It was proven that the military establishment created and funded a coalition known as the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) whose sole purpose was to prevent Benazir Bhutto’s PPP from winning the 1990 elections. In its short order issued on Oct 19, 2012, the apex court directed the federal government to take appropriate action under the Constitution and the law against former army chief Gen (r) Aslam Beg and former DG ISI Lt-Gen (r) Asad Durrani for their role in facilitating a group of politicians to ensure their success against the PPP in the 1990 elections. Aside from that, another former DG ISI, Lt-Gen (r) Hameed Gul openly accepted responsibility for creating IJI in an interview with renowned anchorperson Asma Shirazi back in October 2012. In his interview, Hamid Gul not only defended the creation of the IJI, but also lauded General (r) Aslam Beg’s role in creating it. In the 141-page detailed verdict authored by the then Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Supreme Court held that unlawful orders by superior military officers or their failure to prevent unlawful actions by their subordinates were reprehensible.

The verdict also explained why the apex court had ruled that the 1990 general elections were polluted by the dishing out of millions of rupees to a particular group of politicians just to deprive the people of being represented by the representatives elected by them. The verdict also highlighted details and names of the recipients of the money dished out by the ISI as mentioned by the then DG ISI Lt-Gen (r) Asad Durrani in his affidavit filed on July 24, 1994 and the majority of my readers would know that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s name is among them. Not only that, he benefited the most from the 1990 general elections, polluted by the military establishment, and went on to become the prime minister of the country.

Nawaz Sharif led the IJI

Nawaz Sharif led the IJI

In the name of ‘reconciliation’ the then PPP government shied away from honouring the verdict. Free and fair elections in Pakistan will remain a distant dream as long as the culprits pointed out by the Supreme Court of Pakistan are not taken to task. The politics of reconciliation has reduced the PPP to interior Sindh only and if the party doesn’t mend its ways, it may lose its fort to the policy of reconciliation being followed by the party. The key to free and fair elections in Pakistan lies in the verdict given by the apex court in the Asghar Khan case and not in the report issued by the inquiry commission headed by Chief Justice Nasir ul Mulk. If the political parties in general and PTI and PPP in particular are sincere with democracy and wish to see free and fair elections in future, they should go to the apex court to get the verdict implemented in letter and spirit the court has issued almost three years ago. Because the same verdict says that “In upholding people’s right, this court can make all necessary directions to functionaries and institutions of the state, including the Election Commission of Pakistan, and the direction to investigate and prosecute.”

The onus is on the PTI and the PPP to pave the way for free and fair elections in 2018. If they don’t act now in the right direction, it’ll be the ruling PML-N that will make the most out of their inaction, flawed policies and ill-directed strategies. And in that case it’ll be a matter of surprise to none; if the PML-N comes to power again after the next general elections.

Source: Elections and rigging

Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published in The Nation on March 11, 2015. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from The Nation without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)

Albert Einstein defined the word ‘insanity’ as doing something over and over again, while expecting a different result. Apparently more insane is the way the government has shied away from implementing Pakistan’s 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism, announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his televised speech in the wake of the brutal terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. While the plan looks good on paper, the situation on the ground remains worryingly dire and unchanged. The plan talks about countering hate speech and extremist material, choking financing for terrorists and terrorist organizations, ensuring against re-emergence of proscribed organizations, taking effective steps against religious persecution and dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists. The point number 3 of the plan emphasizes on the commitment to ensure that no armed militias are allowed to function in the country while points 10 and 11 talk about registration and regulation of religious seminaries and ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisations through print and electronic media.

Banned outfits are not only operating under new names but their leaders and sympathisers are being given widespread coverage on both print and electronic media with due gratitude and reverence. Soon after the plan was announced the religious and politico-religious parties started giving the impression that religion was being targeted by the national action plan. Crumbling under the pressure, the government started issuing statements in flagrant contradiction to the plan. While General Secretary Wafaqul Madaris Alarbia Qari Muhammad Hanif Jalandhri vowed to defend ‘sovereignty, freedom and the Islamic education system’ of religious seminaries at any cost, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was quick to assure him that the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) government has no plan of taking action against religious seminaries and apprehensions in this regard are baseless. The federation of the religious seminaries is considered the biggest board of Deobandi school of thought having more than 18,000 religious seminaries. Thus the usefulness of the plan aimed at countering terrorism may well be summed up as doing something over and over again just for the sake of it and not even bothering about the result. Whom are we fooling? Do the authorities even realise that this ostrich-like strategy to counter terrorism is delusional, futile and ridiculously absurd.

Ironically, the government has, for the first time, admitted that close to 80 seminaries operating in Pakistan are receiving financial support from a dozen countries. The seminaries received funds of worth Rs300 million during 2013-14. In a supplementary report submitted to Senate Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges, Punjab police is said to have disclosed that over 950 seminaries in Punjab only are receiving hundreds of millions of rupees from Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and some 14 other Muslim and non-Muslim countries. According to a newspaper report, citing Wikileaks, published in 2011, charities from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates financed a network in Pakistan that recruited children as young as eight to wage “holy war”. A US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks said financial support estimated at $100 million a year was making its way from those Gulf Arab states to an extremist recruitment network in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

Imamia Masjid Peshawar

Imamia Masjid Peshawar

Aside from the “routine” targeted killings, Pakistan has witnessed five major terrorist attacks after the ghastly attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that left 148 people, including more than 100 children, dead. Pakistan’s beleaguered Shia community was the target of four out of the five attacks. A powerful blast rattled an Imambargah, in a densely populated area of Rawalpindi on January 9, killing at least eight people and wounding at least 16 others. At the time of the blast, an Eid Miladun Nabi (PBUH) congregation was being observed at the Imambargah. On January 30, at least 62 Shias were killed and 55 others wounded in an explosion during Friday prayers at a packed Shia mosque in Sindh province’s Shikarpur district; the deadliest sectarian attack to hit the country in recent times. While in the 3rd attack 22 Shias were martyred when the Taliban stormed a Shia mosque in the Hayatabad area of Peshawar on February 13. And only a day after a deadly attack outside the Police Lines in Lahore, a lone suicide bomber killed three persons at an Imambargah in Islamabad but failed to enter the main prayer hall or detonate his explosive vest thanks to the fact that the suicide vest partially exploded or else there would have been many more casualties. Each of these devastating terrorist attacks was followed by the same old hollow promises of not sparing those involved in the ghastly attack, tall claims of weeding out terrorism and good-for-nothing statements like ‘terrorists can’t weaken the government’s resolve to combat terrorism by such cowardly attacks’. Needless to say that none of the aforementioned responses, repeated for the umpteenth time, ever translated into something meaningful and thus the systematic killing of the members of Pakistan’s Shia community continues with absolute impunity.

Karbala-e-Moalla Imambargah, Shikarpur

Karbala-e-Moalla Imambargah, Shikarpur

While the blast in Rawalpindi was followed by equivocal statements condemning the attack and hollow promises by the government officials to get the killers, the aftermath of the Shikarpur blast took a relatively different turn when civil society members including women and children staged a sit-in outside the Chief Minister House in Karachi to press the authorities to take action against banned organizations. The protesters called upon the government for the immediate implementation of their four key demands: List and name all the banned organisations on media, close the offices of all these banned organisations, remove their flags and their graffiti, take action against the Karachi head of the ASWJ, formerly known as Sipah e Sahaba, Aurangzeb Farooqi and take away his police protocol and lastly, those injured in the Shikarpur blast be transferred from Larkana and Shikarpur to Karachi for further treatment at the government’s expense.

Civil Scoiety Sit-In

Civil Society Sit-In

It’s quite absurd that while CM Sindh was chairing the meetings to review progress on the implementation of the National Action Plan, a group of civil society members had to stage a sit-in outside his residence to demand precisely what the very same plan talks about since the aforementioned demands are in absolute harmony with the points 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11 and 18 of the National Action Plan. Quite preposterously, the peaceful protesters and members of the civil society ended up behind the bars while the goons of the outlawed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) were allowed to hold a public rally.
The ongoing spate of targeted terrorist attacks is an indictment of years of flawed policies, opportunist patronage politics and strategic frivolity. And quite deplorably I don’t see that changing anytime soon. We are reaping a harvest of blood as the bodies of our loved ones keep piling up around us. Things look grim and gloomy to me. The PML-N government’s lack of seriousness about curbing religious persecution can be gauged from the fact that on the recommendation of the Punjab Police, Punjab Government recently issued stipend of worth Rs75000 to Malik Ishaq who had told an Urdu daily in 1997 that he was involved in the killing of 102 Shias.

The state of Pakistan still lacks clarity on extremism and the capacity to fight it. Let alone combating terrorism, the authorities are not even showing any intent to fight this menace. The government needs to realise that no plan is any good if you do not have the nerve to carry out the plan. Instead of hiding behind flimsy excuses, the civil and military leadership needs to set its priorities straight and clarify if they really want to combat the existential threat to Pakistan posed by extremists, before these ruthless terrorists impose their own partisan, barbaric, draconian and un-Islamic views on all of us.

In the longer run, the state needs to protect not only the communities’ physical spaces but also combat the extremists on the intellectual front. Although the proliferation of extremists is an immediate threat, there is also a pressing need to establish an anti-extremism and anti-terrorism narrative. Those at the helm of affairs will have to ensure that there is no discrimination between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban and the war against terrorism will continue till the last terrorist is eliminated. If the authorities are serious about eliminating terrorism, this is the time they will have to walk the talk. And if they don’t, the much publicised ‘National Action Plan’ (NAP) for countering terrorism and extremism will go down as ‘No Action Plan’ in the history of this country which, according to a report by Global Terrorism Index, currently ranks third in the most terrorism affected countries of the world.

Source: Recapitulating ‘No Action Plan