ISLAMABAD: In a judicial fact-finding Report on one of the worst terror attacks that recently took place in Pakistan’s major conflict zone – Quetta – the judge pointed out “considerable oversight” and “lack of seriousness” of the executive in combating terrorism and reluctance in taking action against freely moving militant and extremist factions.
The judicial Inquiry Commission Report, publicised on 15th December 2016, was praised by moderate politicians and experts for exposing the incompetence and failure of the sitting government, especially the interior ministry, responsible for implementation and monitoring of the anti-terror plan. However, Interior Minister Chuadhry Nisar Ali Khan has vowed to challenge this Report in the court considering it “inappropriate”, a move which experts believe mounts to mock the findings of the Commission merely for political point-scoring.
Pakistan witnessed a major attack on August 8, 2016 killing at least 74 people and injuring scores, in Quetta, capital of conflict-prone province of Balochistan. The year 2016 was particularly grave for a country, faced with one and a half decades of sheer militancy and terrorism amid official claims of a successful handle on the ruing menace.
The target of the attack was lawyers’ community. The suicide bomber hit the grieved lawyers’ community outside government hospital in the city. The lawyers had gathered to mourn and protest target killing of Bilal Kasi, the president of the Provincial High Court Bar Association, who had succumbed to injuries upon reaching the hospital.
Following the demand of the legal fraternity, Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan, constituted a one-member Inquiry Commission to probe into the attack. According to the available copy of the Report compiled by Qazi Faez Isa, the SC judge heading the Commission, categorically pointed out serious drawbacks and weaknesses at all levels in the implementing strategy to counter terror. The Commission continuously worked for 56 days to draw its conclusive Report. It states that there have been 17,503 terrorist attacks in Pakistan from January 2001 to October 2016 of which 2,878 took place in Balochistan.
“There is considerable executive oversight, including making use of forensics, seeking out public help, and making investigators work deliberately and dedicatedly to achieve results. The Commission Report on the August 8th, 2016, terrorist attacks prove this,” it’s 110-pages pointed out, lamenting, “The identities of the suicide bomber and his companion were discovered by the police only after the Commission’s intervention.”
“The importance of the Quetta-Commission report is that it further confirmed the public and civil society criticism and apprehensions regarding poor implementation of the NAP,” Barrister Ali Zafar, president Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, said, adding, “The report clearly endorsed whatever is critically expressed about the NAP.” He said the lawyers were in the favour of this commission because they wanted to know the facts and who is behind this attack.
However, he maintained, the Interior Ministry is justified in its protest because they were not properly heard by the commission if we go through the report in detail. “But even then the government rather demolishing the report should pay attention to the due drawbacks mentioned in the report and try to rectify them.” The government should own and admit its mistakes too, he demanded.
Pakistan government produced a 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terror after the honorific attack on Army Public School Peshawar on December 16, 2014 in which as many as 144 students and two teachers were killed by Islamic militant groups. More than one third of the NAP, directly or indirectly, deals with proscribed organizations and sectarianism. Point three of the NAP reads “Militant outfits and armed gangs will not be allowed to operate in the country”. Point seven highlights “The defunct outfits will not be allowed to operate under any other name.” While point 11 calls for a ban on glorification of terrorists and terrorist organizations through print and electronic media, and point 14 emphasizes “concrete measures against promotion of terrorism through internet and social media.” Further, point five of the NAP plan demands “strict action against the literature, newspapers and magazines promoting hatred, extremism, sectarianism and intolerance” and point nine focuses to “End religious extremism and protect of minorities.”
The Commission’s Report criticized the government on counter-terror strategy. It claimed said that NAP is not a plan in any structured or meaningful way nor has its goals been accordingly monitored or implemented. The Report, specifically mentioning Interior Minister of the country, said, the minister met chief of a proscribed sectarian organization Ahle-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ), which is formerly Sipah Sahaba Pakistan and parent organization of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a militant offshoot divided in many factions and operating in different parts of the country with officially established links to Al-Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS). The Report also clearly stated that the government has failed in implementing various courts’ judgments on anti-terror cases.
“The interior minister seems in a combative mood while responding to the damning indictment of him and his ministry by the inquiry Commission Report but he has nothing substantive to say in his defence. Instead, he himself has raised questions over the impartiality of the judicial investigation and this indicates that like numerous other Commission Reports, this major one too will, perhaps, be put beneath the carpet,” Zahid Hussain, security and political analyst said, adding, “It is the collective failure of state institutions that has sanctioned impunity to the militants and like-minded groups.”
The evidence of government’s oversight complicates the situation. When interior minister meets a head of a proscribed group and issues press statement (mentioned in the Commission Report) and in response to that conveniently said the person was not heading the delegation but only a part of it and he (the minister) was ignorant about his participation in the delegation in prior. He also passed on the blame for allowing such groups to have a rally in the capital of the country, despite the official ban on any public gathering under the law, to the local administration.
The Commission Report on this situation said, “The Ministry of Interior is without clear leadership and direction; consequently, it is confused about its role in combating terrorism. It met the head of a proscribed organization, widely reported in the media with his photograph, but still denied doing so, and accepted the demands of the proscribed organization regarding restoring blocked Computerized National Identity Cards (CNICs) and displayed little sense of ministerial responsibility.”
Saroop Ijaz, human rights activist, writer and lawyer, said that the significance of the Quetta-Commission report is that it is the first such judicial probe into a major terror-attack and its report has been made public. Otherwise, it takes months to publicize any commission report on such matters. “The report has also cross examined official authorities and exposed them through their replies to the commission. Government may disagree with the report but it cannot deny the facts,” he said, adding, “The defence of the government against this report is feeble and vague. It seems the government is taken aback.”
Farhatullah Babar, spokesperson of a mainstream progressive political party – Pakistan People’s Party – commenting on government’s move to demolish the Commission Report, said, “This completely exposes government and shows the utter incompetence and abysmal failure of the interior ministry and such failures listed in the judicial Report leave no room for the interior minister to remain in the cabinet and government to claim success in counter terror strategy.” He said minister’s defence against the Commission Report is “making a mockery of fight against militancy.”
“There is urgent need for taking collective responsibility to deal with the existential threat of militancy and the state, especially intelligence and security agencies, have to count of this “good” and “bad” distinction militant groups for certain vested interests,” Babar concluded.
Ijaz expressed little hope on any positive development in improving the NAP strategy by the government after the Interior Minister’s defensive stance. “After such forensic audit of the NAP by a judicial commission which has been and public record too, ideally, the government should sincerely and seriously listen to the recommendations and focus on self-accountability.”
“This country was created by those who wanted to ameliorate the condition of the Muslims of the subcontinent, and to uphold the freedoms of those of every faith. The message of Unity, Faith, and Discipline was unfortunately sabotaged by hypocrites and extremists and needs to be rejected. The original motto needs to be reclaimed, and in doing so, we will come closer in ensuring that fundamental freedoms are safeguarded,” the Commission Report concluded.