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A stern warning



By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, March 20, 2015


The chaos on the streets of Lahore is a wake up call for Pakistan’s rulers

The senseless lynching of two terror suspects in Lahore, manhandling of policemen, and the destruction of infrastructure that followed the twin suicide bomb attack on two nearby churches in Lahore reflects the pent-up frustration that most Pakistani citizens reel from. The only difference between these acts and similar acts by the Islamic State is that the latter executes and burns its captives in a premeditated manner. What happened in Lahore was a violent, headless reaction to the terrorist attacks. It was a shameful and outrageous episode nevertheless. All government institutions knew trouble was brewing, but we saw the rampage continue as if it had happened on the spur of the moment.

The hair-raising two-day-long carnage led by the aggrieved Christians simply exposed the political inertia, absence of vision and deficient institutional capacity to preempt such incidents. At the same time, this delivers a stern warning to our rulers. Surrounded by unbearably large security escorts and huge walls, most of the VIPs feel protected and insulated from criminals and terrorists.

This incident should be a wake-up call for the self-serving political leadership. Where were the people’s representatives – members of the provincial and the federal assemblies elected from those areas? Where was the civil administration? In the end, it was para-military forces who quelled the unrest.

During a press conference on March 16, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said he had returned 35 Rangers troops who had been tasked to protect him, implying that they had been escorting his predecessor Rehman Malik too.

His comments on the crucial files missing from the ministry, and the role of police and ministry officials in helping two convicts who had been extradited from the UK escape were equally stunning, and only underscored the decay and corruption that exists within our state institutions. Instead of bringing criminals to justice or preventing them from violating the law, officials, he said, were found helping them.

The details emerging from the raid on MQM Headquarters Nine Zero are also startling. The claims that the Rangers and Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan have made about suspects belonging to the MQM paint the Pakistan People’s Party in a bad light too. The two parties have shared power on and off for decades, and are being alleged to have willingly and knowingly allowed the proliferation of politically-patronized crime at the cost of state institutions such as the police and intelligence outfits. The PPP cannot exonerate itself of the responsibility. Soon after serious allegations were made against the MQM in the Baldia factory fire, the media flashed images of Mr Asif Zardari and Rehman Malik visiting the MQM chief Altaf Hussein to work out the deal ahead of the Senate elections.

In general, instead of preparing state institutions to effectively fight crime and terror, politicians have treated them as personal pawns in their power games and business plans – all to the detriment of rule of law. That also means there has been little focus on concepts such as professional handling of riots, crowd management, preemptive positioning of security apparatus, and independent investigation and prosecution.

A report in the daily Dawn (March 16), quoted a senior official closely associated with the Intelligence Bureau (IB) operations as saying that during the previous PPP government the IB had started building a databank on extortionists and targeted killers belonging to different religious and political parties operating in Karachi. “Although no action was taken by the PPP government against these gangs because of political considerations, we kept following their activities and, in the process, gathered authentic statistics,” the official told the paper.

It takes foresight and bold actions to upstage that establishment

What mitigating strategies, if any, are there in place for mob-control and preemption? Generally, incompetence and inaction overshadow all the rhetoric that resonates in the houses of power.

Despite the deafening roar that accompanies the National Action Plan, certain basic elements necessary for crime and terror prevention are missing. Going by the brazen display at times of critical CCTV footage aired on TV, the Ministry of Interior is still short on Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on video material with regard to criminal and terrorism incidents and hence such footage find their way to TV screens, thereby compromising actionable information.

Police may have received training in preservation of forensics, but often, intrusion from the media and common citizens destroys evidence. The government has also failed in launching a focused campaign of “dos and don’ts” for citizens as far as crime and terror control is concerned.

Often the recipes offered are bureaucratic and driven by short-term political considerations. That is why we still have to go a long way in professional and innovative handling of crime, terror and socio-political unrest.

Politicians, who are representatives of people, will have to take the lead in this regard. If they don’t, they should not complain about the pro-activity of the security establishment. It takes foresight and bold actions to upstage that establishment.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk