THE urgency with which the government is trying to build consensus amongst the major political parties to bring back military courts, given that the sunset clause in the 21st Amendment that established them went into effect in December, is indicative of how a few weeks of peace lulls it into complacency. Even now after hospital visits, statements of condemnation and announcements of compensation, it will be back to meetings, statements and jalsa speeches, and inaugurations of infrastructure projects.
One of the recommendations I had made in the meeting where the National Action Plan (NAP) was formulated — in keeping with the adage ‘put your money where your mouth is’ — was for the government to announce a substantial sum of money for fighting terrorism. This would have indicated the government’s resolve. In the workings of government, when the latter makes a block allocation for a certain task, it is much easier and quicker for the finance ministry to release the money. I had suggested a figure of Rs50 billion. The proposal was not included in NAP with the remarks that money would never be a problem for fighting terrorism. But we now know that against the reported demand by Nacta of Rs 1.6bn, only a fraction was sanctioned.
While it may not be possible to infuse political will amongst our leaders overnight, some out-of-the-box solutions will have to be tried to halt this decline.
Children in madressahs can be easily brainwashed.
Firstly, military courts for terrorists are not the norm, but necessary for survival. In the two years they were in existence, 274 cases were referred to them by the federal government, out of which capital punishment was awarded in 161. However, in only 12 has the sentence been carried out. The rest are in various stages of appeal in civilian courts. So where is the advantage of these courts? The appellate process for civilians whose cases are referred to the military courts should also be the same as for accused in uniform. If the army can be trusted to do justice to its own ranks, it should be trusted to do justice with alleged terrorists also.
Secondly, madressahs seem to be increasing faster in our rural areas than regular schools, as exemplified by the situation in traditionally moderate Sindh, in particular the recent attack on Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine in Sehwan. Boarding house education, the hallmark of our madressahs, is far more effective in impacting a child’s personality and brainwashing him, than day schools. The child is deprived of his family’s values and ethos while interacting with those of the management overseeing his madressah. He leaves his home at a tender age, sometimes as young as four years. Why do you think a sophisticated society like England bases its elite education on boarding house schools like Harrow and Eton?
A law should, therefore, be introduced where an NOC is required to operate any form of boarding school. This would obviously not be madressah specific but apply to ordinary schools like ‘cadet colleges’ too. There would be no restriction on day madressahs where children of the locality study.
Thirdly, unless the ownership of this war against terrorism is taken to the basic policing unit, ie the police station, it will be no more than rhetoric. The police station is the level that has effective command. It also used to have intimate knowledge of all those living within its jurisdiction, but this institution has become ineffective because of population growth and increased crime. Not only must the number of police stations be increased but more training for upgrading manpower and resources provided to them everywhere.
Currently, the interior ministry specifically, and the centre generally, are blamed for their inability to control terrorism. The fact is that they have no say in actual operations. They are dependent on the political priorities of the respective provincial governments. Also, the local station house officer is not interested in confronting terrorists/facilitators in his jurisdiction as long as they do not indulge in local crime, which they usually do not.
There may be a number of long-term solutions but one step that could be taken is to have a representative of the ministry of interior/Nacta, perhaps of inspector level, in uniform, placed in every police station, specifically assigned the task of keeping a watch on terrorists and their facilitators (counterterrorism) and ensuring that local police implements the interior ministry’s policy on terrorism in letter and spirit. Implementation of this proposal would entail problems of coordination, cadre rivalry and resources but a solution will have to be found to contain this hydra-headed monster.
We will have to think out of the box to prevent being overwhelmed by the extremists.
Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2017