Judicial commission’s report on the Quetta tragedy

And what we need to take away from it

In the aftermath of suicide attack in Civil hospital Quetta on 8th August which killed 70 and injured more than 100 persons (majority belonging to the lawyers community) the Supreme Court taking   suo motto notice of the horrendous incident formed a one man judicial commission to probe into the circumstances that led to the attack, identify loopholes in anti-terrorism strategy and make recommendations to effectively deal with the phenomenon in the future.  Qazi Faez Isa, the honourable judge of the SC after an onerous work of 56 days released the findings of the Commission that attributed the occurrence of the terrorist attack to a ‘monumental failure’ of the interior ministry and laid the entire blame on the interior minister. The report among other causes also pointed out lack of coordination among the intelligence agencies; non implementation of National Internal security policy; slackness in the implementation of NAP; dormant role of NACTA; failure to tackle the proscribed outfits and regulating the seminaries for which the ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony was held responsible, particularly its inability to stop hate speeches by the operatives of the banned entities.

The findings of the Commission were widely hailed by the media which found it convenient to have a swipe at the government and the state institutions, joined by the political opponents of the regime who took it as a god-send opportunity to hurl scathing flak at the government. However the Interior minister took strong exception to some of the observations made in the report regarding his person and vowed to challenge the report in the Supreme Court. Accordingly a 64-page rejoinder has been filed in the SC requesting the expunction of some of the remarks of the Judicial commission which are considered to be harsher on the person of the minister as well as do not reflect the ground realities in their proper context and also to tone down the language of the commission report.

Reportedly Justice Muslim Hani, one of the members of the three-member bench hearing the appeal did indicate watering down the language of the report observing that it was necessary to draw a line between the ministry itself and the minister. The remarks of the judge clearly indicate that the SC accepts the argument that the report made personal criticism rather than the criticism per se and it might accede to the request of whittling down the harshness of the language. What would be the final outcome and the decision of the SC on the contents of the report is difficult to predict at the moment but one thing has come out clearly that the author of the report has gone too far in certain areas. The subject is being widely discussed and even the commoners are taking keen interest in the case. I was part of a group assembled at the corner of the street discussing the issue, when one of them made a very pertinent observation, not about the contents of the report but the very idea of forming the judicial commission. What he said was why did the apex court not take suo motto notice when far greater tragedies like APS and frequent killings of the Hazaras in hundreds took place in Quetta as a result of terrorist attacks in Quetta? And the answer that he himself gave was that the bench wanted to show its solidarity with the bar. His observation makes lot of sense. The judge in his enthusiasm to express solidarity with the lawyer community surely has committed some indiscretions though most of the findings genuinely reflect the shortcomings and draw-backs of the strategy to deal with incidents of terrorism.

While the commission has focused on the failures it has sadly neglected to acknowledge the successes that have been achieved to tackle the burgeoning menace of terrorism through operation Zarb-e-Azab and the implementation of NAP, the details of which have been released to the media by respective implementing agencies and need not to be repeated here.  Some of the observations of the commission, particularly pertaining to proscribed organisations and regulating the seminaries betray lack of understanding of the complexities involved. A number of religious parties with wide following are opposed to government initiative of bringing seminaries under the government scrutiny. The proscribed outfits have also lot of following among the people which makes the government and the concerned agencies to tread with utmost caution. The phenomenon of terrorism also has an ideological dimension which is the trickiest part of the whole affair and needs a long-term effort on the part of the government, civil society, all the stakeholders and media to develop a counter-narrative to the dogma being propagated by the terrorists besides dealing with them through muscle of the state.

What is needed to be understood is that the fight against terrorism is a crusade against an invisible enemy. It is easy to blame it on intelligence failure and presumed inadequacies and responses to deal with incidents of terrorism without looking at them in their proper context. We witness this kind of criticism whenever a terrorist attack occurs without giving credit to the government and its agencies that are engaged in tackling the scourge of terrorism and have pre-empted thousand of terrorist attacks on the basis on the gathered intelligence and intelligence based operations. It is true that people get carried away when a tragedy of such a devastating nature occurs. However what is required is that instead of grilling the government and agencies, people must back the government efforts with a renewed zeal to carry the fight to its logical end. The argument that the government and the institutions lack the commitment and will to deal with terrorism is simply absurd. The fact is that the present government has shown a rare spunk by taking on the terrorist outfits and can rightly boast about having checked terrorism and religious extremism in their tracks.

The war against terrorism is a long drawn out undertaking. A glance at the history of the countries that had to face this scourge will make it clear that it took them decades to get rid of this abhorrent phenomenon. Sri Lanka and Italy are quintessential of this irrefutable reality. The terrorists even kidnapped the Italian Prime Minister and killed him. The countries like USA who have the most efficient security apparatus, sophisticated technology and resources at their disposal to deal with security threats failed to pre-empt attacks like 9/11. Similarly the spate of terrorist attacks in France and other European countries testify to the fact how difficult it is to deal with terrorism. The terrorists have been hitting military targets including the GHQ which are highly secured premises due to the element unpredictability and surprise. Nevertheless the importance of raising the bar and proper  and increased coordination between the intelligence agencies and other departments responsible for dealing with the issue as well as developing an effective counter-narrative against the ideology of the terrorists, as pointed out by the commission cannot be contested.