Updated: December 22, 2014 12:06:27 am
The president of Pakistan, Mamnoon Hussain, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif decided to execute 17 terrorists last week. When the president and prime minister were discussing these executions, they were informed that an Islamabad anti-terror court had granted bail to Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who is charged with planning the November 26, 2008, attacks in Mumbai. This was like a bombshell for them. The prime minister immediately discussed the issue with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, and it was decided that Lakhvi would not be released and that his bail would be challenged in superior courts. The authorities have since detained Lakhvi for three months under the Maintenance of Public Order Act. The Peshawar tragedy seems to have given Nawaz Sharif some strength to take bold steps to eradicate terrorism.
Pakistan has been weeping since last Tuesday. We have wept many rivers of tears in just a few days. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) announced that it would launch more attacks the very day after the brutal massacre. The TTP proudly released pictures of the seven militants who killed 133 young students of Army Public School, Peshawar, their principal and teachers. It declared that “seven soldiers of Islam took the revenge of our children who were killed by the infidel army of Pakistan”. Common Pakistanis are not ready to accept this justification. They want quick action to be taken against those who give a bad name not only to Pakistan but also to Islam. This episode is a turning point in the history of Pakistan. This national tragedy has forced the government and opposition to put up a united front against terrorism.
Nawaz Sharif convened an all parties conference in Peshawar on December 17, attended by all major political parties — of the right, left and centre. Liberal parties like the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Awami National Party were surprised to see Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan sitting next to Nawaz Sharif at the conference. They used to call him Taliban Khan because of his soft stance on the TTP. A few months ago, the PTI government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had even announced that it would provide a political office to the Taliban in Peshawar. But the December 16 attack forced the PTI and its ally, the Jamaat-i-Islami, to join hands with all other political parties that want decisive action to be taken against terrorists.
Three important decisions were taken in the Peshawar meeting. Nawaz Sharif declared that his government would cease to discriminate between “good” and “bad” Taliban, and would ensure the elimination of all terrorists. Second, he formed a committee, headed by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, to devise a plan in one week for the elimination of terrorism. He also approved of removing the moratorium on the death penalty in cases of terrorism. Within 24 hours of these decisions, the president rejected the mercy appeals of 17 terrorists, and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif signed the death warrants of six hardcore terrorists convicted by military courts.
The conference’s decisions were hailed all over Pakistan. But the question is: will Nawaz Sharif deliver? Raheel Sharif already claimed that his forces are taking action in North Waziristan against the good and bad Taliban. But will Nawaz Sharif ask his army chief to take action against those militants who don’t use the Taliban’s name and are active in Punjab and Sindh? According to credible reports, the Peshawar attackers were receiving instructions from TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah, who is hiding in Afghanistan. But they were also in touch with some people in Bahawalpur. They reached Army Public School in Peshawar using a vehicle stolen from Lahore. Will action now be taken against terrorist hideouts in Bahawalpur and Lahore? Can Peshawar be a turning point?
The army chief rushed to Kabul on Wednesday and shared evidence with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani about the mastermind of the Peshawar attack, who was reportedly operating from the eastern part of Afghanistan. Some Urdu newspapers have even claimed that the mastermind, Fazlullah, was getting money from Afghan and Indian intelligence services. But sane voices in the media are demanding credible evidence to back these allegations. A baseless blame-game at this point could destroy the public sympathy Pakistan has earned. There is a general consensus in the country that the policies of dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, who created private militias in the name of Islam, should be buried. But will Imran Khan support any move to even disarm the private militias operating in different parts of the country? Imran Khan did one good thing in the evening of December 17. He called off his sit-in, which had started 126 days ago in front of Parliament House in Islamabad, to protest against the alleged rigging of the 2013 election. But at the Peshawar meeting, he assured Nawaz Sharif that his party would support a national plan of action to combat terrorism. The Peshawar tragedy could turn into national strength for fighting terrorism. But there are some obstacles.
The biggest challenge would be coordination between more than 30 intelligence agencies. These powerful agencies should be answerable to parliament. The committee headed by the interior minister will probably try to strengthen the National Counter Terrorism Authority, which is controlled by the civilian government. But will some powerful intelligence agencies agree to come under its supervision? This is a big question that the committee must try to answer. If yes, it would prove that the political and military leadership is indeed united.
There is also a need to pass legislation for the protection of judges. If judges are not secure, we cannot eradicate terrorism. There is yet another challenge — seven different regions of Pakistani tribal areas are beyond the writ of the constitution. There is a need to integrate the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Pakistan. A majority of people in FATA want it to become a new province of Pakistan. US drone attacks in that area have killed many terrorists in the past. But they have also created more violence and hatred. We must remember that a drone attack on October 30, 2006, at a religious school in Bajaur, killed 82 young students (between the ages of seven and 17). The current Taliban chief, Fazlullah, lost his younger brother, Liaqat, in the same attack. The US needs to understand that the killing of innocents in drone attacks may, in fact, increase Pakistan’s problems.
The whole world is standing with Pakistan. This is an opportunity not only for Pakistan but for the whole of South Asia to unite and strike the enemies of humanity without any distinction between good and bad. Let us stop our dirty double games with each other. Let us play fair for the sake of the memory of all those innocent people who have lost their lives in terrorist incidents all over South Asia in the last one decade.