Monday, June 23, 2014

Perverse logic, incredible brutality

A bulldozer, stone throwing protestors, security forces, smoke and firing are reminiscent of Palestine. But this was Lahore and these weren’t rubber bullets but live rounds, not fired in the air but directly into abdomens and chests. The only commonality: unarmed protestors.

The police arrived late at night to remove barricades outside the residence of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek head, Dr. Tahirul Qadri. A High Court order legitimizing the barricades was shown by PAT to the police but dialogue deteriorated into baton charge. In the morning a new police shift arrived, reportedly 1000 strong, backed with armored cars. The bulldozer broke up the barricades and protestors began the pelting. Two women, sisters-in-law to each other, stood guard at the door of the house, probably thinking that police will be easier on women. They were shot at point-blank range and their bodies remained unclaimed till the violence resolved.

Out of the 12 dead, autopsies of seven, all of them PAT workers, reveal death by bullet wounds or excessive bleeding. Dr. Tahirul Qadri states that 15 more have died and the government is preventing families from receiving the bodies and that a total of 200 are dead or injured. He also makes the hair-raising claim that the arrested have been tortured with nails inserted in their bodies.

It is difficult to process that this battle happened in Model Town in Lahore. Foreign armies generally rain terror on other countries’ civilians. How could the police have killed their own countrymen? How could they have gone wild without orders from above?

The Taliban murders civilians in broad daylight, again and again, and rides away with impunity on motorbikes. They are almost never apprehended. Brazen attacks occur, like the beheading of our soldiers, and the Nawaz Sharif government exercises ultimate restraint and persistently tries dialogue. But barricades and the impending arrival of Tahirul Qadri invoke a mighty, murderous response.

Law Minister Rana Sanaullah claims that anti-Pakistan messages between PAT workers were detected and “no-go areas would not be tolerated”. Is there a comparison between the antics of the Taliban and the workings of the PAT? Since when did response become so incredibly disproportionate? Is the Nawaz Sharif government so disconnected with the people that murmurings between workers and barricades can precipitate killings?

Current events are replete with resignations of ministers when self-wrought tragedies occur. All over the world, except Pakistan. The inspector general of police and the deputy inspector general of police were quickly demoted to becoming officers on special duty, but I am hard-pressed to believe that the decision to deal with the Model Town barricades with an iron hand was that of the police. Such deadly police brutality has never been seen in Pakistan.

The Sharif government would have been able to stave off the cacophony of criticism and insults if Shahbaz Sharif had stepped down as Chief Minister. But what an outlandish concept! Power was attained with much pain; it can only be relinquished after much pain. Shahbaz Sharif has set up a judicial commission for the investigation of the Model Town tragedy. Only termites see those judicial commission reports and it is a well-known delaying tactic.

Public confidence in the government was at an all-time high with its decision to bombard Taliban hideouts in Waziristan. The most unlikely of people such as Imran Khan were on board and for about three days there was a rare sense of unity in Pakistan. But now the Nawaz Sharif government seems besieged.

If the intention was to scare people into showing up for Tahirul Qadri’s arrival on June 23, the exact opposite has occurred. There is an emotional line within us that inhibits impulsivity, risk taking and altruism. But brutal injustices shred this line and people are able to walk into war.

What is even more mind-boggling is why the Punjab government would be threatened by a preacher. Tahirul Qadri’s party boycotted the elections and his loyalists are limited in number. He is full of bluster and rhetoric and the idea of a “Green Revolution” appears far-fetched at best.

On his own steam, no pun intended, Tahirul Qadri would have been negligible and nothing beyond an irritant. But now we have the bandwagon effect: the combined self-righteous and self-promoting indignation of the MQM, PTI, PML-Q with the Pakistan Awami Tehreek has the ability to create quite the migraine for the government.

And if it topples the Punjab government it will be a well-deserved punishment. Like in army strategy, all actions must anticipate and fully prepare for their reactions. The Model Town tragedy will be an ignominious chapter in Pakistan’s history.

The heart-wrenching cry of the daughter and niece of the two murdered women ascended eerily to the heavens. And as promised, God will dispense discerning and timely justice.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Taliban versus Pakistan

Terrorism in Pakistan plays out like clips from Hollywood. Ten men armed with backpacks and shopping bags full of sophisticated arms storm the cargo terminal of Karachi airport and hold the Airport Security Force, the army, police, Rangers and even the Special Services Group at bay for five and half hours.

Television media provides live coverage, with one of the reporters hitting the ground and breathing heavily into the mike while the camera zeroes in on one of the terrorists standing in plain sight on a roof top. It finally dawns on someone that they might be compromising the fight against the terrorists as well as the lives of the journalists so the coverage becomes a great deal distant.

We are always wiser afterwards. Now we’re crowing on how the army and other security forces were able to defeat ten terrorists. There was positivity and back-slapping all the way and questions of security lapses and intelligence failures were all shooed away.

And though I was very concerned about how the media was compromising the security forces’ efforts, the five and half hours of being glued to the television were very enlightening. The news then came out uncensored; the interviews were unvarnished. One said that there was no security forces response for the longest time after the attack. Another said that efforts were aimed at getting the terrorists alive and one had been so captured. Next thing, all ten terrorists were dead.

The cargo terminal entrance where the terrorists barged in at 11:25 pm is guarded by sleepy ASF workers who were about to go through shift change. That entrance is reserved for VVIP officials who receive smart salutes from the ASF and reward them with baksheesh. Gunning down the ASF was seamless for the terrorists who then ran a kilometer toward the Jinnah terminal in an effort to enter and hijack a plane. Thankfully the sprint was two kilometers and they met resistance half way.

It was nerve wrecking to hear that they had bunkered up on the runway and first off seven security personnel were killed and slowly, very slowly there was one and then two and finally all ten terrorists were killed. The death toll of the security forces keeps rising and is 17 at the time of this writing. And of greater concern, there are now three terrorists that have re-engaged the security forces.

Regardless of the Pakistanism “sab theek ho jayega” (everything will be alright) or the political chest-thumping that “we will never let this happen again” it is vital for the Pakistani nation to demand answers and insist on solutions.

Chief Minister Sind Syed Qaim Ali Shah pathetically stated that there were intelligence reports that important people or places were under threat, but that Karachi is such a large place, it is very difficult to know. I can essentially guarantee that the internal response to this intelligence was to beef up security for all the important people. I was mortified to know that he had arrived at the scene while the “ghamsan ki jang” (furious fight) was going on between the security forces and the terrorists, for his own security detail probably takes up a lot of manpower and space. He had to have been a hindrance.

The terrorists had come for the long haul; dates and dried food and water reminiscent of the Mehran naval base attack in 2011. Perhaps we did learn from the Mehran naval base attack for that took 17 hours to control and this took only five and a half.

The terrorist attack on Shia pilgrims returning from Iran on the same day got dwarfed in the news by the airport attack.

But like Bob Dylan asked “how many deaths does it take till we know that too many people have died”. Innumerable minorities, numerous religious devotees, several armed forces personnel, countless innocent people have died and audacious attacks on the Marriott hotel, the Mehran naval base and now the Karachi airport among others have occurred. But we are not up to self-examination: the media repeated ad infinitum that the attackers looked Uzbek. In the melee the media was told that the weapons were manufactured in India, and slowly but surely, it is being molded into a hunood-yahood-nasara (Hindu-Israeli-Christian) conspiracy.

Immediately after the 2005 London train bombings one of the friends of the terrorists said that killing Al-Qaeda operatives didn’t make a difference because, pointing to his head, he said “Al-Qaeda is inside”. Pakistan’s population has been similarly radicalized and like infection circulating through the bloodstream of a seriously sick patient, streaks of the population has bought into the Taliban ideology. And these streaks infiltrate the army, the government, the judiciary, educational institutions, mosques, the business community, onward to an infinite list.

We don’t dare question Nawaz Sharif’s commitment toward erasing terrorism. Why are we speechlessly tolerating absurdities in an interview he gave to the BBC a week ago that he was hoping for a peace deal with the Taliban? Why didn’t we see through Saudi Arabia pressuring us to send our military to combat Hafez Al-Assad in Syria? Why do we forget that Nawaz Sharif is beholden forever and ever to the Saudis for providing him amnesty after his Musharraf adventurism? We lend a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s export of its violent and extremist Wahabi ideology.

The prognosis for Pakistan’s survival is grim as it is, it will become essentially zero if an immediate, concerted and mighty attack is not mounted on each and every militant holdout. And Taliban-like extremism in the population must be outed and punished publicly, swiftly and effectively.

Nawaz Sharif’s and previous governments have been wholly absorbed in shoring up money and power. It’s clear that Nawaz Sharif and company shed crocodile tears on the endless loss of life and economic damage in Pakistan. It might be instructive for Nawaz to remember that while the Taliban continue their volley of attacks in every province of Pakistan, pretty soon all that Nawaz Sharif will be ruling will be his bullet-proof Mercedes.