In a remarkable first, the Quetta Commission report delivers a strong indictment of the state’s performance and security establishment
Sometimes it takes a judge to hunt down a suicide bomber in Pakistan. It was only when Justice Qazi Faez Isa forced the police to forensically enhance photographs of terrorists, print them in newspapers and offer a reward for information that someone came forward to identify the attacker and his accomplices for the two incidents that took place in Quetta on August 8. A lawyer, Bilal Anwar Kasi, was killed on his way to work and a suicide bombing targeted the lawyers that gathered for him at the Sandeman hospital that day. Seventy-five people were killed and 105 people were injured. By October 6, the Supreme Court had formed an inquiry commission. It worked straight for 56 days and gathered the testimony of 45 people and published its findings on December 14. What has emerged is a sobering indictment of Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan and the multiple institutional failures that have unfolded since the inception of the National Action Plan.
“The people of Pakistan have been subjected to sustained terrorist attacks, which continue unabated, and deserve answers,” the report concludes. “Those who have failed the people of Pakistan need to be held accountable. Things cannot go on as they have been. Without top-tier accountability, it is unlikely systemic change will be possible.”
The general critique of the government has centered on the leadership’s confusion, lack of coordination at the top echelons of government, selective application of laws, ministerial apathy and inefficiency, and deficient data collection in critical focus areas such as seminaries. “If the functionaries of the state had established a bank of forensic information on past attacks, and pursued the cases, they might have prevented the attacks of August 8,” the report notes, for example. To a certain degree the justice is justified; the SOPs for handling a post-attack situation are still glaringly missing.
The report reads like a litany of legitimate complaints against bureaucratic inertia, political expedience and broken promises. But what is unique is that Justice Isa’s report goes beyond the usual complaints and takes a holistic approach to the issues that concern the citizens of Pakistan.
The population of Balochistan is only about 7% of Pakistan’s, but it has suffered 16.5% of attacks-three times the national average
For example, this is perhaps the first time that an official commission report has raised fundamentally serious questions on the role played by various arms of the security establishment i.e. the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Frontier Corps (FC) for “high-handedness and lack of public access to them.” Listing the names of leading US agencies such as the CIA, the report says that “almost all the important agencies had made their contact details, like telephone numbers and email addresses, public.” But the report laments the fact that “the ISI neither has a website nor an email account, unlike spy agencies of other countries.” It also highlights that the FC, when called for reinforcement by the police who had surrounded a terrorist hideout in Huramzai, took three hours to show up.
The report bemoans VIP protocols that result in the closure of roads and public inconvenience. “The visit of the army chief and the lockdown of the cantonment area also disrupted access to the Combined Military Hospital. Unfortunately, the ingrained VIP culture is not sensitive to such needs,” notes the commission, resonating a common and frequent grievance of the public.
15 years of terrorist attacks
(2001 to mid-Oct 2016)
Total in Pakistan: 17,503
Of these, in Balochistan: 2,878
No of banned outfits: 63
The report rightly raps the federal ministries for a lack of credible data on seminaries in Pakistan.
Umbrella organisations speak of the existence of 26,465 seminaries but the ministry of religious affairs can count only 11,852. “Surprisingly, there is no central depository of the basic data,” points out the report in what is indeed a scathing comment on the state of affairs in a country that has been at war with ideologically driven and externally sponsored terrorists for over 15 years now. “If these [educational] institutions are found to be … spreading hatred, fitnah [mischief] or extremism, those running them should be stopped and proceeded against in accordance with the law. Regrettably, the state functionaries have stayed clear of madrassahs.”
The commission also censures the interior ministry for inaction against terror outfits and delays on its part to proscribe militant outfits, responding to the oft-repeated criticism of the selective application of laws. Point 3 of NAP, for instance, promises that, “Militant outfits and armed gangs will not be allowed to operate in the country,” but the commission’s report takes offense to the fact that “proscribed organisations continue their illegal activities and new organisations are proscribed after long delays. Some have still not been proscribed or prosecuted, even when their statements acknowledging terrorist attacks are broadcast and printed.”
In this context, it is worth mentioning a recent official report by the Sindh Home Ministry which speaks of the re-emergence of 35 organisations that have been part of 62 outlawed outfits. They operate without any real challenge from the law-enforcement agencies. Where is the government’s commitment to the rule of law when one of its senators, Sajid Mir, went public, casting aspersions on one of the contenders to the post of army chief? Why did the ruling party refrain from publicly admonishing the senator, who was blatantly preaching against the spirit of Article 25 of the Federal Constitution (Equal citizenry rights for all citizens of Pakistan) and making a mockery of Point 18 of NAP (Action against elements spreading sectarianism).
On the Minister for Interior, the report says: The Minister of Interior has:
(a) Displayed little sense of ministerial responsibility.
(b) Called only one meeting of the executive committee of NACTA in over three and a half years.
(c) Violated the decisions of the executive committee of NACTA.
(d) Met the head of a proscribed organization, widely reported in the media with his photograph, but still denied doing so.
(e) Accepted the demands of the proscribed organization regarding CNICs.
(f) Inexplicably delayed proscribing terrorist organizations.
(g) [Has] not proscribed a well known terrorist organization.
Treatment of non-Muslims
The commission also points out that the religious affairs ministry’s nomenclature was changed and it was now named ‘Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony’. But the ministry appears to have confined itself, according to its own website, to “matters relating to Hajj and Umrah”. It doesn’t attend to matters relating to religious education or inter-faith harmony, the report states.
The report criticizes the religious affairs ministry for caring little for non-Muslim Pakistanis and urges it to counter hate speech and extremism on an intellectual level. It literally also condemns the media for printing and broadcasting “whatever is dictated by terrorists, [mostly] lies.”
However, as long as the 1860 Code of Criminal Procedure and 1861 Police Act remain the primary source of the criminal justice system, taking on and effectively neutralizing the challenges to the state authority i.e. organized crime, religious militancy and terrorism, will remain a formidable challenge for the often-talked about and much-needed Rule of Law paradigm in Pakistan.
How to find a suicide bomber
The head of the suicide bomber who attacked the lawyers at the Quetta hospital was never found. But someone did find two severed legs. The new shoes and socks helped the commission find the attacker as they were bought at a shop which had CCTV footage. This was matched with the CCTV recordings of the hospital. The commission asked the police why these images had not been printed in newspapers and was told that they weren’t clear enough. Justice Qazi Faez Isa had the police send the images to forensic experts at the Punjab Forensic Science Agency. These images were printed in the newspapers, with a Rs10 million reward. And an informant came forward. The attacker was discovered to be 28-year-old Ahmad Ali.
What is unique is that Justice Isa’s report goes beyond the usual complaints and takes a holistic approach to the issues that concern the citizens of Pakistan. For example, this is perhaps the first time that an official commission report has raised fundamentally serious questions on the role played by various arms of the security establishment
The report fails to mention geo-political dynamics that are a contributory factor as far as terrorist activities are concerned. It is nearly impossible to prevent more attacks simply because of the proxy wars that India, Afghanistan and Pakistan are currently involved in.
Justice Isa would have done another national service had he also highlighted the role of the judiciary in the state of Pakistan; we hear pontifications from the chief justice and other honourable judges but don’t see any evidence of what practical initiatives the senior judiciary has undertaken to improve the criminal justice system which relies on antiquated laws. The judiciary as a whole has to answer when it comes to delays in cases relating to crime, militancy, terrorism and at times political cases. At the same time, the report could have also underscored the commercially driven role lawyers play in this scenario. Both the judiciary as well as the black coats bear the responsibility for inordinate delays in and sometimes the denial of justice to the aggrieved.
The only logical conclusion that can be drawn from the Justice Isa report is that none of the state institutions and critical stakeholders of the system are doing their job. And that is a sad commentary on the state of Pakistan.
The author Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS).