Quetta hospital carnage: Judicial commission exposes chinks in anti-terror armour

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ISLAMABAD: A one-man judicial commission investigating the August 8 deadly terrorist attack in Quetta points out ‘monumental failure’ of the interior ministry to combat terrorism. It says the ‘irresponsible’ post-attack statements of Balochistan’s chief minister and home minister undermined the credibility of the provincial government.

The damning report, made public by the Supreme Court on Thursday, has been compiled by Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court. The judicial commission was tasked to investigate the deadly gun attack on Bilal Anwar Kasi, the president of Balochistan Bar Association, and the subsequent suicide bombing at Quetta’s Civil Hospital in which 70 people, mostly lawyers, were killed.

The commission worked for 56 days to examine concerned persons and obtain responses from all relevant ministries, departments and institutions. It has concluded that the gun and suicide attacks were inextricably linked and were carried out by the same group.

“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; in this regard the 2012 Terrorism Case Judgment has still not been implemented,” it says.

According to the commission, the Balochistan government’s credibility was undermined after the attacks as the chief minister, the home minister, and their spokesman had made irresponsible press statements. “In these statements, fabricated leads were broadcast, disrupting the investigation and creating false expectations,” it states.

The report says the investigators think that there is some connection between the attackers and their handlers in Afghanistan. However, neither the gun attack on Kasi nor the subsequent attack by the suicide bomber could have been possible without local assistance and participation. “The suicide bomber was a Pakistani national and so too were a number of his accomplices.”

The commission also points to the Ministry of Interior’s ‘monumental failure’ to combat terrorism and perform basic protocols. The ministry was without a clear leadership and direction and was confused about its role in combating terrorism, it says.

“The ministry’s National Security Internal Policy is not being implemented. The officers of the ministry appear more interested in serving the minister than the people of Pakistan,” it says.

The report highlights the interior ministry’s reluctance to take action against terror outfits and delays on its parts to proscribe militant outfits. “Proscribed organisations continue their illegal activities and new terrorist organisations are proscribed after long delays. Some terrorist organisations have still not been proscribed or prosecuted, even when their statements acknowledging terrorist attacks are broadcast and printed.”

It says the Balochistan government had written a letter to the ministry on August 16, 2016 to proscribe Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al Aalmi as it referred to five specific FIRs that recorded the group’s crimes, including murder of policemen and Frontier Corps personnel. However, the interior ministry neither responded to the letter nor banned the organisation.

It observes that the interior minister [Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan] displayed little sense of ministerial responsibility as he only called one meeting of the executive committee of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) in over three-and-a-half years.

“He met the head of a banned organisation, widely reported in the media with his photograph, but still denied doing so. Accepted demands of the proscribed group regarding the CNICs, inexplicably delayed in proscribing terrorist organisations, and did not proscribe a well-known terror organisation,” it says.

On November 4, 2016, the commission wrote a letter (No 036) to Nisar, asking him a number of questions, including, “Why was ASWJ [Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat] permitted to hold a public meeting?”

The report says Nisar also negated his own ministry’s decision, taken in a meeting on December 31, 2014, which had clearly prohibited such meetings. “The interior minister is also the chairman of the executive committee of Nacta and chaired its meeting on December 31, 2014.”

According to the commission, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) must be providing valuable input to combat terrorism but surprisingly it cannot be contacted to convey information on suspicious or terrorist related activities.

“The ISI does not have a website, address, email, or telephone number,” it says, adding that the commission faced considerable difficulty in ascertaining the whereabouts of the government ministries, departments and agencies.

“One can but commiserate with the poor citizens who may have to interact with them. If such nebulousness serves a purpose it could only be to remain aloof and unapproachable and therefore unquestionable and unaccountable.”

The federal ministries, with their institutions and the provincial departments with their institutions should only use stationary which provides contact details, including postal address, email, and telephone number, it adds.

The commission has recommended that the Anti-Terrorism Act be enforced and terrorists and terror outfits must be proscribed without delay. They must not be permitted to hold meetings. Those claiming to be members of the proscribed organisations should be prosecuted in accordance with the ATA.

The report says there is a breakdown in the implementation of law and order, which has led to rules being repeatedly violated without consequences, and this has fostered a culture of nepotism.

“There are unabashedly clear instances of nepotism when unqualified individuals were illegally appointed. This includes the illegal appointments of at least four secretaries, including the secretary health department, who is brother of a retired Lt Gen and federal minister.

Observations on NAP

The commission has found that the National Action Plan is not a plan in any structured or meaningful way, nor has its goals been monitored or implemented and that the ATA has been violated.

“The National Action Plan should be made into a proper plan, with clear goals, a comprehensive monitoring mechanism, and periodic reviewing. It should also be translated into Urdu for wider dissemination and understanding,” it said.

The commission says the country’s western borders are not monitored, and even from the official crossings there is a free and unrestricted flow of people and goods, including terrorists, weapons, ammunition, and other contraband.

It has proposed that the entry into and departure from Pakistan be properly monitored. All persons must have the requisite documentation and be photographed and thumb impressed by personnel of the Federal Investigation Agency.

It says that the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony is a moribund ministry and is not fulfilling its most basic mandate for interfaith harmony. There is no registration or monitoring of madrassas.

The commission says that the media has a very few stories about the victims of terrorism. Media coverage seems to be centred on the propaganda of terrorists, which is disseminated in breach of Section 11W of the ATA. The commission has recommended that if the media broadcasts and propagates the views of terrorists, then those doing so must be prosecuted in accordance with the law.

It says that the amount sent by the Punjab government as compensation and the amount earmarked by the Balochistan government as compensation for the legal heirs of the deceased and for the injured should be expeditiously distributed.

The solution to the menace of extremism and terrorism is straightforward.

“Abide by the laws: the Anti-Terrorism Act (“ATA”), Nacta Act, the Pakistan Penal Code, and above all the Constitution of Pakistan. It is an abomination to have laws, and not enforce them,” it says.