Move beyond conflict and ratings

Tributes to Peshawar terror attack victims

School children in Chennai pay tributes to Peshawar terror attack victims on Wednesday. Photo: R. Senthil Kumar/ PTI

Wrote this on Dec 18, 2014 for Lokmat Media, Pune: Situationer/ Comment on Peshawar attack aftermath in Pakistan, published on Dec 20 in three languages (below).

By Beena Sarwar

Two days after the horrific attack on an army-run school in Peshawar that killed 148 people, most of them schoolchildren, an anti-terrorist court approved bail for Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, leader of the banned terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT).

Lakhvi is allegedly the mastermind behind the horrific attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 and India has been demanding his extradition. India and Pakistan have not yet signed an extradition treaty though the possibility has been discussed in the past. He is unlikely to walk out on bail anytime soon. Prosecution lawyers said that the ATC decision came despite evidence against Lakhvi, and that they will challenge the decision.

The proceedings are being held in-camera at Adiala Jail Rawalpindi due to security concerns. Prosecution lawyers have received threats from Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD), the ‘charity’ organization that the LeT is said to operate through. Chief prosecutor in the case Chaudhry Zulfiqar was killed last year. (read Amir Mir’s report in The News for more details)

There have been several changes to the bench, with at least three judges who heard the case having requested to be taken off due to threats. The present judge, Justice Kausar Abbasi Zaidi, is the eighth judge in the Mumbai attack trial that began in 2009.

In an update to his earlier post on the issue, political analyst Omar Ali raises the question of whether the ATC judge is “crazy or scared or whether Deep State is trying to embarrass Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif”.

Judges cannot act on whim, but according to law and the evidence before them. There may be disagreements about their decisions but these depend on the strength of the prosecution, including evidence and witnesses – all of which are poor in our part of the world.

Even in a democracy like India, most of the perpetrators of carnage like 1984 and 2002 have still not been punished, though some have at least been brought to book, if belatedly. Our court systems have the same colonial base. Police systems leave a lot to be desired. To obtain convictions is not that easy. The forensics and prosecution techniques are poor, making it quite easy for criminals to get away with murder. Pakistan doesn’t even have a witness protection programme.

PakistanWithIndiaNoToLakhviBailBut Pakistanis are embarrassed by the ATC decision, coming so soon after India’s overwhelming support to Pakistan, with schools across the country holding a two-minute silence on Dec 17 for the Peshawar school attack at Prime Minister Modi’s request. The hashtag #IndiaWithPakistan began trending soon after news of the tragedy broke, and Indian lawmakers and citizens even at private gatherings observed a moment’s silence for the innocent victims of Peshawar.

Soon after the ATC decision was reported, Pakistanis began trending the hashtag #PakistanWithIndiaNoToLakhviBail. Civil society activists have also protested in front of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad against the refusal of its head Maulana Abdul Aziz to condemn the perpetrators of the Peshawar school attack or term its victims as martyrs (update: they have managed to get an FIR registered against him)

Aziz is known as Maulana Burqa, as he tried to escape in a burqa when army commandos besieged the masjid that was harbouring terrorists and had stockpiled huge amounts of weapons during Gen. Musharraf’s time, in 2007.

As news of the Peshawar tragedy unfolded, many began calling for the government to lift a de facto moratorium on executions that has been in place since 2008. Some have even demanded public executions – which the government is unlikely to agree to.

However, on Wednesday, the day after the tragedy, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced at an All Parties Conference held in Peshawar that he was ending the moratorium.

“Dozens of Taliban militants have been convicted by court and are waiting to be hanged but we have not been able to execute their sentences due to the moratorium on the death penalty,” he said.

Pakistan currently has around 8,000 prisoners sentenced to – and awaiting – death by hanging, including dozens of militants. The Interior Ministry has has reportedly instructed all provinces to get Black Warrants of imprisoned convicted terrorists, and hang them in seven days.

Defence analyst Ejaz Haider commented in a tweet that “There’s a difference between justice and revenge. It’s also the difference between us and them.”

Amnesty International and other rights groups stress that certainty of punishment is more effective and a greater deterrent than the severity of punishment.

The late Justice Dorab Patel said many years ago that in countries like Pakistan where the investigation system is so flawed and laws are often misused for political vendetta, people have been wrongly hanged. That’s is the reason for the moratorium that the earlier People’s Party government had imposed — so many of their activists were falsely convicted and hanged in the Zia era, including Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

There are also fears that the government ands security establishment can use harsh laws to curb political dissent for example in Balochistan.

Meanwhile, even as mourning for the dead in Peshawar continues not just in Pakistan but in vigils around the world, certain Pakistani “analysts” (several known to be in the pay of the security establishment) have jumped into action to perpetuate the anti-India narrative through op-eds, television talk shows, and social media.

Their agenda is to push the view that India is behind such attacks or that it’s the result of a Western conspiracy. This narrative also furthers the confusion about ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’, rather than taking a clear position on the need to counter all criminal acts and violence, whether they are committed in the name of ‘honour’ or ‘religion’ or ‘nationalism’.

Not Muslim? Attackers of APS Peshawar photographed prior to their mission, in front of a banner inscribed with the first Kalima of Islam: "There is no god but Allah and Mohammad is His Prophet".

“Not Muslim”? Photo released by the Pakistani Taliban along with a statement claiming responsibility for the attack on APS Peshawar. The banner is inscribed in Arabic with the first Kalima of Islam: “There is no god but Allah and Mohammad is His Prophet”.

The fact that the terrorists committed their heinous act shouting ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ (God is great) does not in any way justify their act or make less criminal.

With dozens of 24/7 television channels, there is no dearth of outlets for these talking heads to peddle their conspiracy theories – not just in Pakistan but also in India where anchors seem to prefer calling on such hawkish analysts rather than sane voices to comment on current affairs. After all, conflict and sensationalism is what gets the ratings.

Photo of the attackers released by TTP on Dec 17 shows them in the para-military uniforms that they wore for the attack. AP

Photo of the attackers released by TTP on Dec 17 shows them in the para-military uniforms that they wore for the attack. AP

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One Response

  1. Sad but true…

    Like

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