The recent Quetta Inquiry Commission Report raised some valid questions related to the management of security apparatus and counter-terrorism within the measures. The report, however, was quickly politicized with the Interior Minister being chastised for inadequacies. Unfortunately, the real crux of the matter that should have been discussed by the political apex was the assessment of counter terror measures.
Military operations have been successful in reducing the infrastructure of terrorists but there is an expectation from NACTA to deliver. One key critique pointed out in the report was the mandate of NACTA which included carrying out research related to terrorism and preparing documents related to counter extremism strategies (clauses b, c and d of Section 4 of NACTA Act). Additionally, National Action Plan (NAP) continues to be a one-pager without defined timelines and administrative responsibilities to attain the twenty goals. The report has also critiqued the National Internal Security Policy 2014-2018, which stipulates the need to construct a counter-narrative and a National De-Radicalization Program.
Subsequently, it also discusses the confusion of implementation of NAP, whereby the Prime Minister constituted an Implementation Committee for the National Action Plan, with Lt. Gen (Retd) Nasser Khan Janjua as its convenor. A letter (No. 053) written by the Commission on 18th November 2016, further sheds light on the issue of jurisdiction and confusion related to implementation.
The report also discusses the role of media in reporting terrorism which often overlooks the responsibility that is expected of it. The Section 11W of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, criminalizes print or publication of acts which glorify terrorists. However, media has been known to air views of terrorists more rather than addressing the effects of terrorism. There have been instances where guests on talk shows have gone on to defend narratives of the perpetrators.
The report also makes it a point of giving religious injunctions whereby there is no justification of suicide bombing or acts of terrorism under the purview of Islam. That being said, the report emphasizes that the ideological component of terrorists needs to be kept in mind.
The Commission also took the initiative of writing letters to five educational boards of madaris operating with the country. These included Wafaq-ul-Madarise-ul-Salfia, Wafaq-ul-Madaris-al-Arabia, Wifaq-ul-Madaris Alshia Pakistan, Tanzeem-ul-Madaris Pakistan and Rabita-ul-Madaris Al-Islamia and the Ittehad Tanzeem Madaris. The letter was basically a questionnaire inquiring on views related to the spread of hate speech through Madrassas. The responses noted that 26,465 madaris were affiliated with the educational boards. The boards reported that they had problem monitoring each madrassa and this task is primarily the responsibility of the State.
The Commission then also sought information and views from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter Faith Harmony. The Commission pointed out evident flaws which included the absence of a central depository of basic data. Without availability of such information, how can the state be equipped to design a policy of counter terrorism and regulation of religious institutions? Another sub-text was that while the Ministry of Religious Affairs recently revised its nomenclature to include ‘Inter Faith Harmony’, there has been no policy decision to attend to religious education and matters related to inter faith harmony.
The report also includes an analysis and dissection of the reaction of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) after the blast. It even points out ostensibly minor portions like aerial firing, linking them with the lack of knowledge of LEAs in post attack crisis management. The police personnel have no understanding of basic protocol for securing crime scene and/or initiating a proper forensic examination. In this case, the forensic examination was an effort of the Commission.
The report infers that if there was a bank of forensic information on past attacks, functionaries of the State may have been able to prevent the attacks of 8th August, 2016. The 2012 Terrorism Case Judgement has still not been implemented. Out of turn appointments made at the behest of the Balochistan government also led to a lot of incompetence in appropriately responding to the situation.
While the Quetta Commission Report has brought forth no startling revelations, it still does an impressive job at critiquing counter-terrorism measures. It puts into ink the failures of the state, which can be avoided through simple policy and implementation procedures. The report is both diagnostic and prescriptive.
The last section of the report dwells on the recommendations. The principle recommendation is the implementation of Anti-Terrorism Act, NACTA Act, Pakistan Penal Code and the Constitution of the country in true letter and spirit. The report observes that ‘it is an abomination to have laws, and not enforce them.’ It is also recommended to display the list of proscribed organizations on the Ministry for Interior websites and all allied functionaries dealing with counter terrorism. Stringent application of the Terrorism Case Judgement 2012 should be made, whereby the state was directed to ‘develop and maintain a data-bank with information or perpetrators/suspects of heinous crimes and terrorist’s organizations, including their names, aliases, parentage, addresses, photographs, thumb impressions, DNA, telephone number and telephone details, weapons used, particular type of explosive used and their respective modus operandi’. In accordance with this, an industry-academia relationship is needed to develop forensic laboratories, and share data with all relevant authorities. Military operations such as Zarb-e-Azb have been built on robust understanding of geographical realities and an acute sense of purpose. A similar knowledge driven approach is needed for civil administration for counter terrorism, especially in Balochistan. Law Enforcement Agencies can collaborate with Frontier Corps to develop protocols or standard operating procedures which would enable better management of a crime scene in the event of a terrorist attack. It goes without saying that madaris need to be registered electronically through NADRA so that a central database can be generated.
In summation, it is important to note that the aftermath of the report was intensively politicized. There was intense spotlight on the Interior Minister and subsequent political point scoring. However, what went amiss during all this time was the necessity for strengthening the counter terrorism infrastructure within the country. That narrative was left out within the mainstream media. No major discussion took place on implementation mechanisms as indicated within the report, instead selected segments were discussed. States experience upheaval, turmoil and crises but it is the effective management of adversity that sustains them. The success of military operations can only bear fruit if there is an allied effort to curtail the spread of terrorist safe havens that are in our midst. Internal security is now the critical mass for an effective security framework. This requires political will and the potentiation to implement counter terrorism laws in letter and spirit.