Holding the government and army accountable

Published: December 28, 2014

Pakistani army personnel patrol the streets following an attack by Taliban gunmen on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

On December 18th, when news first broke that Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a top leader of the terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and accused mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks, was going to be released on bail, frenzy ensued. The Indian media exploded, and was quick to compare this development with the Indian show of unity with Pakistan following the Peshawar massacre; pundits denounced it as a case of the same old.

However, something else happened on December 18th. The news quickly went viral on Facebook and Twitter and Pakistanis across the country, as well as overseas, were quick to respond and express rage and disbelief. Many tweeted directly at the Pakistan Army’s PR account to demand an answer. Soon enough, the government announced that the bail decision was a “technical error” and vowed to appeal. Within 24 hours, before he could be let out, Lakhvi was rebooked.

The Pakistan government and army’s response to the Peshawar massacre has been palpable and swift thus far. However, it should not give us rest and cause for unbridled optimism. Pakistan is not new to unspeakable tragedy, even though the sheer scale and monstrosity of this one is unprecedented, and we are definitely not new to promises of change.

That said, Peshawar has given the Pakistani civil society an extraordinary platform to unite on. While we are united in grief, millions of Pakistanis have also crossed political and ethnic barriers to unite in calling for action against the fundamentalist hate machine that has operated freely for so long, often under military tutelage. This time, the anger is also unforgiving of the different shades of fundamentalism – known hate-mongers like Hafiz Saeed who have collaborated with the army in the past and focused their efforts against foreign countries or marginalised minorities within Pakistan have also come under fire.

The media has followed this trend and kept up with powerful reporting, carefully recounting the violent history of each extremist organisation now denouncing the Peshawar attack. A recent Reuters story analysed organisation by organisation that had denounced the attacks listing their own atrocities against innocent civilians, clearly demonstrating the hypocrisy in play.

In order for something lasting and positive to come out of the unspeakable horrors in Peshawar, it is absolutely imperative for the people of Pakistan to keep up this momentum and their own involvement. They cannot, like they have in the past, leave it all up to the government and the army, and go on with their lives. They need to keep reading the news; they need to continue to closely monitor every development; they need to raise questions as they did in the Lakhvi bail drama; wherever there is ambiguity or straight out inexplicable behaviour demonstrated by the authorities. In short, we need to keep holding both the government and the army accountable in the long run and not be swayed by a few positive actions.

It is also important to question, despite the government’s rebooking of Lakhvi, what happened that made bail possible in the first place for a dangerous, known criminal accused of plotting mass murder. It points to many systemic problems with the anti-terrorism courts in Pakistan, not the least of which is the constant harassment faced by the judges. ATC judges have resigned or refused to hear cases of the likes of Lakhvi in the past and it is impossible that this judge’s action was just a random error of judgment. These judges are under tremendous pressure, and it is the government’s first and foremost duty to give them the protection and independence that they sorely need.

The second issue is the fact that while Lakhvi is in jail for now, his associates like Saeed continue to roam freely, and are even seen appearing on TV, despite substantial evidence of complicity. While the prime minister has denounced the “good Taliban”, Pakistanis need to beware that it will be against the norm for the army to suddenly switch its habit of indeed making that good versus bad distinction. For decades, it has ignored the different factions of terrorist organisations that don’t specifically target its own interests in the region. That norm needs to change, but it won’t without constant hell-raising by the public whose opinion the army clearly cares about. The fact that the Pakistan Army has an extremely social media savvy public relations team is an opportunity Pakistanis must take advantage of.

Another key area where the Pakistan Army must be called out for is the usual strategy to carpet bomb Waziristan and destroying a few minions rather than tackling the masterminds (and in process killing even more innocent, nameless children). This is a costly strategy, especially in terms of soldiers’ lives, and has only caused more rage and anguish among the hapless citizens that remain in Waziristan. Wars have been won with powerful intelligence and infiltration before. Most importantly, any murderous victories claimed in Waziristan ring hollow when extremist preachers who have openly sympathised with and promoted the Taliban roam free.

The Pakistani military, as well as civilian leadership both, have a long way to go to make up for the mistakes that resulted in the Peshawar massacre. This is just the beginning. We have all failed by remaining silent or failing to empathise with the thousands others who have paid the price of our silence with their lives. Beyond thousands of innocent civilians, this long list includes journalists as well as soldiers fighting the military’s battles in the field.

We cannot let this moment of reckoning dissolve into cynicism, defeatism, or worse, false hope that our leaders will act without our constant reminders of what their negligence has cost us.

So let us keep holding the vigils, memorialising, shouting and protesting, and railing as much as we can and as long as we can. The Lal Masjid protest is a breath of fresh air and must be joined by as many as possible. This should continue until the politicians, extremist leaders, their collaborators and ambassadors, and defenders and negotiators hear us loud and clear. Let us not underestimate the power of civil society – it is the only thing that’s ever brought lasting change in civilisations.

Madiha W. Qureshi

Madiha W. Qureshi

She is a development professional and writer in Washington, DC, and formerly worked with The Citizens Foundation in Karachi. She is an editor for Papercuts, a literary magazine for South Asian voices. She tweets at @MadihaQ (twitter.com/MadihaQ)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I agree with your analysis that we should unite against ALL forms of terrorism(Kudos for including the oft-forgotten Hafiz Saeed). Although I would like to add that certain terrorists and extremists have strong military ties. Mullah Burqa and Hafiz Saeed are among them. So it will take IMMENSE public pressure to get them. I hope we see the day when people like these two are behind bars, or hanged.Recommend

  • Prashant

    I do not agree with everything the author has written but I must say it is a very candid article.Recommend

  • editor

    An effort wasted on misinformation and inspired by Indian version of social media. This article loses its credibility when the writer writes from ‘saat samuder paar’. She also ignores that there is a very reguler commentary designed cleverly by Bharati(India disappeared in 1947) int and Info Ministry in our newspapers which are foolish enough to post highly insulting comments and never edit
    or expunge even if those derogatory comments are religiously or politically insulting.’Nation’the English newspaper is the culprit. This is disgraceful. PEMRA is silent therefore party to it. This makes Pervez Rashid party to it too. Despite your detail you could not or pinpoint the real culprits who have damaged us in the last seven years. Get that courage than people will notice you.Recommend

  • junaid

    A very well written article! Totally agree!Recommend

  • Hoshang Ansari

    If the author comes up with the names of sectarian outfits, with a list of mullas
    who propagate hatred and aid and abet the terrorists. With a list of TV hosts,
    anchors, talking heads who are clearly and blatantly apologists for the terrorists,…
    this newspaper will not print it. Out of outright fear. let the others be brave, carry
    the burden,…
    But ET will print all the ugly comments, the diatribes that follows an honest self
    searching article or comment.Recommend

  • Umer

    It’s been a while since I checked this section of the page and here I have come across a very biased, not-so-close to reality, personal opinion of a lady. First of all, I’m all for accountability of Army but where did this ‘killing children’ part come from? I believe we need some evidence to accuse our national security institution of a grave crime like killing innocent children. But anyway, who cares about evidence? Lets execute Lakhvi and Hafiz Saeed, even though it’s all based on assumptions and allegations by a neighbouring country. For God’s sake, we can’t even prosecute them, there’s no evidence!Recommend

  • ASK

    Right on. Well written. I agree, changing course requires unprecedented resolve and pressure by the masses.Recommend


    Tribune get the stomach to take criticismRecommend

  • Parvez

    That would have been better placed in the OPINION section….rather than as a blog.Recommend

  • Imran Ahmed

    The elected government and our Army which purportedly gets its orders from our government must answer to the people for its actions to us, our courts and our media. We should not obediently accept injustices, if any, committed in our name. Punishments should fit the crime. Innocents must not be made to pay for the acts of others. Due process should be equally applied to all citizens, in and out of uniform.Recommend

  • Imran Ahmed

    Is anyone seriously engaged in evidence gathering, prosecution, witness protection and security for investigating officers and judges?Recommend

  • Imran Ahmed

    The lesson we must take from Peshawar is that slaughter of innocents is not permitted under any circumstance. Allah forbids it and humanism forbids it. Vengeance taken against non combatants for the acts of others is cowardly and evil. This is not a military versus militants narrative, we are talking of fellow citizens within our country. If it were outside our borders the Geneva Accord would apply to our dealings with an enemy.Recommend

  • siesmann

    so why do your aRMY FIGHT ttp THEN?If mullahs like Saeed and Lakhnvi wish to lie,that doesn’t change anything.Recommend

  • siesmann

    Do you consider Muslims to be so be-ghairat that they can be hired by anybody to kill their brothers and sisters?Recommend

  • http://bushranaz.blogspot.com Bushra Naz

    major problem here is the lack of capacity building of law enforcement agencies
    and the absence of security that should be provided to witnesses and judges in terror
    cases. Saleem Shahzad’s case is a well-known example. When the case was handed
    over to local police, the basic forensics like finger prints weren’t collected
    from his car. We all have seen how Ahrarul Hind managed to scare off the
    witnesses and Anti-Terrorism Court judges in Benazir Bhutto murder trial. Instead
    of devising this shortcut to make things look better on surface, a more
    intelligent measure would be to rectify these loopholes in the existing system?
    Instead of using article 245 of the Constitution,
    to formulate parallel justice systems why can’t the armed forces aid civil
    justice system by providing security to judges and witnesses under the same
    article that mandates the armed forces to act in aid of civil power.Recommend

  • Zee

    Lady! Do you have an iota of evidence that forced you to cocnlude the killing of innocent children’s in NW? Do you know the word IDPs? I doubt that you know given that you are sitting in your favorite land and penned the total indian version.

    How do you know Hafiz Saeed and Lakhvi is the mastermind of Mumbai attacks? Courts haven’t found them guilty hence Lakhvi released but again you bought the indian version! Just provide any ref of speech of Hafiz Saeed where he is spewing hate and if you considering Indian bashing then you must have asked Jail for the indian PM and other indian ministers as they are famous of such an attitude.

    Having gone through various blogs on ET which surely dictates that we just hang Hafiz Saeed and Lakhvi on the basis of Indian orders and the so called informed rather ill formed bloggers.

    On the sidelines, I believe you must have indian and American news channels access, just search old archives of Indian CNN IBN and CNN and embrace yourself how indian RAW is involved even in the settled areas of Pkaistan and Chuk Hagels comments on masterminds of mostly attacks in Pakistan.

    Trust above links will definitely help increasing your knowledge and you may start analysing the things on your own rather presenting Indian versions.


  • Zee

    How can you term Hafiz Saeed as terrorist? Can you pl share any credible ref / link to substantiate your allegation where he was linked to any terrorist activity in Pakistan? And for god sake, don’t mention the Mumbai attacks as nothing has come from India which proves him the mastermind of Mumbai attacks!Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Hello human, this is the sun. I am bright and I shine during the day.you can feel my warmth and see my light if you open your eyes.
    Hello ZEE this is maximus, Hafiz Saeed directed the Mumbai attacks and almost 99.9999999999999% of the world knows it. The rest need to open their eyes.Recommend

  • Zee

    Sorry! Not the whole world but Indians and the ones who blindly believes the indian version. Do you know, that So called pakistani Ajmal Kasab has been denied access to Pakistani team wanted to investigate Kasab by India.

    Even the dossiers shared by Indians didn’t contain any credible evidence hence courts acquitted both hafiz Saeed and then Lahkvi. Just search the archives of TOI and read the Satish Verma, the indian home ministry officer and investigator’s revelation about Indian parliament and Mumbai attacks. Also the indian home ministry officer RSV Mani submitted the signed affidavit to substantiate Satish’s findings.

    Above mentioned are the accounts of Indian media not the Pakistani as you are inclined towards the same. Now on the contrary, also see the confessions of X indian army chief on covert operations in Pakistan, CNN IBN lead story on RAW operation in Karachi, chuck heggals speech in America on indian involvement in major terror attacks in Pakistan through abetting, funding and training of TTP and also supporting, funding Baluchistan Insurgents.

    So my dear bro, Recommend

  • Zee

    So my dear bro! Being opened eyes means blindly believe what you see then am happy being closed eyes! At least closed eyes gives opportunity to analyse the things objectively.


  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    India funding TTP. Did I read that right? Let me check. YUP. “INDIA FUNDING TTP”. You should know that by writing this you have made the Saudi Sheikhs writhe in agony and anger. Most of them are pointing fingers and saying “Just look at this guy, can you believe him? We spend three decades funding the Taliban and he just waltzes in and gives all the credit to India”. Keep this up bro and you may force a couple of Saudis to off themselves.Recommend

  • Zee

    I mentioned the TTP which is being funded by the India. And yes, it’s a fact that Afghan Taliban was funded and supported by Pakistan, Sauida and UAE but till 9 11 when America also withdrawn its support from Taliban.

    Thereafter other players joined the collation such as Iran, India to name a few in fight against Taliban and then India strengthen its ties with TTP and other groups and remainder is a known fact.