How PM Khan can fight militancy

Farhatullah Babar offers a perspective from the parliament

How PM Khan can fight militancy
"Prime Minister Imran Khan stands by his word; if India gives us actionable intelligence, we will act immediately.”

This is how Imran Khan responded last Sunday to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks. The latter had recalled a past conversation, in which Khan had said that as “a son of a Pathan,” he was always true to his words. Modi had then asked whether Khan was ready to investigate the attack in Pulwama.”The time has come to see if Mr Khan will stand by his word.”

In the current standoff, in which both prime ministers have given a freehand by their respective militaries, President Trump describes it as “very dangerous.” And in light of a show of intimidation by the Indian Air Force crossing the Line of Control, this exchange should be welcomed.

To fulfil his promise, PM Khan must receive a thorough briefing from state agencies, and there is no doubt that he will. However, PM Khan should also find out how the entire issue of fight against militancy has been dealt with thus far. Introspection is necessary to plug gaps between promise and performance, if indeed such gaps are found.

PM Khan may not hold it in high esteem, but it will do him no harm if he looked at the record of fighting militancy from the perspective of the parliament.

Consider this: Prime Minister Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore on December 25, 2015 for a meeting with Nawaz Sharif, the first such visit in more than a decade. A week later, the Pathankot airbase was attacked allegedly by Jaish militants. Almost instantly, PM Sharif offered full cooperation in the investigations but what happened?

When media reported that India indeed had provided some evidence, a question was asked in the Senate whether some mobile numbers had been provided as evidence in support of allegations of involvement of Pakistani individuals and what progress had been made in the probe.

Replying on October 4, 2016, the interior minister acknowledged that the Indian government had indeed provided documents and these included five mobile phone numbers of Pakistani telecom companies.

These numbers had been mentioned in the FIR lodged in a police station in Gujranwala. A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) had been formed which also visited India in March that year. The investigations were still underway, the reply further said.

However, nothing came out of the investigation. Later, when the matter was agitated through other parliamentary instruments, the Interior Ministry was unable to respond. It said the matter was being dealt with by intelligence agencies and was beyond its jurisdiction.

Repeated UN moves to impose sanctions on Jaish chief Masood Azhar was also raised in the Senate, and the Interior Ministry (focal body for fighting militancy) was asked about its role “in thwarting UN moves to impose sanctions on the chief of a banned organisation.”

On August 24, 2017 the question was answered: “It is requested that the Honourable Senator should be specific in his question in order that the same be replied in clear and categorical terms.”

A question was then asked in the Senate about details of terror attacks for which responsibility was publicly claimed by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jamat-ul-Ahrar spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, and whether the self-confessed murderer of the APS school children would be tried in military courts.

Replying on January 25, 2018 the interior minister said that he was unable to say anything because civilian agencies working under his administrative control had no information about it. The ministry’s reply may be treated as Nil, it said.

A question was asked pertaining to the recovery of a Pakistani CNIC and passport from Taliban leader Mullah Mansur Akhtar killed in a drone attack in Balochistan in May 2016. The question was whether any inquiry had been held into how Pakistani documents were issued to him and what were the findings of such an investigation.

In his reply, the interior minister stated that investigation revealed that the CNIC to Mullah Akhtar had been issued in the name Muhammad Wali, son of Shah Muhammad. Some low level functionaries had been arrested for issuing the CNIC and the passport, but they had since been granted bail by a court. Driver Muhammad Azam, accompanying Mullah Mansoor, who was killed in the drone strike, was a Pakistani, the minister said.

More than 15 months after Mullah Mansur Akhtar was killed, these were the words of the Interior Ministry: "Certain records and information is also being collected from the D.C. Office in Killa Abdullah and NADRA headquarters in Quetta…and the case is under investigation."

In August 2015, in reply to questions about the resurrection of the banned outfit Jamaat Ud Dawa (JuD), it was stated that it was operating because of a court order which had given it relief. The minister failed to provide a copy of the court order when asked.

Several weeks later, and after the chairman’s ruling, when the copy of the court order was provided, it transpired that the court had quashed the FIR against JuD because it had not been listed in the First Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 as a proscribed organisation, a necessary requirement.

To be “true to his words,” the prime minister must also heed this perspective from the parliament and acknowledge the truth that Pakistan’s soil has been used to inflict wound on others. Let this be a moment of reckoning for Pakistan to deal with militancy for its own sake and not for what PM Modi has said.

Pulwama is not as serious as Mumbai a decade ago. Pulwama was a suicide attack carried out by a Kashmiri youth inside Kashmir on Indian security forces fighting Kashmiris for the last three decades. Mumbai was an attack on mainland India, killing over 166 civilians launched by militants, as subsequent investigations showed, by Pakistanis trained in a terrorist camp inside Pakistan. PM Khan will be on a strong wicket in fulfilling the promise.

In 2009, prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousuf Raza Gillani agreed on a joint anti-terrorism mechanism (JATM) as a permanent institutional mechanism to address issues in terror attacks on one another. Earlier in 2006, Musharraf and Vajpaee had also agreed on the setting up a similar mechanism.

Reviving the JATM proposal and initiating a public debate in the parliament on proscribed militant organisations might be a way forward in the promised investigations.

The writer is a former senator