FATA- Pakistan Army’s Soft Underbelly Exposed Again!

Nilesh Kunwar
April 14, 2018 OPINION 398 Views
FATA- Pakistan Army’s Soft Underbelly Exposed Again!

It most certainly must have been unintentional. But by saying that he would be meeting Pakistan army chief Gen QamarJaved Bajwa to discuss ways of ending the sufferings of the residents of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan has brought back focus on the imperious attitude of the Pakistan army towards the people of FATA. The PTI chairman said this while speaking at a recent convention on FATA at the Khyber Pakhthunkwa CM House and by going on to enunciate his three point agenda for discussion with Gen Bajwa, he has unwittingly put the all-powerful Pakistan army in the dock.
The three crucial issues bedeviling the people of FATA that the PTI chairman intends taking up with the Pakistan army chief are – one, to reduce the numbers of security check posts, two, clear the area of mines laid by the Pakistan army, and three, expedite the return of those ‘forcibly disappeared’ from their homes. Khan’s intentions are indisputably entirely honourable but one wonders if the army will take this in the right spirit because his statement has in one blow knocked down the façade of ‘people friendly’ operations by the military in FATA that Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) of the Pakistan army has so painstakingly created. How will the army react to what the PTI chairman has said is not known, but Khan does deserve adulation for being a politician with the spine to take up a humanitarian cause on behalf of those whose near and dear ones have been made to “forcibly disappear” (a euphemism for abductions) from their homes !
To say that most of Pakistan’s problems are self created with ‘home grown’ terror being the main one would be stating the obvious. The people of Pakistan are facing the backlash of the army’s wholehearted support to terror groups fighting in its neighbouring countries but the Generals remain unperturbed and have no intentions of abandoning these ‘strategic assets’ . Instead the ISPR has conjured a narrative of how inimical neighbours are hell bent on destroying Pakistan and by successfully playing this card to cover its own involvement as well as military failures even managed to emerge as national heroes and the country’s ‘saviours’. No wonder the army has become a law unto itself and it comes down hard on those who dare to expose its ugly side and the tragic incident of Pakistan Bureau Chief of Asia Times Online, late Syed Saleem Shahzad is a case in point.
Shahzad who wrote extensively on terrorism related issues and had interviewed several Al Qaida members and other Islamist terrorists filed a report on the 2011 PNS Mehran attack. In this well investigated piece he made four startling revelations. First, that there were several Al Qaida cells comprising serving personnel that were existing in Pakistani naval installations. Secondly, it was the arrest and subsequent refusal of the naval authorities to release some of these Al Qaida sympathisers that prompted the PNS Mehran terror attack. Thirdly, this terror strike was carried out by the fighters of Ilyas Kashmiri, a protégé of the Pakistan army who as head of the ‘313 Brigade’ fought in Kashmir but subsequently turned rogue and joined the Al Qaida. Fourthly, the terrorists who carried out this attack were successful in their mission since they had been provided with all relevant information about the target and the security arrangement by “insiders.”
Three days after this report appeared on Asia Times Online, Shahzed suddenly disappeared in broad daylight from the heart of Islamabad while on his way to take part in a TV show. The next day his dead bearing marks of brutal torture was fished out of a canal and though there’s enough evidence to prove that the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan army was involved, both the police and the judicial commission headed by Justice Saqib Nisar gave it a ‘clean chit’. By issuing a statement that “baseless accusations against the country’s sensitive agencies for their alleged involvement in Shahzad’s murder are totally unfounded” the ISI sent out a veiled but explicit warning to the environment that the army doesn’t have any stomach for criticism. But Shahzad isn’t the only victim who faced the ISI’s wrath; there many other cases where those exposing the military establishment have been either physically attacked or psychologically intimidated.
To survive in Pakistan one has to reconcile with the idea that the army can do no wrong!
Returning to the crisis in FATA, the results that the PTI chairman’s proposed meeting with the army chief will, in all probability, be a mix of the good, bad and ugly. The ‘good’ part would be that Rawalpindi may oblige Khan by demining certain areas in FATA while the ‘bad’ news is that the army is unlikely effect any substantial reduction in its check posts in FATA or consider acting in a more civilised manner by doing away with its demeaning screening process and humiliating search procedures. But it is on the issue of recovering those subjected to enforced disappearances where the outcome would obviously be ‘ugly’. Though it may sound insensitive but the moment there is any talk of ‘enforced disappearances’ in FATA, one is automatically reminded of the mass graves discovered in the Totak area of Khuzdar district in 2014.
Who can ever forget how the judicial commission headed by Justice Noor Muhammad Maskanzai of Balochistan High Court investigating this case absolved the army, security forces and intelligence agencies simply because it noted that “No one has recorded any statement against the armed forces and security agencies”! (Lesson learnt: making an example of incurable critics à la la-Shahzad does pay after all!) But a fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) found the Justice Maskanzi Commission report “unsatisfactory.” Furthermore, HRCP chairperson Zorha Yusuf went as far as sarcastically calling it ‘just another’ judicial report and told the media that “The government has also not allowed the HRCP mission to visit the site, despite several written and verbal requests.” Yet, for obvious reasons, neither the government nor the judiciary has mustered the courage to order a reinvestigation into the Khuzdar mass graves.
Perhaps Imran Khan can learn a thing or two from this incident.
Jamaat-ud Dawa(JuD) chief Hafiz Saeded is both the Mumbai attack mastermind and also the military’s most favourite proxy. However if Khan thinks that he has permanently entered into the good books of the army by submitting an adjournment motion against the ban on JuD in the National Assembly then he is making a grave mistake. While Rawalpindi rewards its minions, it doesn’t tolerate any threats to its authority or image. So it is in his own political career interests that the PTI chairman should desist from raising issues like ‘enforced disappearances’ that would cause great discomfiture to the Generals and enrage the army!

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