Knee-jerk Reactions

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“…when a receptor is stimulated, it sends a signal to the central nervous system, where the brain co-ordinates the response. But sometimes a very quick response is needed, one that does not need the involvement of the brain. This is a reflex action”

Nothing explains the inconsistencies of the Pakistani political system better.

If there’s one thing coherent about Pakistani politics, it has to be the fact that leaders wait for the worst to happen to a) realize they need to implement an existing policy, or b) be inspired enough to draft a policy just to forget about it later. Panic measures and not policy decisions have been the outcome of most of what Pakistan has been through. Its knee-jerk reactions to security lapses, and short-term reactionary policies have led to many inconsistencies, two of which are most pertinent in the reality that plagues the Pakistan security scene as of now: 1) the National Action Plan, 2) the Military courts.

In a stew

In a commission report on the Quetta hospital bombing, Justice Qazi Faez Isa criticized the state institutions, in particular the federal interior ministry, for its failure of efficiently acting against banned sectarian and militant outfits operating under new banners. The report also discussed in detail the pre and post attack gaps that existed, making it easier for militant organizations to carry out attacks. In simple words, it highlighted thoughts that have been resonating in circles that refuse to buy into the rhetoric of the sitting government, that the NAP is still waiting to be implemented, with crucial points of mainstreaming madrassas, counter narrative development, rechristening of banned organizations, and obstructing terror financing is left ambiguous.

The problem, however, is greater than that. While the chaos of the APS tragedy birthed the NAP, its foundations were laid on rhetoric and promises that were reduced to just that; the National Action Plan is a plan without a framework, it’s like wanting to make plans on a Sunday with friends, but lazing around in bed all day and ignoring their phone calls.

The NAP is an assortment of many things. In Moeed Yusuf’s words:

“It’s got vision statements (no extremism in Pakistan; no militant and armed gangs; protection of minorities); many things you’d call goals (reforms of criminal justice; empowerment of Nacta; completion of Karachi operation); some objectives but no clarity on how they link up to goals (military courts; implementing death sentences; action against outlets promoting hate speech), and stuff that is irrelevant (political empowerment of Balochistan’s government; repatriation of Afghan refugees)”

In hindsight, it seems that the NAP was a set of promises that the Prime Minister thought would put Pakistan back on its feet again following the APS tragedy, and to show that the government hadn’t forgotten its obligations under the social contract. What it’s left with now is its selective successes under the NAP, where it fails to realize that the points formulated in the NAP are not exclusive of each other, and all necessitate implementation in order to attain overall success. And while the government is dishing out information regarding arrested terrorists, seizing arms caches and thwarting terrorist camps through combing operations, it fails to draw a connection between its successes and the outcome and impact it would have on the security situation and the prevalence of terrorism in the country.

“The numbers may be impressive, but what are we going to do with those we’ve arrested; are we able to see a correlation between combing operations and decrease in terrorism, how does all of this add up, etc?” – Moeed Yusuf

It’s simple logic: a plan needs to have a framework to work – a set of goals and objectives, and a way to reach those targets; then follows the action, a conclusion of the plan, and a study to analyze the findings and outcomes of the plan to gauge if it worked. None of these rationalities apply to the NAP, and the people of Pakistan are left with a stew that tastes more like a horse stew than rabbit.

Pushing the buttons

Included in the NAP were the infamous military courts, which were allowed to try civilians on terror charges. The parliament and Supreme Court approved the law as an exceptional and a short-term measure, but was heavily criticized by the civil society as extra-constitutional, and as an expression of no confidence in the prevailing judicial system. The rationale behind these courts was that: a) civilian judicial system was inept in dealing with terrorism related cases, b) that it would act as an incentive to upgrade the existing Anti-Terrorism Act, with a long-term goal to reform and strengthen the ordinary criminal justice system to effectively handle terrorism related cases once military courts cease to exist. While the former held true, in that many civilian courts’ judges were openly threatened by militant factions, a number of lawyers were killed for prosecuting extremists, and many judges fled the country after receiving death threats, the long-term goal to reform the criminal justice system was ignored for the most part.

With military courts now ineffective owing to the sunset clause, a high probability of incarcerated suspects being freed or suffering in jail without trial, along with the unnerving reality that these terrorist networks have set their eyes on the provincial capital, Lahore, where their presence is seen through their attacks on urban centers of the city, has pushed a previously reluctant government to fight for the revival of these courts.

The attitude towards military courts reveals the position on most of policies: a) that it implements policies to focus on short-term successes, as opposed to long-term sustainable efforts, as seen through its inability to strengthen the existing judicial system, b) that its decision are often knee-jerk responses, and only take place once tragedy hits the country, discerned through its previous reluctance to militarize courts and give it authority in civilian judicial matters, considering that it already has more power than the civilian government in internal and foreign policy, but altering policy due to panic later.

Gauging success

Once policy is led by panic, as opposed to rationality and prudence, its failure is imminent. The government’s inability to implement the NAP has been thoroughly criticized by many factions – lack of resources, coordination between the provincial and the federal governments, and an overall lax attitude, have all been cited as examples.

Of significance in this concoction is that once basic guidelines, or a roadmap of how a policy is supposed to be implemented is missing, these discrepancies and confusions will always exist. But since there is a myopic view of politics, and security in general, there is more concern with reactions, and ‘announcing’ solutions to problems, as opposed to gauging their successes, and actually making their plans work; like the NAP, the military courts too fall into this category.

Military courts were established under the doctrine of necessity, many argued that they were the need of the hour, and that extraordinary situations require extraordinary measures; the extraordinary situation in this instance being the failure of civil institutions to deliver justice and provide security to the common man. It’s true that all is not black and white, that politics requires one to operate in grey areas for the greater good – even if it’s disconcerting. However, once rules are broken, and principles shelved, the outcome must be one that truly is worth it. In the case of military courts, the Pakistani public is unaware if that’s the case.

There’s quite a lot that’s wrong with the military courts in Pakistan, most of which the government has ignored. First, that military court convicts are not afforded the option to appeal in civilian courts – the right to appeal being an essential component of a free and fair trial. Second, that detailed written judgments at the conclusion of the trial are not given in the case of military courts, and the secrecy extends to disseminating information regarding the time and place of trials; “the specific charges and evidence against the convicts; as well as the judgments of military courts including the essential findings, legal reasoning, and evidence on which the convictions were based” – as highlighted in a briefing paper by the International Commission of Jurists in 2016.

Military courts had a confession rate higher than 90 percent, which points towards a disturbing possibility; that confessions may have been extracted using questionable interrogation methods. This becomes even more worrisome when the only source of information is the military, and where the army plays the role of the judge, the prosecutor, and the investigator – making for a system that is gravely aberrant of a free and fair justice system, functioning on the underpinnings of revenge and resentment, as opposed to justice and impartiality. The accused does have the right of appeal to a civil court.

The civilian justice system continues to be in limbo, the information available on the successes of the military courts is doubted, and the government is still looking for an easy way out. But there is none. With the cloud of terrorism looming over the provincial capital of Punjab – close to home, and not far away anymore, one can only hope that this can shake up the conscience of the leaders, enough to form concrete plans of action as opposed to promises for a better tomorrow.


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