Asking the right questions

2016-08-14T01:08:36+05:00 Zahaid Rehman

Reactions across the board to attacks on civilians are getting more and predictable each time a tragedy takes place; the government has less in the way of explanations, and not much to say beyond issuing a condemnation that seems almost rote-learnt by now. The army always reasserts its commitment to find any and every terrorist threatening the state of Pakistan, and leaps into action. It is not clear whether this reaction, prompted as it is by an attack that causes the country tremendous grief, is really as ‘surgical’ as it is made out to be, or in fact whether it is even unilaterally against all of terrorism, instead of specific factions. The opposition of course, attempts to question whether the government is really doing everything it can, but it always does so mostly for the sake of keeping up appearances.

The general public has no more information than what the government provides them, and when the state pointed towards RAW as a likely suspect, it should be accepted immediately. Or should it? Even if we accept the possibility of the Indian spy agency looking to disrupt progress on CPEC, should we (and the world at large) not be given more proof of this? Is this blanket statement enough for us?

And it’s not like the state is completely clear on this either. As one top-level military official gives a press briefing in Quetta Press Club and seems completely assured that RAW was involved, the Foreign Office says that only a full investigation will tell us who the real culprits are – but at the same time, he also points at RAW with full knowledge that, at this point, our assertion means nothing without evidence.

Issues of failed diplomacy and blaming a state for an attack it might or might not be behind is a separate issue entirely, but it took both the army and the government very little time to formulate this theory. This can only mean that they either had an indication or suspicion of an impending attack, or had some information through intelligence gathering that we have not been told about.

If we follow the logical extension of this argument, and consider the recent speech made by Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief, Mehmood Khan Achakzai, there are some valid points made of a potential intelligence failure that need consideration.

The man has been known for his statements before, and not in a positive light. But skirting the issue from Achakzai’s remarks and dismissing them off-hand by attacking his person, or referring to ludicrous statements made by him in the past does not address the actual argument he is making.

Accountability of leaders of governments is an internationally accepted tradition, as is accountability for members of the civil bureaucracy, and all other arms of the state. In Pakistan however, we have kept one branch completely above rebuke.

To merely brush aside Achakzai’s legitimate argument of holding someone responsible – someone directly involved in making sure attacks such as this are averted – is a great disservice to all those; civilian and military, that have lost their lives to terrorism in the country. We have lost too much to not take everything into consideration, and if that means asking some painful questions from those that gather intelligence, so be it. No one is above reproach in this war, and national interest trumps all else.

Any true patriot would realise that that loving one’s country does not have to go hand in hand with defending the armed forces or their intelligence branches for each and every thing that is done, when we do not extend the same courtesy to anyone else. Love for one’s country entails always looking to make it better and safer, no matter what it takes. If questioning the intelligence agencies is what makes that happen, then maybe we should start asking the questions that make us most uncomfortable.

Achakzai’s comments made friends out of enemies, where Chaudhry Nisar and Sheikh Rasheed were actually on the same page in condemning what he said, although the latter, with his penchant to say something outrageous, went one step further, and linked the PkMAP Chief to the Indian spy agency.

There has to come a time where we are constantly stopping ourselves from pointing out holes, merely to preserve what is portrayed as an increasingly fragile national morale. It is the attacks against civilians that lead to a drop in public morale and belief in the state, and not the questions raised against what can be perceived as security failures.

The actual long-term goal should be to strengthen the national morale by ensuring that the terrorists are defeated, that attacks such as the one in Quetta do not come easily to them, and that their freedom of movement is restricted enough so that the civilian population, at least, is safe.

This is also why the argument, of the armed forces, intelligence agencies and the government being above rebuke until they are still invested in the fight, is flawed in the extreme.

Nothing can take away from the service these great men and women have provided for the country, but it is important to remember that no institution can ever be perfect. If anything, looking for the faults within will only serve to improve it. This one can only say, with the full realisation of the costs borne and sacrifices made by intelligence personnel, and not to start an inquisition or a blame-game.

But there does need to be some scrutiny, and lapses where made, need never be repeated. The only way that can be done, is if there is some introspection, and people are made answerable for mistakes made; because the last serious mistakes have cost us our best; the children and the intelligentsia.

It is immensely important to carry on this debate, now that it has been finally brought up, to understand where we can be better. This we need to do without the fear of losing morale, or fighting amongst ourselves, because that is not what the objective behind any investigation should be. But getting to the truth of the matter is something that we owe to those both living and dead, and one can only wonder, what more can we take before we are jolted to our senses?

We have lost too much to not take everything into consideration, and if that means asking some painful questions from those that gather intelligence, so be it.

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