Frivolous statements —by Gulmina Bilal Ahmad

The quality, quantity, impact and sustainability of anti-terrorism programmes need to be assessed, discussed and improved. However, to declare that prosecutors and investigators do “not know the meaning of the word terrorism” and that there has been no training is simply not correct.

As a result of the judicial movement, we are now blessed with a judicial system that appears to be active, responsive and opinionated, all of course for the greater common good of the citizens. After years of judicial inaction, this judicial activism is welcome. However, like all good things perhaps a word of caution that I want to issue only if I am pardoned in my ignorance for any perceived slight since the point is not to disrespect the honourable judges.

Justice Ramday is an eminent and honorable jurist. It is, therefore, surprising to hear him ask the prosecutor during a terrorism hearing case, “What can be expected from the investigators who hardly passed matriculation and do not even know the meaning of the word terrorism?” Justice Ramday further went on to state that no training was being given to investigate terrorism incidents and “every bearded man is suspected to be a terrorist…Investigators did not investigate the terrorism incidents properly and afterwards blamed the courts for acquitting the accused.” These remarks were made by Justice Ramday, as reported in the national press, during the hearing of the 2002 grenade attack this week. A suspect was found dead during the incident having his identity card in his pocket but in spite of this the investigators were clueless. This apparently upset the honourable justice.

The spirit reflecting the frustration of the honourable judge of not being able to do justice and punish the abominable terrorist attack masterminds and culprits is understandable and even commendable, given the personal danger which the judges and investigators have to confront from the terrorist groups and allies. However, one fails to understand why this sentiment and considered opinion was articulated in the chosen manner that can at best be deemed frivolous.

What are the facts? That the body of a suspect was found having an identity card in his pocket. Investigators were not able to effectively and optimally use this clue and thus Justice Ramday declared that investigation was not carried out effectively. Not for a minute would one even contemplate that the honourable judge does not know that the identity card only cannot make it an open and shut case. Then the remark that investigators do not even know the meaning of terrorism needs to be revisited. Tragically, there cannot be a single citizen of this country who does not know the meaning of the word terrorism. In a country where a six-year-old, while drawing her family shows her two siblings, herself and her parents up in the air and upon questioning states: “There has just been a suicide attack so their bodies are flying”, we do not have this luxury. In a country whose schoolgoing children are subjected to passing sandbags, barbed wire and security gates just to enter their school compound, no one can say that terrorism is an alien word.

Although various sources vary slightly on the exact figures but at the minimum just this year 1,731 civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks and 444 security personnel. Since 2003, at the minimum 9,345 civilians have been killed and 33,000 security personnel, although some experts put the figures much higher. This does not include the people who are wrestling with physical and mental trauma as a result of their injuries in terrorist attacks. In such a country, to remark as an eminent judge during a court hearing that investigators do not know the meaning of the word terrorism boggles the mind. As one has successively pointed out previously too, foreign investment has declined to $ 910.20 million from $ 1.4 billion in FY 2008-09 because of terrorism. Due to decline in investment, poverty and unemployment rates have gone up considerably. Poverty has reached 41.4 percent from 37.5 percent in 2008-09. Due to relentless terrorism acts in Pakistan, the World Bank has blocked two key loans worth $ 820 million till the conditions ameliorate to the paradigm.

As far as training is concerned, there are a number of counter-terrorism training programmes that are being conducted. Some of these training programmes are being conducted by international trainers, but most are being conducted by the Pakistan Army. Just in Lahore this year, 1,112 Punjab police personnel have been imparted anti-terrorism training; in Balochistan over 800 Elite Force personnel are being trained. From July 2007 to January 2008, 8,437 policemen of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were imparted anti-terrorism training. My preliminary research sources have also revealed: “Seventy nine individuals were trained at Ammar Shaheed Training Centre Jalozai under headquarters Special Services Group from March 9 to July 31, 2009. Regarding reservists training, in the first phase, 368 reservists have been trained at Azad Kashmir Recruitment Centre in 2009 while 490 were provided training at Baloch Regiment Centre and 529 at Frontier Force Regiment Centre from July 27 to August 22, 2009. The third phase of training was conducted from August 31 to September 26, 2009 in which 467 reservists were trained at Baloch and 409 at Frontier Force Regiment Centres.”

Most important for Justice Ramday to know on the point of training is that, in addition to training of the security personnel, training is also being provided to members of the Public Prosecution Department and the Federal Judicial Academy.

Of course, the quality, quantity, impact and sustainability of these anti-terrorism programmes need to be assessed, discussed and improved. However, to declare that prosecutors and investigators do “not know the meaning of the word terrorism” and that there has been no training is inaccurate.

The fact of the matter is that we are presently confronted with a number of challenges. As a European friend recently remarked, perhaps we might be one of the world’s most resilient nations rather than the ‘most dangerous one’. Particularly in the development sector where we problematise challenges of development, poverty, and rights on a daily basis, one cannot help but wonder that there are some nations who would be floored at the sheer enormity of just one problem of ours. Yet, we have been surviving. Our policemen, for instance, know that if they are martyred, their widows would get meagre compensation after years of red-tapism and even bribery but still, immediately after a bomb blast, you would find another policeman at the check post. This is just one example. One could go on, but would like to conclude by humbly requesting the honourable Justice Ramday that there is a fine line between self-critique and self-denunciation. We need to recognise it. If it is not, it leads to the loss of morale and strengthening of the very hands that you seek to weaken.

Source: Daily Times