The indigestible glory of strategic inadequacy

The passing-out parade of the brand new counterterrorism force in Lahore on Saturday was quite a spectacle. Trained by the crack commandos of the famed Special Services Group of the Pakistan Army, and generously bankrolled by the Government of Punjab, the men and women of this new force cut impressive figures as they marched dignitaries that included the prime minister and the army chief.

Symbolism is important. But substance is key. The new counterterrorism force is a step in the right direction, and it also has the right optics at a time when all eyes are set to test the resolve of the leadership. The famed National Action Plan (NAP) was rolled out with great fanfare amidst hopes that Pakistan was finally ready to fight back. But then — as so often happens — the determination on display after the horrific December 16 attack, splintered into yawn-inducing committees.

They say governments work in slow motion. Fine. Let’s for a moment give them the benefit of doubt. Let’s assume that the committees are meeting regularly and honing the agenda to fight terror. Let’s also assume that solid work is being done to prepare the ground for substantive changes in policy; and that a sincere effort is being made to reform institutions to better equip them for the long war that lies ahead. All these assumptions, however, float gently on the premise that there indeed exists a thinking mind, and a guiding hand that is steering all these efforts in a synchronised manner. Without such a coherent leadership, all these committees and meetings, and all these random activity-generating events will ultimately collapse into a heap of half-baked clutter stinking of nothingness.

And herein lies the gnawing problem of strategic inadequacy, brought into sharp focus by the smartly turned out contingent of the counter-terrorism force. So it’s easy to raise a new police unit on modern lines, but not so easy to reform the existing moth-eaten police that pick up wives and children of people they cannot apprehend. It’s perhaps easy to have the army train a new batch of young and bright men and women untainted by the filth of the police culture, but not so easy to reform the thana and its demoralised, demotivated, dejected, untrained, uncouth, uncaring, staff. The trend that defines the leadership’s strategic inadequacy is crystal clear: it is easy to construct concrete wonders, not so easy to construct a modern syllabus; it is easy to buy new machinery for hospitals, not so easy to build easy-to-access health care structures for citizens; it is easy to computerise weapon licences and land records, not so easy to ensure modern education for each and every child.

The strategic inadequacy of the leadership stems not from shortage of resources, but from shortage of vision, and the will to force change by crushing inertia and smashing the awesome power of the status quo.

And this status quo stalks the land in police uniform, breaking bones, smashing skulls, lacerating backs, pulling nails, and spreading fear instead of safety and security. In every city of every province, police hunt down law-abiding citizens, brutalise innocent men, women and children, protect the powerful and the despicable while trampling on fundamental rights with delirious relish.

Pakistanis are ashamed of their police. Truly and terribly ashamed. And yet there is a deeply rich irony embedded within the velvety folds of this shame. This rotten, corrupt and incompetent force boasts the presence of some exceptionally talented men and women, whose bravery, courage and dedication to duty is genuinely inspiring. Hundreds of police officers and jawans have laid down their lives in the fight against terror, and thousands have suffered life-altering injuries. It is the same force that produced heroes like Safwat Ghayur, and the same force that now protects our schools and colleges.

So why blame these men and women in uniform if they are not trained properly? Why blame them if they have no clue about service to citizens and protection of the weak and the vulnerable? Why blame them if they have never been taught how to investigate crimes on modern lines with proper forensics? Why blame them if they have absolutely no idea that torturing a person in custody is not just a violation of the law they have pledged to uphold, it amounts to ravaging the God-given rights of human beings?

It is the leadership of this country, and the culture that spawns its politics and priorities, that is solely responsible for creating, nurturing and then using this monster for its own purposes. Today if the leadership really wants us to believe that it is reforming itself before it can reform the country, it should prove it can reform the police. And to do this, the government does not have to reinvent the wheel. A recent report on how to reform the police spells out the task in clear terms. Penned by Tariq Khosa, one of the finest police officers this country has had, and published by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, the report reminds us that the Police Order 2002 can transform the police into a modern and accountable force if it is implemented with honesty and integrity. This, however, is the real problem. The leadership is always ready and willing to take cosmetic steps to reform the force, but never addresses the real issues that define the rot that is eating away this institution.

It is strategic inadequacy that makes the leaders opt for superficial reforms like hiking police salaries, providing them more vehicles and bringing in consultants to give them refresher courses. But the leaders do not have the will, the vision, the courage or perhaps, enough genuine desire for reform to take decisive steps like stopping the use of police for its politics. The leaders will stop short of this because by doing so, they believe they cut the political branch they sit on. No sirs, this they will not do. Never.

So the impressive counter-terrorism force may end up being a case of curing cancer with aspirin. The fight against terror and tyranny begins not in a police academy or an army barrack, but in the minds of those elected to lead us. Can they overcome their strategic inadequacy and shock us with their genuineness?

Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2015.

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Running out of time: Fearing prosecution, Afghan refugees look towards home

PESHAWAR: Fearing prosecution in the ongoing crackdown, Afghan refugees residing in the provincial capital are migrating to their native country.

Afghan refugee Zakir Khan, a taxi driver residing in Shamshato Refugee Camp in Urmar, says his services are hired on a daily basis by people wanting to go to Torkham and Jalalabad to buy houses or land there.

“I see at least 200 trucks loaded with families and their belongings cross the Torkham border into Afghanistan each day,” he claims.

“We are in a permanent state of panic in Pakistan. I meet people who have large businesses in Lahore, but even of the Afghans residing legally in Pakistan, some are being expelled from Kashmir and Punjab,” he says. The taxi driver adds there is nowhere to turn to as people in their native country see the refugees as Taliban sympathisers, while Pakistan considers them a burden.

“Kabul is a good city for business, but in winter you cannot buy land to build a house there due to the snowfall.” He says adverse weather conditions force Afghans to buy land in Jalalabad city instead.

“Beef costs 320 Afghani (roughly Rs600) per kilogramme in Jalalabad and Kabul,” he says. “Nearly everything in the country costs twice as much despite the fact that jobs and business opportunities are scarce.”

Khan maintains the large-scale police crackdown is not only aimed at sending illegal refugees back to Afghanistan. “Even if you have proof of registration (PoR) cards, you have to pay [the police] a minimum of Rs300. Those living in Pakistan illegally are arrested and their watches, mobile phones and cash are confiscated before they are ultimately deported,” he adds.

Khan says it is inhumane to deport a single member of a family, while their loved ones and houses are left behind.

According to officials, around 2,122 Afghan refugees have been arrested and deported from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa since December 17, 2014, following the Army Public School attack in Peshawar a day earlier. The crackdown is still continuing.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2015.


Fashion Week: Celebs this week

While many stars stun in sophisticated designer gowns and ravishing looks at events, launch parties and film premieres, others don’t quite make an impression – at least not a fine one. Here are some Hollywood A-listers that suffering style faux pas this week.

Heidi Klum

We were just not too keen on the supermodel mixing two contrasting busy prints. It’s a risky endeavour and sadly, Heidi didn’t quite pull it off. Trying to impress in a silky button-down tucked into baggy floral silk pants – she missed the mark at achieving an effortless, relaxed red carpet style. Besides her magnetic smile, her saving grace was her tousled hair and leather stilettos.

Rose Byrne

The Insidious: Chapter 2 actor tried to stun in a flirty, two-piece white crop top and skirt but didn’t hit bull’s eye. The outfit did feature a gorgeous, embellished flower print skirt but it was the crop top that messed things up. The flouncy blouse added unneeded attention and drama to the ensemble and wasn’t really flattering. To add insult to injury, the star’s harsh make-up gave her an exhausted and haggard look.

Cate Blanchett

 

The Blue Jasmine beauty got vamped up for the red carpet in a silky cotton-candy-pink and black gown by Alexander McQueen. Though we were digging the sultry V-neck but those flowing sleeves just exaggerated its shoddy flare. We didn’t exactly comprehend the sleepwear ensemble at the red-carpet, though we’re sure she will certainly look tremendous having breakfast in bed.

Uma Thurman

 

The Kill Bill diva no doubt looked cosy in an ill-fitting, boxy double-breasted, grey blazer with blue jeans and black riding boots, but definitely not red-carpet ready. Trying to pull off the tom-boyish look is one thing but this was pure disaster. From the dull tones of the grey coat and dead beat boots to her lack of make-up and unkempt hair, we were so disappointed in this otherwise elegant beauty.

By: Umnia Shahid

Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2015.

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Rehabilitation efforts: Govt to send surviving APS students on foreign holiday

PESHAWAR: 

To help divert the attention of students who survived the horrific terrorist attack on Army Public School (APS), the federal government has decided to send them on a 10-day foreign trip.

Similarly, bereaved parents and injured students along with their parents will be sent to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah at the government’s expense.

Kicking into action

In the aftermath of the December 16 carnage which claimed 150 lives, most of them students, the government has taken several steps to ensure no such attacks take place in future. While the provincial government devised comprehensive security parameters mandatory for schools and colleges, the federal government lifted a moratorium on execution of convicted terrorists and devised the National Action Plan to combat the scourge of terrorism.

For the rehabilitation of surviving students, the provincial government also decided to establish a child trauma centre at Lady Reading Hospital to offer counselling; this 10-day foreign trip seems to be yet another step in that direction.

The plan

According to a senior official familiar with the matter, the federal government has finalised the list of all injured and slain schoolchildren, and their families have been directed to get passports made as soon as possible.

Requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media, the official said students of grade eight through 12 (first and second year) will have a choice between China, Hong Kong and Malaysia. They can select one country that they wish to visit.

The official further said parents of deceased students as well as injured children and their parents will be sent to Saudi Arabia for Umrah, adding thus far 30 families have shown interest in the religious journey.

“The government will bear all expenditures of the trips and families have been told to make relevant arrangements on their end such as getting passports made and purchasing winter clothes,” he said.

According to the official, 10 students have opted to go to China and they will be received by Chinese government officials.

Explaining the purpose of the getaway, he said the aim is to eliminate fear and terror from the students’ minds so that they return with a fresh mind to sit for their annual exams which begin from March 19.

Coping with loss

Speaking to The Express Tribune, Tufail Ahmad, father of slain APS student Sher Shah, confirmed he had received a call from the government and has been asked to obtain a passport. He said he, his wife and surviving son Ahmad Shah will go for Umrah.

According to Tufail, although the students have shown a lot of courage and returned to school, fear is not a distant feeling. He said his son, eight-grader Ahmad Shah, has lost interest in studying or going to school.

“Since school reopened, he has only gone twice and seems distracted. He lost his elder brother and around 30 friends in the attack. He tells me every time he enters the school he is reminded of them and cannot concentrate on lessons,” said Tufail.

Appreciating the government’s efforts, Tufail said the tour would be a good opportunity for traumatised students and bereaved parents to get a change of environment and divert their attention.

Dr Naila, a psychiatrist at Lady Reading Hospital, also lauded the initiative. “This trip would be beneficial for students who have been traumatised by the attack. Seeing new places would help them shake off the terror they experienced that day and return with a fresh mind,” she said.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2015.