Quetta Inquiry Commission Report And Our Frivolous Institutions
A laid-back attitude towards any disaster is a much bigger tragedy than the disaster itself and the impact of such negligence is bound to be borne by future generations as well. Tyranny is one thing to stand up against and it is relatively easier to counter it because of the very tangible nature of the oppressor. But when it comes to standing up against a radical ideology, especially when it is camouflaged in the holy sugar coating of religion, it is much difficult to counter it and convince the common man to reject it.
The same goes for us, Pakistanis. We have an indifferent attitude towards any disaster that comes our way. We have a reactionary rather than proactive approach towards disasters. We do not have the capability to foresee and act accordingly. We as a nation have the tendency not to learn from our mistakes. Allow me to say it with regret, that we will repeat our mistakes again and again and again. Islam is a religion of peace, yes we agree. But why do we have to shout it out loud? Who has compelled us to do so?
When we categorize the world into first world countries and third world countries, I believe that we are referring to the institutions of that country belonging to the first world or third world. If institutions are adequately serving the nation for continuous improvement and national interests, then we can safely assume that country is going in the right direction.
We all have certain complaints against our institutions that they are not serving and acting in the best interests of Pakistan and sometimes we lose hope for any future improvement. But then we do see some individuals who contribute remarkably to the national cause and act in the best interests of their institution, thus setting an example for successors. Our honorable Supreme Court of Pakistan has also set such an example by publishing the Quetta Inquiry Commission Report (QICR). In my view, this report has the potential for a paradigm shift in the approach of our institutions, both civil and military. We used to whine whenever “commissions” were formed in Pakistan for any incident as the same gave us the impression that such commissions would act as a disguise and their reports would not be made public or if made public, nobody would care. But when the honorable Justice Qazi Faez Isa made his Quetta Inquiry Commission Report public, it was a complete charge-sheet for all the persons involved who should be held responsible and accountable. However, instead of paying heed to the recommendations of the report, government officials exhibited wrathful and arrogant attitude in the media, rather than taking the findings of the report seriously, admitting the mistakes, pledging to rectify the misdeeds and eliminating any loopholes. This report came as a cool breeze in the hot summers of terrorism, coupled with extreme humidity of incapacity and inefficiency of our institutions.
In the next phase of my article, I will post some of the excerpts from the report in the hopes that we understand the gravity of the situation.
Scope of the Work of the Commission
The Commission had been tasked to submit a report regarding the two incidents that took place on August 8th, 2016, namely the murder of Mr. Bilal Anwar Kasi and the suicide attack that followed on the same day within the premises of the Sandeman Provincial Hospital that killed and injured a very large number of people, the overwhelming majority of whom were lawyers.
There have been 17,503 terrorist attacks in Pakistan from January 1st, 2001, to October 17th, 2016, of which 2,878 have taken place in Balochistan. The population of Balochistan is only about seven percent of the total population of Pakistan, but it compromises of sixteen and a half percent of the total attacks, or almost three times the national average.
Now we have come to the point where terrorist organizations are carrying out terrorist activities without any confusion or hesitation whatsoever. But readers will be amazed to read about the government’s confusion in taking action against these proscribed organizations.
Section 11B of the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) stipulates that the federal government is vested with powers to proscribe a terrorist organization. In the aftermath of the August 8th, 2016 attacks the government of Balochistan on August 16th, 2016 wrote to the Ministry of Interior of the federal government to proscribe Jamat-ul-Ahrar as, in addition to having claimed to have carried out the August 8th attacks, it was also responsible for:
- the explosion on February 14th, 2014 (FIR No.51/2014),
- attacking a police officer on July 6th, 2016 (FIR No.115/2016), and
- attacking a Frontier Corps vehicle on July 27th, 2016 (FIR No.128/2016).
The government of Balochistan wrote another letter, also dated August 16th, 2016, to the Ministry of Interior of the federal government to proscribe Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Almi and referred to five specific FIRs that recorded their crimes, which included the murder of policemen and Frontier Corps personnel. The Ministry of Interior did not respond to either of the letters of the government of Balochistan nor proscribed the said organizations.
In addition to the attacks mentioned in the government of Balochistan’s letter mentioned above, Jamat-ul-Ahrar had also claimed responsibility (through Ehsanullah Ehsan, the very same spokesman) to have carried out attacks on two churches in Lahore on March 15th, 2015, which resulted in many deaths. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, was also the Minister for Interior then, and, as reported in the media, had condemned the attacks and had “sought report” about the attack. The sought report must still be awaited because Jamat-ul-Ahrar was not proscribed even a year and five months afterwards, when the attacks of August 8th, 2016, took place. It would be an understatement to describe such inaction as callousness.
The United Kingdom had proscribed Jamat-ul Ahrar in March 2015, and its reason for doing so was because it had carried out terrorist attacks in Pakistan.
The statement of Chief Secretary of Balochistan, which was presented before the Commission, is evenly admirable and should be read very carefully. In his reply to the question, “In your experience what further steps can be taken to combat the menace of terrorism, extremism, hateful speeches and literature?” he replied, as under:
“I would like to respond to the question in some detail. Firstly, I’ll attend to what can be done at the national level and what can be done at the provincial level. At the national level what is lacking is a national narrative and a counter narrative to negate the extremist thought and propaganda of terrorist organizations and those indulging in hate speech and in failing to do so terrorism continues to breed. This is connected with the second problem which is that we cannot compartmentalize proscribed organizations or take efforts provincially alone. I can better illustrate this by giving an example; Balochistan does not permit Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) from holding any meeting or propagating it’s views but the efforts of the province stand defeated if the very same organization manages to hold a public demonstration at the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore or is permitted to become a member or part of a larger organization, i.e. Difa-e-Pakistan Council. This example is not a notional example but has happened recently.”
The Chief Secretary of Balochistan has clearly stated that ASWJ holds public meetings. On Friday, October 28th, 2016, AWSJ held a public meeting in the hockey ground, situated in Aabpara Sector G-6, Islamabad, as widely reported in the media.
National Action Plan
This one-page document lists twenty points. It was “approved by the All Parties Conference” and then adopted by the government of Pakistan, as stated by the Interior Secretary.
Though the document is categorized as a ‘plan’ it does not have timelines for achieving any of the twenty goals that have been set. It does not stipulate who will be responsible for implementing its different components. It does not mention who will monitor progress or a lack thereof, and in the case of failure to achieve compliance, how the follow-up action would be taken and by whom.
Numerous discrepancies in investigation were observed by the Commission, few are appended:
- Forensic examination was conducted after a lapse of two months and that too after the Commission’s intervention. Punjab Forensic Science Agency personnel eventually carried out forensic investigation.
- The eight bullet casings were sent for forensic examination only to determine caliber of weapon and whether they matched with the casings of other crimes. However, their examination to capture any fingerprints was not sought.
- Forensic examination of the car in which Mr. Bilal Kasi was shot was not undertaken.
- The crime scene was not comprehensively videotaped or photographed for later analysis.
- An eyewitness had informed the police that three assailants escaped on one motorcycle and had even pointed out the direction of their escape, but no attempt was made to pursue other eyewitness reports or trace the escape route or look for tyre tracks, which could have been found in the mud.
- Suicide bomber photographs of those seen in the CCTV recordings had not been printed in the newspapers, and no reward been offered for identifying the persons. However, on Commission’s intervention, PFSA managed to enhance the images of the suspects and the same were published in leading newspapers.
- This resulted in an informant coming forward who recognized the suicide bomber and told the investigators where he resided. To conclusively verify the identity of the suicide bomber an oral swab from the suspect’s father was taken. The DNA from the oral swab was matched with the DNA of the bone fragments that had been earlier taken from the severed legs of the suicide bomber and a lineage was established.
- The crime scene, in the hospital where the suicide bomber detonated his suicide vest, was not forensically secured and examined nor secured for later forensic examination.
Lack of Coordination and Clarity
The Chief Secretary had also testified about the lack of coordination between the police, local administration and Frontier Constabulary (FC), as under:
“As regards the FC, it reports to the Inspector General, FC. At the local level sometimes the coordination between the police, Levies and FC is not as good as it should be and problems have also been encountered where the local commander of FC may not agree to have a meeting in the office of the Deputy Commissioner even though the Deputy Commissioner is the local head of the Committee constituted in this regard.”
The aforesaid point stood validated when the police and the Levies, after being fired upon by terrorists from inside their hideout in Hurumzai, had called for FC’s assistance, but sadly even after a lapse of three hours FC had not arrived thus the operation to accost the terrorists was undertaken without FC’s assistance. The FC personnel were only prepared to proceed if their own commander directed them to do so and their commander could not be reached in the middle of the night.
It is also not clear what exactly is FC’s role in Balochistan and whether it has policing powers, as was reflected in the confused response at the highest levels. The Chief Secretary and the Commandant Ghazaband Scouts of FC stated that FC had policing powers whereas the Secretary of Interior, Government of Pakistan stated that, “no policing powers have been given” to FC.
The Commission gave a total of 56 findings (including sub-headings) under 15 major headings addressing the concerned department having criminal negligence. Few are appended for the readers:
Attacks and Terrorists
- The two attacks on August 8, 2016, were inextricably linked and were carried out by the same group.
- The identities of the suicide bomber and his companion were discovered only after the Commission’s intervention, which involved directing the police to have photographs of the terrorists forensically enhanced and printed in the newspapers with an offer of a reward for further information. Consequently, an informant came forward and revealed the identity of the suicide bomber along with some of his accomplices.
- These were not the first attacks committed by these terrorists. Had the functionaries of the state established a bank of forensic information on past attacks and pursued the cases, they might have prevented the attacks of August 8, 2016; in this regard the 2012 terrorism case judgment has still not been implemented.
Police, Crime Scenes and Forensics
- The IG of police had limited understanding of basic protocols or standard operating procedures in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
The Hospital and Treatment of the Injured
- The hospital was completely dysfunctional:
(a) It was extremely filthy and unhygienic.
(b) There were no first aid kits available.
(c) There were no adequately equipped ambulances.
(d) There was no firefighting equipment.
(e) There were insufficient stretchers.
(f) Basic hospital instruments/equipment was not available, or where available, it was in deplorable condition.
(g) There were no visiting hours.
(h) There was no monitoring or checkpoints at the entry/exit in the hospital or even supervision – visitors could enter hospital premises at any time and could visit any part of the hospital.
(i) VIPs did not respect the sanctity of the hospital.
(j) The existing security system was wholly inadequate.
(k) Most of the employees at the hospital appeared to have no work ethic.
(l) The prescribed uniform was worn by almost none of the hospital staff.
(m) There was no discipline and accountability of hospital employees.
(n) Hooliganism prevailed amongst innumerable hospital employees.
(o) A large number of hospital employees did not come to work.
(p) Junior officers were appointed as medical superintendents.
(q) There were no protocols in place at the hospital to attend to terrorist attacks.
Government of Balochistan
- The government’s credibility was undermined by the Chief Minister, Home Minister and their spokespersons when they made irresponsible statements to the press. In these statements, fabricated leads were widely broadcast, disrupting the investigation and creating false expectations.
Government of Pakistan and Federal Institutions
- The Ministry of Interior was without clear leadership and direction; consequently, it was confused about its role in combating terrorism. The Ministry’s National Security Internal Policy was not being implemented. The officers of the Ministry appeared more interested in serving the Minister than the people of Pakistan.
- The National Action Plan was not a plan in any structured or meaningful way, nor had its goals been monitored or implemented accordingly.
The Minister for Interior
- The Minister of Interior had:
(a) displayed little sense of ministerial responsibility,
(b) called only one meeting of the executive committee of National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) in over three and a half years,
(c) violated the decisions of the executive committee of NACTA,
(d) met the head of a proscribed organization, widely reported in the media with his photograph, but still denied doing so,
(e) accepted the demands of the proscribed organization regarding CNICs,
(f) inexplicably delayed in proscribing terrorist organizations, and
(g) did not proscribe a well-known terrorist organization.
Counter Extremism Narrative
- The complete lack of a counter extremism narrative is deplorable, lamentable, and totally tragic. No written counter narrative has been prepared by the Ministry for Interior, NACTA, Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, any provincial department or any government institution, even though the people’s representatives have sounded the alarm that the “menace of terrorism and extremism is becoming an existential threat to the state” (preamble to the NACTA Act).
I have tried my best to give a bird’s eye view of the Commission’s report to the readers but it does not defeat the purpose of studying the original report, which is available on Supreme Court of Pakistan’s website. I do not know the legality of the Commission’s findings, but I hope that the Supreme Court of Pakistan could direct all provincial and federal institutions to implement the recommendations of this report and develop a system of monitoring of that implementation’s process.
Nations do not fall or fail due to mistakes but they do fall or fail owing to cyclical mistakes and not learning from them. ‘To err is human’ and a new error means we are moving forward. Committing the same mistake means we are going nowhere but admitting the mistake and undertaking not to do it again will surely do some good to our beloved country. Pakistan is very fortunate that it still has a few individuals capable enough to direct our nation on the right track. It is my solid conviction that our security as well as civil agencies can exhibit all the capabilities to implement the recommendations of the report, if they have political support from all of us.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.