x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

As elections approach, Pakistan is resolute against terrorists

A high-profile assassination shows that Pakistan's terrorists are afraid of those who work for the rule of law. And there are many such people in public life.

Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, the chief prosecutor for Pakistan's Federal Investigative Agency, was buried last Saturday, amid the tight security that was denied to him in life. He was in his mid-40s.

On the previous day, Friday, May 3, he had been shot by two men who had been waiting to ambush him as he drove away from his house in Islamabad, en route to his office. The murderers escaped on motorcycles.

The victim's son Nisar, as earnest and soft-spoken as his father was, stated at the burial that his father had had no personal enemies.

There is little doubt that the killing was connected to Ali's work, and his two highest-profile cases come to mind.

Ali was a dedicated, professional lawyer but not just any ordinary lawyer: he specialised in criminal investigation, personally working on high-profile cases, collecting forensic evidence, before prosecuting the cases in court.

His colleagues and superiors knew him as a thorough professional who refused to give up. Friends referred to him as a bulldog, because once he got his teeth into something he never let go.

Although he had numerous cases on his schedule, the two most prominent ones were the Benazir Bhutto murder case and the November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai in India.

Rumours about who killed him are running rampant. Just days before his murder, Ali had told the court that there was evidence that the former president Pervez Musharraf may have been complicit in the 2007 Bhutto killing. So Mr Musharraf and his supporters figure prominently in many rumours.

About 90 million Pakistanis are eligible to vote on Saturday in parliamentary and provincial elections; the campaign has brought politics to a fever pitch and in recent weeks there have been a number of terrorist-style political killings.

Those investigating Ali's murder - and most ordinary Pakistanis, apparently - believe his murder can be laid at the door of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), since it is the prime suspect in both the Bhutto killing and the Mumbai raid.

The killing of Ali reveals an important and heartening aspect of the struggle for the rule of law in Pakistan: these terrorists are themselves terrified of people like Ali, servants of the law who refuse to give up, and are prepared to die for a just cause. Individuals like Ali are the antithesis of religious extremist-terrorism.

To combat the existential threat that Pakistan is facing, the country needs more dedicated officials like Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, many more. The good news is that there are such men.

Some political parties with rightist leanings - such as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan (who was badly injured in a fall on Tuesday), the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) of Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the Jamaat-Islami and, to a lesser extent Nawaz Sharifs' Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) - appear willing to appease terrorists. But there are others, politicians and ordinary voters, who know better.

Leftist parties like the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), and the Awami National Party (ANP) - all targets of terrorists - may be less visible than their rivals now, because of the threat they face. But many in those parties are still campaigning hard, though in ways modified to adjust to the threat.

And despite their dismal performance in office in the last five years, their determination is winning them some public support.

Note the firm language used by Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief of staff, in his April 30 Day of Martyrs address honouring the soldiers killed in the war against terrorism: "This is our war," he said. "This is no time for prevarication … It is time to unite against this threat."

The view I have expressed in this space before is still the one I hold: First, there is always scope for negotiations even with terrorists if they, like the Irish Republican Army, have genuine grievances and are truly representatives of the aspirations of their peoples.

Second, there is absolutely no scope for negotiations, none, with those terrorists who, like the TTP, are creating grievances in an effort to create political space - which they do not have now, since they do not represent anyone but their own membership.

Unfortunately, however, the public and media mood in Pakistan seem to have swung, as it did in 2008-2009, towards support for negotiating with terrorists.

I suspect that if, as seems likely, the PML-N is voted into power, or if the PTI manages to win despite Mr Khan's accident, we will find ourselves again negotiating a so-called peace deal with the Talib.

If that happens it will take another few months' taste of the kind of justice that the Taliban meted out during their reign in Swat in 2009 - or possibly in the killing of prosecutor Ali - before the nation can unite again to support military operations.

I hope that in this prediction, as in others past, I have erred. But even if I am proven right, there is a larger silver lining to this cloud as well: this time around the military operation is likely to run its course before the public mood can swing any further in favour of negotiating with the terrorists.


Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer