Sleeper cells active again?
THE existence of sleeper cells is often the caveat to declarations about militancy having been eradicated. That is especially the case in a complex urban scenario where violent extremism has spread its tentacles deep within society. Recent developments in Karachi appear to illustrate this phenomenon. On Wednesday, Sindh Police’s Counter Terrorism Department claimed it had arrested five men suspected of having links with the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, a sectarian outfit responsible for having murdered thousands of Shias across the country. These individuals, according to the CTD, have revealed that four teams of hitmen had become active on the directions of two incarcerated LJ leaders who had told them to target religious personalities and policemen. The detainees themselves are said to have ‘confessed’ to the murder of six people. A list of potential targets has allegedly also been recovered from them.
After a considerable period of relative calm, Karachi’s crime graph of late has shown an uptick in targeted killings, with policemen comprising the majority of victims. At least four cops have been attacked this month in separate incidents, with three of them losing their lives as a result; the most recent incident occurred yesterday when an ASI was killed in the Lines Area. While law-enforcement agencies have yet to definitively link these murders to the alleged confession of the men they have apprehended, the implications are ominous. The LJ is among the most dangerous extremist groups ever to have existed in Pakistan. Not only is it virulently sectarian, it has also at times joined hands with global terrorist organisations, at first Al Qaeda and later — through its ‘international’ chapter — the militant Islamic State group, to carry out horrific, high-casualty attacks. The LJ’s shadowy nature and its tendency to operate through splinter groups makes it more difficult to trace. Law enforcement must be on its toes to ensure that this outfit does not find a conducive environment to once again become the hydra-headed monster it was.
The claim about LJ leaders having issued orders from behind bars to their foot soldiers on the outside is a plausible one. While security features have been enhanced in Karachi’s Central Jail, the main chink in the armour is not the infrastructure but the ill-paid human resource. Prison personnel have been known to smuggle in mobile phones and SIMs to the inmates; in the past, raids on prison barracks have turned up shocking amounts of such contraband. In June 2017, two high-profile LJ militants — one of whom had committed nearly 60 murders — escaped from Karachi Central Jail. A subsequent investigation determined that over a dozen prison officials had “abetted and facilitated” the jailbreak. Unearthing sleeper cells requires a revival of the old ‘beat’ system and the community policing model. Interaction between law enforcement and society at the grassroots is vital to nip this threat in the bud.
THE new notification issued by the PTI government changing the composition of the 10th National Finance Commission and tailoring the language of its terms of reference is but a clever attempt to tackle legal challenges without retreating on the centre’s demand for the provinces to share the burden of federal expenditure. The new notification removes the prime minister’s adviser on finance and the federal finance secretary from the NFC to meet constitutional stipulations in anticipation of an adverse ruling by the Islamabad High Court in a case filed by the PML-N. The Balochistan High Court has already struck down these appointments and ruled against the inclusion of any agenda other than the determination of the formulae for the vertical and horizontal division of tax resources between the centre and provinces. Yet the former appears determined to pursue its aim of getting the federating units to chip in with significant amounts from their existing divisible tax pool share under the seventh NFC award to pay federal bills — even if such a demand violates constitutional provisions. In doing so, the centre has again exposed itself to fresh judicial scrutiny because the commission is constitutionally mandated to deliberate only on the division of financial resources and not on sharing expenditure. Thus, it may further delay deliberations on the new NFC award.
Since its inception, the PTI government has seldom tried to conceal its aversion to the administrative and financial autonomy given to the provinces under the landmark 18th Amendment and the seventh NFC award. It comes as no surprise if it attempts to somehow clip provincial powers and slash provincial shares from the divisible pool. Earlier this month, the party had helped a move in the Senate to amend the constitutional provision (introduced under the 18th Amendment) that protects existing provincial shares from the divisible pool under the seventh award and bars the centre from reducing it in future. The proposed bill was rejected by the opposition. Given that none of the provinces, including those ruled by the PTI, are in favour of a reduction in their share, the centre is unlikely to achieve its objective at the NFC forum. A better way would be to implement tax administration and policy reforms for increasing the size of the pie. For the interim, it should discuss its financial troubles and debt payments with the provinces at the CCI platform instead of using the back door to ambush them.
Bangladesh phone call
PAKISTAN-Bangladesh relations have been going through a decidedly cool phase, particularly since Sheikh Hasina Wajed began her second term as prime minister in 2009. Perhaps the biggest irritant has been the ‘war crimes’ tribunal set up by the Bangladeshi leader to re-examine the events of 1971. However, the ice appears to have been broken as Prime Minister Imran Khan made his first call to Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday, calling for improved ties between both South Asian states. “Pakistan is committed to deepening fraternal relations with Bangladesh,” Mr Khan told his counterpart, adding that there needed to be regular bilateral and people-to-people exchanges.
Compared to the acrimony of the recent past, the prime minister’s move to improve ties with Dhaka should be lauded. While the events of 1971 continue to cast a shadow over the relationship, there is a need to move forward in a spirit of conciliation and friendship. Despite the tragic events that led to the loss of this country’s eastern wing, both Pakistan and Bangladesh share a common history and many aspects of culture. There is a need to come to terms with the past, and look to a better future for the people of both countries. There are hostile regional elements that will not want to see cordial ties between Islamabad and Dhaka. But vitriol and propaganda perpetrated by those who seek to play the hegemon in South Asia should not be allowed to thwart any attempt at strengthening ties. Efforts to improve relations with neighbouring and regional states requires countries to look to the future and put behind them painful memories. Instead of summoning the demons of the past, let Islamabad and Dhaka work together to bring peace, prosperity and progress to their people and all of South Asia. This can only happen when both sides work on a relationship of trust and respect, and ignore the mischievous efforts of third parties to derail ties. Mr Khan’s olive branch should not be given short shrift.