by Shaheera Syed
An elite van kidnaps a family in a car when it crosses the Okara bypass in broad daylight and makes its way to a pre-decided location near Qadirabad on main G.T. road. A group of men opens fire on the car, riddling the bodies of two parents, one child and their driver with thirty-one bullets.
Amidst the splattered blood of dead bodies, three toddlers are left behind in utter shock and trauma.
The sheer brutality of the Counter-Terrorism Department’s (CTD) Sahiwal encounter has shaken the nation and rightly so, however, this is not the first incident of its kind and it certainly won’t be the last unless we have a serious conversation about security reforms in the country.
Why do people in the security forces think that it is ok to kill parents in front of their children?
We need to step back and ask, what kind of political culture and system of accountability do we have which allows for such actions to take place? Why do people in the security forces think that they have the power to open fire at a car in the middle of the day, kill parents in front of their children and it is okay?
Issuing statements of condolences, forming joint investigation teams, calling for “swift action” and disbursing reparations has become a standard operating procedure every time an incident sparks mass public outrage and gains traction on traditional and social media. This redundant rhetoric mocks the intellect the populace similar to the empty promises which we hear every election cycle. These cosmetic measures to deal with the “threats” are not only operating at a superficial level but also avoid a broader discussion about actual (and much-needed) security reforms.
Putting the entire burden of the Sahiwal incident on the shoulders of the CTD officials who executed this operation is to ignore the bigger picture
Putting the burden of the Sahiwal incident on the shoulders of the CTD officials who executed this operation is akin to completely ignoring the bigger picture. These officials take orders from higher up and are only responsible for doing the job right. If the order is to kill a “potential suspect” and treat any casualties in the process as “collateral damage,” the responsibility lies with the person giving the order, not the one executing it. Such collateral damages have been increasingly weighing down on our collective national morality.
Even if we assume that the driver in the car was affiliated with terrorist group(s), with so many technological advances in the field and money being pumped into the security apparatus of the country, how do we contend that this was the best way to go about the operation? For how long will we keep on killing these people till we realize that though militaristic responses can be a ‘part of’ but never be the ‘whole’ solution to the problem of dealing with terrorism in the country?
Pakistani policymaking has always been security-centric
Being at the mercy of its location and history, Pakistani policymaking has always been security-centric. However, there was a sharp intensification of the securitization of the counter-terrorism and political discourse after the dreadful attack on the Army Public School in 2014 which killed 132 children.
Post-APS attack, disagreements were smoothened out, flushing out the voices which advocated for a softer approach, and there was a harmonization of discourse between the civilian and military forces towards an overly-militarized approach to deal with terrorist threats in the country. The issue with over-securitization of policies and discourse is that it is immensely hard to take the security lens off and come back towards the state of normalization.
Moreover, the mixture of being a post-colonial state with under-developed political culture, history of imbalance of power between governmental branches, and constant geopolitical threats (perceived or real) tremendously add to the difficulty of initiating the debate around security reforms without raising serious objections.
If democracy is to consolidate in Pakistan, however difficult, the discussion about de-securitization of the polices in the country has to happen.
If democracy is to consolidate in Pakistan, however difficult, the discussion about de-securitization of the polices in the country has to happen. We have to reclaim the space in the discourse which has been increasingly marginalized to initiate a dialogue about creatively dealing with terrorist or security threats. This means going beyond the overly-militaristic responses and giving a chance to a mixture of soft and hard approaches to tackle security threats.
How security threats are defined and dealt with is a difficult and potentially controversial debate in the country but the fruition of this debate would ultimately be contingent upon the tenacity of the civil-military relations. The consolidation of democracy in Pakistan itself hinges on how the ability of these institutes to carve out space for themselves, in which they can, without undermining each other, co-exist.
The author holds a masters in Public Policy with a specialization in International Conflict Management and is currently working for Democracy Reporting International, a Berlin-based NGO supporting political participation. She tweets @s_syed_s