Deal­ing with se­cu­rity threats

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - I.A. Rehman

THE La­hore Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val has ended in a blaze of suc­cess. The un­cer­tainty about its be­ing held at all and the doubts about the peo­ple's ca­pac­ity to defy fear and much else made the event all the more en­joy­able. But the is­sues re­gard­ing the ways of deal­ing with se­cu­rity threats that it gave rise to still need to be se­ri­ously ad­dressed.

The Pun­jab govern­ment has a good record of guar­an­tee­ing se­cu­rity at religious and cul­tural events that have been held in the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal since the be­gin­ning of Novem­ber 2015. The three-day Thaap con­fer­ence on his­tory, art and cul­ture was held on pri­vate premises with­out both­er­ing the lawen­force­ment agen­cies. Then there were three big events at Al­hamra: the Faiz Fes­ti­val, the Khayal Fes­ti­val, and fi­nally, the La­hore Arts Coun­cil's own lit­er­ary ex­trav­a­ganza. Only a few days be­fore the LLF was to be­gin a Faiz Aman Mela was held at the Open Air Theatre. Since La­hore has never been free of threats from ex­trem­ists the ad­min­is­tra­tion could claim credit for ex­tend­ing se­cu­rity to all th­ese func­tions.

One is at a loss to find a rea­son for the panic the au­thor­i­ties cre­ated by go­ing to the ex­tent of un­der­min­ing a fes­ti­val that not only the city of La­hore but the coun­try as a whole had be­gun to feel proud of.

As­sum­ing that the threat-mak­ers had a spe­cial rea­son to tar­get the LLF guests or the crowds how did the au­thor­i­ties cal­cu­late that se­cu­rity could be guar­an­teed at Avari and not at Al­hamra and how did they fix the num­ber of for­eign guests they could pro­tect? Any pre­cise an­swers to th­ese ques­tions would im­ply that the au­thor­i­ties knew more of the ex­trem­ists' plans than is ever pos­si­ble.

While faced with such a sit­u­a­tion the au­thor­i­ties are re­quired to de­lib­er­ate on two in­ter­re­lated points: the sig­nif­i­cance of the event un­der threat and the cost of ask­ing for its can­cel­la­tion. The first ques­tion was an­swered by the crowds the LLF at­tracted. No elab­o­rate the­sis is needed to demon­strate the role lit­er­a­ture, art and cul­ture play in en­abling any peo­ple to re­alise them­selves, es­pe­cially to re­tain their san­ity in times of con­flict and de­spair. Thus, LLF should have been treated as an es­sen­tial ac­tiv­ity that needed to be pro­tected and en­cour­aged.

As re­gards the cost of dis­al­low­ing a ma­jor un­der­tak­ing such as LLF, the cost caused to the peo­ple, in ad­di­tion to the in­crease in the ex­pen­di­ture borne by the or­ga­niz­ers, can be judged from the con­se­quences of the change of venue and cur­tail­ment of ac­tiv­i­ties.

Many peo­ple felt that the change of venue from a cul­tural com­plex open to the pub­lic to a ho­tel meant for the rich made the fes­ti­val less folksy an af­fair.

The com­pul­sion to trim the fes­ti­val pro­gramme from three days to two led to drop­ping some of the ac­tiv­i­ties. It is to be re­gret­ted that ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to Pun­jabi lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture had to be sac­ri­ficed and that was a huge loss. That the lit­er­ary trea­sure and tra­di­tion of Pun­jab should not fig­ure promi­nently in a lit­er­a­ture fes­ti­val held in La­hore is sim­ply un­think­able. The Pun­jab govern­ment should be brave enough to ac­cept at least a part of the blame.

A more im­por­tant mat­ter is the need to evolve a ra­tio­nal theme for deal­ing with ter­ror­ist threats. It goes with­out say­ing that each threat should be taken se­ri­ously, whether the tar­get is a pub­lic fig­ure, a state es­tab­lish­ment or a pri­vate in­sti­tu­tion. It is also clear that the govern­ment and the tar­geted cit­i­zens should co­op­er­ate with each other in de­vel­op­ing as de­pend­able a se­cu­rity cover as pos­si­ble. A se­ri­ous cause of con­cern to the pub­lic is the ca­su­al­ness with which the au­thor­i­ties some­times pass on the en­tire re­spon­si­bil­ity for se­cu­rity to the party un­der threat. The or­ders to banks and petrol pumps to pay for se­cu­rity plans de­vised by the ad­min­is­tra­tion, the way schools are be­ing or­dered to meet the se­cu­rity needs, or some peo­ple are be­ing told to go abroad are only a few il­lus­tra­tions of this ap­proach.

One ap­par­ent flaw in the fight against ter­ror­ism is the ab­sence of the role of the com­mu­nity/neigh­bour­hood in pro­tect­ing it­self. There were times when com­mu­ni­ties threat­ened with com­mu­nal ri­ots or armed gangs of crim­i­nals used to or­gan­ise col­lec­tive de­fences. Sim­i­lar ac­tions were re­ported in the re­cent past from some tribal ar­eas. We no longer hear of such ini­tia­tives in cities or vil­lages.

Are lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties un­aware of the need or jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for fight­ing ter­ror­ism? The mosques and shrines have been the tar­gets of ter­ror­ist at­tacks. Is it im­pos­si­ble to de­velop th­ese mosques and shrines as the nu­clei of re­sis­tance to ex­trem­ism? If the law-en­force­ment per­son­nel and the tar­gets of ter­ror­ists do not have the cush­ion of com­mu­nity/neigh­bour­hood sup­port the dan­ger to them is much greater than is gen­er­ally reck­oned. Here is one of the most un­bear­able con­se­quences of not hav­ing a coun­tert­er­ror­ism nar­ra­tive - the in­abil­ity to mo­bilise the peo­ple at large to take up the fight against ter­ror­ism as their own right­ful cause.

Above all, there has to be a limit up to which nor­mal life can be al­lowed to be paral­ysed by ex­trem­ists' threats. Sup­pose the au­thor­i­ties re­ceive in­for­ma­tion about a pos­si­ble at­tack on the civil sec­re­tar­iat in La­hore or the par­lia­ment house in Is­lam­abad. Will th­ese in­sti­tu­tions be closed down?

Let us not for­get that each time a pub­lic func­tion is can­celled be­cause of threat to se­cu­rity, or a school is closed or a pub­lic fig­ure is told to go into ex­ile the ter­ror­ists are handed over a vic­tory they do not de­serve.

There has to be a bal­ance be­tween the steps that cit­i­zens and pub­lic/pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions must take by way of pre­cau­tion and what the state must do to pro­tect its cit­i­zens. Surely a state that does not prom­ise its cit­i­zens free­dom from fear in fact de­nies them the right to life in its real sense.

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