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Old Wednesday, December 14, 2016
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Default December 14th, 2016.

Date : Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Chakwal siege

This December, there has been a celebratory spirit in the air, whether the cheer stems from those who celebrated Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) birthday on 12 Rabiul Awwal, or those belonging to the Christian faith, in anticipation of Christmas. Contrastingly, one marginalised group in the country shares only the sentiment of fear and gloom this December, as their place of worship was besieged by attackers in Chakwal on December 12. The Ahmadi community had sent a letter request to the district coordination officer for more security amid looming fears of takeover attempts. The request should have been perused more carefully. There was a definite failure of law enforcement here for not providing the necessary protection to minorities. The authorities should have a judicious decision-making process when it comes to one angry group making threats against another group in this country; promised threats are often delivered and the situation turns bloody. And, this was no small bout of anger; it was a riled-up group of at least 1,000 attackers on the day of a religious holiday, irate that the Ahmadi group would not empty the house of worship upon their demand — so overwhelming as to cause one man to die from cardiac arrest.

The situation amounts to hate crime and inciting social unrest amongst an already vulnerable minority. It has set a dangerous precedent, or perhaps one already being followed from before as the group has faced everything from targeted attacks to desecration of cemeteries and places of worship. It is too easy to rile up a mob against minority groups to take over property or settle disputes. There exists no such thing as following a path of non-violent dispute resolution in Pakistan. Vigilante justice needs to be eradicated and our law-enforcement agencies tightened up further. The Punjab government’s nonchalant attitude towards the issue was perturbing; it tweeted only blanket face-saving statements on tolerance and non-discrimination ignoring the fact that this was significantly more than a “misunderstanding” between two groups. It was, once again, an attempt by one group to use force to oppress another group, behaviour that is routine in this country.

Changing of the guard

The last week has seen a number of changes in the senior ranks of the army as the new Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa eases into his post. Whilst there are no real surprises about any of the officers newly posted or about the posts they are to take up there is a sense that a new broom is at work. The new COAS is wasting no time setting his agenda and it is evident that he intends to continue with and extend the agenda of his predecessor. General Bajwa put his cards on the table on Monday 12th December when he visited the Peshawar Corps Headquarters for a briefing-in-depth on the ongoing security operations as well as how matters will be moved forward in Fata, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Malakand division. All have been the focus of intense army operations in recent years, particularly since the National Action Plan was formulated to counter terror and as a response to the attack on the Army Public School in December 2014.

General Bajwa has spoken of his commitment to breaking the nexus between terrorists and their facilitators, a not-particularly-coded message that he is going to go after the chain that links the terror paradigm from top to bottom. That chain is known to run from the remote fastnesses of the mountains in the north to the sprawling cities of the plains — and Karachi. He acknowledged that army actions had created the space and opportunity to restore and refurbish governance, and that ‘equitable development’ was a necessity across FATA. Perhaps a message to any political listener that may be bending an ear in his direction. Civil government has its part to play if the army is not going to have to run a repeat performance in months and years to come.

There is a new Corps Commander in Karachi, a new Director-General of the Inter-services Intelligence, a new Chief of General Staff and a new Corps Commander in Peshawar along with a slew of other postings. The Guard has changed but many of the historical challenges remain. We wish the new team at the khaki helm every success.

PIA Chairman resignation

All bucks stop somewhere, and in the case of the chairman of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) it stopped on his desk, and Azam Saigol resigned on Monday 12th December. He had been in post since May 2016. The reason for his resignation was cited as ‘personal grounds’ but coming soon after the crash of flight PK-661, and technical faults on another ATR aircraft on Sunday 11th December which led to the aborting of a takeoff, it looks like Mr Saigol opted for an honourable exit.

All nine ATR aircraft are now grounded pending an investigation. It is also noted that a PIA flight from Manchester recently reported ‘technical’ problems and a flight from Lahore to Toronto had to land at Manchester because the passengers had managed to block the toilets. The latter case is clearly a self-inflicted wound and the passengers failed to obey instructions for toilet use, but other incidents have no such easy explanation.

Regarding the crash of the ATR aircraft and the subsequent grounding of the ATR fleet that at a stroke has negatively affected many PIA internal flights; it has to be said that whatever the cause the manufacturers have not called for a global grounding of all ATR fleets. A total of 432 ATR-42 aircraft have been delivered worldwide up until December 2014 and the type is still in production. Were the manufacturers to suspect an endemic fault then the type would be grounded everywhere. It is not, and ATR-42s are not falling from the skies the world over in a spate of incidents.

Perhaps prematurely Mr Saigol had cited engine failure as the cause of the crash, saying that he did not think there was any technical or human error. Both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder have been recovered and will tell us what happened. It was at the very least unwise of Mr Saigol to pre-empt the formal investigation, and his resignation under the circumstances entirely appropriate — though unusual in the prevailing climate of corporate denial.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 14th, 2016.
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