Truth is as powerful as the trust in those who speak it, said Nancy Gibbs, editor of Time magazine, recently. This aptly sums up the findings of a dauntless judge in Pakistan, who is known for his integrity and courage of convictions. Justice Qazi Faez Isa has come up with a bold report on the Quetta carnage on August 8, 2016, that started with the targeted killing of the president of the Balochistan Bar Association, followed by a deadly suicide attack at the civil hospital that claimed the lives of 75 innocent people, while injuring 105 others. The cream of lawyers – 54 in one go – perished.
People at the highest levels of government appear befuddled, ruefully concludes Isa in a 110-page report, that was penned down after continuously working for 56 days and examining 45 witnesses along with corresponding with all the relevant stakeholders in the federal as well as the Balochistan governments. The Supreme Court had constituted the Inquiry Commission to look into the matter “from all the relevant aspects of this multidimensional tragedy.”
Law enforcement and security agencies bear the main brunt of the blame when he laments that the “all prevailing culture of lawlessness has serious consequences”. The main areas of concern revolve around police investigations, intelligence collection, terrorism-related coordination mechanism and the lack of implementation of plans and strategies to combat terrorism and violent extremism.
Active association of the intelligence agencies must be ensured so that investigators are able to successfully work out such high-profile cases.
Let us examine the role of the police. Investigations in a series of terrorism cases were going nowhere until the judge assumed the supervisory role to steer the process in a systematic and scientific manner. Unfortunately, investigation of the case was carried out by the police in a slipshod manner. The crime scenes were not properly preserved, videotaped or photographed for follow ups. No attempt was made to look for fingerprints on bullet casings found on the spot. Even the car of the victim was not forensically examined.
These lapses on the part of police were rectified by the judge, who directed the Quetta police to seek the assistance of the Punjab Forensic Science Laboratory in Lahore. This intervention proved to be a remarkable breakthrough. CCTV footage at the hospital was technically scanned and enhanced to establish the identity of the suicide bomber and his accomplices.
DNA samples were obtained from the body parts of the suicide bomber found at the site and the shoes on his feet led the investigators to the shop from where the culprits were further identified. A reward of 10 million rupees for providing information about the suspects resulted in an informant coming forward to establish the identity of the suicide bomber and his address.
For the professional manner of the investigation carried out on the directions of Isa, credit must be given to the civilian federal intelligence agency and the team of Balochistan police that not only traced the terrorists but eventually confronted them on December 5. In the exchange, five culprits – including the ring leader – were killed.
The main areas of concern revolve around police investigations, intelligence collection, terrorism-related coordination mechanism.
The basic lessons to be drawn from the findings of the commission and the thoroughness of the judge are as follows: the police must properly preserve the crime scenes of incidents of terrorism; forensic examination including fingerprinting, videotaping, photographing and DNA-testing are crucial requirements of scientific investigations; the data bank of terrorists should be centrally maintained, the modus operandi of the culprits and analysis of cases must be carried out to identify terrorist networks and to establish linkages, if any, with other such gruesome incidents.
Moreover, active association of the intelligence agencies must be ensured so that investigators are able to successfully work out such high-profile cases. Finally, incentives and rewards to officials and informants are crucial ingredients of success.
Isa is justified in his remarks that “at the highest levels of government the subject of terrorism and combating it is epitomized with confusion,” and has rightly concluded that “the state, which has receded in the face of those spreading hatred and murders, must reexert itself.”
Clarity, commitment and collaboration between the various state institutions will lead to eliminating the menace of terror from our society.
An earlier version of this article was originally published in the Herald's January 2017 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.
The writer is former IG of Balochistan Police.