Welcome Back to the War Against Terror

As this week's dialogue takes place, Europe must reaffirm that short-cutting human rights through short-term security responses alone, can never be a long-term answer to the terrorist threat. The war against terror may indeed have returned. But the difference this time is that it's a war which Pakistan appears to have declared against itself.

If 9/11 was a sea-change for the United States then the bombing of an army school in Peshawar may have been a watershed moment of equal proportion for Pakistan.

The international terrorism that was bred in the foothills between the country's northern provinces and Afghanistan, had struck back at the heart of Pakistan's military which has previously been accused of sponsoring it.

The revelation when I met many of the country's political and other leaders last week is that the response, is quite simply a carbon copy taken from George W. Bush.

Fourteen years later, the 'war against terror' has been declared for a second time. A new counter-terrorist force of 10,000 is being assembled and is to be given free rein. Special military courts have been set up to try suspects and the death penalty restored.

Government legal experts I met quoted repeated statements from political leaders that the country is in a 'state of war,' seeking to justify the 'extraordinary' measures they have legislated for. These statements have been confined to political speeches and press conferences however, not official government announcements - in order it appears to avoid consequent international legal implications including for treatment of prisoners of war.

In recent media interviews, the country's former leader and its previous head of intelligence both admitted using terrorist proxies. New Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made a landmark speech saying no longer are there "good and bad terrorists." Today the language is of 'clean-up,' 'wipe out' and 'string up.'

With terrorist bombings against a police station and a Shia mosque taking place during our presence in the country, the fear of terrorism is very real. But it is difficult not to shiver too at the response.

Members of the country's parliament told us they shed tears at ceding judicial powers back to the army, after the last elections represented the first ever civilian exchange of power in the country's history. Some suggest the government has acceded to a 'soft coup' in which control of security and foreign policy has been returned to the army.

The extraordinary provisions are intended to end after two years, but a twenty-point 'National Action Plan' against terrorism is silent on the very judicial reforms required if powers are indeed to be returned to civilian courts.

The country's army chief is photographed in the newspapers in Kabul, Washington and - despite Britain's rhetoric in favour of democracy-building - shaking David Cameron's hand inside 10 Downing Street.

That chief's public pronouncement that the emergency provisions would be restricted to "jet black terrorists" is also questioned by human rights groups who point out how the executions which have taken place are connected only to specific attacks on military families, including murders clearly unconnected to terrorism.

Government representatives concede that whilst the 'good and bad' distinction may have been made, they cannot win the battle on too many fronts. With full-scale conflict continuing to rage against the Pakistan Taliban in the North Waziristan province abutting Afghanistan, it is very clearly not all quiet on the western front.

But it is the military's record on human rights as well as democracy which should cause us to be crystal clear that our own cooperation is squarely rooted in the rule of law.

Following the passing of the Pakistan Protection Act last year giving indemnity to the army for 'disappearing' people it apprehends, the Government told me 3,000 of the 'disappeared' had been identified but that they remain in internment camps, still unknown to their relatives.

The Human Rights groups told me they had succeeded in bringing 600 such cases to the Peshawar Court where victims told of the torture which had been inflicted on them. "Unfortunately the District Judge sent them back for more torture, but at least the families saw their loved ones and know they are alive," says Belal.

The parallels from recent history in the stories of secret detention centres and torture, should send alarm bells about the role of the British military, who we are told have undertaken the first of three round of training to the new counter-terrorist forces in the country.

However, the brutality of the militancy cannot preclude European countries from seeking military and intelligence cooperation with proper safeguards, in the proper interests of security of our peoples as well as of Pakistanis.

But the real challenge for Europe this week is to ensure that the same balance in our internal debates between security and anti-radicalisation is inserted in to our foreign policy too.

In this week's counter-terrorism dialogue, Europe must help fill the gap on judicial reforms. British-trained lawyers tell me this is a system with little forensic evidence, no court transcript, and a tradition of the defence not calling witnesses and defence lawyers discouraged from even meeting their own clients beforehand.

The Human Rights Commission tell me judges are expected to hear 85 cases a day, in rented premises, with no security protection - no wonder they are fearful in terrorist cases.

Meanwhile, countering radicalisation may be a different challenge between Lahore and Luton - where a big Pakistani community resides in my own constituency. But Europe can share our own understanding of social barriers which lead to the segregation and alienation from which terrorism can breed.

Former UN Special Rapporteur Farida Shaheed of Pakistan's Women's Resource Centre told me of her grassroots work amongst populations previously under the control of the Pakistan Taliban in the Swat Valley. She found extremist ideology had taken such control, that families did not have the space to be informed, discuss or even think about alternative opinions.

"The problem used to be the state now it's your neighbour...We have to understand why these ideas of only one version of religiosity gains traction at the local level and find new ways of resisting it," says Shaheed.

The evidence from Pakistan is that what is needed most is the most basic of human rights - freedom of thought.

On this issue there is at least some agreement between the Government and its critics. "We have practiced the security paradigm for six decades - based only on India being our enemy. We have to introduce a new narrative - for a pluralist, inclusive society," says human rights lawyer and Supreme Court advocate Naeem Shaki.

The call for a new narrative is precisely echoed in official quarters by the Chief Minister of the most important province, Punjab. Shahbaz Sharif, brother to the Prime Minister, told us: "Education is the bullet which will be the best to fire in the long-run."

As this week's dialogue takes place, Europe must reaffirm that short-cutting human rights through short-term security responses alone, can never be a long-term answer to the terrorist threat.

The war against terror may indeed have returned. But the difference this time is that it's a war which Pakistan appears to have declared against itself.

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