Sartaj Aziz, the adviser on national security and foreign affairs to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has reportedly termed India’s reaction to the prospect of releasing 26/11 Mumbai attacks mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi from jail “irrational”. These remarks are deplorable — and frankly what is more irrational than a senior Pakistani public figure’s blasé attitude on terrorism, making such statements a day after the Pakistani Taliban bombed Christian congregations in Lahore, killing 10 people and critically hurting more than 70 others?
Events over the last week show that Islamabad fails to proactively mount a challenge to terrorism using the instruments at its disposal. The minorities are frequently attacked with impunity and a figure like Lakhvi is able to reside in ‘relative luxury’ in jail and enjoy access to his supporters while challenging his detention legally because the prosecution has been tardy in presenting available evidence. The Punjab government in Pakistan issued a new detention order on Lakhvi under pressure, but the Dawn has reported that the government’s legal team ‘did not appear to be serious’ in detaining Lakhvi as it failed to produce relevant records and approach a review board prior to the lapse of the last detention order. Mr Sharif’s government maintains that it is taking terrorism seriously but in case after case it is failing to use legal measures to restore the authority of the State. Last week saw the Islamabad High Court upholding the death sentence awarded to Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, but saw the terrorism charges dropped owing to poor coordination on part of the prosecution. The climate is admittedly difficult, prosecutors get threatened — one handling the Mumbai case was shot dead — and witnesses are unwilling to depose but it is the job of the State to take the lead in high-profile cases to restore authority and demonstrate to the public that the tide in the battle against terrorism can turn. Last week’s spectacle of four religious parties offering blood money to Taseer’s relatives in order to secure Qadri’s acquittal is an appalling reminder of the poison that has spread in the country.
Mr Aziz also does not seem to understand what the 26/11 Mumbai attacks mean to India. Its public is unlikely to forget that Mumbai was held hostage for three days by Pakistan-based terrorists with the explicit backing of state actors. Such memories make it very difficult for the Narendra Modi government to move forward till the perpetrators are convicted. The impasse on political issues will continue till this issue is addressed.