Wanted: Changes In The Jail Manual

The defensibility of our jails having been conclusively established – if Bannu left any doubts, Dera Ismail Khan should have dissipated them – it is time now to draw the obvious conclusions.
First is the need for jail segregation…no more mixed prisons from now on. In each province, also in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, there should be separate jails for Shia prisoners, so that we don’t see more slaughtering of Shia prisoners, as happened in D I Khan, the next time the Taliban decide to attack a jail.
Of course there will be a problem of location. Where to site these jails? If the General Headquarters, the Mehran Naval Base, and the Kamra Air Base are not wholly secure, there is little reason to think that Shia jails will have foolproof security. Still, better some effort than none at all.
(By the way, if the attacks on the GHQ and Mehran represented complete security failures, Kamra our defence experts construe as a glowing success. Out of three early warning aircraft, Awacs, we lost only one, coming to about 250 million dollars. But come to think of it, if the present government can give five billion dollars to private power producers, no questions asked and without disclosing the names of the lucky recipients, the Awacs’ cost is small change between friends.)
My suggestion for one such jail would be next to the Kahuta Research (Nuclear) Laboratories; another one well inside the 10 Corps HQ in Chaklala; and maybe another one behind the Supreme Court. Karachi for an experiment of this sort is now a no-no area. Much the same holds true for Balochistan. Given recent attacks on Shias in Quetta, a protective Shia jail in that once-peaceful city would be a bit like having a Jewish Protection Centre in Auschwitz. No, we have to be a bit more ingenious than that, beginning with removing Shia prisoners from all jails in Balochistan.
Security is only one aspect of this matter. Convenience is equally important. The next time a jail comes under attack, the Taliban won’t have to go around holding identification parades to determine who the Shia inmates are. And no one will need to be slaughtered in the name of Islam, giving foreigners another chance to level charges of barbarism at our faith. And the rest of us will not be put to the necessity of feeling any twinge of conscience or shame…the passing sentiment triggered by such outrages.
Have our divines and holy fathers – with whose loud presence our land is infested – taken any notice of the special treatment meted out to Shia prisoners in the D I Khan jail? Any fatwas? Any call for rallies? Any bar council resolutions? Not that most of us know of. Our volubility in some matters is matched by our studious silence in others. We are ghazis not only of talk; we are masters also of selective silence.
The schedule of a presidential election can be altered because PM and family, incredible as this may sound to untrained ears, on those dates had to be in the Holy Land. Of such things we are fully capable, but even the right words fail to come to our lips when – what are Yeats’ words? –“…The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere…The ceremony of innocence is drowned.”
And now just because America has gone on an Al-Qaeda terrorist alert, US embassies being shut across much of Africa, the interior ministry has ordered security patrols on the Margalla Hills. Nothing like an external stimulus to set us thinking.
The last time I was at the Administrative Staff College, Lahore, to give a talk, there was someone from the PM’s Secretariat who was also in the course and he was asked about the national security strategy being prepared by the government. Speaking from written notes, he quoted President Obama at some length (and I said to myself, good heavens) and twice said that we have yet to define who the enemy is. Great thinking and if it is really reflective of the mighty confabulations on national security being undertaken in the PM’s den we can rest easy that great good will come of them.
So there we have it, the army on one side and the two great civilian hopes thrown up by the recent elections on the other, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, each more clueless than the other. And it is these far-seeing shepherds, visionaries all, who are supposed to lead us over the mountains.
No one is quicker with press releases than the ISPR (the army’s PR wing) when the army’s feathers are ruffled. Strange then the army’s utter silence over the D I Khan jailbreak: not a word of explanation, let alone anything by way of contrition. God in heaven, the jail is just next to the cantonment and everyone concerned, civilians and khakis, had been informed of Taliban intentions to attack it.
All right, despite the security in place the Taliban attacked and security was breached and jail and police guards thought it more sensible to hide or run away instead of standing their ground. Regrettable as this may be, it happens all the time, the best of men behaving thus on a bad day. So no great wonders in this. But what about army units, so near the jail? The racket the Taliban were making with their assault, with mortars and rocket grenades, etc, would have woken the dead from their graves. Did senior officers hear nothing?
After all, this wasn’t a hit-and-run attack. The Taliban were there for a long time, blowing open cell doors, freeing their companions, with time enough on their hands to find out about Shia prisoners and cut their throats, to shouts of Allah-o-Akbar of course. All this time, where was the army?
Remember, our outrage regarding Abbottabad was directed not so much at Osama bin Laden that he had tricked us by hiding in Pakistan but at the Americans for carrying out their stealth attack which made us look foolish. What hurt was being caught unawares.
Even though the Americans were on the ground in Abbottabad for about 40 minutes, and then were gone, on their way to Afghanistan. Anyone could have been bamboozled. But D I Khan? If this is the best our forces can do, we are in more trouble than we think.
To repeat the obvious, the Taliban are united, single-minded, utterly focused. We, on the other side, are split, in mind and body, in spirit and psychology. We are not even sizing up the action. How do we stand up to it?
Those who should be in the lead, setting the nation’s direction, giving it a purpose, have other eggs to fry, mostly in foreign lands. The real dual nationals are not those with double passports, as the recent brouhaha on this subject would make most of us believe, but those amongst the good and great with their feet here but hearts and souls, and bank accounts and businesses, and members of their families too, in foreign climes. For normal times such things do not matter. For a nation caught in a life-and-death struggle as ours is, it does.
Abbottabad was just an embarrassment. The real wake-up call should be this latest occurrence. Provided we can look into ourselves and draw the correct lessons.