Lowering the Bar: Once militants have destabilized justice and law-enforcement, they will go after bigger targets because there will be no one to arrest and prosecute them.
By Neha Ansari
It is a clever, clever strategy to pick off a country’s lawyers. Just as with killing its doctors, going after lawyers and judges guts a society of it intellectual muscle.
A recent summary of this trend: On August 8, a suicide bomber struck Civil Hospital, Quetta, killing 55 lawyers and injuring 85 more. A week earlier, another lawyer, Jahanzeb Alvi, was shot dead by unidentified armed men at Brewery Road. A month before that, Barrister Achakzai—the principal of University of Balochistan’s law college—was shot dead by assailants on Spini Road, Quetta.
“I am the only living working barrister in Balochistan today,” says Amir Lehri, a lawyer and professor. “We had three working barristers in Balochistan. Barrister Amanullah Achakzai was murdered in June and Barrister Adnan Kasi was killed in the Quetta blast.” He adds a chilling addendum: “When is it my turn, I don’t know.”
There are roughly 300 practicing lawyers in Balochistan, out of which 54 have been killed in bombings and homicides this year. Nearly 80 of them are wounded. That means that 45% of the province’s lawyers were incapacitated—just last month. “The terrorists have basically managed to shut down our courts,” adds Lehri. No courts, no justice.
“I am the only living working barrister in Balochistan today,” says Amir Lehri, a lawyer and professor. “We had three working barristers in Balochistan. Barrister Amanullah Achakzai was murdered in June and Barrister Adnan Kasi was killed in the Quetta blast.” He adds a chilling addendum: “When is it my turn, I don’t know”
“These people weren’t just lawyers. Every one of them was a social worker in their area, taking up cases for free and being the only stratum of society that raised their voice for the people of Balochistan. This was the only functioning institution and these lawyers were always active, appearing on radio, on TV, writing in newspapers, doing as much as possible for the people.”
The killings have not been claimed by any group thus far, but the Islamic State and Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA), an offshoot of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan based in Mohmand Agency, said their fighters conducted the Quetta bombing.
On September 1, the spokesman for the Pakistan Army’s media wing, Lt Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, listed the progress made in Zarb-i-Azb, the military campaign against terrorism. He announced that Islamic State’s plans to make inroads in the country had been thwarted, while around 3,000 terrorists had been killed in intelligence-based operations since the beginning of the campaign. However, a day later, lawyers were attacked again—this time in Mardan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Three lawyers and two policemen were among the 18 killed in an attack on the Mardan district and sessions court. “My office was 50 to 55 metres away from the first chambers of the court, which is where the bomber blew himself up,” described Muhammad Faheem Wali, a Supreme Court advocate and member of the Mardan Bar Association. “We all had Quetta in our mind and the lawyers decided not to congregate. It was very hard as we could not go to the hospital together to see our friends who had killed or injured.” The JuA claimed all three attacks.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 53 lawyers have been targeted and killed between 2001 and 2015. But have judicial institutions or its members en masse been targets for terrorist groups before?
Hassan Abbas, the chair of the Regional and Analytical Studies Department at the National Defense University, Washington, DC, says this is not a new trend. He explains: “Global terrorist and armed resistance movements, be they in Colombia, Sri Lanka or in parts of the Middle East, target rule of law institutions, after their core enemy targets (which could be a certain ethnic or religious population, or a country’s government or military).” The police and the judiciary provide the strongest of challenges to these groups, which is where the rationale to harass, coerce, demoralise and defeat law-enforcement and judicial institutions emerges from.
In Pakistan, targeting lawyers is not new. Riaz Basra of Sipah-e-Sahaba, known to be the one major sectarian terrorist in Pakistan before the Global War on Terror, targeted lawyers and the police. He was alleged to have killed hundreds of Shia lawyers, policemen and even doctors. Even Malik Ishaq, the co-founder of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, targeted lawyers and witnesses to his crimes. However, using suicide bombers to target court houses and lawyers does indicate a shift in tactics—and strategy.
“Someone in these groups is strategizing and thinking about the future,” Dr Abbas warns. “Targeting lawyers and courts like this with suicide attacks shows that they are trying to dismantle the law-enforcement system. They will first try to coerce, demoralize and then defeat this system to install their own version of justice and government, which is their end goal.” To Dr Abbas, it makes sense that these terrorist groups are targeting lawyers and police officers in Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar, where the judicial and law-enforcement institutions are the major institutions present. “In Karachi and FATA, you have a big presence of the military and paramilitary troops, and so they will be the potential target for these terrorists in those areas—not lawyers.” Once, they have destabilized the justice and law-enforcement system, then they will go after bigger targets because there will be no one to arrest and prosecute them.
Similarly, Barrister Amir Lehri feels that lawyers are soft targets. “Targeting us is easy as we are easily identifiable and our coercion will have the deepest impact on Pakistani society long-term.”
The sacrifices and feats of Zarb-i-Azb cannot be discounted, but the government and its people cannot afford to be complacent. “Where is the status of the investigation of the Quetta blast?” Lehri asks. “The Balochistan chief minister releases a statement within five minutes of the incident to accuse R&AW. Have they even bothered to look at the details and facts?”
According to Dr Abbas, this pattern of targeting lawyers and courts shows the thinkers and planners of terrorism are “alive and kicking”. “Pakistan should not sit back and say they’ve succeeded. This trend has the potential to deeply impact Pakistan’s political and social stability.”
Neha Ansari is a PhD candidate at the The Fletcher School, Tufts University.
Hassan Abbas is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Policy. He is also the Professor and Chair of the Department of Regional and Analytical Studies at the National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs. He is also the author of The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier. This article was originally published in Pakistan’s The Friday Times on Sept. 9, 2016.