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‘Need for concrete policy against terrorism’

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By Rupesh Dutta

There was urgent need for a concrete policy against terrorism to prevent incidents like Monday’s terror attack in Gurdaspur district of Punjab, former state police chief K.P.S. Gill said, adding that political parties should desist from hyping such attacks.

Gill, 81, who is credited with rooting out militancy in Punjab about two decades back, said India should be firm about its policy concerning Pakistan.

Other security experts IANS spoke to also said that India needs to adopt a tough approach in dealing with its western neighbour.

Gill said tackling terrorism was not child’s play and there was need to take concrete policy measures rather than indulging in rhetoric.

“Politicians should stop giving hype to such attacks and instead get together and formulate a policy to curb terrorism.
Three civilians and four security personnel, including a superintendent of police, were killed early Monday when three heavily-armed terrorists suspected to have infiltrated from Pakistan went on a killing spree in Dinanagar town of Gurdaspur district, shattering two decades of calm in Punjab.

All three attackers were killed after an 11-hour gun battle.

Gill said the attack did not signal that Khalistani groups were trying to revive militancy in Punjab.

However, he said there were still a lot of pockets in Punjab and its borders with Pakistan where people harboured pro-Khalistan ideology.

He said such thinking needs to be rooted out before tackling the menace beyond Indian borders. Gill said it was disappointing to see political leaders creating “media-hype” after a major terror strike.

“I wonder why all this? Instead, why not formulate a policy aimed at retaliating against militant groups and their masterminds? Why go soft every time even after knowing where they (terrorists) come from,” Gill said.

Gill denied that intelligence failure was a major reason for Monday’s terror attack, saying that cross-border terror groups keep making persistent efforts to carry out their designs and are able to penetrate and carry out attacks only a few times.

Strategic expert Brigadier S.K. Chatterji (retd) said India will continue to be prone to such attacks if the government does not firm up its stance vis-a-vis Pakistan and terror outfits operating from its soil.

“Retaliation is the answer to such terror attacks. The actual reason behind the Gurdaspur attack will come to light after some days. I feel there is a need for consistency and toughness,” Chatterji told IANS.

He said India’s intelligence-gathering apparatus also needed to be strengthened.

Chatterji said there was need for the Indian Army to observe more closely how militants were misusing the border areas and take necessary counter-measures.

He said the Gurdaspur terror attack was an attempt to shatter the hard-won peace in Punjab.

“There is a need to intensify patrolling along the border and monitor movements carefully,” he said.

E.M. Rammohan, former director general of Border Security Force, said Indian security agencies needed to understand how militants struck in a border area.

He said either they were foreigners who infiltrated and reached the civilian areas in Dinanagar with their arms and ammunition or they could be members of Pakistan-based outfit operating in Jammu and Kashmir or Punjab.

Dinanagar is about 15 km from the international border from Pakistan.

Rammohan also said that the government should not follow a policy of vacillation towards Pakistan by sometimes going soft on its approach to talks.

(With inputs from IANS)

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Pakistan Reacts Sharply To U.S. Religious Freedom Charges

China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are also included in the U.S. list of countries accused

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Pakistan
A Pakistani nun holds a candle during a vigil for victims of a deadly suicide bombing in a park, March 28, 2016, in Lahore. VOA

Pakistan is denouncing a U.S. decision to place it on a list of countries Washington says are the worst offenders of religious freedom.

“Pakistan does not need counsel by any individual country how to protect the rights of its minorities… there are serious questions on the credentials and impartiality of the self proclaimed jury involved in this unwarranted exercise,” the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday in a strongly-worded statement.

The reaction comes a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his designation of “countries of particular concern” that allegedly have engaged in or tolerated ”systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

Freedom Violations

The countries on the blacklist are exposed to punitive sanctions, but Pompeo waived them for Pakistan, citing U.S. national interests.

Pakistan had until now been on a U.S. watch list for governments that have “engaged in or tolerated” severe violations of religious freedom.

Pakistan
Pakistani volunteers collect debris from an Ahmadi mosque demolished by an angry mob, in the eastern city of Sialkot. VOA

While rebuking Tuesday’s U.S. pronouncement as “unilateral and politically motivated,” the Pakistani Foreign Ministry noted Pakistan is “a multi-religious and pluralistic society” of more than 200 million people, mostly Muslims.

“Around four percent of our total population comprises citizens belonging to Christian, Hindu, Buddhists and Sikh faiths. Ensuring equal treatment of minorities and their enjoyment of human rights without any discrimination is the cardinal principle of the Constitution of Pakistan,” it said.

Ahmadis most persecuted community

The statement did not mention the Ahmadi sect, which critics say is the most persecuted minority in Pakistan. The constitution bars the community from “posing as Muslims” and from calling their worship places “mosques.”

U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback while defending downgrading of Pakistan reiterated Tuesday the challenges facing the Ahmadi community.

USA, Pakistan
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, speaks to reporters at the State Department in Washington. VOA

“The Pakistani government criminalizes the identification of Ahmadis as Muslims, and then also — and this one has really been difficult and troubling for a lot of people — the government often fails to hold accountable perpetrators of killings and violence against members of religious minorities targeted on account of their religious beliefs or affiliations,” said Brownback.

Blasphemy laws

He cited, among other things, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as a cause for the downgrade of the country’s religious freedom ranking. The laws prescribe the death penalty for those found guilty.

Rights groups have long complained Islamist groups misuse the law to intimidate minorities in the country.

Insulting Islam or its prophet is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan where mere allegations have led to mob lynchings. A former provincial governor, a federal minister, judges and lawyers are among those assassinated in Pakistan by extremists merely for calling for reform of the blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse or for hearing cases and defending alleged blasphemers.

Asia Bibi

In a historic judgement this past October, Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had been on death row for eight years after being convicted of insulting the Prophet Mohammad. The women denied the charges from the outset as an outcome of a local feud and the country’s highest court cited lack of evidence in overturning her conviction by a lower court.

Pakistan
Radical Islamists rally to condemn a Supreme Court decision that acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, who spent eight years on death row accused of blasphemy, in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Bibi and her family have been in hiding since her release. Her lawyer fled Pakistan shortly after the landmark court ruling announced on October 31, saying his life was in danger.

Bibi is awaiting a rehearing of her case by the Supreme Court and is residing in a safe place under government protection, say Pakistani officials.

Pakistan also arrested hundreds of Islamist activists and their leaders last month for staging days of mass violent protests to denounce the court for freeing Bibi.

Also Read: Muslims in Malaysia Rally In Kuala Lumpur To Keep Status

The government has charged the detainees with treason and terrorism and officials have vowed to put them on trial in special courts.

“It’s our hope that they will, the new leadership in Pakistan, will work to improve the situation. There was some encouraging signs seen recently on how they’ve handled some of the recent protesting against the blasphemy laws, and we continue to watch very carefully what’s happening to Asia Bibi,” said Brownback.

China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are also included in the U.S. list of countries accused of committing severe violations of religious freedom. (VOA)