Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Wednesday for the first time shared features of the government’s proposed National Security Policy, stating that the government would soon take leadership of all the political parties on board about the proposed policy and guidance would be sought from them on the future course of action vis-à-vis terrorism.
Winding up debate on an adjournment motion moved by Senator Raza Rabbani about an incident involving a gunman in the federal capital, the interior minister said the government’s security policy would comprise two parts, that is, the strategic security and the internal security, adding that a counterterrorism strategy would also be a part of the policy.
Nisar grilled opposition parties for resorting to political point-scoring over a single incident happening in the federal capital involving the gunman, who had held Islamabad hostage for over five hours.
He also revealed that Mohammad Sikandar, the gunman, had some “international connections” and some names of individuals and institutions had been revealed during the initial investigation, adding that further investigations would be carried out once the doctors gave them a green signal.
Making a policy statement on the floor of the Upper House, the interior minister hit back on the previous governments of the PPP and the PML-Q, saying since 2002 both regimes had led the country to a total disaster but were criticising the PML-N government, when it had taken hold of the reigns of the country just two months ago.
“Let me put the record straight. As many as 3,700 major terrorist incidents took place from 2005 to 2007 across the country and in which 3,500 people were killed. Moreover, another 8,514 incidents of terrorism took place from 2008 to 2012 claiming the lives of 9,600 people and leaving another 25,000 injured. During the same period, the country was attacked (by the US in Abbottabad) but neither the then prime minister nor the president visited Abbottabad. Rather, the then PM termed the attack a great triumph while the president wrote a letter to the US president,” he said.
Nisar said a governor and a federal minister of the then ruling party (PPP) had been killed in broad daylight in the federal capital but despite threats to their lives, the government could not provide security to both its leaders.
“Now the same people are claiming that due to one incident, the state has failed,” he said, adding that rather than political point-scoring, the opposition should provide guidance to the government as was done by the PML-N to the PPP government then.
Nisar also refuted media reports that said he had called the incident “an international conspiracy”, saying that he had not made any such statement.
He said Sikandar had also been arrested at an army checkpost on the Line of Control (LoC) on July 23 and his five-year-old son was also with him then.
The interior minister said once the condition of the accused improved, more investigations would carried out to find out how he had reached the LoC and how he had crossed a police picket there before being arrested by the army.
“There are some connections and we have also got some evidence… This is a sensitive matter so I will not go into details. It has been established that this man has some international connections,” he added.
Nisar informed the House that the government, with the help of a few friendly countries, would be purchasing scanners to ensure security at least at six entry and exit points of the federal capital.
Giving details about the incident involving Sikandar, the minister said he was on way to Lahore and had already crossed Bhera interchange when he was for the first time informed about the incident. He said he remained in touch with the officials but did not give any operational directions.
“When I felt the gravity of the situation, I had reached Saalim interchange and since I was near Lahore and my immediate return through road could have cost me another three and a half hours, I preferred going to Lahore and evaluating the situation. If necessary, I could have returned to Islamabad by air,” he added.
He also took responsibility for delaying firing at the gunman, saying that he had given some directions to the security officials present in the capital.
“But these directions were not operational in nature and rather the SSP was the operational head,” he added. He said he had given directions to the police asking them not to take Sikandar out until he posed a threat to anyone, adding that he told the officials to rather make effort to arrest him alive so that his network and accomplices, if any, could also be tracked down.
“Due to the strategy, today we are receiving useful information about the accused and some sensitive information has come to the fore. Had the police taken him out immediately after restricting him, this mystery would have never been unearthed,” he added.
“I asked them to make sure that Sikandar was two-and-a-half kilometres away from the Red Zone when he was intercepted,” he said, adding that when the accused tried to flee, he was chased and restricted by police.
Nisar said Sikandar had visited one of his friends in Pasroor on August 6 who introduced him to a weapons dealer where he paid Rs 100,000. Later, on August 12, Sikandar again visited Pasroor and got the weapons. Then he left for Islamabad concealing his weapons in a suitcase, he added.
The minister said the accused along with his family entered Islamabad from Rawat where the police could not restrict him as he was accompanied by his family.
Nisar contested that there was no mechanism across the world to check every vehicle thoroughly because it might jam the traffic system. “Therefore, random checking is carried out and mostly it is visual checking.”
He said the vehicle Sikandar had was hired from someone in the capital and someone else (the driver) was driving the vehicle when they were intercepted at the police picket near Kulsoom Plaza on Jinnah Avenue on August 15. “
“But, on stopping, Sikandar took out arms and directed the driver to move towards the Parliament House on gunpoint,” he said, adding that the police chased his vehicle. He said Sikandar later pushed the diver out of the car and himself took control of the vehicle and tried to speed away resorting to aerial firing when police went closer.
“But a police vehicle hit him and restricted him. Thereon, he tried to confront the police,” he said, adding that when his wife and children came out of the vehicle, the situation became complex and so more force was called in.
Nisar said after live media coverage and the local people present on the scene made it difficult for the law enforcement officials to take prompt action. “So it was decided that the operation would be carried out after dusk,” he said, and added that the SSP had convinced the couple to hold talks at some place at G-6.
“Sikandar wanted to hold talks at the UAE or the Iranian embassies or at another place which I will not name due to certain reasons. However, these ideas were rejected,” he said, adding that later Zamurd Khan entered the scene and things triggered out of control resulting into instant firing by police marksmen.
“At least, the opposition should have hailed the performance of the police marksmen who did their job when the opportunity came and they made sure the suspect was not killed,” he added.
The minister regretted that due to the behaviour of some media personnel, action could not be taken against Sikandar on time. He said he had gotten all the codes of conduct from different countries and all the drafts had three similarities for working journalists in such situations.
“In such situations, the media codes across the world have three conditionalities, which are, one, media supports the security forces operations in such conditions, two, live coverage is avoided or delayed coverage is conducted of the event and three, terrorists are not glorified,” he said, adding that that there was a need to build consensus in this regard.
Nisar said sooner the parliamentary leaders in the National Assembly would be briefed on security situation and such briefing would continue off and on. “However, I shall also be expecting constructive suggestions from them.”
Taking part in the debate, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan said the country was passing through a period of transition and the federal government would have to decide whether it wanted to follow the legacy of Quaid-e-Azam or it wanted to follow the model of former dictator General Ziaul Haq.
Referring to the Sikandar incident, Aitzaz said Sikandar, the gunman, reflected the thinking of General Zia while Zamurd Khan replicated the ideology of the Quaid and ZA Bhutto.
He alleged that Ziaul Haq had introduced religiosity in the country’s society and had militarised it at large.
He alleged that the PML-N government was suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome and it was hesitant to take action against terrorists. He warned the government that if strict measures were not adopted, more incidents like of the Sikandar one would occur and the situation might get out of control.
“This is not the time to show cowardice… this is time to be brave like Zamurd Khan,” Aitzaz said.