The News : Escape routes

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Escape routes

December 18, 2007

The dramatic news of the escape of Rashid Rauf, an alleged terrorist wanted by British authorities in connection with a London-based plot to blow up several aircraft over the Atlantic in August 2006 comes, of course, as an immense embarrassment. Just as plans to extradite Rauf to the UK were reported to have been completed, he apparently escaped from police custody while at the Islamabad district courts. Two policemen have been detained and a four-member committee, headed by an additional secretary, set up to investigate the incident. The use of the word 'apparent' in describing the escape of Rauf is important. His lawyer and his family insist that Rauf is yet another victim of enforced disappearance, and has been whisked away by secret agencies to an unknown place -- possibly to avoid him being questioned by British authorities. They state they are extremely concerned about his safety. All charges against Rashid Rauf within the country had been dropped, and his continued detention, under Maintenance of Public Order regulations, was stated to have been largely in compliance with a request from the UK.

As with so much else that happens in the country, the whole truth, or even a substantial part of it, is unlikely to enter into the limited sphere of public knowledge. In fact, it is sometimes uncertain if all that happens in the country is even known to members of government -- particularly when the information relates to issues like the 'war on terror', conducted largely in secret, by shadowy agencies and those that control them. The suspicion that, like others before him, Rauf has been covertly handed over to a foreign government has again been voiced -- and it is possible only to guess where the line between fact and fiction lies. But what is certain is that the war against terror can never be won unless people are involved in it and the realities made known to them. In this regard it is important the war be fought for them, and not merely to please governments in western capitals.

Whatever happened in the case of Rashid Rauf, the official version stating he slipped away from custody while awaiting a court hearing, does not shed a positive light on the state of the police system in the country. As is the case with dozens of other 'getaways' reported each year, this one too almost certainly took place with at least some degree of police connivance -- obtained most likely through bribery. The possibility that ideological conviction was also used cannot be ruled out. This has happened in the past, and certainly, at one time, the defunct Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) had focused energies on winning over allies within the police force -- a strategy that proved of immense benefit to the extremist outfit. Even as the search for Rauf continues, and the British authorities, who had agreed to return two wanted Baloch nationalists, including Nawabzada Hyrbyr Marri to Pakistan in return for Rauf, continue their wait -- there is an urgent need to examine the broader security network in the country. The existence of deeply entrenched corruption presents great risks, while the possibility of support for extremist views within the police force and in other key segments of the state apparatus needs to be investigated. The escape of Rashid Rauf has once more exposed the many flaws in the present system of police investigation and especially handling of sensitive prisoners -- and these need to be urgently plugged if there can be any hope of winning the battle against terror, and indeed against crime of all kinds in general.