After Peshawar, Pakistan’s litmus test

Nawaz Sharif’s new blueprint to defeat terrorism, a monumental task, is not one for Pakistan alone. Assuming that Islamabad is serious about rolling back what is an existential threat, the challenge has to be dealt with locally, regionally and internationally

January 01, 2015 02:47 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:29 pm IST

December 16 is a day of shame for Pakistan. On this day the Pakistan Army, the custodian of the nation’s core values and national interests, faced the ultimate humiliation of surrendering before the Indian Army at Dacca. Forty-three years later to the day, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a terrorist group nurtured by the Pakistan Army, carried out the most barbaric and macabre >massacre of over 130 schoolchildren to avenge the Army’s six month-old Operation Zarb-e-Azb. However, India-haters and India-baiters — this includes Hafiz Saeed and Gen. Pervez Musharraf — were quick to blame India. Only those living in denial in Pakistan could have defended this atrocity.

Long ago, the Pakistan Army created armed militias, which it called the Mujahideen and the Taliban (terrorist proxies to the rest of the world), to act as force multipliers of Pakistan’s foreign policy against its neighbours. Instead, some of these strategic assets are now rebounding and rather than facilitating strategic depth in Afghanistan and India, have secured strategic space for themselves within Pakistan. Successive Army Chiefs, while admitting that the primary threat is from within, are unable and unwilling to take their eye off the eastern front — India — but with reason. Without this bogey, the Army would lose its primacy in the hierarchy of state order. Pakistan remains the epicentre of terrorism.

A turning point? The statistics are mind-boggling. In 2013, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), jihadi terrorism worldwide resulted in the killing of 18,000 people. Of these, 80 per cent were Muslims with Pakistan figuring among the five worst-affected countries; the others being Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Since 9/11, nearly 60,000 terrorists, civilians and security force personnel have been killed in Pakistan. The Pakistan Taliban and al-Qaeda have killed 15,000 security personnel — nearly as many have died in wars against India. These figures show that the enterprise of bleeding India through a thousand cuts is working in the reverse. Pakistani apologists say their country is the biggest victim of terrorism without conceding that it is hara-kiri.

The Peshawar incident has reportedly united the political opposition and government and one hopes that the India-centric military which is substantially Islamised and radicalised, will now be willing to mainstream its misguided Muslim brothers. After Peshawar, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif outlined his vision to tackle the unaddressed challenges of terrorism and extremism, making four salient points. The first was ending the divergence over the ownership of the war (since many claim Pakistan is fighting America’s war) and his categorical statement that “this is our war”.

Also read:>Many faces of terrorism

Second, he said, “Pakistan’s soil will not be allowed to be used for acts of terrorism against a neighbouring country.” Afghanistan has been a victim of cross-border terrorism for the last three decades. Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif has made several visits to Kabul with one immediately after the Peshawar incident to get Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani to act against TTP sanctuaries in the Kunar province of East Afghanistan where its supremo, Mullah Fazlullah is holed up. Why should Mr. Ghani oblige Pakistan unless there is a quid pro quo ? At best there will be notional operations but only a U.S. drone can down the dreaded mullah. Generals John Campbell (ISAF), Sher Mohammad Karimi (ANA) and Sharif have met to coordinate military operations on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. On the eastern front, India has not forgotten the pledges made by Gen. Musharraf at least four times after the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s strike against the Indian Parliament, “to end terrorism, permanently, visibly, irreversibly and to the satisfaction of India.” Still, Mumbai happened.

Third, Mr. Sharif said, Pakistan would not rest till the last terrorist was eliminated from its soil. This assertion is most relevant to the fourth point, when for the first time anyone in Pakistan has removed the distinction between good and bad terrorists though its definition is clear: the ones who hurt Pakistan are bad and have to be hunted down. Those who hurt inimical neighbours are good and an enduring asset. Mr. Sharif’s new blueprint to defeat terrorism, root and branch, is a monumental task and not one for Pakistan alone. Assuming that Islamabad is serious about rolling back what is an existential threat, the challenge has to be dealt with at three levels: local, regional and international.

Reconfiguring Pakistan In the New Year, all Pakistanis must assemble at the equivalent of the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore to pledge to eliminate dahshatgardi (terrorism). This upheaval, which is of Pakistan’s own making, has to be tackled on the political, military, economic and ideological planks. In this, the Army, the government, the political opposition and civil society should be on the same page. A task as mammoth as reconfiguring Pakistan is to become a national mission. The immediate priority should be the western front where the use of force has to be recalibrated — it must be more nimble and not the kinetic employment of air and artillery. More boots are required on the ground with a focus on winning hearts and minds. The all-out use of force has resulted in unintended collateral damage leading to a sea of internally displaced persons and refugees and scores of casualties. Counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism strategies need to be rebooted. The new 17-point action plan will have to feed into the existing National Counter Terrorism Authority in which the Army Chief has a key role. It envisages the formation of a special 5,000-strong anti-terrorism force with fast-track military courts to convict terrorists and ban malicious speech. Madrassa syllabi is being revised.

Concurrent with military operations, an ideological campaign has to be waged using social media, the Internet, the print and electronic media, clerics and places of worship. The Army’s ongoing counter radicalisation and de-radicalisation programmes have to be revamped. A similar plan to disarm and demobilise the good Taliban, like the LeT in Punjab and Azad Kashmir will be the litmus test of Islamabad’s earnestness to root out terrorism. That perhaps may be in the distant future but at the very least it can order the closing down of terrorist camps and rein in the offending groups. Simultaneously, it can restrain Hafiz Saeed and his ilk from baiting India. Islamabad can carry out visible measures to prevent another Mumbai from happening. It will need to take other measures to live up to the commitments made by Mr. Sharif, post-Peshawar. But for any realistic outcomes to happen, Gen. Sharif has to give his assent.

For a regional effort The regional effort should commence with India offering to resume the composite dialogue which must include Afghanistan in the context of the U.S.’s withdrawal and misgivings about India’s role in financing and training the TTP. Afghanistan unquestionably is the region’s priority issue and linked to Pakistan’s war against the TTP (alas not the Haqqanis, the Afghan Taliban and the Hizb-e-Islami). The defusion of these strategic assets or at least their reining in by the Pakistan Army will be conducive to the peace process in Afghanistan. A joint and special AfPak Commission is in the offing which must ultimately lead to an Af-Pak-India trilateral intergovernmental group which can address the menace of terrorism under both the UN and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) conventions on counter-terrorism. What India and Pakistan can do together and along with Kabul towards stabilising Afghanistan and the region has been discussed on Track II since 2007. Its potential is profound.

China has indicated serious interest in filling the vacuum created by the withdrawal of the West in Afghanistan. Mr. Ghani has urged China to persuade its best friend and ally, Pakistan, to help in the reconciliation process. Pakistan holds the key to restoring a modicum of calm on the western front. Russia, Pakistan’s newest friend, knows full well that the Mujahideen (the present Taliban) of its era takes its orders from Islamabad. Russia and China are current strategic allies and can pressure Pakistan into freezing cross-border activities in Afghanistan. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has both China and Russia as its lead members with Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and India as observers. Its primary pursuit is counter-terrorism. Regional networking of the SCO and SAARC (which has a convention on counter-terrorism) in coordinating and implementing regional and international agreements on combating terrorism is feasible.

Internationally, the UN Secretary General, Ban ki-Moon, has declared 2015 as the year to focus on the elimination of terrorism. India, as a long-suffering victim of cross-border terrorism, has periodically sponsored comprehensive resolutions at the UN on combating terrorism. During his recent visit to Australia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid stress on taking action against those who harbour terrorists, empowering states that will fight them and having a policy of no distinction between terrorist groups and delinking religion and terrorism.

After Peshawar, Mr. Sharif has unveiled a grand vision to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Not withstanding the army of disbelievers and sceptics, Gen. Raheel and Mr. Nawaz Sharif deserve the space, the support and the good luck in implementing it.

(Gen. Ashok Mehta is convenor of the Track II India-Pakistan and the India-Afghanistan Policy Group.)

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