Karachi: As Pakistan grieves its children in Peshawar, a national consensus has emerged to destroy the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan terrorists responsible. This massacre is another reminder that over the past 30 years, Pakistan has been the principal victim of terrorism. It experienced the Soviet-Najibullah attacks during the 1980s; Shia-Sunni violence during the 1990s; and Al Qaeda and TTP terrorism over the last decade. Until the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, terrorism was an “external” threat for Pakistan; it was “internalised” due to two strategic mistakes: Pakistan’s sponsorship of Islamic extremists against the Soviets and the decision to support religious militants, rather than the J&K Liberation Front during the 1990s.
The ghosts of these strategic mistakes continue to haunt Pakistan in its current battle against the TTP. Al Qaeda emerged from the detritus of the anti-Soviet Arab and other foreign fighters. It has masterminded many of the worst terrorist attacks against Pakistan. To eliminate the TTP Pakistan needs to implement a plan to kill terrorists. It must also take bold measures to counter the causes for extremism in Pakistan: ignorance, greed, fear and poverty. The hate and bigotry being spread from Pakistan’s madrasas; the corruption that allows terrorists to roam the streets and infiltrate institutions; the crimes that generate financing for terrorist organisations; the fear which provides them impunity from prosecution, and the absence of employment which results in recruits must all be addressed.
As a first step, all political parties should be required to openly condemn the TTP and its associates and break any links they have with them. However, terrorism has a vital external dimension which requires to be honestly addressed by Pakistan and the “international community”.
To do so, it should be recalled that most of today’s terrorist organisations mutated from insurgent groups initially sponsored by states against adversaries. This holds true for the Tamil Tigers, Al Qaeda, the TTP, the Haqqanis, the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), the Etim and the Islamic State. Both commentators often focus on Pakistan’s support to militant groups in Afghanistan and Kashmir. But this is a “game” which several states have played. Efforts to eliminate terrorism have floundered so far as rival powers have sought to outlaw groups threatening them while excluding others they support. The UN has not even agreed on a definition of “terror.”
Today, there is an opportunity to build a genuine global consensus to eliminate terrorism from Pakistan, this region and internationally. The major powers have a stake in combating terrorist groups that pose a threat to their security. The Etim targets China; the IMU aims to destabilise Central Asia; the Chechens threaten Russia. The US is targeted by Al Qaeda, the IS and their associates. Iran faces IS and Jundullah. Saudi Arabia is battling Al Qaeda and potentially threatened by the IS. Pakistan confronts the TTP and the Balochistan Liberation Army, both supported by Afghan and India. In building such a global consensus, there are new possibilities for agreements between Pakistan and Afghanistan and perhaps even with India.
President Ashraf Ghani appears genuine in his desire to rebuild a close relationship with Pakistan. If so, Pakistan should give all help in stabilising Afghanistan and supporting the Afghan “unity” government. Pakistan has offered to help reconciliation in Afghanistan if Kabul desires this. In exchange, President Ghani has offered to target the TTP’s havens. The extent of Pakistan’s influence over the Afghan Taliban, led by Mullah Omar, is uncertain, especially in the wake of Zarb-i-Azb, which has reportedly disrupted not only the TTP but also the Haqqanis. Any intermediation involving the Afghan Taliban should be made conditional on their openly breaking their links with the TTP, Al Qaeda and terrorist groups such as the Etim. In any event, the “strategic value” of the Afghan Taliban for Pakistan pales in significance when weighed against the importance of strategic relationships with China, the US and Afghanistan.
Kabul’s cooperation will help to also end Indian support to the TTP and BLA. However, it would be wise for both countries to evolve an understanding for mutual restraint in Kashmir. If the Modi government holds back from the planned steps to change occupied Kashmir’s current status and allows genuine democratic rights to the Kashmiris, Pakistan should do all possible to restrain the “Kashmir Jihad Council” from any provocative actions. Such regional arrangements with Afghanistan and India could be broadened to include other “stakeholders”: Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia and the US. Cooperation can be extended to jointly combating Etim, IMU and the IS.
The challenge cannot be underestimated. It is difficult for states to surrender tactical assets and advantages. It is even more difficult to eliminate groups motivated by local and national grievances and religious convictions, however misplaced. Today, all the major terrorist groups feed off the same narrative: injustice and suppression of Muslims across several geographies. Part of a global consensus must offer an effective counter to this narrative and erode its appeal to disaffected Muslim youth across the world.
By arrangement with Dawn