The terrorist attack at the Bacha Khan university campus in Charsadda near Peshawar killed scores of young students, including girls in their dormitories. The death of innocents is specially painful and is an aspect of crime against humanity. This one in particular was reminiscent of the strike by the Pakistan Taliban on a Peshawar school in December 2014 in which 141 people, mostly children, became cannon fodder in the bigger game that Pakistani state power has played in nurturing jihadi terrorism in pursuance of its foreign policy aims, especially against India and Afghanistan, in recent decades.
Yet Pakistan lives in denial and officially seeks to paint itself as a victim of terrorism as much as those countries to which its state-sponsored terrorists are despatched — as was the case with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks or the strike at the IAF base at Pathankot at the commencement of this year. Even so, it is evident that encouraging jihadis to flourish — some estimates suggest that the numbers of the trained irregulars under arms, usually raised through the madrasa system in what has come to be known as Pakistan’s mullah-military alliance, could be as high as around a tenth of the Pakistan Army — has compromised Pakistan’s internal security over the years.
A truly volatile situation has emerged. Tackling it has proved difficult because members of the security forces themselves are said to have been bitten by the jihadi bug. When the Peshawar schoolchildren were shot in cold blood by the terrorists, the narrative that was sedulously promoted was that India was behind the attack, although the attackers had themselves said they were the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan which has had a close nexus with Al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (whose fighters are still permitted to remain in Pakistan). It wasn’t so long ago, we may recall, that the TTP was said by the Pakistan Army to be a “force multiplier” in combat against India. We hope that the same anti-India narrative will not be surreptitiously peddled again. This time, a faction of the TTP has claimed responsibility, for fights sometimes do break out among jihadi gangs, usually over money and resources, or leadership questions.
The situation can be transformed only if Pakistan can summon the political will to root out jihadism, and that means its military has to change. If Islamabad can help with catching those responsible for the Pathankot attack, instead of stalling on technicalities, it would suggest that it is no longer differentiating between “good” and “bad” terrorist. That will be a great start in its own fight against extremism — and evolution....