Pak­istan’s new leaf?

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

As US Sec­re­tary of State, Hil­lary Clin­ton bluntly told Pak­istan in 2011, “you can’t keep snakes in your back­yard and ex­pect them only to bite your neigh­bours.” But her warn­ing (“even­tu­ally those snakes are go­ing to turn on their keeper”), like those of other Amer­i­can of­fi­cials over the years, in­clud­ing pres­i­dents and CIA chiefs, went un­heeded.

The snake-keeper’s deep­en­ing trou­bles were ex­em­pli­fied by the re­cent mas­sacre of 132 school­child­ren in Pe­shawar by mil­i­tants no longer un­der the con­trol of Pak­istan’s gen­er­als. Such hor­ror is the di­rect re­sult of the sys­tem­atic man­ner in which the Pak­istani mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment has reared ji­hadist mil­i­tants since the 1980s as an in­stru­ment of state pol­icy against In­dia and Afghanistan. By con­tin­u­ing to nur­ture ter­ror­ist prox­ies, the Pak­istani mil­i­tary has en­abled other mil­i­tants to be­come en­trenched in the coun­try, mak­ing the cul­ture of ji­had per­va­sive.

The Pe­shawar mas­sacre was not the first time that the world’s lead­ing state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism be­came a ter­ror vic­tim. But the at­tack has un­der­scored how the con­tra­dic­tion be­tween bat­tling one set of ter­ror groups while shield­ing oth­ers for cross-bor­der un­der­tak­ings has hob­bled the Pak­istani state.

As a re­sult, the ques­tion many are ask­ing is whether, in the wake of the Pe­shawar killings, the Pak­istani mil­i­tary, in­clud­ing its rogue In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI) agency, will be will­ing to break its ties with mil­i­tant groups and dis­man­tle the state-run ter­ror­ist in­fra­struc­ture. Un­for­tu­nately, de­vel­op­ments in re­cent months, in­clud­ing in the af­ter­math of the Pe­shawar at­tack, of­fer lit­tle hope.

On the con­trary, with the mil­i­tary back in de facto con­trol, the civil­ian gov­ern­ment led by Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif is in no po­si­tion to shape de­vel­op­ments. And, de­spite the in­creas­ing blow­back from state-aided mil­i­tancy, the gen­er­als re­main too wed­ded to spon­sor­ing ter­ror­ist groups that are un­der United Na­tions sanc­tions – in­clud­ing Lashkar-e-Tayy­iba (LeT) and the Haqqani net­work – to re­verse course.

Re­liance on ji­hadist ter­ror has be­come part of the gen­er­als’ DNA. Who can for­get their re­peated de­nial that they knew the where­abouts of Osama bin Laden be­fore he was killed by US naval com­man­dos in a 2011 raid on his safe house in the Pak­istani gar­ri­son city of Ab­bot­tabad? Re­cently, in an ap­par­ent slip, a se­nior civil­ian of­fi­cial – Sharif’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Sar­taj Aziz – said that Pak­istan should do noth­ing to stop mil­i­tants who do not in­tend to harm Pak­istan.

Pak­istan is al­ready a quasi-failed state. Its anti-In­dia iden­tity is no longer suf­fi­cient to stem its mount­ing con­tra­dic­tions, which are most ap­par­ent in the two in­car­na­tions of the Tal­iban: the Afghan Tal­iban, which is the Pak­istani mil­i­tary’s sur­ro­gate, and the Pak­istani Tal­iban – for­mally known as Tehreek-e-Tal­iban Pak­istan (TTP) – which is the mil­i­tary’s neme­sis. Pak­istan also pro­vides sanc­tu­ary to the Afghan Tal­iban’s chief, Mul­lah Mo­ham­mad Omar (and also har­bours a well-known in­ter­na­tional fugi­tive, the In­dian or­gan­ised crime boss Da­wood Ibrahim).

Mean­while, Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the ISI’s largest sur­ro­gate ter­ror or­gan­i­sa­tion, LeT, re­mains the gen­er­als’ dar­ling, lead­ing a pub­lic life that mocks Amer­ica’s $10 mil­lion bounty on his head and the UN’s in­clu­sion of him on a ter­ror­ist list. Ear­lier this month, Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties aided a large pub­lic rally by Saeed in La­hore, in­clud­ing by run­ning spe­cial trains to ferry in par­tic­i­pants, so that the ar­chi­tect of the Novem­ber 2008 Mumbai ter­ror­ist at­tack (among many oth­ers) could project him­self as some sort of mes­siah of the Pak­istani peo­ple.

Yet none of that stopped Pak­istan’s Chief of Army Staff, Ra­heel Sharif, and ISI Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Rizwan Akhter from rush­ing to Kabul after the Pe­shawar at­tack to de­mand that Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani and the US-led mil­i­tary coali­tion ex­tra­dite TTP chief Mul­lah Fa­zlul­lah or al­low Pak­istani forces to go in after him. In other words, they seek the help of Afghanistan and the US to fight the Pak­istani Tal­iban while un­flinch­ingly aid­ing the Afghan Tal­iban, which has been killing Afghan and NATO troops.

Such is the gen­er­als’ Janus-faced ap­proach to ter­ror­ism that six years after the Mumbai at­tacks, Pak­istan has yet to try the seven Pak­istani per­pe­tra­tors in its cus­tody. In­deed, un­der the cover of in­dig­na­tion over the Pe­shawar at­tack, the lead­ing sus­pect in the case – UN-des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist Zaki-urRehman Lakhvi, who served as LeT’s op­er­a­tions chief – se­cured bail. In­ter­na­tional out­rage soon forced Pak­istan to place him in pre­ven­tive de­ten­tion for up to three months.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity should stop plac­ing its hope in some abrupt change of heart on the gen­er­als’ part. Cre­at­ing a mod­er­ate Pak­istan at peace with it­self can only be a long-term project, be­cause it hinges on em­pow­er­ing a fee­ble civil so­ci­ety and, ul­ti­mately, rein­ing in the mil­i­tary’s role in pol­i­tics.

As long as the mil­i­tary, in­tel­li­gence, and nu­clear es­tab­lish­ments re­main un­ac­count­able to the civil­ian gov­ern­ment, Pak­istan, the re­gion, and the world will con­tinue to be at risk from the ji­hadist snake pit that the coun­try has be­come.

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