Spitting in the country’s face

Published: September 19, 2013

The writer is a columnist, a former major of the Pakistan Army and served as press secretary to Benazir Bhutto kamran.shafi@tribune.com.pk

This newspaper of record reported on October 31st 2012 this mind-numbing news: “The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) released a video showing what appeared to be the severed heads of a dozen Pakistani soldiers. Pakistani security officials had already confirmed that 15 of their soldiers went missing three days ago after a clash with the militants.

“TTP Spokesman Sirajud Din sent AFP a video showing a militant commander posing with 12 heads arranged on the ground. ‘Praise be to God that the mujahideen in Bajaur Agency have managed to kill the infidel soldiers of Pakistan,’ he says. ‘Many of them were killed by bullets, 12 of them as you see have been beheaded, you see 12 heads here, and more heads are on the way.’

“The commander is flanked in the footage by armed men including one wielding a huge axe. Confirming the reports of missing soldiers, a senior security official told AFP, ‘At least 15 of our soldiers are still missing.’ Another security official said ‘more or less’ that number of soldiers were missing but declined to give the exact total.”

The Nation, a national newspaper, had the gory and revolting picture, in colour, on its front page. If I recall, I was one of the few who lauded the paper for printing that photograph showing the severed heads of our soldiers arranged on a slope with two terrorists brandishing Kalashnikovs and one, a huge axe, in the background. The soldier’s heads were lying at their feet so to say.

I had hoped that the apologists for the TTP, our various publicity-seeking ‘anchors’ and others of their ilk in the print media, would be shocked into fury, indeed grow spines at the treatment meted out to our soldiers at the hands of the savages. Note that this was not the only incident in which the murderers had cruelly killed our soldiers/militiamen: much more had happened but was never so widely published.

Yet, not a hair on the heads of those who were/are the apologists of the barbarians moved. They, as always, put their brutality on, variously, agents of the CIA/RAW/MOSSAD and went about repeating how all of this was the result of Pakistan joining the fight against terrorism.

Now, whilst this is old hat, one has to remind the reader that, as has oft been said in this space, particularly by Brigadier (retd) Asad Munir who has vast experience of the TTP and Fata, but also by yours truly, that the takeover of Swat/Dir-Bajaur/Fata began way back by Mullah Radio (Fazlullah) in 1994. Let us also recall that he was the son-in-law of Maulvi Sufi Muhammad who took truck-loads of young boys including his own grandsons/grand-nephews into Afghanistan to wage jihad against the Americans in 2002.

Let us recall too, that when it was found that Sufi Muhammad used to leave other’s children behind in Afghanistan to be daisy-cuttered while bringing his own back, the people of Malakand and Swat were looking for his blood as many reports suggested at the time. And what did the government of the Commando do? Lock him away in protective custody in jail: DI Khan, if I am not wrong!

But that is history and much water has flown down the Kabul River since. We ought now to be worried by the complete lack of restraint shown by the rampant TTP despite the offer of talks with them by the government, and who have most recently killed eight army-men and two Khassadars across Dir/Fata including the GOC Swat, Major General Sanaullah Niazi, Lt-Col Tauseef and their driver L/Nk Irfan. Niazi was reportedly an excellent officer who had done much good in the area under his command. Typically, the PTI couldn’t quite hold its horses and had announced the army’s pullout from Swat just a day before the General and his companions were blown up by an IED.

This, in my view, is a watershed moment in this ‘negotiation with the TTP’ thing. Even those unaffected by the beheading of our soldiers have sat up and opened their eyes somewhat at the General’s killing. If even now the state will not send a stern warning to the TTP that enough is quite enough, the TTP will do what most bullies do: mount more attacks on Pakistan and its armed forces giving more space to its supporters to further weaken the resolve of the government.

But, and there is a huge caveat here: General Kayani has said in a well-measured and stern message to the TTP that whilst the army is still willing to give peace a chance (God! How this term grates when dealing with the likes of the Taliban who do not even accept the State of Pakistan and its Constitution) it will not be “coerc(ed)” into “accepting their terms”, and that “the armed forces (have) the ability and the will to take the fight to the militants”.

The question is: have our strategists finally decided that there are no ‘good’ Taliban; that all of the many factions are joined at the hip, be they the Mehsuds or the Haqqanis or the Fazlullahs or the Punjabis or whatever’s? That all of them ultimately pay allegiance to Mullah Omar, that al Qaeda is the Mother of All Umbrellas and that strategic depth in Afghanistan is dead as a dodo? And, finally, that though most difficult it will be, North Waziristan must be cleansed come hell or high water?

I have to say again that while I have faith in the strength that Nawaz Sharif can bring to bear on difficult problems, we are fast running out of time, specially when faced by a hard and cold-hearted enemy who has carried out the most audacious attacks and now smells victory. They are already spitting into our collective face by their heinous and most impudent attacks.

However, the elephant in the room will always be Imran Khan, whose party simply does not understand the extent of the problem. As suggested by a talk show host the other day, is it not better to let him handle negotiations with the TTP, so he knows just what talking to hardened terrorists (many of their ideological and operational leaders foreigners) entails? He’ll either have to put-up or shut-up.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (32)

  • majid
    Sep 19, 2013 - 10:09PM

    balanced article and suggestive of way out that can be persuaded by political leadership.
    PTI, JI and other epilogists should realize the gravity of situation and help to create consensus against this murderous outfit.

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  • csmann
    Sep 19, 2013 - 10:13PM

    Unfortunately TTP apologists are vocal and vicious,and the silent majority meek and quiet.They will win ,as always.

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  • Arzoo
    Sep 19, 2013 - 10:29PM

    While the writer is spot on about the Talibans, he is wrong about Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he says: “I have faith in the strength that Nawaz Sharif can bring to bear on difficult problems.” The Prime Minister, unless he has diametrically transformed from the past, has a track record of not making mistakes, only blunders, when it comes to strategic decisions, a la his decision to promote Musharraf to head the Army.

    Also, while Imran Khan, as the writer suggests, may “not understand the extent of the problem,” what did ANP, which understood the problem, accomplish during its’ tenure??? I believe the will to defeat the forces of darkness just does not exist in the Pakistani Establishment. India and the Americans and, to a lesser extent, others have been attempting to point this out to Pakistan. Let’s hope they get it before it’s too late.

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  • ModiFied
    Sep 19, 2013 - 10:43PM

    Looking back into the history convinces me that Pakistan does not have guts to deal with these trouble makers. I will save these very lines when author writes on the same stuff next year.

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  • MSS
    Sep 19, 2013 - 11:09PM

    Thank you Shafi Sahib. The likes of TTP have clear aims and designed their strategies accordingly. It is the Governments of Pakistan who do are muddling along, PPP and PML-N alike. TTP want full control of Pakistan. Most people are wrong in assuming that TTP want Sharia rule. Sharia is just a weapon in their arsenal.
    In my opinion, IK was a brilliant cricketer but is a mediocre politician with an IQ lower than the average of Pakistani MNAs. If he still cannot see what TTP want then he should leave take a tour of the infected (I do not mean ‘affected’) areas without security around him.

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  • Parvez
    Sep 19, 2013 - 11:57PM

    Now that was an excellent and well reasoned piece of writing and the fact that you kept it toned down made it all the more effective.
    On the issue of the armed forces dealing with the TTP the perception that is fast developing is that the TTP control the narrative and as such are in a position of strength. It does not take a strategist to realise that by doing so the TTP have won half the battle, if not the war. Correcting this imbalance is vital.

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  • sabi
    Sep 19, 2013 - 11:58PM

    I agree with each and every word of this op-ed and share the pain with the author.I’m hopeful that one day this army of ours will crush this menace with iron hand.They will offer peace talks with Pakistan without conditions it will be rejected.They will beg mercy it will be rejected.The first to leave the field will be ghairat brigade followed by fake leaders followed by mullah.This is the final destiny of hypocrites.No place to live.May we see this promised day soon.
    Kudos and well wishes to the author.

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  • RR Iyer
    Sep 20, 2013 - 12:13AM

    Re; Mr Shafi’s excellent summation:”have our strategists finally decided that there are no ‘good’ Taliban; that all of the many factions are joined at the hip, be they the Mehsuds or the Haqqanis or the Fazlullahs or the Punjabis or whatever’s? That all of them ultimately pay allegiance to Mullah Omar, that al Qaeda is the Mother of All Umbrellas and that strategic depth in Afghanistan is dead as a dodo?”
    After my last detailed post was blocked through no rule-break of mine-I did not entertain any wish to write on ET. However, the times are perilous and an exception can be made,
    The normally unflappable Major. Shafi went off the deep end on his India comments recently, but he is spot-on here. Pakistan cannot negotiate with terrorists who are destroying it military assets, killing its top soldiers and citizens-Gen Sanaullah was a GOC-Swat and a war hero! Are you serious? The TTP is out for your blood, and if you do not mount an aggressive campaign-with no holds barred and no quarter given to them- Pakistan in its existing state will no longer be the Quaid’s vision of a liberal republic in the comity of nations.
    Is this what the elite of Pakistan-military and political leaders, business people and leading intellectuals-really want the end-result to be, an Islamic Republic under Taliban-driven Sharia Law, and the future state where all battles against the rest of the world will be fomented?
    Unless I am seriously mistaken, the above-mentioned Pak elite needs to wake up and soon, to pull their beloved country from the brink of extinction against forces that will soon be beyond their control!
    Best wishes to liberal pakistanis in this quest!
    RR IyerRecommend

  • sabi
    Sep 20, 2013 - 12:25AM

    @ModiFied:
    ”I will save these very lines when author writes on the same stuff next year.”
    Be sure table will turn and it will turn suddenly.Don’t you see change in the air.

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  • External Hand
    Sep 20, 2013 - 12:41AM

    “the armed forces (have) the ability and the will to take the fight to the militants”
    This is not how the commander of one of the world’s biggest armies talks. This is how a cornered guerrilla insurgent would defiantly say when surrounded by a superior force on all sides.
    Very cowardly, especially after the beheadings and the general’s assassination.

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  • WB
    Sep 20, 2013 - 12:48AM

    Who is the PM of Pakistan?? Who is the supreme commander of the armed forces?? Is it Imran Khan? Who has the authority to launch any kind of attack, is it Imran Khan?? IK is not even the leader of the opposition, so why all of a sudden he is the answer to all the problems?? The author is a long time hater & basher of IK, his notion that it is IK who is holding us back is ridiculous!! PMLN has won a heavy mandate, so instead of flying to China or Turkey or of talking about bullet trains, Nawaz Sharif should fix the taliban issue, and needs to stop hiding behind APCs and IK!Recommend

  • Feroz
    Sep 20, 2013 - 12:53AM

    When there is something to fight for it is better to fight. When the State is too weak, there will be desertions and no ability to fight. Is this the ultimate goal ?

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  • Green Tiger
    Sep 20, 2013 - 1:22AM

    IK has already suggested a formula to stop Taliban. Withdrawal of forces from KP & FP, stopping drone strikes. Then he would negotiate with Taliban & bring peace.

    The Goverment & aArmy doesn’t listen & want $$$’s from western countries and send troops. Now, who is responsible for the death of soldiers? The NWFP was a peaceful province until the war of terror begun.
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  • Arindom
    Sep 20, 2013 - 2:07AM

    It amazes me no end! To see an entire nation confused to even speak in one voice, let alone act; in the face of an openly murderous organisation on a killing spreee of it’s soldiers and it’s citizens!! Just amazing!!

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  • gp65
    Sep 20, 2013 - 2:54AM

    @WB: Not a fan of IK – but your post is extremely well reasoned and logical. I wish I could recommend it a 100 times.Recommend

  • Sexton Blake
    Sep 20, 2013 - 3:25AM

    Unfortunately, the US, aided by Pakistan, has been rampaging around the Eastern part of the Sub-Continent for nearly 13 years now, causing untold deaths and destruction, without attempting to have any meaningful dialogue with what they pretend to perceive as terrorists. The US invaded Afghanistan illegally, and the previous incumbents have been defending and fighting back ever since. Until the TTP are recognized as an official body and negotiated with as an official body the mayhem will continue. Recommend

  • Zalmai
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:26AM

    ET moderators have banned me and I am hoping this post is allowed without redactions.

    Unless and until Pakistan exorcises and extricates itself from the Islamist strategic assets and devises a policy that can reduce the influence of fallacious ideologues serving the security agencies, nothing is going to change. You cannot have people like Samiul Haq openly advocating a change of regime in Afghanistan and calling Mullah Omar an angel.

    Pakistan will flounder in intellectual isolation despite its enormous potential to be a progressive nation because its intellectual elite lack pratical intelligence to bring the nation out of this morass.

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  • Arzoo
    Sep 20, 2013 - 7:44AM

    @WB, @Arindom, @gp65: Fully agree with your points of view. Sometimes a fact is right in front staring at someone and that someone can be blinded by false priorities and beliefs. It’s not that the menace cannot be tackled by Pakistan. Pakistan is quite capable to handle it. I wish someone can educate us as to what it is that is stopping the Establishment from putting the country on a saner path.

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  • Arzoo
    Sep 20, 2013 - 8:20AM

    @Sexton Blake: Us considers Talibans as terrorists and they have a policy not to negotiate with terrorists. Neither should Pakistan.

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  • Shahzad
    Sep 20, 2013 - 10:07AM

    @Arzoo:
    Perhaps this article will explain the establishments reservations of opening to many fronts…..“This is what we think happened,” the intelligence source would conclude. “There were six of them, out of formation. That explains why they went out at night, maybe after a local village girl, as they have in the past. The locals caught them and shot them at point blank range…most possibly they were angry. Remember, no rounds were fired from officially issued weapons, and there were also reports on their media that their weapons were stolen, which is a good alibi. The sixth guy escaped and probably shot himself in the foot. He’s still with the army. They haven’t exposed him to anyone for interviews.”
    http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-203233-Once-upon-a-time-in-the-valley-of-death

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  • Naseer
    Sep 20, 2013 - 10:27AM

    Excellent article. I think we are fooling ourselves into believeing that a peace pact with these savages will work.

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  • Kamal
    Sep 20, 2013 - 11:25AM

    When there are skeletons in your cupboard you are always on the defensive. The decades of immoral and downright criminal deprivation and denial of the rights of the masses (the poor) by the politicians, the feudals, the Generals, the Industrialists, the bureaucrats, have brought us to this state of paralysis and vacuum. And vacuums of fairness and good are usually then filled with undesirable elements and consequences.

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  • meekal ahmed
    Sep 20, 2013 - 3:00PM

    I agree with those who say NS is incapable of taking bold decisions. Their first 100 days have been deeply disappointing and a farce.

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  • xyz
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:39PM

    KS has not minced any words but also gave an appropriate heading to this article. The killing of GOC and eight soldiers should not be taken as a routine matter, but the army should have stopped the pull out and necessarily taken a very strong action to avenge the killing of its senior most and well decorated General. The talks with militant organisation in any part of the world is held by a country in the position of strength, but Pakistan is an exception to the rule. After this sad and humiliating incident, how on the earth can any meaningful talks be held with the TTP who would be simply dictating its own terms ?

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  • Mirza
    Sep 20, 2013 - 6:53PM

    This Op Ed is factual and spot on. Thanks KS for being a voice of reason. Keep it up!

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  • nizamuddin khan
    Sep 20, 2013 - 7:31PM

    Would it not be possible for the Prime Minister to issue an executive order at this point for the Army to enforce law and order. In my opinion, Imran Khan is playing the same game that Nawaz Sharif did when PPP was running the show. The tactic is to oppose the ruling govt. until you come into power. Once you are in power you would do exactly what you opposed before. This tactic allows you to have the previous party to naturally support you since they feel that you have finally come around. If the opposition does not support you then they continue to loose credibility.

    Gen. Kayani is taking the appropriate stand and more power to him. It is important to note that our internal enemy has already succeeded in stalling the peace process with India. I don’t this these internal elements will stop to create havoc anytime soon.

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  • Pmahmud
    Sep 20, 2013 - 7:36PM

    Where is my comment?

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  • Rex Minor
    Sep 20, 2013 - 8:54PM

    Et moderator; why do yo sencor the input from the bloggers, if one does not write your mind. The author is a retired army man and is well advised to learn about diplomacy and peace talks instead of following divisive stand of confrontation. Pakistan army has no role to play in the affairs of the population of the demoratic country!!

    Rex Minor

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  • Sep 20, 2013 - 10:10PM

    Not a day goes by without news about Taliban attacks. We all understand the dilemma the people of Pakistan are in. How do you speak “peace” with people who will not stop their attacks? Even after killing high ranking army officers, they say that they will continue with their attacks? We have seen this enemy who kill without remorse both civilians and security personal and proudly boasts about their evil crimes against the people. Just today, a bomb blast in a Peshawar mosque killed three. In the situation we are in, the journey to peace, is a two way street. The TTP has to realize that they have to give up their ideology of violence and join in the nation building process. People of the region have already rejected their ideology of violence, and unless the TTP changes, the road to peace will remain a difficult journey.

    Abdul Quddus
    DET-United States Central Command

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  • Sexton Blake
    Sep 21, 2013 - 4:32AM

    @Arzoo:
    I agree with what you said, sort of. The US is not negotiating with the Taliban who are living in their own neck of the woods trying to get rid of the Americans who are the real terrorists, and should not be in Afghanistan. What is really happening is that America is spreading nonsense propaganda, which fools unthinking people who have a low IQ..

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  • poleturtle
    Sep 21, 2013 - 4:32PM

    80% of the citizens of this country are either Talibanised in their thinking or are cowards who will look the other way. The rest do not matter !!

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  • SBK
    Sep 22, 2013 - 10:23AM

    Between Gen Kayani’s statement, “the armed forces (have) the ability and the will to take the fight to the militants” & Mr Arzoo’s opinion, “I believe the will to defeat the forces of darkness just does not exist in the
    Pakistani Establishment.”, I tend to agree more with Arzoo’s opinion!
    According to me, Pakistani Armed Forces are not having any more the fighting qualities they had in post-Independence era when Shafisahab wore the uniform. Today they are scared to their core of losing their undeserving importance, their fat-salaried jobs, even fatter perks & almost no responsibilities.
    So better they demonstrate their abIlity to defeat TTP and then boast about what they can do. They are OK to cower down the unarmed Pakistani ‘awam’ but a far cry when it comes well-armed & well-motivated enemy like TTP!
    ET: I am postung my above comment for the fifth time & this is my last attempt! Hope you publish it. SBK

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