Ihe United States Congress Report on Anti-Terrorism was not acceptable to Pakistan, according to a report of April 7 quoting a Foreign Office spokesperson. The report had reiterated that Pakistan still had no ‘clear path’ to end terrorism. This was another way of saying that Pakistan has a double-faced policy towards terrorist groups operating from its soil. While some are fought against, others are not touched. This is not a new complaint as this policy was put into practice after 2001, when former president General Pervez Musharraf became an ally of the United States when the US attacked the Taliban government in Afghanistan. Musharraf wanted to have it both ways: Take American money to fight the Taliban while also protecting some of the militants in the Quetta Shura to acquire ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan when the American finally leave. Certain groups in Punjab, which also carry out sectarian killings, are protected so that they can be used against India. The army and intelligence agencies view these groups as strategic assets because of their India-centric perception of foreign policy. That the same groups have a world view which they may impose, with force and coercion, on the public and that this may violate human rights, womens’ rights and increase anarchy in the country are considerations which do not enter into the equation.
The policy has had several effects. First, it never fooled the Americans who have been constantly saying ‘do more’ to the Pakistanis. Secondly, it has made bitter enemies of certain militant groups which have attacked the police, the army and the intelligence agencies to take revenge and destabilise the regime. Thirdly, it has prevented Pakistan from making friends with India because the militant groups have attacked India — with or without the consent of the Pakistani state — and remain opposed to peace. Fourthly, the policy had confused the common people of Pakistan who now believe the most incredible conspiracy theories including the absurd idea that it is America and India who support the militants. This has made any concerted action against the militants difficult and rare. The action in Swat, though much delayed, was a success, but it was a rare occurrence because for once the public was almost united in its support of the military action against Maulvi Fazlullah’s forces.
The facts, which keep appearing in our media, are that the militants who are caught are Pakistanis and some are Afghans. Many of them have confessed to being trained for suicide bombing in parts of Fata. For instance, on April 3, Fida Hussain, a fifteen-year-old boy, was caught after the suicide bombing on the shrine of the Sufi saint, Sakhi Sarwar. He said that more than 300 young boys were being trained to become suicide bombers in North Waziristan. This attack was owned by Ehsanullah Ehsan, the spokesman of the Taliban. And yet, the media played this down and common people still believe that the bombings are carried out by the American secret services. The army still believes it should keep out of North Waziristan so as to use the Haqqani network to find ‘depth’ in Afghanistan.
Indeed, the state has lied so much to the people that it can take no decisive action against militancy. Sectarian killers in Karachi, even after they have confessed to many murders, cannot be punished because their parent organisations are considered assets by the army and the intelligence agencies. These elements are India-centric and, of course, the army has always been India-centric. The trouble with this policy is that parts of Pakistan have been lost to the Taliban. In February 2006, the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan was formed. In September that year, Pakistan signed a peace accord with it. Since then, we are in a state of constant war and no normal Pakistani citizen can walk in and out of this war zone. Indeed, even in 2000, before 9/11, we had lost our land to the militants and had suffered 14 bomb blasts. Even then, television sets were burnt and music was discouraged. In short, our state had abandoned our citizens to militants who imposed their lifestyle upon them.
As long as this double-faced policy remains, Pakistan cannot end terrorism. There are, however, alternatives. One is that Pakistan should adopt the policy of fighting the Taliban wholeheartedly and sincerely, while rewarding those of them who lay down arms. This should go simultaneously with finding jobs for former Taliban and countering their world view with a more peaceful interpretation of Islam. But even while fighting, I do not advocate drone attacks as they kill too many innocent people. However, in that case, both the Americans and the Pakistanis will have to use the infantry, which will mean that more body bags will go to the US and come to our own cities. The other policy is that we should no longer be part of the American alliance against the militants in Afghanistan. We should go our own way by making peace with the militants in Fata. This will mean giving the tribal agencies, in which the militants already dominate or which they influence, to them as a buffer state between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It will also mean abandoning all the inhabitants of these areas to the mercy of the militants. It will actually be a defeat but maybe it can buy us the peace we need so much. The state should then keep the militants out of the rest of Pakistan and counter their narrative on ideological grounds, while trying to win over the people who join them because of poverty and injustice. But this should go along with a strict policy of dismantling the militant groups in Punjab as far as possible, with persuasion as long as that works. On no account should the state itself patronise the militant groups in Punjab or elsewhere in Pakistan. On no account should we fight a proxy war against India or try to influence events in Afghanistan except as good neighbours. In short, the India-centric policy would have to be abandoned. There will be resistance to this, but it will be possible to take action against it if we do not have to fight in Fata also. In short, whatever policy is adopted, it should be sincere, clear and transparent and, of course, it should be meant to bring peace to this troubled land. And, above all, this policy must be clearly presented to the people of Pakistan so that they may abandon the conspiracy theories which make it impossible for them to think clearly and decide what is good for them.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 17th, 2011.