Thursday, December 18, 2014

Husain Haqqani - Pakistan’s greatest enemy is denial // Cyril Almeida - The problem was never denial. The problem is the paradigm.

Over the last few decades, Pakistanis have become accustomed to terrorists, as well as terrorism. But the Taliban’s slaughter of schoolchildren in Peshawar on Tuesday was an unprecedented act of savagery. It has caused grief and generated outrage that earlier attacks on hotels, mosques, shrines and even the army headquarters did not. But will Pakistanis respond to the Peshawar school attack by starting to change the national narrative that has brought us to this point? Or will the narrative take over, as it has done after previous tragedies, allowing tweaking of Pakistani policy without significantly changing it? The December 16 attack is the result of a sustained national policy gone wrong. It can only be changed by a new, sustained policy.

The origins of Pakistan’s ill-fated romance with jihadism lie in the notion that the country faces an existential threat from India. Driven by six decades of insecurity, the Pakistani deep state wants the country to have parity in status and power with India, a country more than six times the size of Pakistan and increasingly wealthier. Arguments about the 1947 Partition and the two-nation theory, hardly relevant in the current context, continue to fuel the ideology of Pakistan. The division of Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh, with support from India, in 1971, also still looms large in the Pakistani elite’s imagination.

Jihadi militancy and terrorism have just been ways of enabling Pakistan to stand up to a bigger and increasingly powerful India through asymmetrical warfare. During the war against the Soviets, Pakistan used American money, weapons and training not only to equip fighters to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, but to also raise brigades of irregular fighters for Jammu and Kashmir and for permanent influence across the Durand Line. The problem with ideologically motivated warriors is that their ideology can morph and mutate in directions unacceptable to a pragmatic state. 

The attacks within Pakistan by the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) and other militant groups should have made the Pakistani deep state realise some time ago that asymmetric warfare through ideologues is not a reliable military capability. Islamist extremism has always brought with it a domestic component that hampers Pakistan’s evolution as a modern state. There will always be extremists who say, “Why are women wearing Western dress? Why are girls going to school? Why are we accepting Shias or Ahmadis or non-Muslims as equal citizens?” 

Similarly, the Inter-Services Intelligence might feel reassured by commitments from the Haqqani network, Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Toiba/ Jamaat-ud-Dawa to not conduct militant operations inside Pakistan. But there is no guarantee that these instruments of regional influence would not, in turn, support groups such as Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Pakistani Taliban, which can attack inside Pakistan. Hillary Clinton, the then US secretary of state, had told Pakistani officials in October 2011, “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours.” She also predicted that “Eventually, those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.” There was wisdom in those words that Pakistani leaders have yet to heed.

The policy of allowing militant groups to operate on Pakistani soil has proved disastrous. Jihadi militants do not accept the neat divisions between global, regional and local conflicts. Once they are convinced of the righteousness of their cause, they are willing to fight and blow themselves up anywhere. Pakistan’s greatest enemy at the moment is denial. It is time to acknowledge that jihadi groups cannot be trusted or considered allies of the state. 

However useful the Pakistani deep state might consider them for external purposes, they will always be dangerous internally. And their usefulness in expanding Pakistan’s external influence is also severely overstated. Armed with a nuclear deterrent, Pakistan can shed the paranoia and insecurity that have led to the current establishment mindset. Instead of being content with sporadic battles against groups like the TTP, as in Swat in 2008 and North Waziristan more recently, the Pakistani military could take the lead in trying to change the national narrative completely. 

The new narrative would acknowledge the dangers of jihadist extremism without ifs and buts and would give up on the projection of national power disproportionate to Pakistan’s size and resources. Without that fundamental change, we will continue to have tragedies similar to the one on Tuesday, followed by transient anger and remorse. Instead of cultivating only those elements in the Pakistani discourse that support the jihadi perspective, maybe it is time for the Pakistani establishment to stop treating the anti-jihadists within the country as its enemies. As out of control extremists widen their war to take Pakistan back to medieval times, those deemed traitors by Pakistan’s establishment might prove to be the only ones interested in saving Pakistan as a contemporary state. Alas, the establishment, set in its ways, does not change easily. 

Cyril Almeida - The problem was never denial. The problem is the paradigm

On this Pakistan is united: the men who killed 132 children in a Peshawar school are terrorists. On this too Pakistan is – temporarily – united: terrorism must be defeated. After that the trouble begins. With something as seemingly innocuous as who, exactly, is a terrorist. Pakistanis can’t seem to agree. Neither can the media. A day after the Peshawar carnage, after the Pakistan army had announced that the slaughter in the school had been operationally coordinated by Afghan-based Pakistani militants, an outraged analyst on local TV asked what the world’s response would have been had India been attacked by militants from Pakistan.

India, the analyst claimed indignantly, would be contemplating bombing Pakistan and the Indian army would already have been mobilised on the Pak-India border. The world at large, the analyst continued, would have pounced on Pakistan for its terrible behaviour. But, the analyst lamented, because Pakistan is weak, it could do no more than send its army chief to Afghanistan and politely seek the Afghan government’s cooperation.
For many in Pakistan, the analyst’s anger would have resonated. His fulminations against the international community’s perceived discrimination against Pakistan would have garnered much sympathy. To much of the outside world, the analyst’s comparison would have triggered incredulity. For exactly that scenario – Pakistanis slipping into India to mercilessly kill civilians in a major city – had infamously already occurred. In Mumbai. In 2008. Had the TV analyst simply forgotten? Surely not.
But there the analyst was, on one of Pakistan’s most popular news channels, suggesting that the world does not share Pakistan’s pain. Unsaid, though not uncommunicated, was a darker theory: Pakistan is a victim of an international conspiracy, an innocent victim of geopolitics, alone and vulnerable in a Hobbesian world full of militant proxies.
Ultimately, Pakistan’s problem with militancy is not denial. It is not even ignorance. It is something quite different. Simply, it is the widespread belief that militants fighting the Indian state, militants fighting to free “Indian-held Kashmir”, militants fighting the Afghan government and militants fighting to “free” Afghanistan are not militants. They are the good guys. The righteous ones brave enough to take on the world in the name of the one true God.
The problem was never denial. The problem is the paradigm. The Afghan Taliban are not militants. Lashkar-e-Taiba – LeT –are not terrorists. And, even more insidiously, there are those within Pakistan who do not believe that Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is in the wrong. Instead, the belief is that the Pakistani state itself is on the wrong path. A democratic path. A path that keeps it in thrall to American, godless, anti-Islam interests. A path that takes Pakistan far from that of the religion in the name of which it was ostensibly created.
That’s really why it’s possible for Pakistan to stun the outside world – two days after the horror of Peshawar – by granting bail to one of the alleged architects of the Mumbai attack, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi of the officially banned LeT. That’s why it’s possible for Pakistan to confound the world by rejecting global sympathy over the Peshawar attack and embracing LeT instead. The Lakhvi bail is not a surprise. In truth, it is the inexorable outcome of recent events in Pakistan. Consider just what happened in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab and the heart of political power in Pakistan, on 4 December.
Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), had been trying to oust the government of Nawaz Sharif via street protests since August, and threatened to shut down Lahore that day. But within hours of Khan’s announcement on 30 November, the PTI appeared to realise it had made a mistake: the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a hardline Islamist organisation, was holding its annual congress in Lahore on 4 and 5 December. And so the PTI quickly postponed its protest. Pause on that for a moment. The business of toppling a national, elected government had to take a back seat to the annual Lahore pilgrimage of Hafiz Saeed, the chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa. It was perhaps inevitable. With the Narendra Modi government in India taking a hawkish line on Pakistan, pro-Kashmir, anti-India jihadis in Pakistan were always going to take centre stage.
There is though at least one thing that Pakistan remains wilfully blind to. Every single one of the militant groups fighting the Pakistani state today was once at some point in recent history considered to be a good militant/good taliban. Just like Hafiz Saeed is today.