No strategy to counter terrorists’ ideology (17-10-2009)

Surge in terrorist activities as a prelude to the military attack on South Waziristan was not a surprise to me. Those who follow this column can recall that in my forecast of 2008 and 2009, I was constrained to say it with heavy heart that the years ahead would be bloody. When worried friends and TV hosts usually ask about this I am afraid all I can say is that we should be prepared to fight the terrorists for a long time now and across the country whether we like it or not. Sad, but it is a hard reality.

The attack on GHQ was the major shock to the nation. Even three was with India nobody could reach our GHQ. Our brave army jawans, police and paramilitary forces have lost their lives fighting the terrorists, who were once nurtured by our establishment. Hundreds of innocent people are dying in the wanton violence unleashed by the Taliban-Jihadis consortium, which is operating in the country as a franchisee of the Al Qaeda.

Still some people have the gall to say that these rouges are fighting national liberation war. And that terrorism has rising here only because Pakistan is supporting US and allied forces occupation of Afghanistan. There is also an effort to give an ethnic colour to the terrorist organisations dividing them as Pashtun and Punjabi Taliban. Further down it is being said that South Punjab is the breeding ground of the Punjabi Taliban. Other line of simplistic argument is that all these people are foreign agents. Some leaders are even heard saying the people who are involved in killing innocent people cannot be Muslims, indirectly and mischievously implicating minorities.

In the first place Afghan and Pakistani Taliban’s terrorism should not be labeled respectfully as national liberation war. (There is enough literature which explains what can be described as national liberation struggle). Why? Because all national liberation forces are always very careful, while fighting the occupying forces that the common people of their country are not hurt. They do not go blowing innocent people and call that a collateral damage. Vietnamese fought the national liberation war for 30 years but they did not kill their own people. National liberation forces fight for the rights of their people, for the progress of the people and for independence of the people. The Taliban are fighting for bringing in the system which is politically, socially and economically primitive, which takes away the democratic rights of the people, which undermines the rights of women and minorities. We have seen them practicing fascist system in the grab of “true Islam.”

Secondly, let’s assume that the foreign forces leave Afghanistan, which they should, but not without helping Afghan government in establishing stability and a strong local army. If they leave Afghanistan say within a month, what will happen then? The country would once again go into a civil war between Taliban and various war lords. Pakistan will have to take the brunt of more Afghan refugees and the ills they brought in to this country in the 80s. If Mullah Omar re-establishes his regime, his Pakistani counterpart would get a booster and they would try to bring the Salafist Islam to Pakistan through the barrel of the gun. We know they do not believe in taking a democratic path. Such a situation would be a disaster for the people of Pakistan.

While making counter-insurgency strategy it may be worthwhile to study the ethnic background of the so called Pashtun and Punjabi Taliban, but the most important common factor among them should not be ignored – they all believe in one ideology and one cause — that bridges the ethnic divide. They believe in various shades of Deobandi/Wahabi/Salafist ideology. Their cause is to bring a bloody Islamic revolution in the country. So let’s not be naïve to believe that foreign powers are buying young people for Fidayeen and suicide attacks. I am not discounting that Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies are not involved in the Pakistan chaos at all.  But no foreign agency can be successful in any country unless people from within are fighting against their government for one reason or another. Such committed Islamic guerillas who despise the Indian and Afghan government cannot be used by them. However, the possibility of these government’s agent provocateurs within the ranks of Taliban and Jihadis cannot be ruled out.

Now the issue of “Punjabi Taliban or Jihadis.” Much has been written on them in the newspapers. We all know that most of Pashtun Taliban were allowed to operate freely because they were considered to provide support to Afghan Taliban, our ‘perceived strategic assets in Afghanistan.’ The Jihadi organisations that were nurtured in Punjab, Azad Kashmir and Sindh were considered India specific ‘assets’. They are perceived to be our only trump card against India till the Kashmir issue is resolved by them. So there is hesitance in the establishment to go against these Jihadi organisations. It is incorrect that they are only based in Southern Punjab. They are everywhere in the country. Yes some groups Jaish Mohammadi have their base in Bahawalpur area, but then a stronger organisation like LET have base in central Punjab. There is also equally powerful Harkat-e- Islam which is spread allover. And there is more ferocious Lashkar-e-Jhangvi which has struck each major city of the country. Commonality here is that all are Al Qaeda’s ideology supporters with minor leadership or sectarian differences.

In operations like GHQ, Musharraf, Benazir, Lahore attacks these organisations provided support to each other. While the Pakistan government and its army is fighting Pakistani Taliban heroically, they have yet not arrested the leaders of their counterparts in other provinces. They would not be able to avoid taking on the Jihadis for long. It’s inevitable as building circumstances would leave no choices very soon.

Monumental mistake is that no work is being done to counter the ideology of these terrorist organisations. The government has no communication strategy to win minds of the people against the lethal ideology of the Jihadi organisations. It is here the government is confused. The problem is genetic. Because Pakistan is an Islamic Republic (a contradiction in terms), so the Objectives Resolution a part of its Constitution, and hence the government cannot separate state from religion. Unless we can move towards a secular democracy various Islamist groups would continue have the space to fight for what they consider is ‘the true Islamic State.’ This has provided green-field to the Taliban and their Jihadi allies to preach and recruit Fidayeen and suicide bombers. This is the dilemma of the Pakistan society which makes it helpless in ideological fight with the extremist groups and their terrorist organisation. Irony is that there is no re-thinking on this issue although it is a major obstacle in building a democratic and prosperous Pakistan. (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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