Pakistan : Taliban on the campus

Sankar Sen
Posted at: Jan 30 2016 1:53AM
The Taliban attack on the prestigious Bacha Khan University in Khyber Pakhtunwah province of Pakistan has once again demonstrated that Tehrik-e-Taliban (TeT) is down but not out, and it is capable of wreaking havoc by devastating terrorist strikes. They had earlier killed more than 130 school children when they attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar. They have again threatened to attack more schools all over Pakistan. Taliban commander Umar Mansoor has justified the offensive against schools and colleges by saying that students from these institutions tend to join the army and the government. But another Taliban spokesman condemned the attack and has called it un-Islamic. This would suggest a possible split within the Pakistan Taliban. The authorities have said that the Taliban operating from inside Afghanistan along the Af-Pak border are responsible for this outrage. Some conspiracy theorists in Pakistan have accused the Indian intelligence agencies, referring to them as facilitators.
Under the present Pakistan army chief, General Raheel Sharif, the military has embarked on a major counter-terrorist offensive in North Waziristan, the nerve-centre of the insurgents. It has achieved significant success. Several areas, that were under the control of militants, have been recovered by the government. Quite a few Taliban commanders were killed during the army operations. The military has also launched a drive against terrorists and criminal elements in Karachi. Due to the operations of the army, the militant violence has shown a perceptible decline during the past 10 months in Pakistan and General Raheel Sharif has become a popular hero.
After being pushed out of Northern Waziristan, the Pakistan Taliban leaders under Mullah Fazlullah have been operating from within Afghanistan. Because of the ideological affinity, they are receiving support from the Afghan Taliban and thus it will not be easy for the Pakistan army to completely overcome and overpower the militants. It has been drawn into the vortex of a prolonged campaign. The Pakistan Taliban has claimed that they are in possession of indigenously developed missiles; a certain section within the Pakistan army may even have helped them. Therefore, the Pakistan army is constrained to cultivate and keep in good humour other non-state, India-focused actors like Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Both entities are Frankansteins created by the Pakistan army to ensure that they do not join hands with the Pakistan Taliban and turn against the State. Hence, chances of the government in Islamabad tightening the screw on the militants are remote.
Jaish is a banned organization but it has been allowed to operate in Pakistan. Its cells are linked to Al Qaida and the Afghan Taliban. In 2013, its leader, Azhar Masood had addressed a huge rally of his supporters in Muzaffarabad over the phone. He called on the Pakistani authorities to lift all restrictions on jihad. The Nawaz Sharif government’s decision to detain Azahar Masood and arrest certain JeM operatives is a cosmetic exercise that is intended to please the USA and the international community. There are reports suggesting that several NATO countries have examined the Intelligence data furnished by India to the Pakistan authorities after Pathankot. If not conclusive evidence, the information is deemed to be credible. A rerun of the Mumbai stand-off would expose Pakistan to ridicule and bring it under international pressure, including the threat of sanctions. But Pakistan’s security establishments are neither willing nor prepared to go for a crackdown on JeM.
Similarly, LeT is an India-specific group nurtured by the ISI. At present ISI has a certain control over it and it is siding with the army in its confrontation with the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TeT). So, the army is unwilling as well as unable to come down heavily on these non-state actors. Unfortunately, the Pakistan army has failed to realize that LeT has wider ambitions. It adheres to the principle of Sunni Wahabbism and its aim is to establish a universal Islamic Caliphate and recover all lands that were once under Muslim rule. These objectives are very much akin to those of the Al-Qaida and ISIS. At present the ISI permits LeT to raise funds dubiously.. Its founders Hafiz Saeed, Abdullah Azam and Zafar Iqbal have larger ambitions and will not play second fiddle to the “Deep State” indefinitely. If the Pakistan army seriously tries to control and defang them, they will in the manner of the Afghan Taliban stir up trouble and join hands with the enemies of the State. The Pakistan army has failed to appreciate the aphorism of Hillary Clinton that the snake at the backyard will bite not only the neighbours, but sooner or later turn against the master.
Pakistan is facing, as Jessica Stern mentioned in an article in Foreign Affairs a typical principal-agent problem. The interest of Pakistan (principal) and those of the militant groups (agents) are not aligned. It was hoped that the Pakistan army and the ISI were on board with Nawaz Sharif and backed his initiatives for a detente with India. But Gurdaspur and more recently Pathankot show that the army’s agenda has not changed. It will not allow Nawaz Sharif to wrest control over foreign policy, particularly towards India. Destabilizing India by thousand cuts remains an obsessive concern of the Pakistani army and this is not going to change anytime soon. The world knows, and many in Pakistan also realize, that the fear of existential threat from India is a phoney fear intended to bolster the army’s position as a protector of the country’s integrity. Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, former Pakistan ambassador to USA, India and China, has perceptively written in an article in Dawn (January 12) to the effect that if the rulers of Pakistan “convey the message that they are unwilling or unable to control cross border activities of anti-Indian and anti-Kabul jihadis unless Kashmir is solved and Kabul has a friendly government, they will do more harm to Pakistan than any enemy could wish for”.
President Obama has now sent a stern message to Pakistan and urged it to de-legitimize, disrupt and dismantle the terrorist networks operating within its territory. It is doubtful how far Pakistan will listen to the caveat and the degree of pressure that America will be able to exert. America needs Pakistan’s help in stabilizing Afghanistan and hence will not dare to initiate tough measures. India has to bear these realities in mind while engaging with Pakistan. It has to consider the option of a robust response in the event of another terrorist strike from Pakistan. It is partly true that the civilian democratic government in Pakistan is in favour of better relations with India. The political-military-bureaucratic elite which rules Pakistan is thoroughly anti-India. This is the hard reality which has to be borne in mind.
The writer is Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences; former  Director-General,  National Human Rights Commission; and former Director, National Police Academy.


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