Terminology of “old” and “new” Pakistan has acquired a particular connotation in the recent political discourse in the country. Parallel to that discussion there have also been similar claims and counter claims in debate about the emergence of a new Pakistan in terms of facing the challenge of terrorism.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the National Action Plan of 2014 were supposed to have started a new chapter in the country’s security policy with zero tolerance for extremism and terrorism of all brands. Pronouncements of the All Parties Conference held on December 24, 2014 made it quite clear that there is going to be no room for private militias working under any garb (including the religious one) in Pakistan. These notorious outfits working under religious camouflages were supposed to be disarmed and dismantled. The formulation of the amendments in the Military Act of 1952 clearly implied that those who take up arm in the name of religion and sect to wage war against the state will be regarded as jet black terrorists and will face the brunt of anti-terrorist laws. An important section of NAP declared a ban on the proscribed organisations from working under new names. Skeptics who expressed doubts about the seriousness of the deep state in breaking its prolonged relations with militant organisations were silenced because the army leadership was also a party to the decisions of the APC and that means business.
For a few months the optics reflected the NAP narrative. The Media was briefed by government spokespersons from time to time about “targeted operations” against sleeper cells of terrorists, hate speeches and written material inciting violence. But as the year 2015 drew to a close it became quite clear that the more Pakistan changes the more it remains the same. The focus was shifted from toxic ideologies and banned organisations to the alleged corruption in the Fisheries Department of Sindh that was supposed to have financed terrorism! Dr. Asim Hussain’s hospital in Karachi was supposed to have become the mainstay of terrorism. It became quite evident that good Taliban (Afghan Taliban, JuD, JeM and others) had nothing to fear under this new narrative. Haven’t we been here before? Remember General Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation” which was supposed to push back extremist/terrorist ideologies but subsequently the same proved to be a veneer for the regrouping of Taliban on Pakistani soil who were earlier vanquished in Afghanistan?
The middle of year 2016 saw a complete u-turn in the War on Terror. Particularly, after the death of Mulla Mansour, the leader of Afghan Taliban, the jihadi industry in Pakistan has seen a public revival. On May 30 JuD hosted a meeting of pro-Jihadi organisations in Islamabad under the auspices of Defense of Pakistan Council. Leaders of different outfits clearly hinted at an escalation of fighting in Afghanistan. They also expressed their determination to continue their support for militants fighting in the neighboring countries. On June 5 the same conglomerate of extremist organisations came out for a public show of strength in Islamabad. In the holy month of Ramazan Jihadist outfits publicly asked for financial donations in mosques in different cities of the country to support what they called jihad in different places. These activities were reported in media but the government remained totally indifferent. In June the PTI government allocated 300 million rupees in the annual budget of provincial government for the Haqqania religious seminary run by Sami-ul-Haq, the self proclaimed father of the Taliban. What is the rationale for money going from the public exchequer to institutions that refuse to be reformed and insist on spreading extremism? Last but not the least, a public rally was organised by JI, JuD and other extremist outfits last Sunday in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, ostensibly in support of the people’s uprising in Indian held Kashmir. The organisers of the rally publicly collected financial donations.
This line of action is particularly dangerous because the expansion of militancy in the region will inevitably lead to the contraction of peaceful economic cooperation in the region that includes CPEC, CASA and TAPI. Pakistan obviously can’t afford this. Public activities of UN-designated terrorist networks will definitely increase the country’s international isolation. But more dangerous is the possible rise of the so called IS in the region. The facts that have emerged from the news about military operations against militants affiliated with IS in eastern Afghanistan suggest that the bulk of commanders and fighters of this outfit are actually Pakistanis. Most of fighters in Achin, Nazian and Kot districts of Nangrahar Province hail from Oarakzai Agency, Khyber Agency and Bajour Agency and have remained part of the TTP. There has been an active supply line to these fighters in Afghanistan from Tirah Vally in Khyber Agency which is geographically adjacent to these Afghan districts. Lashar-e-Islami (LI) led by Mangal Bagh from Khyber Agency has been the main supplier. This partnership across the Durand Line also includes drug trade and other criminal activities. It is important to note that these elements have also exploited distrust and hostility between the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both the governments ignored these dangerous elements in the hope that they will harm the other side. Finally the Afghans decided to cleanse their area from this menace and a recent successful operation in Kot is convincing example of this strategy. So far there is no sign of any cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan to root out this scourge. The Pak-Afghan coordinated war on terror on both sides of the Durand Line envisaged in 2014 by the two governments did not materialise mainly because Pakistan failed to reconsider her relations with the Taliban.
IS has suffered serious setbacks in both Iraq and Syria in the recent past. Abubakar Albaghdadi who knows this area very well may be tempted to expand his network in Pakistan and Afghanistan where there is a lot of potential and conducive environment. That will mean a new chapter of terrorist activities in the region attracting international focus. But how will Pakistan and Afghanistan fare better than Iraq and Syria? Isn’t it time to finally close the chapter of private Jihad by the Muslim countries? For Pakistan it will mean a rethinking of her Afghan policy, among other things.
By: Afrasiab Khattak (Retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs)
Updated On: July 30, 2016