By Talal Raza
The radicalization of Pakistan commenced with the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. As per the need of that time, it is a public knowledge now that with the help of foreign governments, many students from seminaries, adhering to Deobandi school of thought including Jamia Haqqani and Jamia Binoria, were trained by Pakistan and sent to Afghanistan to wage “Jihad” against the infidel USSR. After USSR’s departure from Afghanistan, the same radicals were allegedly sent to fight in Kashmir during the 1990 uprising against the Indian government. The space provided to these radical groups had far-reaching implications for Pakistani society and it affected every segment of society. A mindset was created that branded these militants as guardians of Islam who had earlier waged Jihad against USSR in Afghanistan and India in Kashmir (Rana, 2014).
In the post 9-11 scenario, keeping in view the changing geopolitical situation, Pakistan joined the US led war against terrorism and faced a difficult situation whereby the same groups that were happily tolerated by the state previously were banned, their leadership arrested or killed as a result of military operations. This didn’t go well with certain militants who began to target Pakistani security forces. The situation specially spiraled out of control after 2007 Red Mosque military operation. It gave a new impetus to militant activities and terrorist attacks became quite common in major urban centers of Pakistan (Rana, 2014)
Although our stance changed at the international level against the militant groups, it won’t be wrong to say that Pakistani society couldn’t completely detach itself from the extremist mindset it had allowed to strengthen between 1980- 2000. In fact, the post 9-11 scenario was an eye opener for Pakistan as it made us realize how deeply extremism had penetrated in Pakistani society and exposed the confusions prevailing in all segments of society in diligently going after the extremist elements. This can be explained by following instances:
- the on and off policy of military operations and peace agreements of governments with militant groups in tribal areas (Rana, 2014) is believed to only provide breathing space to militant groups to consolidate their position.
- As Pakistan joined US-led coalition against the militants, the division persisted within the ranks of armed forces. A retired Colonel, on condition of anonymity noted that a number of army officers resigned from army because they didn’t want to “fight their own people” (personal communication, 20 April, 2015). Also, a number of high profile terrorist attacks like 2014 Naval dockyard attack (Mir, 2014) and 2011 Mehran base attack (Express Tribune, 2011) suggested that there were sympathizers within the armed forces’ ranks that facilitated these terrorist attacks.
- Furthermore, though the political and security establishment unequivocally reiterated that they would no longer tolerate militant groups of every hue and color, it is still perceived that extremist groups continue to be tolerated. For instance, some quarters believe that extremist elements within Baluchistan were being allowed to operate with impunity to counter separatist Baluch groups (Flight from Balochistan, 2014). It is also believed that groups like Jamat –ud-Dawa still continue to operate freely (groups like JUD may not be fighting against Pakistan but its former members have joined anti Pakistan groups like TTP. In short, it is believed that such groups provide training camp to Anti-Pakistan groups)
- The political leadership has remained divided for a long time with parties like PPP, ANP, MQM supporting a military action against Taliban whereas parties like JI, PML-N and PTI advocated for dialogue with Taliban. This has only complicated the efforts to build a counter-extremist narrative and justifying military operations in tribal areas. Even when PML-N came to power, they wanted to pursue dialogue with Taliban (Rana, 2014). It is said that it was military’s initiative to launch military operation in North Waziristan in June, 2014 in the aftermath of Karachi airport attack (A.Khan, personal communication, 15 July, 2014).
- While some consensus could be seen among all stakeholders after the vicious 2014 APS Peshawar attack and it was followed by a comprehensive national action plan opted to deal with extremism, nothing concrete could be achieved so far (Wasim, 2015).
This shows how Pakistani state has so far struggled to counter extremism at the operational level. It has also exposed the divisions within our ranks with one group willing to accommodate militant groups whereas the other intends to employ hard power to uproot the menace of terrorism. It is coupled by state’s weak narrative against extremist mindset. Rana (2014, April 06) pointed out the flaws and noted that the religious ideological narrative, that for long formed the basis of our sociopolitical structure, foreign policy and strategic doctrine, had been hijacked by militants. In the post 9-11 scenario they exploited this narrative to portray themselves as true custodians of Islam and projected Pakistan as diverging from it under external compulsions. All this contributed towards further confusing the public opinion which weren’t sure whether Pakistan was fighting against extremist elements or the “custodians of Islam”.
Fast forward to 2014 APS Peshawar attack, apparently there was a realization that a renewed approach was needed to tackle the issue of extremism through hard and soft power. Consequently, many promises were made in the name of “National Action Plan” in the need for building a counter narrative was emphasized. The seriousness and political maturity displayed by all stakeholders made one believe that perhaps this action plan will prevent our national harmony from further erosion at the hands of extremism. Fast forward to August 2016, ironically, the institution that had been tasked to complete this job called National Counter Terrorism Authority remains understaffed and under-resourced for mysterious reasons even today. In fact, in the wake of August Quetta carnage that killed 70 people and claimed by TTP-Ahrar, we have now come to a point where military establishment has openly begun accusing the political establishment for not playing its due role in effective implementation of National Action Plan.
In the midst of this dismal situation, one wonders if there is any way forward. I asked this question from the people in position of authority to analysts, who deeply understood the security environment of Pakistan. One of the answers still echoes my mind: “Pakistan main siyasi jamatein makhiyon k chattey main hath dene nahee, 5 saal sakun se hakoomat karne aateen hain, (in Pakistan, political parties come into power to complete their terms peacefully; not to mess with the beehive of terrorism). In fact, more than any other “National Action Plan” or law, Pakistan needs visionary leadership with political acumen to uproot the menace of extremism.
Flight from Balochistan. (2014, October 14). Dawn News. Retrieved from http://www.dawn.com/
Mir, A. (2014, September 10). ‘Inside help’ in Karachi attack sets alarm bells ringing. The News. Retrieved from http://www.thenews.com.pk/
Naval base raid: Finally, report admits inside job in Mehran attack. (2011, June 30). The Express Tribune. Retrieved from http://tribune.com.pk/
Rana, M.A. (2014, April 06). The state’s lost narrative. Dawn News. Retrieved from http://www.dawn.com/
Rana, M.A. (2014). Tribal insurgency in FATA: Evolution and prospects. In M. W. Yusuf (Ed.), Insurgency and counterinsurgency in South Asia (pp.107-129). New Delhi: Foundation Books
Wasim, A. (2015, April 21). Govt accused of going slow on National Action Plan. Dawn News. Retrieved from http://www.dawn.com/