Pakistan And Terrorism: Rocket Science?
Terrorists attacked Karachi Airport today. Fortunately the airport security force managed to keep them away from the passenger terminal and the army responded effectively and now claims to have killed all the terrorists with relatively limited damage to the airport.
Terrorists also killed at least 25 Shias in Balochistan, but nobody seems to consider that to be big news (man bites dog is news, dog bites man is just dogs being dogs). In the last few hours, I have not seen news of this attack on any major Pakistani channel. Shias on Twitter are reporting that the death toll may be higher than 25. But no news anywhere on mainstream media. It's almost as if it did not happen.
This is not the first major terrorist attack in Pakistan and unfortunately it will not be the last. Efforts to blame India for the attack have moved ahead remarkably quickly (both ARY News and Express News are highlighting that the weapons used by the attackers are of Indian manufacture).
Alhamdolillah, the script has not changed.
Nothing it seems can ever change the script. Pakistan is always the innocent victims of conspiracies launched by RAW, MOSSAD and CIA. We are caught in someone else's war. Yada yada yada... You know the drill..
Who are we to challenge the geniuses who make policy in Pakistan, but is it possible that there could have been a different script? Let us try the following script (and dear Paknationalists, do take my word for it, its in your interest to think about this version. It sounds harsh, but in the long run, it will help...a lot:
1. Pakistan was the base for an international operation directed against the Soviet/pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan. For this operation we happily cooperated with the CIA, Saudi intelligence and others. We invited highly motivated mujahideen from all over the Muslim world to please come and join this effort. We provided them facilities, we provided them training and we provided them weapons. To improve the flow of Islamic fanatics, the CIA, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan spared no expense, building international networks apart of course from a network of thousands of Islamic seminaries across the length and breadth of Pakistan. In 1989, the Russians left Afghanistan and in 1992 the pro-Russian regime there collapsed and "our boys" won...and proceeded to rape and pillage across the length and breadth of the country. America, having accomplished its mission of bleeding Russia and "avenging Vietnam", left the place, but Pakistan's strategic planners were not done.
2. The vast jihadist infrastructure created for the Afghan war was reoriented to Kashmir and towards internal "Islamization" in Pakistan, and continued to expand. More terrorists were trained in the 1990s after the CIA had left than were trained during the Afghan war. An alphabet soup of terrorist organization was created and operated openly throughout the 1990s. Some of them went beyond the call of duty and attacked Shias in "settled areas" (attacking Shias in tribal areas was never a high-priority crime) and also attacked some "brother Arab regimes" (e.g. the Egyptian embassy). Such rogue elements were targeted by security agencies to various extents, but no attempt was made to slow down (much less reverse) the larger Jihadi effort.
3. By chance or planning or both, a pro-Pakistan regime under the Taliban was established in most of Afghanistan and became a refuge for various groups of Islamic terrorists. Some of them were approved of, some were left alone, some were considered hostile by us. Details remains murky and confused.
4. In 2001 America was attacked in New York and Washington DC. The mainstream opinion is that this attack was launched by Islamist terrorists whose group was headquartered in Afghanistan. The US decided to invade Afghanistan to clear them out. Whatever other motivations the US may have had (let us assume there were some), it does seem that the US became more or less anti-Jihadist (at least in the Afpak region) at that point. Pakistan publicly announced it was switching sides and would henceforth support the US operation in Afghanistan and would no longer allow jihadists to operate freely from Pakistan.
4. If various people who write about Pakistani security agencies are to be believed, we did not actually switch sides. In fact our president (Musharraf) even made a speech to the nation in which he gave the example of "sulah e Hudaybia" (a pact the prophet of Islam made with his enemies in Mecca, but which was followed a few years later by the complete defeat of the Meccan pagans; the link was explicitly made that we are making a similar deal with America; our aims remain unchanged, but we will adjust course temporarily). Instead of truly switching sides, our "strategic geniuses" decided to keep Afghanistan "simmering but not boiling" (to quote the most recent "authoritative" article by Waj Khan). We continued to support "good Taliban" in order to make sure the new regime did not stabilize in Afghanistan. We continued to maintain Kashmiri terrorist organizations in some sort of cold storage (these are not controversial claims. Bona fide patriotic strategic thinkers have said all this and more at various points). We cleared some areas of some terrorists but not all areas of all terrorists. We continue to try and separate good jihadis from bad jihadis etc etc.
5. Within Pakistan, various "bad jihadists" have launched countless spectacular attacks. They are usually said to be on the payroll of Indian intelligence. They are also said to be reacting to drone attacks. They are also said to be misguided brothers. They have even been described as patriots and strategic assets. And even as some "bad jihadists" have been targeted, the wider Jihadist-Islamist network has not been touched. Their seminaries continue to train new generations of fanatics (including "students" from overseas, who still come to Binoria town and similar centers of excellence in Islamic fanaticism). Political parties that support Islamist terrorism in principle and provide them with political cover continue to operate with government support. In Balochistan there are accusations that anti-Shia terrorists have been protected because their wider network provides muscle against separatists. But all these claims are contested and confused. Let us leave them as unclear. What is clear is that "sensitive agencies" and the ruling elite did not fundamentally change course when it comes to the following:
- Afghanistan. We did NOT unequivocally support the ISAF supported regime. And it is likely that we continue to support the" good Taliban" whose declared aim to overthrow this regime. It is not clear if the "good Taliban" still support us, but that seems not to bother us.
- Kashmir. We have not given up on the notion of wresting Kashmir from India. There being no conceivable "peaceful means" by which this can be accomplished...well, do the math.
- Propaganda: Blame is never clearly placed on Islamist terrorists. Terrorists who attack us are always Indian agents. The propaganda war continues to be fought on the same familiar ground.
What would a different strategy look like:
1. We should have switched sides completely in 2001. Calculating that Islamist terrorism will be a problem for us, a problem for India, for China, for Afghanistan, for Central Asia, for America, etc etc and we are better off having normal relations with these countries, we should have dropped the whole jihadi option. Entirely. Completely. No good jihadists, no good taliban, no good Kashmiri militants, etc etc. In other words, we should have taken the opportunity to completely reverse a policy that was always a bad idea. We should have sided with America, with China, with the new Afghan regime and even with India against the jihadist network.
2. Of course, the details of any such switch would have been a bit murky. Some lying would have been involved. But at least the people on top would have been clear about what they were trying to do. That has not been the case. If we had switched sides in 2001, by now the mess could have been sorted out. But 13 years were wasted while we tried to double-cross Amrika (this is not a controversial claim, many patriotic Pakistanis miss no opportunity to crow about the American failure in AfPak and to take some credit for wrecking it). We also kept alive a terrorist option against India. After Mumbai, we did not unequivocally act against the terrorists. In fact, our propaganda effort has been focused on creating doubts about the loyalties and identities of the perpetrators. This again is not a secret, or a controversial claim. It is also a mistake.
There is no way to win the war against jihadist terrorists by picking on some of them and by spreading mass confusion about their identity and aims. Terrorists don't just appear out of thin air to attack an airport. They have places of refuge, they have trainers, they have leaders, they build bombs and make plans in some physical location. These networks can be traced, their leaders killed or captured and their political supporters isolated and condemned. It is not rocket science. And it does not seem to be happening nearly to the extent which it should.
And when we do go after them, we will also have to ally with America, with China, and yes, even with India. Otherwise, it wont work. Good terrorists will provide cover to bad ones. Approved Islamists will help out unapproved ones. Propaganda will remain confused. and the general public will not be successfully mobilized in the effort. Law enforcement agencies will continue to hesitate to take action against particular terrorist networks and supporters because they will never know for sure who is currently approved as good and who has become bad.
It is possible that the deep state is now truly committed to defeating these groups. But if that is so, they are doing poor job of showing their priorities.
What do you think: Has the policy now changed? Will it change soon?
The following screen captures of Paknationalist tweets after the Karachi airport attack do not raise hope:
BTW, this is Waj Khan's tweet:
I urge everyone to read his latest article to see what I mean by unnecessary and self-defeating double games and triple-crosses. Why take my word for it. Take his...
Postscript: Two additional thoughts/clarifications:
- Vali Nasr tweeted something about "Pakistan's other deadly campaign" in reference to the massacre of Shias in Balochistan. But of course, there is nothing "other" about that campaign. The campaign against Shias is a central and essential component of the larger Jihadist campaign. And for very good reasons (good from their point of view): the existence of a Shia minority in positions of power and privilege in Pakistan makes the project of a true Jihadist Sunni state an impossible project. Their loyalties are considered suspect, their connection to Iran is considered a problem, their role as enemies of Islam is fixed in the Wahabi project, etc etc, but most of all, their very existence means the Sunni extremist vision of Islam, Islamic history and Islam's mission IN history will remain disputed (not just be infidels, but by people within the fold of Islam). They must be silenced. This is not a side-show.
- Some people have noticed that I did not really tackle the Humera Iqtidar/Madiha Tahir/Saadia Toor brand (or brands...the factions of the People's Front of Judea are legion) of objections to my script in this article. All I will say is that this is not new me. To get into an argument with them is pointless. More than that, it is a conceptual labyrinth from which one may not escape for several lifetimes. I am trying very hard to stay away...(and in NO OTHER way do I claim the faintest resemblance to Jules Winnfield)
Omar Ali is a Pakistani-American physician who also moderates the “Asiapeace” discussion group on the internet.
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