WHATEVER you say about Pakistan’s foreign policy and its de jure head, Sartaj Aziz, you will have to concede both are pretty consistent, and if this consistency of thought and policy comes at unimaginable cost to the nation so be it. Towards the end of last week in an interview to Reuters, the prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs, answered the critics of the country’s policy who say Pakistan does not crack down on all militant groups and is only targeting those attacking Pakistani defence forces.
Reuters reported his words thus: The military has acted “without distinguishing between ‘good and bad’ Taliban” but [Aziz] suggested that seeking a large-scale crackdown on all at once would overstretch the armed forces and lead to more terrorist attacks.
“So we have to make sure that we move in a decisive way, but at a measured pace and according to our capacity, and ensuring that the blowback is manageable.”
How can a nation find it justifiable for groups based on its soil to carry out attacks on neighbouring states.
In November 2014, Mr Aziz had told BBC Urdu that Pakistan should not target militants who do not threaten the country’s security. “Why should America’s enemies unnecessarily become our enemies? When the United States attacked Afghanistan, all those that were trained and armed were pushed towards us.”
“Some of them were dangerous for us and some are not. Why must we make enemies out of them all?” he said when speaking about the Haqqani network. A report based on the BBC interview stated that he said that the Afghan Taliban are Afghanistan’s problem and the Haqqani network is a part of it.
Words of wisdom indeed and one can be sure the civilian-military leadership is actually on the (usually-mythical) same page here — or let’s put it this way, they have to be since the civilian foreign policy head is articulating the military’s long-held position on the issue. When we juxtapose the two statements, made some 20 months apart, there seems to be one consistent thread that Pakistan has no plans to or will not act against the so-called ‘good Taliban’. The rationale for not acting is slightly different in the two Aziz interviews. Whereas in the first he clearly sees no need for action against the ‘good’ Taliban as they were not threatening the country, in the second he suggests action will happen but not till circumstances are right for it as the military’s operations against terrorists have to be phased.
So what is my issue with this stance particularly since the second rationale for not acting sounds plausible? Any military knows full well the pitfalls of opening multiple fronts simultaneously. A force spread too thin is more vulnerable to retaliatory action than it would normally be.
Let me share my concerns the foremost of these being that while we wait for the so-called right circumstances the indigenous jihadis (and I am not referring to the Afghan Taliban including the Haqqani network here whose primary interest may lie in Afghanistan) get the sense they are free to do as they please. Videos posted on social media by citizens on Jumatul Wida show activists of the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammad openly and freely asking for donations for the cause of ‘Kashmir and Afghan Jihad’ right under the nose of paramilitary Rangers outside some Karachi mosques.
This wasn’t an obscure village in south Punjab out of the gaze of the authorities. It was Karachi where a security operation has been ongoing for nearly three years and has seen both the TTP and MQM facing a tough crackdown.
In fact, where initially it was just the MQM crying foul and blaming the Rangers for victimising it during the course of the paramilitary force’s operation, now media and human rights groups are also pointing out specific cases of rights violations, of deaths in custody. At the same time sectarian killings, for example, have been taking place unabated and a crackdown on sectarian groups is yet to come. Victims’ families are now being joined by other critics who are questioning whether the promised ‘phased’ action will ever materialise.
Another, perhaps an even more dangerous, aspect is how an organisation like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, whatever its current nomenclature, is being ‘inserted’ into Sindh and Balochistan to counter the threat from nationalists and separatists. This insertion is sometimes justified in the name of ‘mainstreaming’ the terror groups.
These examples bring into question the military’s assertion that its current action does not discriminate between good and bad Taliban. It also suggests that despite losing so many brave soldiers in the fight against terrorists those at the helm may still not have learnt the lesson of how perilous the patronising armed religious zealots can eventually prove.
One fails to understand how a nation whose leaders mention the word ‘sovereignty’ at the drop of a hat and lament any perceived or real violation finds it justifiable that groups based on its soil routinely carry out hostile terror attacks on neighbouring countries.
What has been said time and again and still seems lost on our policy architects is that all these groups, in glaring contrast to our policymakers’ delusional, romantic notions, consider themselves part of the same family or at least franchise holders of Mass Murder Inc and will act in unison in the end.
Wherever these groups and their mindless patrons are unable to achieve in terms of impact our free media steps in gleefully. Whether some channels propagate an utterly obscurantist agenda out of belief or merely in the chase for ratings isn’t significant.
What is important that in the 21st century, there are anchors and commentators advocating that women be confined to the home mainly in a child-bearing, home-making role rather than take their rightful place side by side with the men.
These ‘commentators’ double up as apologists for the Taliban and have often decried that the terrorists have been understood as the media has never given their point of view free treatment. As if the murder of thousands of Pakistanis in and out of uniform was not enough of a statement. We watch rather helplessly. Hope you had a good Eid.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2016