IN a prescient statement to the UN Security Council on Feb 13, Pakistan’s permanent representative, after describing the actions taken to restrain terrorism in Pakistan, asserted: “What Pakistan continues to face today are externally supported terrorists.” As if on cue, successive terrorist attacks occurred in Lahore, Peshawar and Sehwan over the next three days.
Immediately after the atrocity at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, the ISPR spokesman said: “Recent terrorist acts are being executed on directions from hostile powers and from sanctuaries in Afghanistan. We shall defend and respond.” The army chief himself declared: “Each drop of the nation’s blood shall be revenged ... immediately. No more restraint for anyone.”
It is not always easy to avenge terror, or eliminate it, since the terrorists are often unknown or in hiding. This is not so in case of the recent terror strikes in Pakistan. We know the terrorists. The attacks have been claimed by the militant Islamic State group and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s subsidiary, Jamaatul Ahrar. We know where they are based: in sanctuaries in Afghanistan adjacent to Pakistan’s border. We know the ‘hostile powers’ that have sponsored these attacks: the intelligence agencies of Afghanistan and India.
Revenge is serious business. It must be exacted after cold calculation of the options, their effectiveness and probable consequences.
The sponsors of the terror war against Pakistan cannot be allowed impunity.
As a first step, the Torkham border crossing has been closed. This will punish the Afghan regime economically. But it may not punish the terrorists or their sponsors directly, nor meaningfully restrain their cross-border movement.
This will require full implementation of the plan to ‘seal’ the border with selective fencing, check posts and technological means to monitor cross-border infiltration. Adequate funds must be allocated to implement this plan expeditiously.
The speedy repatriation of the millions of Afghan refugees is another component of ‘defensive’ measures. Many terrorists are hiding in plain sight among the refugees. Repatriation has been slowed by UN appeals and by some Pakistani agencies on the refugee ‘gravy train’. Their resistance must be overcome. People or groups associated with militant movements and drugs and criminal mafias and the relatives of hostile Afghan leaders should be expelled forthwith.
GHQ has initiated a more direct response by demanding from the Afghan representatives in Islamabad that they take action against or hand over 76 identified terrorists who have been provided sanctuaries in Afghanistan. The demand made to Kabul was also conveyed to the US commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, since they exercise dominant influence over the Afghan regime and especially the Afghan intelligence agency, which is the main local sponsor of the anti-Pakistan terrorists. American whining about the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network should not be entertained until the US obliges its Kabul clients to take action against the TTP and IS terrorists targeting Pakistan.
Sartaj Aziz’s phone call to the Afghan national security adviser to urge cooperation against the ‘common threat’ of terrorism is unlikely to produce any result and may have detracted from the more robust message conveyed by GHQ to the Afghans. Pakistan’s counterterrorism cooperation with Kabul and the coalition to stabilise Afghanistan should be made conditional on their acting against the anti-Pakistan terrorists operating from Afghan territory.
Following the Foreign Office protest after the Lahore Mall atrocity, the Afghan charge d’affaires in Islamabad reportedly argued that the Kabul authorities could not be held accountable since there are large areas of Afghan territory that are outside its control. If this is indeed the case, and the Afghan National Army and the US-led coalition forces cannot act against the TTP and IS ‘safe havens’, Pakistan’s forces should be allowed to cross over and eliminate them. Most of these safe havens are within striking distance of the Pakistan-Afghan border.
If Kabul and the US refuse to act, or to facilitate a Pakistani operation, Pakistan may be left with no option but to take unilateral action against these safe havens and the terrorists hiding there. Other countries, like Iran or Turkey, would not hesitate to resort to such action if targeted by foreign-based terrorists. India is unlikely to use this as a pretext for cross-LoC ‘strikes’, given its vulnerability in held Kashmir.
The sponsors of the terror war against Pakistan — the Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies — cannot be allowed impunity. With the evidence in its hands, Pakistan can move the relevant UN Security Council bodies to have both these agencies declared sponsors of terrorism. At the very least, Pakistan should move the UN to conduct an impartial investigation into the role of these agencies in supporting the IS-linked TTP and its associates, as well as the Baloch insurgents. Pakistan’s agencies should no longer hesitate to reveal their ‘sources’ in establishing the sponsorship of terrorism by the Afghan and Indian agencies.
Nor can India be allowed to attack Pakistan with impunity in the west through Afghanistan. Pakistan should not foreclose the option of extending moral and material support to the ongoing indigenous Kashmiri freedom struggle. This struggle cannot be equated with terrorism; it is a legitimate movement for self-determination and implementation of UN Security Council resolutions. Pakistan’s support to the Kashmiri struggle is now both a political and moral responsibility and a strategic compulsion.
Threats and blandishments from India or its American friends cannot deflect Pakistan from protecting and promoting its own interests, objectives and security. An equitable peace with India — whether in the West or the East — can be negotiated only if Pakistan displays courage and determination.
Everything must be done to avoid US sanctions. But many of the penalties entailed by sanctions have been already imposed against Pakistan, such as the halt in US military assistance and blockage of the so-called Coalition Support Funds. Unless Pakistan changes the equation, the price for restoring American largesse will be acceptance of the Indian-US agenda in South Asia. In the past, when under US sanctions, Pakistan has mobilised nationally to achieve its strategic goals, such as its nuclear and missile capabilities. These capabilities are its ultimate defence against external blackmail and aggression today. Pakistan’s leaders and its people must again rise to face the strategic challenges the nation confronts now.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
Published in Dawn February 19th, 2017