IF you hide from reality for long enough, you can land up in a place from where it is next to impossible to find your way back. Something like that may be happening to Pakistan, where for more than a quarter century, our state has come to be virtually held hostage by a reality that we have been denying in almost every forum around the world. This reality is that within Pakistan, as a matter of official policy, violent militant groups have been nurtured, trained, supported and nestled within the general population for use as assets in an underground geopolitical game that we have tried to play in the region.
This history has been told so often, within and outside Pakistan, and evidence of the official patronage that these groups and their larger milieu enjoys has now mounted to such levels, that it has become an act of wilful schizophrenia to actually deny it now. Where exactly does one even begin to explain this to those who remain unaware of this fact even today, and resistant to really internalising its import?
For years, we have found different rationales to either justify or explain this away. Most recently, when the BRICS countries pointed to three specific groups in Pakistan and labelled them as terrorist entities, they were only echoing what the UN Security Council had done more than a decade and a half ago. Still the line came up that ‘these groups are already proscribed in Pakistan’, as a rationale or soft justification for the fact that the groups not only exist, but operate freely and openly, propagate their literature in society, operate giant administrative operations, and in some cases, are actually being mainstreamed into society as bona fide political parties.
What does proscription actually mean in Pakistan when the same members of the group in question need only start another organisation under a different name?
What does proscription actually mean in Pakistan when the same members of the group in question need only start another organisation under a different name and carry on business as usual? One need only take a close look at what happened to the case against the Lal Masjid cleric who less than a decade ago had taken up arms against the state, and triggered a confrontation that actually resulted in the deaths of scores of military personnel. The case fell apart (take a look sometime at how this happened), and the cleric in question continues to live and preach openly in the same mosque. How did this come about if some form of official support was not available to him?
Another line told us that we need not worry. The countries that are crying foul over this situation are biased against us, and need to be perceived more as enemies than allies. Now we have China, we were told, which will stand by us and has no intention of similarly wagging a finger at us on this point. And with China we have CPEC, which is our road to future prosperity, something we have believed for generations now is given by a big brother, not earned through one’s own smarts and hard work.
Well now China has added its voice to the list of those countries pointing out that the presence of militant groups in Pakistan is a problem. To add meat to the proposition, they point to a “comprehensive approach in combating terrorism”, to include countering radical ideologies, halting the movement of terrorist fighters as well as their recruitment, interdicting their finances and much more. This is a heavy menu, and notice that all of what the BRICS declaration is committing to is within the framework of the United Nations, and an extension of what other leading powers in the world have already been saying for many years.
If anybody out there thought that somehow the emergence of China on the global stage, and its growing stakes in our neighborhood as well as others, along with its creed to not interfere in the ‘internal affairs’ of other countries, meant that finally we would have a free pass to engage our great game fantasies without let or hindrance, they ought to be in for a rude shock. The person who is still spinning the words to mean something other than what they say is like that person who has lived so long with his or her lies that they are unable to find their way back to reality.
Everything in the declaration shows that the BRICS countries, that include Russia and China, will not advance an alternative set of norms to those around which the Euro-American world order is constructed. To combat terror financing, for example, they seek to work with the UN resolutions and the Financial Action Task Force that has for years been pointing out the vulnerability of the Pakistan financial system to being used by designated terrorist groups because the latter operate with impunity in Pakistan.
Yes there have been huge successes in our own war against terror. Groups like the TTP have been pushed out of Swat and North and South Waziristan, and the sacrifices made by Pakistan’s soldiers in the course of this fighting have been admirable and deserve commendation. Yes, the security situation has improved from a decade ago, although much ground remains to be covered.
And yes, let’s also add that much of the finger-wagging from the West, particularly America, is in bad faith. America is not losing the war in Afghanistan because of Pakistan. America is losing the war for the simple reason that no sooner had the fighting commenced in earnest in Afghanistan, it lost its focus and went barrelling into Iraq instead. All else is detail.
But there is a reason why Pakistan has had such a difficult time getting the world to recognise this simple reality: because we have been lying to ourselves and our allies about the nature of our involvement in this war all along. If Abbottabad didn’t establish this, surely the death of Mullah Mansour on Pakistani soil, with Pakistani credentials in his pocket, did.
The writer is a member of staff.
Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2017