Pakistan lacks coherent policy towards TTP, says journalist Ahmed Rashid

Published February 18, 2023
Acclaimed author and veteran journalist Ahmed Rashid speaks during a Karachi Literature Festival panel on Saturday. — screengrab
Acclaimed author and veteran journalist Ahmed Rashid speaks during a Karachi Literature Festival panel on Saturday. — screengrab

Acclaimed author and veteran journalist Ahmed Rashid on Saturday said Pakistan lacked a coherent policy to tackle the resurgence of the banned militant group Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

After the TTP called off its ceasefire on November 28, Pakistan has been hit by a wave of terrorism, mostly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but also in Balochistan and the Punjab town of Mianwali, which borders KP. Terror attacks have also reached as far as Islamabad and Karachi.

Rashid addressed the issue of rising terrorism in a panel discussion held on day two of the Karachi Literature Festival. The panel was moderated by Amber Rahim Shamsi, director of the Centre of Excellence in Journalism, and also included South Asian scholar Michael Kugelman.

The session was convened in the backdrop of a book by Shahid Javed Burki, ‘*Pakistan: Statecraft and Geopolitics in Today’s World*’, but Friday’s Karachi Police Office siege by the TTP overtook the discourse.

Addressing the Karachi attack, Rashid said repelling terrorism was the army and special forces’ job and not the police’s. He also pointed out that the state was without a “coherent policy” on the matter.

“We’re using the wrong forces to combat terrorism and we are not really explaining what our policy is — are we talking to the Taliban or are we attacking and bombing them?”

He blamed former army chief and president Gen Pervez Musharraf for the “chronic situation” of simultaneously talking with and attacking the Taliban.

“We still don’t have a counter-terrorism policy or what it entails. We are not prepared to mobilise the public in support of a policy because there is none,” he said, adding that Pakistan needed to go a long way for the struggle against terrorism to turn out in its favour.

“What has happened to the hundred policemen killed in Peshawar attack?” Rashid asked, recalling the attack in a mosque in the city’s Police Lines area. “They have gotten lost in newspaper pages.”

Kugelman says TTP resurgence not a recent phenomenon

Meanwhile, Kugelman said the TTP’s resurgence in Pakistan was not a recent phenomenon, even as he agreed that the group gained momentum in August 2021 after the Afghan Taliban took over Afghanistan post-US withdrawal.

“It’s true the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has ensured Pakistani terror group strength, but they have been actively operating as various factions and splinter cells,” he said.

Speaking on Pakistan-US relations, he said that the former needed to understand that it was not as strategically important for the latter “as people in Islamabad think it is”.

“Often the country also feels left out but that’s because it places itself with China,” he said, adding that the US was not going to say it publicly, “but that’s what’s going on in Washington at the moment.”

“Pakistan has not been at the foremost in the US mind after we pulled out of Afghanistan,” said Kugelman in response to a question posed by Rashid. “However, the floods have made Pakistan relevant again globally,” he added.

Likening Imran’s PTI to Modi’s BJP an ‘overstatement’

The panel also discussed the parallels drawn in Burki’s book between former prime minister Imran Khan’s PTI and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. However, both Kugelman and Rashid termed it an overstatement.

There were a few similarities between their ways of leading their supporters and “cashing in on popular support”, Kugelman said, but he added that to liken the two is a bit of an “overstatement”.

“Is Imran Khan the new Bhutto?” Shamsi asked Rashid, drawing from the book where Burki writes he was with Imran when, during a power show, the latter claimed he would “sweep the polls like Bhutto did with his support”.

Rashid said Imran was “famous for his u-turns”, adding that even if he enjoys popular support, “nothing is there for the people”.

Responding to another question, he said Pakistan had “narcissistic leaders” in place who feel the masses owe them favours, but “really they don’t do anything for the people in terms of peace restoration or economically”.

“Nobody even wants to talk to the next person while the country suffers,” he rued.

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