The enemy within Threat to Pakistan comes from its outfits

The enemy within
Threat to Pakistan comes from its outfits
by H.K. Dua

PAKISTAN’S Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was in India for talks with Mr Pranab Mukherjee on November 26 last year. Mr Qureshi had hardly uttered the two words, “composite dialogue”, when a well-armed squad of his compatriots landed on Mumbai’s coast and indulged in one of the worst massacres India has suffered at the hands of terrorists.

Mr Qureshi’s talks with the Indian Minister of External Affairs were an immediate casualty, besides the 160-odd innocent lives India lost in Mumbai at the hands of the terrorists assembled and trained in Pakistan.

It is quite likely Mr Qureshi – like most people in high position in the civilian government of Pakistan – did not know what the terrorists or their masterminds were planning to do in Mumbai in what has now come to be known as India’s 26/11.

In a “Devil’s Advocate” interview with Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN telecast on Monday, Mr Qureshi has again sought to revive the composite dialogue idea which is lying somewhere unattended.

Mr Qureshi may be new in foreign affairs, but he is an astute politician to understand why India, whose wounds of 26/11 still remain unhealed, cannot resume dialogue with Pakistan.

Possibly, Mr Qureshi was reacting to Dr Manmohan Singh’s remarks at an interaction with newspersons in Delhi that the composite dialogue could not be resumed until Pakistan showed sincerity in punishing those guilty of the attacks on Mumbai and ending the terrorist menace against India originating from its soil. “This was the minimum condition”, the Prime Minister had said.

Twice during the last decade, Pakistan had in joint statements with India on the peace process agreed in writing that it would give up the path of terrorism and would be honest enough in seeking peace with India. Pakistan has repeatedly failed to live up to these assurances. And now Mr Qureshi says in his TV interview that Pakistan will not accept any conditions.

Mr Qureshi went one step further: “By refusing to talk, India would be promoting militancy and strengthening the hands of terror. The sooner you realise that, the better it is”. This is an astounding statement for its content as well as the tone made by its foreign minister, showing lingering insensitivity in Islamabad about India’s post-Mumbai hurt and the damage it has done to the sub-continental relations.

In a way, Mr Qureshi’s remark tends to absolve Pakistan from its responsibility of not doing much to tackle a proliferating tribe of terror outfits functioning with impunity on its soil. The training camps and communication network of the terrorists are still there daily planning more mischief under different banners.

His claim that the civilian government in Pakistan had taken “very positive steps” to dismantle terror infrastructure is at best a claim, as also the statement that the ISI had been “cleansed”. The civilian government has failed to tame the ISI which remains under the Army Chief’s control.

Mr Qureshi’s statement has actually come in the wake of the recent visit of the US President’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Richard Holbrooke, and the new policy Mr Barack Obama has announced for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The US President wants to induct another 30,000-plus troops into Afghanistan and gift a massive package of economic aid to Pakistan in return for any help it may choose to give to US-NATO forces against the Taliban in the tribal areas.

Essentially, the Obama package is part of its policy to pull out from Afghanistan in another two or three years, certainly before he seeks a second term, and for this he wants to win against the Taliban in Afghanistan and in the tribal areas from where both Al-Qaida and the Taliban are operating.

In the US thinking, it is not possible to register a victory on the Taliban in Afghanistan unless it destroys the Taliban’s bases in the border areas inside Pakistan. This, in turn, would need cooperation of the Pakistan Army, which has used the Taliban for years to gain “strategic depth” in Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal.

The spread of the Taliban in Pakistan and the reported alliance between the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Taliban in Pakistan not only creates a new situation for the US, but should also worry the Pakistan Army.

The Taliban’s motivations come from the Wahabi Islam. And in collaboration with Al-Qaida and varied other fundamentalist groups in Pakistan, the Taliban has been able to spread influence within Pakistan. The Pakistan Army, particularly its offshoot the ISI, is still reluctant to accept that instead of Pakistan seeking a strategic depth in Afghanistan it is the Taliban which has been trying to acquire strategic depth in Pakistan.

Whether the Obama administration is able to induce the Pakistan Army to cooperate in its fight against the Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas remains to be seen. But the massive economic package which Mr Obama has held out as a carrot is aimed at making Pakistan join the battle against the Taliban.

The Pakistan Army has been cleverly making use of American dependence on Pakistan as a bargaining chip and there are already murmurs in Pakistan that the economic aid is not enough of compensation for its cooperation with the US.

Actually, it wants the US to put pressure on India to start the composite dialogue with Pakistan on several issues, but certainly on Kashmir. The Pakistani top brass has been conveying to Mr Holbrooke and other interlocutors that it cannot neglect the Pakistani border with India and as such cannot spare more troops for putting pressure on the Taliban in the tribal areas.

India, through quiet diplomacy, was able to dissuade the new administration in Washington from appointing a special envoy for India-Pakistan-Afghanistan to sort out sub-continental issues, as New Delhi is opposed to any third-party mediation on the Kashmir issue. Mr Holbrooke has been visiting Islamabad as well as New Delhi and it shows the Americans would like to impress upon India that it should not do anything which may make Pakistan feel insecure on its eastern border.

Despite 26/11, India has not done anything which may equip Pakistan with an excuse, or a false alarm. But New Delhi simply cannot accept the Pakistani aim being articulated by Mr Qureshi to link peace with India with its situation on its western border.

In effect, Pakistan has always tried to link terrorism growing on its soil with the Kashmir question – an equation no government in Delhi can ever accept.

Pakistan has to delink the need for fighting against terrorism being bred on its soil from the Kashmir issue. Nor should the Obama administration put up with this kind of argument which is diversionary in nature.

The spate of the suicide bombings within Pakistan should make its civil and military establishments realise that the tolerance, even encouragement, for the terrorist and fundamental outfits has not contributed to peace at home, and that considerable space has been given by the authorities to such groupings. The Pakistan establishment now must stop paying the bill when they are threatening even the existence of Pakistan. These groups have become so powerful that they are challenging the authority of the Pakistan state.

There are no indications that the Pakistan Army has decided to crack down on terrorist outfits. It is a well-trained army – one of the larger armies in the world – and knows all about the terror organisations that have flourished under its eye over the years, but it remains to be seen whether it will like to take them on at all.

A question was asked when General Pervez Musharraf was heading the Army and later the country whether he was able to fight terrorists or was even willing to do so. The same question has become relevant when Gen. Ashfaq Kayani is heading the Pakistan Army, but he has given no indication that he has decided to even defang the more dangerous of these outfits.

No one, not even the Americans, perhaps know where General Kayani actually stands. Surely, he understands that terrorism is not only a threat to peace on the subcontinent, but also to the very existence of Pakistan. The genie is out of the bottle. It is breathing down Pakistan’s neck now.