Pakistan Must Free Itself from the Taliban Trap

After the December 2014 Army Public School Massacre in Peshawar, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised there would be “no differentiation between “good” and “bad” Taliban. In February 2015, the Pakistani army chief, General Raheel Sharif announced in Kabul that “the enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of Pakistan.” Sartaj Aziz, advisor to the prime minister on foreign policy, repeated the same sentiment in May. He was trying to overcome the damage he had done in November 2014, when he told BBC Urdu that the enemies of Afghanistan and the United States were not necessarily threats to Pakistan. But it looks like the Sartaj Aziz-Big Bill Broonzy counter-terrorism policy is still in effect.

Born in Arkansas or Mississippi, grown to fame in Chicago, bluesman Big Bill Broonzy summarized the American racial order of the time in a song:

They says if you was white, should be all right
If you was brown, stick around
But as you’s black, m-mm brother, git back git back git back

The Pakistani terrorist groups that target India have been all right. The supposedly banned Jaish-e Mohammed attacked the Indian air base in Pathankot on January 2. Its leader, Masood Azhar, has been taken into “protective custody,” but the organisation’s headquarters in Bahalwalpur, Punjab, functions as always. So does Laskhar-e Taiba under the name Jamaat-ud-Daawa, and its leader Hafeez Saeed is treated as a respected leader in the media, even though the UN Security Council (including Pakistan’s all-weather friend, China) has designated him as a terrorist.

For now, at least, the Afghan Taliban can stick around. The official spokesman of the so-called “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” whose twitter account places him in “Sindh, Pakistan” (Karachi presumably) proudly claimed responsibility for the murder in Kabul of seven young journalists of Afghanistan’s Tolo TV on January 21. By far the most important Taliban group, the IEA operates more or less openly out of Quetta and Karachi. Pakistan’s policy is to persuade it to join talks with the Afghan government, but it refuses to enforce Pakistan’s own laws (to say nothing of the National Action Plan against terrorism) against the Afghan Taliban’s military and terrorist infrastructure on Pakistan’s territory.

The army launched operation Zarb-e Azb to force the various fragments of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) to “git back” – and so they did; they have gone to parts of Afghanistan under the secure control of the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban, whom Pakistan refuses to target. That is why the accusations from GHQ that the commander of the attack on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda came from Afghanistan rings so hollow.

All terrorism is abhorrent and illegal under international and Pakistani national law. It is inevitable that the Pakistani state will crumble when its own security forces refuse to enforce the law unless foreign governments meet Pakistan’s demands – a classic case of threatening to shoot oneself if demands are not met. But not all groups that use terrorism for political ends are the same. The undifferentiated use of so-called “counter-terrorism” (military operations and drone strikes) against them has proved a failure.

Countering terrorism requires a political strategy. Indian airmen in Pathankot were collateral damage in an attack aimed ultimately at Nawaz Sharif and his efforts to lessen tension with India. The government of Pakistan has to remove terrorism from the India-Pakistan relationship, and India’s restraint is helping it. But that restraint can continue only as long as Pakistan takes firm measures against those guilty of anti-Indian terrorism. The US bears responsibility for undermining Hamid Karzai’s early efforts as Afghanistan’s president to bring the Taliban out from the cold, leaving them no choice but Guantanamo or Pakistan. A political settlement might offer them a better choice, but only if Pakistan stops enabling their violence. And efforts to stamp out the one group of terrorists that the Pakistan military really treats as enemies will leave Pakistan undefended, as long as the TTP can seek refuge with other terrorist groups that Pakistan still seeks to use for political ends.

This piece was orginally published by The Wire and the Herald, the monthly magazine of the Dawn group in Pakistan.

Vertical Tabs

Feb 09, 2016
Barnett Rubin
South Asia, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan