Friday, April 03, 2009




    The rapidly spreading jihadi gangrene
seems to have finally reached Pakistan's heart – Lahore. But despite two very high-profile terror attacks in the city in the month of March – the targeting of the Sri Lankan cricket team and the attack on the police training school – the seriousness of the malady afflicting Pakistan doesn't seem to have registered on the denizens of the country. The people, the political establishment and the permanent establishment remain in denial on the real source of threat to the existence of the Pakistani state, if not the Pakistani nation. What is worse, even when perpetrators of the terror attacks accept responsibility for their actions, doubts are cast over the authenticity of these claims. It is almost as if the Pakistani people don't want to accept that the Islamic warriors that they have nurtured, supported and sponsored for so many years have now turned upon them.

A Nazi mindset that treats non-Muslims as untermensch and refuses to believe that Muslims can also engage in the worst forms of barbarity against fellow Muslims, has left most Pakistanis desperate to find an American, Israeli or Indian hand behind all the terror attacks. After all, how can a 'patriotic Pakistani' like Baitullah Mehsud – a certificate handed to the man by none other than the current chief of the ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha – kill other equally patriotic Pakistanis?

Part of the problem is of course the warped definition of patriotism in Pakistan. Mass murderers, religious fanatics and self-acknowledged terrorists like Baitullah Mehsud, Mullah Fazlullah, Sufi Muhammad, Gul Bahadur, Mullah Nazir, Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi are all 'patriotic' Pakistanis simply because they spout venom against India and Hindus (also America, Israel, and every other non-Muslim country), and are willing to massacre non-Muslims. That these same people might also be responsible for bombing Pakistani security forces, beheading kidnapped Shia military personnel (the Sunnis are generally spared beheadings), ambushing military convoys, burning down girls schools, lashing, raping and murdering women workers and students doesn't bother most Pakistanis so long as these people are unequivocally anti-India and ready to ally with the Pakistan army in confronting India. Such is the anti-India neurosis that an individual who justifies the actions of these terrorists on grounds of unaddressed grievances, revenge, national liberation struggle, lack of development and gainful employment, social injustice, and what have you, will demand instant retribution on the terrorists if it is insinuated that the terrorists might be acting on the behest of the 'hated' Indians or Americans.

Part of the problem is also that even if the Pakistani authorities correctly identify the culprits, there is very little they can do to punish them. The writ of the Pakistani state not longer runs in large swathes of the territory of the country. For instance, the Pakistan army has already ceded control of North and South Waziristan to Baitullah-led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the newly formed Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahideen (SIM). The Swat Valley and rest of the Malakand division has for all practical purposes emerged as an independent emirate. The army has declared victory in Bajaur and stopped military operations (it wasn't politically sell-able for them to capitulate before the Taliban yet again without first declaring victory). The Taliban writ runs in most districts of NWFP and their influence is now extending to the Pashtun areas of Balochistan. They are also reported to be making inroads into Punjab.

The relentless advance of the Taliban has certainly been aided by the fact that the Pakistan army seems to have neither the heart nor the stomach for fighting them and has all but thrown in the towel in the trans-Indus areas. Of course a show of sorts is still being put up to convince the world that Pakistan is seriously combating the Islamists. But this is at best a rear-guard containment action rather than any serious effort to destroy the Islamists' bases and sanctuaries. At worst, it is a cover for the sinister moves of the ISI which is now actively engaged in supporting the Taliban's war effort.

This double-game is partly a tacit admission of the ideological and military dominance of the Taliban. But more importantly it is an outcome of the hubris of the Pakistan army. The top brass of the Pakistan army suffers from the delusion that it can contain the Islamist contagion as and when it decides to do so. Until such time, the Pakistan army would like to use the Islamists for fulfilling its grand strategic objectives, namely dominance over Afghanistan, defeat of the Americans, and destruction of India.

This very flawed and self-destructive strategic outlook has led to a situation in which the war front has steadily advanced and expanded from the frontier regions to the heartland – the Punjab, which a senior Pakistani police official describes as 'Pakistan's controlling authority'. In other words, not only Pakistan's extremities but also its head and heart are being attacked by the Islamic insurgents. Shockingly, despite being in the midst of a war, Pakistanis are still debating whether this is a war they should be fighting at all. They have worked themselves into a psychosis where, if a referendum is held today, an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis will vote in favour of making peace with the Islamists (Taliban) regardless of the terms of such a peace deal, much less its consequences on their relations with America and rest of the world. It of course goes without saying that the Pakistanis have completely shut their minds to the devastating impact of any defiance of the US on their country's economy, its security, its society, its politics, and its very existence as a nation state.

Pakistan's biggest problem is no longer that the state is fast losing the ability and capacity to reverse the tide of talibanisation. The problem really is that the national security state is still focussed on the imagined threat from India instead of the clear and present threat from within. Not surprisingly, the Pakistan army is not willing to redeploy its troops from the eastern border with India, which is quiet and stable, to the western border with Afghanistan which is highly disturbed and is destabilising the entire region. It is almost as if the Pakistani security establishment is more bothered about protecting is backyard – Afghanistan – from growing Indian influence even if this is at the cost of the house burning down!

The alarming rise in the power of the Islamists is now being felt in areas that were believed to be insulated from this baleful force. Aiding and assisting the Pashtun Taliban are the Punjabi Taliban, most of who hail from South Punjab but have a network spread across the length and breadth of the province. They have already demonstrated their ability to strike whenever, wherever and at whatever they choose to target. With the army already having backed off from confronting the Islamists, it is now the turn of the police and paramilitary forces to come into the crosshair of the Taliban guns. And it won't take long for the Taliban to subdue a demoralised, outgunned, and under-motivated police force. After that it will be the turn of the politicians, businessmen, media professionals and civil society activists.

Clearly, the Taliban are on a roll in Pakistan. As of now, even on the horizon there is nothing to challenge them ideologically and theologically or obstruct them militarily from imposing their domination over the Pakistani state and society. But time is running out so fast that unless a forceful counter-Taliban movement gets underway within the next few days and weeks, it might be too late to save Pakistan from being consumed by a monster they created to consume their neighbours.


    <1285 Words>                    3rd April, 2009



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