Defeating Terror – Lessons From Recent History

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Iqbal  Ahmad Khan*

I recall, notwithstanding the chaos and confusion and the rough and tumble of politics accompanying the creation of the new country, the determination and passion of its people to prove to the world that Pakistan was there to stay. This resolve, unfortunately, did not last long. Despondency set in as the challenges proved too formidable for an inept and corrupt leadership.  The advent of the generals brought a certain measure of order and hope. This too was short-lived. As they assumed greater power, they too joined the looters and plunderers. To make matters worse they unwisely resorted to war to resolve the Kashmir dispute. The absence of democracy, an inequitable distribution of wealth and a sterile, expensive war brought people into the streets. They demanded representative government. They got, in chronological order, elections, civil war, military defeat and a splintered country.

As if the repeated application of force as a solution to problems hadn’t brought us enough misery, a democratically elected government sent the army into Balochistan to sort out separatists. Warnings from close aides that the move could, in fact, undermine the government itself were noted and appreciated but unfortunately not acted upon. The army shattered and demoralized only a few years ago, regained its lost profile. It overthrew the government of perhaps the most popular and nationalistic prime minister of Pakistan. It then started feeding people with lies. The first one was that the military was forced to step in to avert a civil war. Facts belie the contention. They point to the move being a pure and simple power grab. The prime minister was hanged. The people were again told a lie. The prime minister was guilty of murdering a person, whose name nobody remembers. He had received a fair trial in an independent court. Nobody believed the general. He was made fun of both at home and abroad. At home the general resorted to flogging and incarceration. Ironically, he gave oppression the cover of Islam, which means peace. Abroad, he unabashedly resorted to his infamous toothy grin. For 11 years the hapless people of Pakistan suffered the general’s hypocrisy, persecution and tyranny. The mango season in August 1988 brought relief and elections. The people looked forward to participatory government, openness and transparency. They were blessed by a measure of these, but maladministration and corruption held sway. The army moved back into the barracks; its shadow, however, continued to stalk the democratic government.

In October 1999 it re-emerged from the shadows. The most heavily mandated prime minister was removed and put under detention – so much for people’s power. The nation put up with the new general-president and his antics for 9 long years. In August 2008 he spared them further suffering by resigning. It was incredible to hear him say that he was prepared to serve the nation into the next decade. Our leaders neither read nor learn from history. I would not be surprised that the general has not even read his own book.

In the past year we have had a government elected by the people. It is sadly not of the people or for the people. Feudals dominate it. Loyalty and not merit remains the criterion for holding high office. True to their belief that the country’s resources are first and foremost for the feudals’ own welfare, the pathetic condition in which the majority of Pakistanis live continues to worsen by the day. Governance is as poor as can be. These unsavory qualities have seeped into the day to day handling of public affairs as also in the management of crises. And Pakistan is no stranger to crises.

Against the backdrop of Bonapartism, corruption, poor governance and a crumbling socio-economic infrastructure, the Taliban monster has appeared on our northern frontiers. It threatens the very existence of our country. This is no exaggeration. It has spread fear and despondency within the populace. Particularly threatened are women, who, under Taliban tutelage, are neither to be seen nor heard. Girls schools and colleges are being destroyed. Any female stepping out of line is severely punished; some are even flogged publicly. Such barbarity is incomprehensible to the followers of a religion whose founder enjoined that women were to be treated with respect, love and kindness for they were our sisters, mothers and daughters. Dissenters are shot or decapitated.

Those who believe that the Taliban agenda is pro-Islam and anti- American are deluding themselves. Their agenda is purely and simply to grab power and control over the resources of the country. It is anti-democratic, anti-constitutional and diametrically opposite to the principles and precepts engendered by the founder of the country, Quaid- e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Their ideology is harsh, intolerant of dissent and diversity and repressive towards women and minorities. It strikes at the very spirit which inspired the creation of the country. It endangers the territorial integrity of the country and the values and ideas spread by the saints and Sufis who peacefully spread Islam in South Asia. Thus the mausoleum of Rahman Baba, the messenger of peace, harmony and tolerance in the land of the Pushtoons, becomes the target of the Taliban’s wrath, just as the engravings of the enlightened Buddha were blown to smithereens by their Afghan counterparts in the nineties. Were these barbarians to enter the Punjab and thereafter Sindh it is not difficult to imagine what would happen to the tombs of Allama Iqbal and Data Ganj Bux and to the mausoleums of  Lal Shabaz, the patron- saint of Sindh and that of the Quaid.

The Taliban are indeed a strange lot – repulsive as well as ridiculous. It is, nevertheless, undeniable that they are our own creation. We first joined hands with the Americans in training and arming the Mujahideen, who made life miserable for the Soviet occupation army in Afghanistan. We then extended unfettered support to the Taliban following their indoctrination in Pakistani seminaries in their success in occupying Kabul. As the countdown to the Soviet army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan began, the military dictator in Pakistan adopted the Mujahideen model in Kashmir to end India’s occupation. So now, on the one hand we were backing the Taliban in the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and, on the other, we injected the same battle-hardened militants who had fought the Soviets into Kashmir. The victorious Taliban were supposed to provide strategic depth for Pakistan against its traditional rival India and the likes of Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Harkat al Ansar were to force India to settle the Kashmir dispute. Markaz Dawat-al-Irshad, to which Lashkar-e-Tayyaba was connected, was the beneficiary of several acres of land in Muridke made available by General Zia-ul-Haq for the construction of its headquarters and the Hizbul Mujahideen paraded its Kashmir-returned warriors on the streets of Pakistani cities, while we officially and publicly denied any involvement in the Kashmir uprisings. Ideologically, the Taliban and the radical jihadi outfits which operated in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) were part of the Deobandi-Wahabi combine. Parallel to the state-sponsored jihadi groups there emerged sectarian- based militant organizations which let loose an orgy of bloodshed against those Pakistanis who did not subscribe to their beliefs. This led to the Shia-Sunni divide and drew into the Pakistani body-politic their foreign sympathizers namely Pakistan’s close friends, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Pakistan thus became a battlefield for the contending interests of these two powers.

A large number of Pakistanis blame the Americans for the militant extremism that threatens us today. Their views received a major boost when during a Congressional hearing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton contended that the militancy currently being witnessed in Pakistan owes its origin to some extent to US policies. Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the US saw its strategic goal achieved and departed from the scene leaving resource-constrained Pakistan to deal with the mess left over from a decade of fighting. Simultaneously, it tied Pakistan’s hands by imposing wide-ranging nuclear-related sanctions. While the US selfishness and insensitivity towards the nascent democratic government did hamper Pakistan’s ability to clear the Augean stables, it appears unlikely that even if the US had remained involved, we would have given up our policy of ‘strategic depth’ and of using the Afghanistan model in Indian Held Kashmir. It is easier to blame outsiders than to look inwards. The fact is that the bitter harvest that we are reaping today is a consequence of our patronage of militant and obscurantist groups such as the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammadi and indifference to the bloody mayhem let loose by sectarian outfits of the likes of Sipah-e-Sahaba. These policies and strategies, which had the potential of altering the total character of Pakistani society, were not conceived and implemented by elected governments and individuals but by military dictators.

At the end of the day we failed to achieve ‘strategic depth’ or a government in Kabul which would do our bidding. We were not able to realize our goal of oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia to the Pakistani ports of Gwadar and Karachi through Taliban controlled Afghanistan; we were unsuccessful in forcing India to resolve the Kashmir dispute; we nearly came to be declared a state-sponsor of terrorism; we alienated our neighbors and we were left with battle-hardened warriors with unrealized dreams and fired with jihadi culture. It is these so-called mujahideen who have now turned their zeal and guns towards Islamabad. There is very little that the Christians, Jews and Hindus have contributed to our sorry predicament. It is essentially of our own making.

This, in brief, is the story of our affair with militancy and of our quest to attain highly ambitious foreign policy goals. There are certain enduring lessons to be learnt from our unfortunate experiences, lessons essential in building a modern state and combating the terror menace. Lesson number one is to ensure that the army remains strictly within the ambit laid out in the constitution. Whenever it has taken over Islamabad, both the country and the army have suffered. Had General Ayub Khan and President Maj. Gen (r) Iskander Mirza not conspired to overthrow the civilian government in October 1958, a few months before the scheduled national elections, there would, perhaps, not have been a ’65 or ’71 war with India. If General Yahya Khan and his cabal had handed over power to the elected representatives following the 1970 elections, there would certainly not have been the 1971 debacle. General Ziaul Haq called the constitution a scrap of paper which he could tear up anytime he so desired. General Musharraf had the audacity to overawe the Chief Justice by confronting him with some of his top generals. Both were guilty of disfiguring the constitution and undermining the independence of the judiciary. The message of might is right and contempt for the rule of law was conveyed loud and clear. It had a de-civilizing and de- stabilizing effect on society.

Lesson number two is to ensure accountability of those who deviate from the principle of supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law. Accountability is essential to prevent a repetition of  mischief. The Hamoodur Rahman Commission report, prepared in the wake of our ignominious defeat in 1971, observed that there existed a “consensus on the imperative need of bringing to book those senior Army Commanders who have brought disgrace and defeat to Pakistan by their subversion of the Constitution, usurpation of political power by criminal conspiracy, their professional incompetence, culpable negligence and willful neglect in the performance of their duties and physical and moral cowardice in abandoning the fight when they had the capability and resources to resist the enemy.  Firm and proper action would not only satisfy the nation’s demand for punishment where it is deserved, but would also ensure against any future recurrence of the kind of shameful conduct displayed during the 1971 war.”

Regrettably, the Commission’s recommendations were not implemented. Had they seen the light of day, it is unlikely that there would have been the events of the 5th July 1977. Had Zia been tried and punished for his contempt and subversion of the constitution there is a strong likelihood that there would not have been a President Musharraf. In the 1970s the Greeks fed up with coups and counter-coups by colonels, charged, tried and sentenced the main culprits in trials held in public. Since then Greece has been coup-free and stable, peaceful and democratic. Without across-the-board accountability of our leadership, uniformed and civilian, the environment cannot be created where the ordinary citizen feels compelled to respect the law. The massive support that the public extended to Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in his courageous defiance of General Musharraf manifests the importance that the people attach to the supremacy of the rule of law.

The third lesson to be learnt from the failure of our Afghanistan and Kashmir policies is to ensure that strategic decisions and initiatives are taken not in a virtual vacuum, but following careful consultations with all important players and concerned institutions, in particular, representatives of the people of Pakistan. The policies of ‘strategic depth’ and ‘coercive diplomacy’ were, by and large, conceived by a military leadership. The kingpin of our involvement in the Cold War was General Ayub Khan followed by General Yahya Khan; in the Afghan war it was General Ziaul Haq and in the war on terror General Pervez Musharraf. The nation continues to pay the price of the arbitrary strategic decisions taken by these military dictators. To make matters worse nobody has been held accountable for the damage that some of these policies have caused to the country and the people. Had there been democratic governments in place, no matter how weak, corrupt and inefficient, Pakistan would not have landed itself in the present mess.

The fourth lesson is plain and simple. The goals set in the fields of foreign affairs and national security should be commensurate with national resources. When this principle is disregarded, the internal politico-socio-economic infrastructure comes under a severe strain from demands for the realization of unrealistic foreign and national security objectives. This is what essentially led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is to avoid such a predicament that China has considerably lowered its security and foreign affairs profile, while giving undivided attention to its economic development. As a sincere friend, it advised us to give top priority to the strengthening of our economy. It is another matter that we chose to ignore the advice.

The fifth lesson is to make a complete break from the past and charter a new course in foreign and domestic policies. The foremost threat to our territorial integrity and to our system of government and values comes from militant extremists.  India can no longer be our top and sole concern. The Pakistan-India power equation has tilted heavily in India’s favor. This radical alteration in the balance of power is recognized by regional countries and the global powers. This ought to be reflected in our policies and strategies. Far greater resources should be devoted towards nurturing a people strong in mind and body and united in its respect for the rule of law. The days of the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba are gone. They cannot be allowed to take the law into their hands or undermine our foreign policy objectives. Similarly, discriminatory and harsh laws such as the Hudood Ordinances and the Blasphemy Law must be removed from the statute books. Herein lies our salvation; otherwise there will be more of the same.

As we pass through a critical phase in our struggle against the militants, it is a matter of some satisfaction that it is an elected civilian government that has authorized the military operation for the elimination of the terrorist insurgents. All stake holders are on board. The All Parties Conference convened in May 2009 vowed to defend the constitution and the sovereignty of Pakistan and to establish the writ of the state. Importantly, it condemned all violent changes to the constitution and the state. The civilian government’s determination to crush the militants was echoed by the army chief who assured that all available resources would be mobilized to inflict a decisive defeat on the militants.

Pakistan, furthermore, is in the enviable position of having the whole international community behind it in its attempt to crush the terrorists. The substantial US economic and military aid, coupled with the multi- billion dollar assistance from the Friends of Democratic Pakistan and moral  and  material  support  from  regional  countries  demonstrates the range and depth of backing that Pakistan has in its war on terror. This support should be preserved. This is our war; we are not fighting anybody else’s war; we should emerge from the state of denial; there is no conspiracy being hatched against us; there is no such thing as a good terrorist; they are all bad and must be eliminated.

There is little exception that one can take to the 3 Ds – Dialogue, Deterrence and Development- policy of the government in combating terrorism. On the ground one only sees deterrence in the shape of military operations. There is no sign of dialogue or development. The fallout from the army action, including a massive displacement of persons, reconstruction and rehabilitation, must be managed efficiently. Once the armed forces have cleared areas of militants, the civilian administration must move in and, in coordination with the armed forces, bring life back to normalcy thereby encouraging the return of the internally displaced persons. The army should then move out of the area in the shortest possible time and the law and order maintained by a well-equipped force comprising the police and para-military forces. Excessive dependence on the armed forces, particularly in the context of Pakistan, tends to undermine the country’s political stability and imperils the future.

Throughout this process a very important and constructive role can be played by public representatives. It is through them that the policy of dialogue and development should be implemented. Civilian governments have generally been inept and corrupt in the past. It is here that a vibrant and free media and an awakened and an active civil society can play the role of a watchdog. The role can also be very useful in monitoring the present military operations. So far we seem to be getting our information on the ground situation mostly from ISPR press releases. Continuous monitoring and assessment by political representatives, media and civil society would make an independent source available to the government enabling it to adopt realistic strategies geared to the fast evolving developments.

There are multiple dimensions to the offensive against terrorism – military, humanitarian, financial, intelligence sharing, winning of hearts and minds, coordination and cooperation between the provincial and federal governments, interaction with foreign countries and international organizations etc. These different aspects interact with each other and impact on the overall terrorism policy. It is, therefore, surprising that the  government  has  not  created  a  high-level  coordinating  body  in an effort to ensure smooth and effective implementation of the anti- terrorism strategy. The body, to be headed by a competent minister- level official, could also play a vital role in providing significant inputs to key institutions like parliament, federal and provincial governments and the army.

The Taliban phenomenon is the biggest challenge Pakistan has faced since 1971. The Pakistan army, initially reluctant to take them on, has expressed and shown a determination to completely eliminate them. Unlike 1971, the people are behind them.   The government in Islamabad is a representative government and equally determined to exterminate them permenantly. The civilian government, army and the people must realize that they cannot afford to lose this war or even to leave it unfinished. One aspect, that is mysterious and worrisome, is our inability to identify and dry up sources of Taliban funding and weapons. This is a sad reflection on our intelligence agencies. There has to be a decisive victory against the Taliban, and then in order to prevent a comeback, the implementation of policies, both internal and external, designed to bring about a clear shift from a national security state to a welfare state. This is the bigger and the loftier goal. It will be the real test for the government. On it will rest its prospects in the 2013 elections.