Pakistan Peoples Party and the War on Terror

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Iqbal Ahmad Khan [*]


(The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a stark but tragic reminder that terrorism and extremist violence constitute the gravest contemporary threat to national, regional and global peace and stability. The tribal belt of Pakistan has become the hub, the breeding ground of terrorists. The canker of extremist violence has spread and hit the major urban centres of the country with alarming frequency. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is its most prominent victim in Pakistan. Apart from the enormity of the tragedy, the troubling reality is that the writ of the state is being eroded. Eight years of military or quasi-military rule, despite the number of terrorists killed or captured, has achieved little in containing the scourge. Benazir Bhutto believed that democracy, not autocratic rule, was the most effective way to combat extremist violence. Only the empowerment of the people reinforced by concerted measures to eradicate poverty could generate the populist upsurge needed to fight extremism. This was what Benazir Bhutto, in the final months of her life, struggled and died for. Editor).

The assassination of the former prime minister of Pakistan and chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Ms. Benazir Bhutto, in the garrison town of Rawalpindi on 27 December 2007 has removed from the political scene the most committed champion of democracy and human rights and the most courageous advocate of the war on terror. It has dealt a severe, and perhaps, a potentially crippling blow to efforts at bringing a modicum of security and stability to Pakistan. It has serious implications for the rule of General (r) Musharraf, with whom Ms. Bhutto was widely expected to enter into a political arrangement in the post election period-an arrangement which was expected to initiate a transition to a genuine and credible democratic order and reinforce his campaign against terrorism. It has also far – reaching implications for the United States which over the past one year had invested considerable time and effort in reconciling the two erstwhile foes in a bid to stabilize a strategic ally in the war on terror and to stem the ascendancy of the extremists. It could negatively impact on regional stability, particularly if the militancy spirals in Pakistan and the religious extremists thwart the efforts of the coalition forces to stabilize Afghanistan.

Ms. Bhutto possessed a clear understanding of the terrorism issue and the grave implications that it had for the future of Pakistan. It lay at the heart of her address at the Liaquat Bagh campaign rally, as well as during the 45 minute meeting with Afghan president Hamid Karzai. At Liaquat Bagh, the former prime minister delivered an impassioned and ringing warning that the daily unchecked bombings in various cities of Pakistan and the collapsing law and order situation posed a clear and present danger to the integrity of the country. She reminded her supporters at the public rally that “nobody could have dared to think of breaking the country or engaging in terror and extremist acts when the PPP was in power. But the country had to suffer whenever a dictator took over.”[1] She assured them that she would use peoples’ power to counter terrorists and had put in place a clear strategy and a well-conceived policy to eliminate terrorism.

The same issue was the focus of attention in her meeting with the president of Afghanistan earlier in the day. Both leaders underscored the critical importance of containing and eliminating the rising tide of militancy and extremism in their respective countries. This was indispensable not only for the stability, security and progress of their countries, but also for the entire region.[2]

Tragically, minutes after she had concluded her address at the Liaquat Bagh public rally, she herself fell victim to a dastardly attack by a terrorist, plunging the whole country into a doom and gloom mode and threatening its very edifice. Suroosh Irfani aptly observed in the  Pakistani English newspaper Daily Times, “The terrorists had every reason to be jubilant: they had silenced the one voice that consistently warned of the grave danger religious extremists posed to Pakistan’s viability as a modern democratic state. Indeed, the struggle for democracy for Bhutto was inseparable from reclaiming the ‘real Pakistan’ from the encroachments of religious extremists.[3]

The Daily Times carried an Adnkronos International (AKI) news agency report in which Al-Qaeda claimed   responsibility for the assassination of Ms. Benazir Bhutto. “We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat (the) mujahadeen,” AKI quoted Al Qaeda commander and main spokesman Mustafa Abu Al Yazid as saying. According to AKI, Al Yazid is the main Al Qaeda commander in Afghanistan. “It is believed that the decision to kill Benazir…was made by Al Qaeda No 2, the Egyptian doctor, Ayman Al Zawahiri in October,” AKI said. “…one cell comprising a defunct Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s Punjabi volunteer succeeded in killing Benazir,” it stated.

The government of Pakistan added its voice to the Al-Qaeda claim. The Pakistani Interior Ministry spokesman Brig (r) Javed Cheema said at a press conference that the government had ‘irrefuable’ evidence that Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud wabehind Benazir’s killing. “The government intercepted a telephone call made by some cleric to Mehsud in which the latter extended congratulations on the successful execution of the operation [Benazir’s assassination] by his suicide bombers,” he said. He also distributed transcripts of the intercepted phone call, claiming it was a conversation between Baitullah and his cleric friend.[4]

However, the next day the Tehrik-i-Taliban, Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud denied any role in the assassination of the former prime minister. Maulvi Umar, a spokesman for the militant leader, told Dawn by telephone on Saturday from an undisclosed location that the interior ministry statement was “defaming” the Taliban movement. “Baitullah and his supporters are not involved in the murder of Ms Bhutto, because it is against tribal customs and traditions to kill a woman,” the spokesman claimed.[5]

In a related development the Pakistani English daily The News[6] carried a report in which the PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar claimed that Baitullah Mehsud, following the 18 October 2007 assassination attempt on Ms. Bhutto, had sent a message to her in which he asked her to “identify your enemy, I am not your enemy, I have nothing to do with you or against you or with the assassination attempt on you on October 18. I have neither the resources to fight outside Waziristan nor I have any plans to attack Benazir Bhutto in the future.”[7]

The commitment that Ms. Benazir Bhutto demonstrated in fighting terrorism resonated through the Pakistan People’s Party manifesto unveiled by her on 30 November 2007 for the January 2008 parliamentary elections and in major speeches both at home and abroad. In the manifesto the party promises to “dismantle militant groups who seek to take hostage the foreign policy of the country and impose their writ through force on the tribal areas of Pakistan and elsewhere “ and goes on to affirm that “ distinctions between, and amongst terrorist groups will no longer be maintained.” In a clear reference to the Zia ul Haq era it asserts that “terrorism was born in the bowels of dictatorship, which recruited, trained, armed and financed extreme factions while marginalizing the moderate, democratic and pluralistic forces. History teaches us that democracies do not wage war with each other nor do democracies promote international terrorism.”[8]

The manifesto, additionally, devotes considerable space to Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan whose leadership has on several occasions accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to sanctuaries in Pakistan from where Taliban frequently carry out raids against the present Afghan regime. The manifesto claims that military dictators have exploited Pakistan’s proximity to Afghanistan and its strategic importance to the world community to perpetuate dictatorship. “The PPP will not allow Pakistan’s territory to be used for cross-border terrorism against Afghanistan. The Party firmly adheres to the principle of non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs and favours no group, faction or tribe. The PPP government will engage the Afghan government for an overall understanding on border security, exchange of intelligence, flag meetings between sector commanders, exchange of information, and non-use of force in one another’s territories. The PPP will seek to sign a Treaty of Peace and Cooperation with Afghanistan.”[9]

The promise that the Pakistan Peoples Party would not allow Pakistan territory to be used for promoting insurgency in Afghanistan is renewed when it spells out its policy with respect to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It voices its determination to “restore the authority of the Government in the Tribal Areas and stop the pro-Taliban forces from using its territory to mount attacks on neighbouring Afghanistan.”[10] It accuses the military regime of giving up Pakistan’s sovereign territory in the tribal areas to foreigners, as a result of which FATA had become a safe haven for militancy and extremism. The PPP, the manifesto asserts, will reclaim Pakistan’s territory and reassert the authority of the government.

The attention given by the party manifesto to countering terrorism is matched by candid, forceful and repeated assertions by the late party chairperson Ms.Benazir Bhutto condemning the growth of the menace in Pakistan and globally and expressing her determination to stop and eliminate it. In two speeches delivered to western audiences Ms. Benazir Bhutto identified factors behind the growth of terrorism in Pakistan and outlined measures she and her party proposed to adopt in combating it. One speech was made in New York in August 2007 at the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations. Established in 1921, the CFR is an independent and non-partisan think tank dedicated to promoting a better understanding of the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States as well as other countries. The other speech was delivered a month earlier in July 2007 in London to an equally well regarded organization – The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). The IISS is one of the world’s leading authorities on political-military conflict and claims to be the primary source of accurate, objective information on international strategic issues.

Address at the Council on Foreign Relations

In her address to the CFR Ms. Bhutto declared that military dictatorship first in the ’80s and then again, under General Musharraf, had fueled the forces of extremism. The governments headed by the military dictators were unaccountable, unrepresentative, undemocratic, and disconnected from the ordinary people in the country and from the aspirations of the people. These dictatorships were born from the power of the gun, and undermined the concept of the rule of law, giving birth to a culture of might, weapons, violence and intolerance.

Ms. Bhutto remarked that the suppression of democracy in Pakistan had profound institutional consequences. “The major infrastructure building blocks of democracy have been weakened, political parties have been marginalized, NGOs are dismantled, judges sacked and civil society undermined. And by undermining the infrastructure of democracy, the regime that is in place to date was a regime put into place by the intelligence agencies after the flawed elections of 2002. This regime has not allowed the freedom of association, the freedom of movement, the freedom of speech for moderate political forces, and so by default, the mosques and the madrassas have become the only outlet of permitted political expression in the country,” the former two-time popularly elected prime minister told the American audience.

As a consequence of these policies, for the first time in Pakistan’s history,   religious parties had risen to power and ruled over two of Pakistan’s four federating units – the NWFP and Balochistan that border Afghanistan. While the military dictatorship had allowed the religious parties to govern two of Pakistan’s four provinces, it had exiled the moderate leadership of the country, weakened internal law enforcement and was responsible for a very bloody suppression of people’s human rights.

In parallel with the emergence of the religious parties, the world witnessed the growth of extremist groups in Pakistan. Just as the generals of the ’80s used the so-called Islamic card to promote a military dictatorship while demonizing political parties, so too has the present military establishment of the country used the Islamist threat to pressurize the international community into supporting the continuation of its rule. The military regime, according to Bhutto, had failed to halt terrorism, a fact attested to by a leading US intelligence estimate that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban seem to be firmly entrenched in safe havens in Pakistan where their activity was increasing.

It was, therefore, surprising to see the international community back the present regime despite its failure to stop the Taliban and Al-Qaeda reorganizing after they were defeated, demoralized and dispersed following the events of 9/11. The West’s close association with a military dictatorship was alienating Pakistanis and playing into the hands of those hardliners who blamed the West for the ills of the region. And it need not be that way. Ms. Bhutto asserted that a people inspired by democracy, human rights and economic opportunity would turn their back decisively against extremism.

The PPP appreciated that it was Pakistan’s geo-strategic position as the bastion for the free world that led the international community to deal with whoever was in power. So in a sense, the military dictatorships were able to leverage international support in suppressing democratic rights for short-term strategic goals. But this policy was now backfiring.

To a comment that there is an impression that a significant chunk of the Pakistani population was more committed to its ideology than to institutions and democracy and that the process of radicalization and the rise of extremism had created a significant obstacle or hurdle to the restoration of democracy, Ms. Bhutto argued that the polls did not give such an indication and since the inception of Pakistan all the elections had shown that the religious parties never did well when it came to elections. However, if the military establishment decided to rig the elections, then that was another issue, which was why the PPP had asked General (r) Musharraf to implement certain reforms to ensure that the elections would be fair. The PPP had also requested the international community to fund a robust monitoring team to make the elections credible.

Ms. Bhutto also responded to a question regarding the September 2006 peace agreement signed by the Political Agent of North Waziristan on behalf of the government and by a group of militants on behalf of the Taliban shura. In essence, under the agreement, the extremists undertook not to engage in cross-border movement for militant activity in neighbouring Afghanistan and the government pledged not to carry out any ground or air operation against the militants and resolve issues through local customs and traditions. The agreement also envisaged that foreigners living in North Waziristan would leave Pakistan, but those who could not, would be allowed to live peacefully provided they respected the law of the land and the agreement.[11]

Ms. Bhutto stated that the People’s Party had rejected the treaty, because it had ceded part of Pakistan territory to foreigners – the Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda, Chechens and the Uzbeks. The tragic part of it was that this had not satisfied the agenda of the Afghan Taliban or the Arab Al-Qaeda, the Central Asian Uzbeks or the Chechens. They were now knocking on the doors of the settled areas of the NWFP. In fact, the more one accommodated them, the more they wanted. The only thing that would work was to take them on. It was counter-productive to placate them. Although the religious parties were ruling two provinces of Pakistan, their thirst for power was insatiable. They incessantly demanded more, not that they had popular support, but for the reason that the militants and the militias supported them. Benazir Bhutto declared: “This is a battle to save Pakistan. We have to save Pakistan from within. And by saving Pakistan from within, I think that it will be having a profound effect on our region. It will have an effect on Afghanistan, on India and also the larger world community.”

Dwelling on the question of direct United States’ military strikes on militants in Pakistan, Ms. Bhutto said that while she wouldn’t like the United States to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty with unauthorized military operations, it was critical that the government of Pakistan acted decisively against the militants, to protect Pakistan’s own sovereignty and integrity, its own respect, and to understand that if it created a vacuum, then others would not passively stand aside while militants freely moved across the border. “We cannot allow parallel armies, parallel militias, parallel laws and parallel command structures. Today it’s not just the intelligence services, who were previously called a state within a state. Today it’s the militants who are becoming yet another little state within the state, and this is leading some people to say that Pakistan is on the slippery slope of being called a failed state. But this is a crisis for Pakistan, unless we deal with the extremists and the terrorists, our entire state could founder.”

Ms. Bhutto described the issue of madrassas, or religious seminaries, as a major challenge. She said that there existed three kinds of madrassas in Pakistan. One was the traditional madrassa which taught people their religious duties and obligations. The second was the madrassa which basically brainwashed children into intolerance and the third kind acted as the headquarters of militant groups, as one saw in the case of the Red Mosque in Islamabad. It was the second type of madrassas that were really dangerous and had to be targeted. It involved the value system and would determine whether Pakistan was moving in the direction of a pluralistic society. Madrassas could not be permitted to teach people hate or violence or brainwash them in extremist thought.  So as long as madrassas abided by the rules, they would be allowed to function, but if they did not, they would be shut down. That in itself was not enough. An alternative to the madrassas had to be provided. A multifaceted approach needed to be adopted. Poverty and unemployment in Pakistan had risen, and it was ticking like a time bomb. Because the people were unemployed, the militias and militants were able to entice them through financial incentives.

A broad consensus existed among the major political parties in Pakistan that President Musharraf had taken the right step in joining the war against terrorism. Both the PPP and Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League were committed to fighting terrorism and extremism. But while it may have been a difficult decision for Musharraf at one level, there was consensus within Pakistan that terrorism was a threat to the outside world as well as to the people of Pakistan.

The PPP wanted to work together with the international community to eliminate terrorism and extremism from the country. In some ways it would be easier for PPP, and in other ways it was easier for General Musharraf. The General’s strength lay in the fact that he had the army and the intelligence at his command. But at the same time, his difficulty was that the same military security apparatus that fought the Afghan jihad of the `80s, had established the Afghan mujaheddin, who later went on to become the Taliban and Al Qaeda. There, was thus a kind of affinity between the two and it was difficult to suddenly take on the people they were breaking bread with; whereas with the PPP, while it certainly needed the army in back-up situations as well as military intelligence, the party had access to a different kind of information. This was possible as a result of the party’s mass appeal and public contacts as well as the law enforcement in terms of police and the paramilitary forces.

The linkage of a people with the government and, in particular, a people who have benefited in terms of jobs and schools and drinking water, helped create a vested interest and the will for the people to save their own community. But when there was a government that was non-representative, the public became alienated, and turned against the government. It was in this way that a democratic government was stronger because it could reach out to the people and it could pull together the mechanism for law enforcement. Terrorism was as much a military situation as it was an investigative criminal situation. The present regime had failed to counter the threat effectively.

Ms. Bhutto said that it was her impression that the army was uncomfortable with its role in politics. The public had turned against the uniform and there were reports that military personnel had been told not to wear their uniforms when they go into the streets. The army was used to being respected by the people at large. And so to make the army non-controversial, it was important to get it out of politics. But there was a group within the armed forces particularly within its top echelons who had a vested interest in dictatorship, because dictatorship brought power not only to them, but also to their relatives, who started doing well in parliamentary elections which were rigged, or even economically because business contracts were given to them. Thus as far as the rank and file of the Pakistani army was concerned, they wanted to get out and let the civilians do the job.  But Ms. Bhutto was not sure whether the leadership also felt that way. “For me, I see military rule as the problem. I don’t see it as the solution.”

Ms. Bhutto promised that in the event she was again called upon to lead the country she would free it from the yoke of military dictatorship. Pakistan would cease to be a haven, the centre of international terrorism. It would help stabilize Afghanistan, relieving pressure on NATO troops. Pakistan would be a democracy which would pursue the drug barons and bust up the drug cartel that today was funding terrorism. She would establish the rule of law and no one would be allowed to recruit, train and run private armies and private militias. A democratic Pakistan would put the welfare of its people as the centrepiece of its national policy.

The PPP had the ability to eliminate terrorism and give the people security, and security would bring in the economic investment that would help reverse the tide of rising poverty in the country, which in turn would certainly undermine the forces of militancy and extremism.

Ms. Bhutto said that she wanted not merely the restoration of democracy but also a long-term commitment on the part of the West, on the lines of the Marshall Plan, to help built institutions of the country so that the nation could sustain that democracy. The real choice in Pakistan was not between military dictatorship and religious parties; the choice for Pakistan was between dictatorship and democracy. Ms. Bhutto felt that it was in the choice between dictatorship and democracy that the outcome of the battle between extremism and moderation would be decided in Pakistan.

Address at the International Institute  for Strategic Studies.

In her address to the IISS in London Ms. Bhutto essentially made the same points as in her CFR speech. Additionally, she maintained that the West had to partly share the blame for the growth of religious extremism. This could be traced to the training and arming of the Mujahideen by the West in collaboration with the Pakistani intelligence agencies in the 80s and to the West’s support of a military dictator who served their goal of hurting the Soviet Union even though he destroyed democracy and its major infrastructural building blocks. According to Ms. Bhutto “Shortly after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 the calls for a return to Pakistani democracy subsided. The West saw an opportunity to use events in Afghanistan to hobble the Soviet Union.  Western policy was directed to one and only one goal, to use Afghanistan as the nail in the coffin of the Soviet Union.  All other issues, and more importantly, all other values, were put on the backburner.  Short term advantages checkmated long term policy goals.

“The West funnelled aid and training of the extremist Mujahadeen through Pakistan’s intelligence services commanded by a military dictator with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. He used the Muslim Brotherhood to enlist members to form the Afghan Mujahideen. The seeds of global network of world terrorists were sowed then. The Mujahiden would later morph into the Taliban.  The Taliban would morph into Al-Qaeda.  And the rest is ugly, painful history.  But it was not necessarily unpredicted.  The danger of the short term strategy undermining long term goals was apparent even then. When I met with President George H.W. Bush in the White House in June of 1989, I told him, “Mr. President, we have created a Frankenstein.”

“A short term policy decision generated a long term crisis, not just for South Asia, but for the entire world.  Decisions made in the early 1980s can be directly linked to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, to the attacks on Madrid, London and Glasgow, Peshawar, Islamabad and Quetta and to the continuing plots emanating out of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, in safe havens from the tribal areas in Pakistan and against my people and yours.

“The war in Afghanistan in the 1980s had the most immediate and direct impact on my homeland – on the people of Pakistan, on the people of Afghanistan, on three million refugees from Afghanistan forced into camps in the North West Frontier Province, and to all the public policy crises that ensued from these developments. The ISI/CIA alliance brought modern weapons and technology to the Mujahideen, but also converted my homeland into a violent society of Kalashnikovs, heroin users and radicalized Islam.   Decisions made in the Holy War in Afghanistan twenty years ago continue to ripple through my homeland.

“As the military dictatorship of Zia ul Haq diverted funds from the social sector to military intelligence, the government relinquished its responsibility in education, health, housing and social services.  A vacuum was created.  Parents were desperate – desperate to house their children, to feed their children, to get medicine for their children, and to educate their children.  When the government would not provide these services, the people turned elsewhere.

“Political madrassas moved in to fill the vacuum. They promised to house, clothe, feed and educate the children of the poor as well as the children of 3 million Afghan refugees that had moved to Pakistan.  But with the food they provided, they also provided the poison of hatred. They taught the young to subjugate and denigrate women. And they provided para-military type training as well as turned places of religious learning into militant headquarters and meeting places.“

Ms. Bhutto reminded her audience that when these radical elements were expelled from Afghanistan, the remnants of Taliban and Al Qaeda took advantage of a military dictatorship to regroup and reassert themselves. As a consequence the crisis had dangerously accelerated, threatening not only Pakistan, but the region and the world.  Much to the dismay of the people of Pakistan, Islamabad was the primary training and staging area for Al Qaeda. Tragically, from Pakistan soil, from areas that were under the control of the federal government but later ceded to the terrorists, pro-Taliban forces linked to Qaeda launch almost daily attacks on NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan. First they posed an external threat. Now they posed an internal threat too killing members of the armed forces, political workers and innocent civilians across the length and breadth of Pakistan. “I say to you today without hesitation or equivocation that the future of democracy in South Asia – and without exaggeration the stability of the entire world – lies in the balance directly as a result of the West’s acquiescence to military dictatorship in Pakistan,” declared Pakistan’s former prime minister.

The support to the military dictatorship led to the further suppression of democracy, the marginalization of political parties, the undermining of the judiciary and the gagging of the press. And while the democratic and civilian institutions were at the receiving end, the militants expanded their control building more militant headquarters equipped with suicide bombers, rocket launchers, Kalashnikov guns and irregular armies which thrived under the cover of the madrassas.

The so-called madrassa culture was best symbolised by the Red Mosque incident where a mosque, which should be a place of prayer and peace, was turned into a military garrison for the militants. By dismantling the infrastructure of democracy, the regime put into place by the intelligence agencies following the flawed elections of 2002 had allowed the mosques to become the only outlet of political expression in Pakistan, the only place for Pakistanis to participate in public meetings, to gather together, to organize, to plan and unfortunately to plot. Today the very unity and integrity of Pakistan is at stake. The militants reared by a previous military regime that have expanded and grown under the present military regime plan a soft revolution to take on the state of Pakistan itself.

The military and intelligence agencies have received over ten billion dollars in unaccountable assistance from the world community since 9/11. Yet Islamabad’s security apparatus has been unable to contain terrorism.  Given the manner in which the pro-Taliban forces have regrouped in Pakistan’s tribal territories since their defeat in 2001, Afghanistan’s stability is linked with that of Pakistan. And for that to happen democracy must return to Pakistan.

The people of Pakistan believe that the West was propping up a military dictatorship and that military dictatorship in turn needed an Islamist threat to stay in power. So the military dictatorship turned a blind eye towards the militants and focused on the democrats which it considered a threat to its hold on power. The West, sadly and inadvertently, had become the enablers of Pakistani military dictatorships’ suppression of the democratic aspirations of the people of Pakistan. For twenty-five of the thirty years from 1977 to 2007, Pakistan has been governed directly or indirectly by the military. The quarter century military and quasi-military rule has resulted in the rise of religious parties, the growth of political madrassas, the formation of militant groups, the fuelling of extremism and the emergence of global terrorism. There is resentment and anger against the military dictatorship. The West’s close association with the military dictatorship was alienating the people of the country and playing into the hands of those hardliners and extremists who blame the West for the ills of the region.

Ms. Bhutto contended that General Musharraf had failed to stem the onslaught of the terrorists in Pakistan. Yet, she was prepared to form a government under his presidency. General Musharraf was apparently as concerned about the rise of militancy and extremism as Ms. Bhutto and equally determined to eliminate it. In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly plenary session on 19 September 2006 General Musharraf addressed the issue of terrorism in the following manner.

President Musharraf and the fight against terrorism.

The unfortunate history of the region had placed Pakistan in the frontline of the global campaign against terrorism. Pakistan cooperated daily with many countries including the United States and the United Kingdom. This cooperation had pre-empted several terrorist plots.  Al-Qaeda had been significantly degraded as an organization.

While Pakistan confronted terrorism, the goal should be to eliminate this phenomenon comprehensively. This could not be done unless the root causes of present day terrorism were understood and addressed. How are terrorists able to find willing recruits even among educated youth in advanced and democratic societies? The reasons were clear. Across the Muslim world, old conflicts (Palestine and Kashmir) and new campaigns (Iraq and Afghanistan) of military intervention had spawned a deep sense of desperation and injustice. Each new battleground involving an Islamic state had served as a new breeding ground for extremists and terrorists. Indiscriminate bombings, civilian casualties, torture, human rights abuses, racial slurs and discrimination added to the challenge of defeating terrorism.

In General Musharraf’s view a two pronged strategy, called “Enlightened Moderation,” was required to address the situation. The strategy envisaged that, apart from combating terrorism frontally, the international community must undertake resolute efforts to resolve the conflicts afflicting the Islamic world. Unless foreign occupation and suppression of Muslim peoples came to an end, terrorism and extremism would continue to find recruits among alienated Muslims in various parts of the world.

There was also the need to bridge, through dialogue and understanding, the growing divide between the Islamic and Western worlds. In particular, it was imperative to end racial and religious discrimination against Muslims and to prohibit the defamation of Islam. It was most disappointing to see personalities of high standing oblivious of Muslim sensitivities at these critical moments.

The greatest challenge to global security; to the campaign against terrorism; to the promotion of harmony among civilization; to the credibility of the United Nations, was the cauldron of conflict in the Middle East  It was imperative that the world addressed the festering problems of the region, comprehensively and fairly. It was time to end Israel’s conflicts with all its neighbours. It was time, first and foremost, to end the tragedy of Palestine. There was no doubt in Pakistan’s mind that this was the core of the challenge, not only to overcome the Iraq and Afghanistan problems, but also to deal with the menace of terrorism and extremism.

Peace and stability in Afghanistan was of vital interest to Pakistan.  It would assure tranquillity on Pakistan’s western frontiers. It would also enable Pakistan to realize its ambition of linking Central Asia and South Asia through Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Afghanistan confronted complex security, political and economic challenges including a resurgent Taliban who also threatened Pakistan’s efforts against extremism and terrorism. The common challenge imposed a joint responsibility on Pakistan, Afghanistan and the coalition forces.

Problems along the bordering regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan are compounded by the continuing presence of over three million Afghan refugees, some of them were sympathetic to the Taliban. The incentives offered to the refugees for their voluntary return by the international community were minimal. A serious international commitment was required to facilitate their repatriation.[12]

Both Ms.Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf are deeply concerned about the unsettling question of terrorism, which they consider as vitally critical to the future of Pakistan its integrity, progress and prosperity, to the stability of the South Asian region and to global security. There exist, however, significant differences in their approach to handling the menace. Ms. Bhutto had built her anti-terrorism strategy on two planks. The first called for the establishment of a sound and stable democratic order, economic growth and the pursuit of a welfare state in Pakistan. The second plank involved the launching of a relentless war against the terrorists and shunning appeasement.

President Musharraf, on the other hand, does not factor in the element of democracy and public involvement. He attributes the rise of terrorism to unresolved political issues in the Muslim world such as Palestine and Kashmir and bases his strategy on countering terrorism on a mix of force and dialogue. On numerous occasions the Musharraf has projected himself as a champion of democracy and claimed to have introduced reforms geared towards the creation of a sustainable democratic order. In the initial stages of his rule he seemed to exude sincerity and people tended to trust him, but with the passage of time the mask has fallen and he is considered as nothing more than a military dictator obsessed with perpetuating his absolute rule over his Pakistani subjects. He has thus lost the public backing and trust that he initially enjoyed for his policies, including his strategy for staving off the terrorist threat.

As a consequence, despite President Musharraf’s oft-repeated commitment to the war on terror, his philosophy of enlightened moderation and his claims of remarkable successes in stemming the militancy tide, there is a general belief, both among Pakistanis and in the west that on balance he has been unable to stop the march of terror. Afghanistan continues to be unstable, Pakistan is becoming increasingly unstable and insecure and the Al-Qaeda-Taliban combine have strongly entrenched itself in the remote tribal areas of the country and is now knocking at the major cities of Pakistan, including the capital, Islamabad. The days when the president earned accolades from the international community for playing an outstanding role in countering terrorism are over and have become. a part of history.

The US Perspective in the fight against terror.

U.S. intelligence and military officials have expressed rising frustration with the government of President Musharraf. The failure on the part of his regime to counter terrorism is attested by the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment which was released on 17 July 2007 titled “The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland.” The assessment represented the combined effort of United States’ 16 intelligence agencies and was the outcome of 8 months of effort. According to the intelligence estimate, Al Qaida had re-established its central organization, training infrastructure and lines of global communication over the past two years, putting the United States in a “heightened threat environment” despite expanded worldwide counterterrorism efforts.

Intelligence officials attributed the Al-Qaeda gains primarily to its establishment of a safe haven in ungoverned areas of north-western Pakistan. The Washington Post reported that according to Edward Gistaro, national intelligence officer for transnational threats and the primary author of the NIE, “Over the past 18 to 24 months, their safe haven in Pakistan had become more secure.” The safe haven, had allowed al-Qaeda to pull together a new tier of leadership in the form of “lieutenants . . . coming off the bench,” many of them with long experience at bin Laden’s side.[13]

In separate remarks to an intelligence conference on 17 July 2007, Mike McConnell painted a picture of Al-Qaeda activities and the threat to the United States that went beyond the NIE judgments. “They’re working as hard as they can in positioning trained operatives here in the United States. . . . They have recruitment programs to bring recruits into . . . Pakistan, particularly those that speak the right language, that have the right skills, that have the right base that they could come to the United States, fit into the population . . . and carry out acts,” he said.

Certain quarters attributed Pakistan’s failure to mount an effective and sustained assault on militancy to a lack of United States monitoring of the money that it gives to Pakistan to bolster its military’s effort against Al Qaeda the Taliban’Some American officials now acknowledge that there were too few controls over the money. The strategy to improve the Pakistani military, they said, needed to be completely revamped.Skip to next paragraph According to the New York Times Bush administration and military officials believed that much of the American money was not making its way to the front line military units. It had, in fact, been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States had paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs. American intelligence officials said the Al-Qaeda leaders hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas had reconstituted their command structure and become increasingly active. Backed by Al Qaeda, pro-Taliban militants have expanded their influence from the remote border regions into the more populated parts of Pakistan this year and mounted a record number of suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Members of Congress also express growing frustration with the Coalition Support Funds programme. “The situation in the tribal areas seems to be getting worse, not better, and that’s despite a billion dollars in aid,” said Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat on the Armed Services Committee who visited Pakistan in fall 2006. “Just pouring the money in and asking them to do this is not producing the results that we need.” American intelligence officials say they believe that Mr. Bush is likely to leave office in January 2009 with the Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden still at large.[14]

An investigative report in the New York Times in January 2007, which evoked considerable concern both in Pakistan and abroad, described Quetta as an important base for the Taliban and spoke of the possibility that Pakistani authorities were encouraging the insurgents, if not sponsoring them. It also reported that  Western diplomats in both countries and Pakistani opposition figures revealed that Pakistani intelligence agencies – in particular the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) – had been supporting a Taliban restoration, motivated not only by Islamic fervour but also by a longstanding view that the jihadist movement allowed them to assert greater influence on Pakistan’s vulnerable western flank.[15]

This is in sharp contrast to the yesteryears upbeat assessments of US officials hailing their and General Musharraf’s counterterrorism successes. In February 2003, then CIA Director George Tenet told Congress that “more than one-third of the top Al Qaeda leadership identified before the [Afghanistan] war has been killed or captured.” Three months later, Bush increased that number to “about half.” “Al-Qaeda is on the run,” Bush said. In early 2004, as the Pakistani offensive was bolstered by US and Afghan forces on the other side of the border, Tenet described Al Qaeda’s leadership as “seriously damaged” and noted that it had continued to lose “operational safe havens.” The next year, Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, the director of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) at the time, told Congress that after those operations, “the fundamentalist Islamic terrorist threat has splintered and decentralized.”[16]

Many believe that in the loss of Ms. Benazir Bhutto Pakistan has lost all hope of extricating itself from the present mess. Ms. Bhutto was one of the finest daughters of Pakistan – a consummate politician, possessed of a charming and humane personality, an indomitable spirit and extraordinary courage, a liberal and an inveterate democrat with huge grassroots political support. Just as her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, imparted a new life and vigour to a defeated and despondent nation in the 70s, Pakistanis had pinned their hopes on the daughter to reverse the tide of terror and bring justice and the rule of law to their benighted nation. Her courage and indisputable popularity were assets meant to be deployed against the rising tide of militancy and obscurantism threatening the Pakistani state.  Her democratic credentials, after 8 long years of virtual military rule would give a voice and hope to the teeming masses.

In a brief TV address General (r) Musharraf declared a 3 day national mourning and reiterated (for the umpteenth time) that the “government remained unshaken in its resolve to uproot terrorism, once and for all….I give my commitment to the nation today that I would continue my struggle till the time when the scourge of terrorism and extremism is uprooted from our society.” He called for full cooperation and support from the people.[17]

Despite the retired general’s rhetoric and exhortations to the people to support him in the war on terror, and even though he himself has been the target of assassination by religious fanatics, it is now widely felt that on both counts, terrorism and democracy, he has simply failed to deliver. Reportedly, elements within his administration are believed to be sympathetic to the militants, as are many of those who are his political allies. He has become not only widely unpopular, but his ability to address the daunting challenges facing Pakistan is increasingly questioned. An American official was quoted as saying that Musharraf has a track record of promising much to Washington but doing little to counter the militants. “My prediction is, Musharraf will go into a bunker mentality and be nicer to the Muslims,” said John McCreary, who led the Defence Intelligence Agency’s 2001 task force on Afghanistan. “He goes through the pretences of crackdown but never follows through.”[18] Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for the US presidency, rightly cited “the failure of the Musharraf regime either to deal with terrorism or to build democracy,” adding that “it’s time that the United States sided with civil society in Pakistan.”

Assessing the delicate situation in post-Benazir Bhutto Pakistan, the Washington Post in its editorial of 28 December 2007 described Ms. Bhutto as the most powerful advocate of secular democracy in her country who had the courage to confront both Islamic militants and the autocratic government of President Pervez Musharraf. It feared that her tragic death might open the way to violence and political chaos that could be exploited by Al Qaeda and the Taliban, unless Mr. Musharraf and the country’s surviving moderate forces act quickly and wisely. The odds that they will do so are not good. Mr. Musharraf, who only 12 days ago lifted a state of emergency he imposed to ensure his continuance in power, has been at war with the country’s political parties, judiciary, media and human rights advocates.

With a vital stake in preserving the stability of a country that harbors both a nuclear arsenal and the top leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, the United States must urgently press Mr. Musharraf, Mr. Sharif, and other key Pakistani actors to take steps that will alleviate rather than further inflame the situation. Perhaps most urgent is the capture of those who committed the murder and a full and credible investigation..

Mr. Musharraf should be restrained from another imposition of martial law, which would again set him at odds with Pakistan’s media and civil society but do little to stop Al Qaeda. At the same time, the Bush administration should follow up aggressively on the president’s suggestion that Pakistan “honour Benazir Bhutto’s memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life.” Elections – held on January 8 or soon afterward – and a restored democracy remain the best way for the centrist majority in Pakistan to rally against the forces of extremism that yesterday realized a great, though despicable, victory.[19]

The New York Times too in its editorial of the same date made a case for a genuine democratic set-up and an independent judiciary and a free press as the only panacea for bringing stability to Pakistan and stemming terrorism.

According to the paper, “Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan raised hopes that her country might find its way toward democracy and stability. Her assassination on Thursday is yet one more horrifying reminder of how far Pakistan is from both – and how close it is to the brink.

Skip to next paragraphMs. Bhutto’s death leaves the Bush administration with no visible strategy for extricating Pakistan from its crisis or rooting out Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which have made the country their most important rear base. Betting America’s security (and Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal) on an unaccountable dictator, President Pervez Musharraf, did not work. Betting it on a back-room alliance between that dictator and Ms. Bhutto, who had hoped to win a third try as prime minister next month, is no longer possible…… Meanwhile, Al Qaeda and the Taliban continued, and continue, to make alarming gains.

That leaves Mr. Bush with the principled, if unfamiliar, option of using American prestige and resources to fortify Pakistan’s badly battered democratic institutions. There is no time to waste.

The United States cannot afford to have Pakistan unravel any further. The lesson of the last six years is that authoritarian leaders – even ones backed with billions in American aid – don’t make reliable allies, and they can’t guarantee security.

American policy must now be directed at building a strong democracy in Pakistan that has the respect and the support of its own citizens and the will and the means to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan is a nation of 165 million people. The days of Washington mortgaging its interests there to one or two individuals must finally come to an end.”[20]

The fanaticism, militancy and mindless violence that have taken hold of the nation is causing cracks in the structure of the state. It is time not only to realize and absorb this unpalatable fact, but be prepared to take wise and unprecedented measures to prevent the state sliding into chaos and eventually collapsing. The first step is to ensure that the forthcoming elections will be free, fair and impartial and also perceived to be such. This requires immediate consultations with the principal players in Pakistan’s politics and if need be the establishment of a government of national consensus to steer the ship of state through the treacherous waters it finds itself in at the present. The government’s credibility has touched an all time low and is the source of numerous misgivings. If, however, General (r) Musharraf continues to be stubborn and runs the country with the help of intelligence agencies and some short-sighted, self-seeking visionless politicians, the cracks in the state structure will widen leading to an eventual collapse.


The best tribute that the nation can pay to the former prime minister, the late Ms. Benazir Bhutto, is to hold genuinely free, fair and impartial elections leading to the establishment of a democratic polity, restore the judiciary to the status that it enjoyed on 2 November 2007, remove all shackles that have been placed on the press, free the lawyers and civil rights activists who have been thrown into prison and respect the rights of the citizens of Pakistan. It is only through an empowered citizenry that a government can hope to attain its objectives. In a write-up in the Washington Post prior to her return to Pakistan, Ms. Bhutto described her purpose in the following words:

“I am returning to Pakistan on October 18 to bring change to my country. Pakistan’s future viability, stability and security lie in empowering its people and building political institutions. My goal is to prove that the fundamental battle for the hearts and minds of a generation can be accomplished only under democracy.”[21]

The country’s future will depend on the decisions taken by the Musharraf regime and the way it behaves towards the opposition, on the decisions of the PPP, the only genuine national party with deep roots in the four federating provinces and in the response of the United States which is legitimately worried whether Ms. Bhutto’s assassination would lead to a new and a vigorous offensive by the religious extremists with adverse consequences for the US effort to bring stability to Afghanistan.

The PPP even though enveloped in shock and grief, has risen to the occasion and its Central Executive Committee has taken a wise and rational decision to participate in the polls. The new party chairman  Bilawal Bhutto’s remark that his mother always said that democracy is the best revenge are very encouraging signals from Pakistan’s largest political party. Mr. Nawaz Sharif too is prepared to review his earlier announcement that the PML(N) would boycott the elections. Thus, the country’s two major political forces have chosen the peaceful and democratic way of seeing the nation through in its hour of trial. It is now for President Musharraf to promise, but more importantly, deliver on a fair and transparent transition to democracy. As for the United States, for the past 6 years it had put all its eggs in the Musharraf basket. This has not worked for it, either on the terrorism front or on the democratic. In the process, it has lost prestige and influence with the Pakistani people. It is time to bet on people’s power. In an overdose of democracy, a strict adherence to the rule of law and zero tolerance for violence lies the best formula for combating terrorism and securing a stable and secure future for Pakistan.


[*] Iqbal Ahmad Khan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan.

[1] Daily Times, 28 December 2007.

[2] Dawn, 28 December 2007.

[3] Daily Times, 31 December 2007.

[4] Daily Times, 29 December 2007.

[5] Dawn, 30 December 2007.

[6] The News, 30 December 2007.

[7] Political Intelligence, 28 December 2007.

[8] PPP Website

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Dawn, 6 September 2006.

[12] President Musharraf’s address to the plenary session of the UNGA, New York, 19 September 2006.

[13] Washington Post, 18 July 2007.

[14] New York Times, 24 December 2007.

[15] New York Times, 21 January 2007.

[16] Washington Post, 18 July 2007.

[17] Dawn, 28 December 2007.

[18] Washington Post, 29 December 2007.

[19] Washington Post, 28 December 2007.

[20] New York Times, 28 December 2007.

[21] Washington Post, 20 September 2007.