Sources of Embarrassment for Pakistan

Over last few days, politicians from all hue and colour have been dropping the hint multiple times about their unwillingness to clean the mess created by, well, the state itself. The unambiguous political message coming out of these rumblings was, the mess couldn’t be cleared unless the ‘state’ decides to give a collective push for an all-out counter-terror effort.

In Cyril Almeida’s great scoop about the high level meeting, the security establishment was bluntly told about Pakistan’s international isolation because of some long held policies by the state institutions. According to the report published in Dawn on Oct6, the chief minister of Punjab had brusquely reminded of the instances when the security establishment had been saving some terror outfits whenever the civilian government had taken steps to target them. The report doesn’t speak much of what did the representatives of the security establishment say in response, but informs of a decision whereby ISI chief would go to every province in order to direct persons in-charge of the sectors about the changed policy. Do I smell an admission of guilt? No I don’t!

The same day, Senate’s Leader of Opposition from Pakistan Peoples Party, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, had said while addressing the joint session of the Parliament that Pakistan was isolated internationally because it gives freedom to the non-state actors. He lamented the non-implementation of National Action Plan (NAP) by the government. We might like to be reminded of the fact here that there has been a publicly played ping-pong contest between civilian government and the military establishment on the issue of non-implementation of NAP. Both have blamed each other in past for not doing enough to implement the Plan.

Very next day, on Friday, PML-N lawmaker Rana Mohammad Afzal demanded action against Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed. He was briefing the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs about his recent visit to France as part of parliamentary diplomacy initiative on Kashmir issue by the NA Speaker Ayaz Sadiq. Afzal expressed his ire over the inability of the state to contain Hafiz Saeed. “Which eggs is Hafiz Saeed laying for us that we are nurturing him?” he had asked. This precisely is the question that keeps appearing incessantly only to be ignored by the powers.

In a clearer tone, Information Minister Pervez Rasheed while addressing an event last week had said, “the generals keep creating the mess, which they expect politicians to clean”.

A few months back, answering a question by BBC about why no action was possible against the terror groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and JuD, Punjab’s Home Minister Rana Sanaullah had ruled out the possibility of legal action against the groups and had asked, “How can you prosecute a group with whom the state itself has been involved with?”

That reminds of the sprawling mansion owned by JeM in Bahawalpur and used as training camp for the radicalised youngsters. The facility still works, so report the journalists watching JeM and other proscribed organisations. Its leader Masood Azhar is heard delivering Khutbas to the prayer congregations every now and then. That is, despite being the head of a proscribed organisation.

In a TV interview in February, former military dictator Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf had declined to comment when asked if terror leaders like Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar should be arrested. Doesn’t give much hope about the great change in policy that the ‘high level’ meetings keep harping about. Prior to this in the same interview, he had admitted that ISI had been training outfits like JeM and LeT, etc. He then said that all terror groups whether attacking targets in Pakistan or Indian Occupied Kashmir must be taken down because they are now becoming a source of great embarrassment for Pakistan. Now that’s something that many of ordinary folks like yours truly have been saying all along, throughout the 2000s. Needless to mention, we were called pro-India and anti-Pakistan because of this demand. How times change!

JeM, for the record, was involved in killing American journalist Daniel Pearl and latter in a plot to assassinate Gen Musharraf in 2003. Couple of years ago, a former brigadier while serving in ISI had told me during a private conversation that he was sure of Masood Azhar being an agent of India’s RAW. Yes you read it right! Intrigued, when I engaged him in arguments, he had said, how else would the Indians release him from custody? He was being paid and supported by RAW and IB prior to making JeM for dividing and breaking up Hizbul Mijahideen, which he efficiently delivered for Indians, the brigadier had said. Now that is a bit puzzling. If indeed Masood Azhar is an agent of RAW, which he might very well be, why is he being protected by the defenders of Pakistan’s ‘ideological and geographical’ boundaries?

Also, in his report that appeared in 2010, journalist Umar Cheema had recounted how according to the Police, some spy agencies have been involved in tempering the circumstantial evidence of the terror attacks. The story had reported that the ‘agencies’ would pick the suspects asking police to spare an FIR copy for backdated registration of the case; after a year or so, suspects would be handed over to police without sharing details; the FIR story used to be fabricated eventually non-acceptable by the court.

All of this points to an incipient political consensus against the non-state actors and that these actors have been created and supported by powerful institutions within the state of Pakistan. The emerging picture suggests that either the security establishment has run out of excuses to support these actors or it has realised the futility, rather damaging effects of these former(?) assets, and that’s why they have agreed to make a countrywide tour in order to ‘direct’ their ranks to cooperate with civilian forces to eliminate them.

Pardon my skepticism (which nowadays is increasingly termed as ‘negative thinking’), but when the institutions change their policies and decide to go after their former assets, the head of the institution doesn’t have to visit her/his forces on ground to inform about the change. In the dark world of spying, such directives do not need theatrics. Things are made to happen and the results make themselves apparent. The elimination of LeJ leadership is one example. No provincial visits were held in order to take an action there.

One argument that has increasingly been offered in defence of not acting against the groups like JeM, JuD and LeT, etc, is, while the security forces are entangled with Zarb-e-Azb and allied operations (Combing Operations and Intelligence Based Operations) in other parts of the country in addition to the heated up eastern and western borders, opening further fronts would be a tactical mistake. Now that argument has been offered for too long and too often to be convincing.

When the pressers coming from ISPR repeatedly claim that the ZeA is an all-out Op and that no distinction of good or bad militants is being made on ground, it is quite surprising that a parallel argument of ‘too many fronts’ is also being pedaled. Moreover, how many fronts are actually open is another question. Although all of us must know that the outfits working from Pakistan have ground level cooperation to an extent that it is literally impossible to look at them separately. Hasn’t LeT and even JeM cooperated with AQ in the past? Haven’t ASWJ and LeJ worked with Haqqanis and AQ in past? Hasn’t Jamaat ul Ahrar recruited from LeJ, JeM, LeT, etc? Hasn’t ISIS recruited from JuD?

This is one front: terror. All terror. If we have decided to face it, face it in totality. The incremental approach doesn’t work in the world of CT.

This article was published by Pakistan Today on 16th October 2016