5 January 2015

Pak complacency threatens its survival

Anita Inder Singh
Jan 5 2015

With ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban around, the govt may not act decisively against militants

The killing of 148 students by the Taliban in Peshawar last week is not inspiring a change of heart for Pakistan's government and the military. Many militants will be hanged, says the military, perhaps because such a massacre is an obvious challenge to the Pakistani state. But the militants have good reason to be undeterred.

Pakistan's leaders continue with their ambiguous — rather duplicitous — response to the extremism that could derail Pakistan's democracy. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assured his compatriots that his government would cease to distinguish between the “bad” Pakistani Taliban, which challenge the Pakistani state, and other “good” anti-India, anti-Afghan Taliban groups. But there is little possibility of this tough stance being transformed into a credible policy.

Just two days after the massacre, a Pakistani court granted bail to Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, the militant commander accused of planning the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai in which 166 people were killed. Lakhvi is a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the supposedly “good” Taliban groups that focuses on attacking India and has been trained and sustained by Pakistan's army. Admittedly, the government can legally keep him behind bars. That only serves as a reminder of his sluggish trial, which began in 2009, and of Islamabad's failure to ensure justice to the families of those killed in the Mumbai attacks. India has protested at the granting of bail to Lakhvi. 
The Lashkar, meanwhile, has been allowed to re-establish itself and to re-emerge as a political force. Its leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, lives safely in Lahore although the United States has offered a bounty of $10 million for his arrest.

True, the army has intensified its bombing of militant outfits in north-west Pakistan. But that does not signify a decision to stop training all extremists. Good and bad Taliban cooperate with one another — and Islamabad and its army surely know that. But Islamabad shows no determination to hunt down all militant groups.

The inference is that Pakistan's leaders and generals want to sustain anti-India militants while trying to get some political clout in Kabul. Even as the Pakistani military recently chased the Taliban in North Waziristan, it stopped short of mounting an offensive against the Haqqani network, a militant group that staged several attacks in Afghanistan last summer, or the militants in Punjab and Sindh who the military still thinks of using against India.
The aims of Pakistani-sponsored extremist groups fighting India or trying to make a headway in Afghanistan are similar. The Lashkar-e-Taiba is not content with trying to dislodge India from Kashmir: it also calls for jihad against the West. Its friends, who include the Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) seek to create a political arrangement based on the sharia.

Then there is the JeM, which has links with al Qaeda and the Taliban. That group runs madrasas in south Punjab, demands the killing of non-Muslim minorities and punishment at the stake for those it regards as blasphemers. 
Pakistan's politicians, including Sharif and his main political opponent, the former cricketer Imran Khan, have close ties with extremist groups. Sharif's party, the Punjab Muslim League (N), has close ties with the leaders of Punjab-based militants. Imran apparently believes that the Taliban want to liberate Pakistan from the US. Meanwhile, the Pakistan People's Party, run by the Bhutto-Zardari family, are close to militant groups in Sindh.
So, no political party is challenging either the militant groups or the army and intelligence services that sustain them. Former President Musharraf, like the extremist Saeed, even alleges that India is to blame for the Peshawar massacres. In short, there is no official Pakistani opinion in favour of strong anti-extremist action.

What Pakistan's establishment must recognise is that extremists are using religion to capture power, or at the very least, to destabilise the Pakistani state. The Pakistani-trained extremists are not going to be content with destabilising India and exacerbating insecurity in Afghanistan. The Peshawar massacre is an embarrassment to the Pakistani state and merely executing some militants will not suffice to rein them in. Violence, after all, is the method of choice of extremists, and by refusing to throw the gauntlet down before them, Pakistan's politicians and military subvert their own country's democracy. Indeed their complacency, much like the violence of the extremists, threatens the survival of Pakistan itself.

The writer is Visiting Professor at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution in New Delhi

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