Positive developments or a false dawn?
In a positive development on Wednesday, Pakistani authorities detained “several individuals” belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which is suspected to have engineered the Pathankot terror attack, and sealed its offices. These developments have come after India linked Islamabad’s “prompt and decisive” action to the fate of Foreign Secretary-level talks scheduled for Friday. Islamabad is also reportedly considering sending a special investigation team to Pathankot to gain more information. There is little dispute that the terrorists involved in the attack on the Pathankot air base were from Pakistan. Indian authorities believe that terrorists belonging to the dreaded Jaish-e-Mohammad, headed by Maulana Masood Azhar, are behind the Pathankot terror attack, in which seven security personnel were killed. After India presented the requisite evidence, Pakistani authorities had carried out raids at different places over the weekend, leading to some arrests. After the arrests, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the formation of a high-profile joint investigation team (JIT) to investigate the links of the Pathankot air base attackers with Pakistan. The JIT will comprise of officials from the Pakistani Intelligence Bureau (IB), Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI). India’s response to Pakistan’s “prompt” action has been positive to say the least. Speaking to reporters, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that there is no reason to distrust Pakistan’s promise of cracking down on perpetrators of the Pathankot terror attack.
After the fiasco of Pakistan’s investigations into the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, it is a little difficult to trust Islamabad’s assertions of a prompt and decisive response. Back then, Pakistani leaders, under pressure from the larger international community, had promised complete cooperation in investigating the terrorists involved. Arrests were made and a trial process was initiated. Suffice to say, none of the Mumbai attackers have been convicted in a Pakistani court of law. Apologists for this terror outfit had said that there was insufficient evidence to convict anyone, which by all standards was a ridiculous assertion to make. Fast forward to 2016, and the Nawaz Sharif government is under pressure from the United States, albeit indirectly, to bring the Pathankot attackers to book. The Republican-controlled US Congress has reportedly stalled the sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Islamabad, amid growing anti-Pakistan sentiments. There is little doubt that the anti-Pakistan sentiment has been largely fueled by Islamabad’s reluctance in taking action against terrorist groups. Only last week, American officials had said that it would become very difficult for Washington to convince the Congress to approve the sale of F-16s to Pakistan if Islamabad is seen reluctant in taking action against these terrorist groups. Beyond pressure tactics from Indian and the US, Pakistan must also take cognizance and act against the damage these terrorists have inflicted at home.
Terrorists and their backers in the Pakistani state establishment use attacks like the one in Pathankot to maintain the hostility between and India and Pakistan. In the event of permanent peace arrangement with India, the general understanding among observers on both sides of the national divide is that the Pakistan army would lose its predominant position in Pakistani society. However, can such a rationale outweigh the damage terror organisations have caused to Pakistan’s internal security? In December 2014, seven gunmen belonging to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked Army Public School in Peshawar, killing 141 persons including 132 pupils aged between eight and 18 years. Although it was an attack on the Pakistan military’s establishment, few lessons have been learnt. As former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had once remarked, “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbour.” While the Pakistan military continues to wage a battle against Tehrik-i-Taliban, it has continued to support organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. According to news reports, soon after Peshawar massacre Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif, accompanied by Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant-General Rizwan Akhtar, went to Kabul to register Pakistan’s protest over Afghanistan’s lack of action against the Taliban. While the Pakistan army protested in Kabul, it has done little to support its own Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s initiatives to end the confrontation with India.
In a recent column, a former Pakistani diplomat Hussain Haqqani writes, “The result of that realisation (damage caused by home-grown terrorists) should be to end all ifs and buts and eliminate all jihadi terrorist groups in Pakistan. But it is difficult for some Pakistanis to give up on the dream of keeping alive the Kashmir issue with the help of militants.” To conclude, unless and until such terror organisations are allowed to operate and organise within Pakistan, its government will have to take responsibility for the attacks they conduct outside their borders. It is imperative that the Pakistani state and its military act soon. It is not only what the global community wants, but also what the average Pakistani desires.