Pak must stop supporting non-state actors

Large sections of the Indian media had gone overboard in reporting the “detention of Masood Azhar”, the chief of the dreaded Jaish-e-Mohammed. To the uninitiated, the Jaish-e-Mohammed is the terror organisation, accused by India of masterminding the attack on an Indian Air Force base. However, government authorities in both India and Pakistan soon contradicted the story. Suffice to say, Masood Azhar is very close to sections of the Pakistani civil and military administration.

It was later clarified that he was only taken under “protective custody”. A day after, the Pakistani establishment openly clarified that Masood Azhar was not arrested.

But this is enough to shake the very foundation of the state of Pakistan. It conclusively establishes that Pakistan is now only some steps away from being a territorial conglomeration of different terrorist power centres. Islamabad’s writ barely runs in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is supreme. 

Although a provincial government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) of Imran Khan runs the civilian administration there, it is common knowledge that the party could win the election because of tacit support from the TTP. Different terrorist organisations have in fact divided Sindh among themselves and have carved out their own territorial jurisdictions. In Punjab, four terrorist organisations - Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Sipah-i-Sahaba - are really powerful. Of late the TTP has also penetrated deep inside the province.

The onus is on Pakistan to prove to the world that it is not a terrorist state. It has now become extremely necessary for Islamabad after US President Barack Obama’s comments that Pakistan could become a safe haven for terrorists and that the country would continue to face instability for the decades to come.

The Pathankot incident, however, did display a difference with what happened during the Mumbai attack of 2008 when Pakistan had denied any connection with the terrorists and washed its hands off the charge. This time, the response, as well as cooperation from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was prompt. It shows that a qualitative change has occurred in the equation that some of the terrorist groups enjoy with the Pakistani administration and the Army.

This change is, however, half-hearted and, therefore, Pakistan is now saying that it would take action against Masood Azhar if his culpability is proved “beyond doubt”. There is no need to wait for the completion of the probe as there is plenty of evidence against the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief and his organisation. After it was banned in 2002, the Jaish-e-Mohammed split into several cells that were linked to the Al-Qaeda. Masood Azhar coordinated the activities of these splinter groups from his underground shelter and launched two successive attempts to eliminate then President Pervez Musharraf. Azhar was also the principal brain behind the building up of Islamic fundamentalist insurgency around Islamabad’s Lal Masjid.

The Pathankot terrorist strike affects Pakistan very seriously. By a single stroke, it has disrobed the extreme vulnerability of the country’s security and stability. Both India and Pakistan have exhibited prudence by only deferring the foreign secretary-level talks and rescheduling it in the “very near future”. But saner voices in Pakistan are now questioning the policy of the state in giving a long rope to certain non-state actors who are creating havoc with impunity.

But Pakistan needs to undertake some surgical operations into its polity if it really wants to come out of the quagmire. There is a limit to which it can go so far as operations in the FATA area are concerned. Moreover, the Pashtun community lives on both sides of the Durand Line that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the agreement creating the Durand Line expired long ago and if the Pashtuns living on the Pakistan side and facing military action now want to join Afghanistan, it will mean the dismemberment of Pakistan.

Patronisation of the Deobandi school of thought has now become the bane of Pakistan. Fundamentalism has now struck so deep a root that even the Election Commission has not been left untouched. During the last election, the commission had invoked Article 62 and 63 of the Pakistani Constitution, which forbade anybody who was not a practising Muslim from contesting. Even the candidature of a renowned journalist like Ayaz Amir was rejected on the charge that he drank alcohol.

The Pakistan Army must immediately dismantle the unholy alliance between a section of it and the fundamentalist outfits. Unfortunately, no such serious attempt is in sight. On the contrary, quite a few army and naval officers, many of them being Shias, have been murdered after they protested against the inaction of their superiors towards organisations like the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

(Amitava Mukherjee is a senior journalist and commentator. The views expressed are personal)
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