State of denial


Getting rid of the demons



Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has again claimed that the backbone of the terrorists has been broken and that his government will not rest till the war against terrorism is taken to its logical conclusion. DG ISPR Lt General Asim Saleem Bajwa in his various briefings often throws statistics at the media crowing about the successes of the military’s counter-terrorism efforts.

Noble aims are frequently expressed, but is the state also walking the talk? Admittedly matters have markedly improved since Zarb-e-Azb but, like the glass being half full or half empty, a lot needs to be still done.

Unfortunately, events are moving at a fast pace, which affect us directly. Take the case of the Levant where the Islamic state (ISIL) or Da’ish has gained tremendous traction and foothold.

For almost more than two decades the Pakistani state was in complete denial about the existence of al Qaeda on our soil until 9/11 impacted the region. But today we have adopted the same ostrich like attitude towards Da’ish operating within our borders.

The foreign office and the interior ministry simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of ISIL within our borders. However the Director General of IB (Intelligence Bureau) Aftab Sultan had a different story to tell. He disclosed to the Senate Standing Committee on Interior that in reality Islamic State group was an emerging threat and its recruits included breakaways from the TTP and various sectarian outfits.

Chillingly the ideology of these banned outfits and Da’ish is markedly similar. However in Syria and Iraq, ISIS, controlling vast swaths of territory, calls itself a state having access to funds from oil and loot and plunder.

According to some western military experts ISIS is on the run after Russian and western putsch against them. But ground realities tell a different story. The ISIS hate ideology is gathering traction even amongst western audiences where thousands of new recruits have travelled to the Middle East to join their ranks.

In this context why would Pakistan, historically a breeding ground of terrorists of all hues and colours — inflicting mayhem on its citizens in the name of a distorted interpretation of religion — remain immune from this phenomenon?

The problem can spin out of control if we do not catch the bull by the horns today rather than tomorrow. But in order to devise a strategy we must acknowledge the existence of the problem. Merely denying in a parrot like fashion and refusing to do enough to break the backbone of the terrorists will only exacerbate the problem.

It might be too late when we wake up from our deep slumber. Merely thumping our chest that we have cleaned up Karachi and that terrorists are on the run can only serve to sanitise the public from the unpalatable ground realities.

The US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Lt General Vincent R Stewart, in a testimony to the US Senate Armed Forces Committee, has patted Pakistan on the back for successfully reducing violence through counter terrorism efforts by its military and paramilitary forces. However, the general also cautioned that Islamabad would continue to face internal security threats from militants and separatist groups in the current year.

Our policymakers should take General Vincent’s warning that Islamic State branch in Afghanistan–Pakistan and al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent will remain a significant security threat for Islamabad. Merely chest thumping and crowing about the militants being on the run cannot justify lack of action on various other fronts.

A lot is made about different areas of Punjab being a recruiting and training ground for Islamic militants. But does this mean that the rest of the country is free of terrorists’ strongholds?

Of course a lot needs to be done to implement the National Action Plan (NAP) in Punjab. Certain groups have enjoyed the deep state’s protection in the province in the past on the plea that they are India centric. But perhaps now they are on auto pilot or still receiving patronage from certain quarters?

The Pathankot incident early last month, in which India alleged JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammad) militants as its perpetrators, was implicitly acknowledged by Pakistan arresting the banned outfit’s chief Maulana Masood Azhar and his cohorts. But since then nothing has been heard about the matter.

The secretary level talks, which were due to be held in Islamabad in mid-January, remain stalled. Of course whenever they are held they will be fruitless without the issue of terrorism, whether of the RAW or JeM brand, seriously and sincerely addressed.

Unless New Delhi also realises that terrorism is an existential threat and Islamabad is also willing to take concrete measures to combat all shades of terrorism rather than speaking with a forked tongue this hydra headed monster will keep on afflicting the sub continent. If the Indian leadership wants to talk about terrorism, we should welcome it. But this should include all forms of terrorism including the groups aided and abated by the Indians.

Similarly, in Karachi, instead of merely chest thumping that lights of Karachi have been restored, the safe houses and no go areas of the TTP need to be eliminated. Right now the Rangers are busier tackling the PPP and MQM, losing focus in the process.

Of course a lot is being done in KP, Balochistan and FATA to combat terrorism. But unless a concorde is reached with Afghanistan these victories will remain pyrrhic in the long run.

Prime Minister Sharif inked an historic deal by signing a long-term LNG agreement with Qatar. Contrary to speculations the deal is a game changer and LNG at less than US$5 per MMBTU is much cheaper than it was speculated at more than $12 per MMBTU.

Of course this has become possible because of collapse of oil prices. But the credit goes to the government for striking a favourable and timely deal.

Sharif is also keen to sell JF Thunder fighter aircraft to Qatar. The air display in Doha of these state of the art aircraft being produced by Pakistan in the presence of Pakistani and Qatari prime ministers was indeed very impressive and heartening.

Nonetheless Islamabad simply cannot share Doha’s foreign policy objectives, specifically its policy on Syria. We need to have a zero tolerance approach towards Da’ish. But in order to formulate and implement such a policy we need to get rid of our own demons.


  1. Good article, especially the warning at the end that Pakistan should never get involved in countries like Qatar ruled by monarchs plans to get entangled in Syria or their obsession with Iran. We are still. Paying the price of Zia and Musharraf' follies with blood if innocent citizens and terrorists threatening to destroy our way of life and our sensitive instalments. ISIL and Daish must be crushed with full might of state.

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