Abysmally shameful is the only way to describe the acrimonious exchange of words among political leaders following the Quetta attack on Monday in which 61 cadets were killed at the police training centre. As condemnations poured in from global capitals, here Imran Khan, Bilawal Zardari and the Nawaz-League brigade led by Khawaja Asif sunk to new depths with accusations and counter-accusations. In the process, our real challenge was drown out. The commentary on television was no better, with trivial discussions of “cowardly act by enemies”, “merciless attackers” etc.
What becomes evident amid this circus is the lack of understanding of what these terrorist incidents mean, the missing links in our counter-terror strategy, the indifference of the ruling elite to crucial issues such as institutional reform and a reinforcement of the status quo. Officials jump to declare that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami was linked to the attack. Some spoke of Jamaatul Ahrar. One claim came from Daesh/ Khurasan accompanied by photographs of the three suicide attackers. But regardless of who claims responsibility, one thing is abundantly clear: we are faced with multiple instruments of terrorism: TTP, IS/Daesh and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Almi and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), to mention a few. Some are handy pawns in a proxy war that is being fought in the region. The objective is the same: destabilization and instability and sowing fear. These groups use various names as a useful ploy to obfuscate their real identity and deflect focus from the real debate.
These groups are part of a larger terrorist network that deploys innocent young people for such termination missions as part of a tit-for-tat strategy by the Indian, Afghan and all those establishments which believe Pakistan needs to do more to neutralize and uproot the Haqqani Network and Jamaatud Dawa. Critics of Pakistan completely disregard the proxy war factor. They link it only to Pakistan’s flawed security policies that have created these monsters. Of course, these policies have been questionable but do they really believe that these mercenary bands can really trump and overrun the state of Pakistan? Do these groups really dream of capturing the state or is all this talk a mere façade for a destabilization campaign?
Ever since the arrest of Kulbhushan Yadav and statements from New Delhi, particularly post-August 15, when premier Modi chose to raise the Balochistan issue in his Independence Day address, India’s aggressive Pakistan policy has been too obvious to delink it from the terrorism that we have seen in recent months and years.
Fortunately, General Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, has been much more vocal about the convergences among various trans-border terrorist groups that pose a threat to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In a recent interview, Nicholson conceded that the TTP and the IMU have filled the ranks of Daesh based in the east Afghan province of Nangarhar. In an NBC TV interview, General Nicholson also admitted the difficulties that the 2,600km border presents.
“It’s still a very porous border region and we do see insurgents moving both ways across the border, some from Afghanistan to Pakistan and then, of course, the Haqqanis and the Taliban moving from Pakistan into Afghanistan. The Afghan border police… and number of border posts need to increase…”
There is little doubt, meanwhile, that Pakistan is caught up with the blowback from its own security policies as well as an undeclared proxy war by India through groups based in Nangarhar, most of them ex-TTP and a shrinking number of IMU fighters. The latter, in fact, have to fight for survival and sustenance and the only way to do this is to provide cannon fodder for terrorist agendas. It makes them an easy sell to whoever wants their services.
As for the missing links, the state of preparedness as well as SOPs in a virtual state of war (in Balochistan) are raising questions. These questions concern unarmed cadets at the police academy in Quetta, a scant continuous surveillance mechanism and accessible periphery walls. These issues should have been settled long ago. The existence of A and B areas (A manned by police are a mere five per cent) and the rest by Levies also seems to be an aberration in this age. Similarly, the police remain under the thumb of the chief minister as much as in Punjab as in Balochistan. These rulers appear to have other priorities, such as preservation of their electoral constituencies or doling out billions of rupees to favorites in the name of city beautification. So why bother about expanding the scope of the police and granting it total autonomy?
The apathy of the rulers to critical issues such as the implementation of the Anti-Terrorist Act, most of which is also reflected in the National Action Plan (NAP), is another big issue undermining the anti-terror fight. While the proxy war is one undeniable factor, the indifference to the enforcement of NAP represents another deficit. How much oversight of mosques and madrassas, particularly in the border regions, have we created in the last two years? How much has the government and the military engaged with all those religio-political parties who administer scores of seminaries and mosques in the border regions? Many of them work as shelters and transit points for terrorists moving both sides of the border.
And lastly, the Haqqani Network remains central to the Afghan-American narrative as much as the Indian narrative on the Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaatud Dawa. This requires Pakistan to craft its own narrative on the proxy wars it faces. On the other hand, it also needs to start getting everyone on the same page when it comes to dealing with foreign skepticism of its counter-terror policies. Only action on the ground will gain currency with critics and eventually blunt India’s isolate-Pakistan campaign. This will hopefully also minimize, if not eliminate, terrorism.
Imtiaz Gul heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad