While speaking on the issue of fighting terror, Pakistan Army Chief Gen Asim Munir has highlighted the role of “all stake holders” twice in as many months. He did so while addressing a parade at Pakistan Naval Academy on New Year’s Eve, by calling for the “development of national consensus by all stakeholders to sail through the confronted challenges of economy and terrorism.” In the aftermath of last Friday’s audacious terrorist attack on the Karachi police chief’s office, he re- reiterated that “No nation can overcome such challenges [posed by terrorism] with kinetic actions only. It needs mutual trust, will of the people and synergy between all stakeholders.”
Gen Munir’s appeal for all stakeholders to come on board is well intentioned, and so is his view that besides military action, “mutual trust, will of the people and synergy between all stakeholders,” are essential complements for effectively combating the scourge of terrorism. It’s also an indirect acceptance of the fact that Pakistani society remains considerably polarised and contradicts his view that “Pakistanis have always rejected and defeated terrorism and extremism in all its manifestations,” because despite majority of Pakistanis abhorring terrorism, ‘home-grown’ terror has today emerged as the country’s main threat!
The Pakistan Army Chief has rightly opined that “Terrorists have no religious or ideological moorings, rather only misguided conception forced through coercion or inducement.” While any religion, when faithfully interpreted, doesn’t endorse or encourage terrorism, religious radicalisation certainly does. And the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] terrorist group is a classic example of how uncompromising over-obsession to establish Sharia law has enthused thousands of Pakistanis to pick up arms against their own country and kill innocent fellow citizens including schoolchildren and worshippers.
Unfortunately, by mentioning that “Contrary to political and other distractions being faced by the public, the security forces remain singularly focused on CT [counter terrorism] and intelligence-based operations…” [Emphasis added], the Pakistan Army Chief has [just like his predecessors], sought to imply that only those wearing uniforms are patriots. While it’s true that the Pakistani public faces a host of “political and other distractions,” what is being perceived as abject apathy towards terrorism by the public is in fact sheer frustration of being at the mercy of ruthless people whose mind is already contaminated with religious indoctrination.
And herein lies the irony!
Rawalpindi keeps alleging that ‘foreign agencies’ are sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan. However, the reality is that the terrorists which the Pakistan army is fighting today are mostly the product of Rawalpindi’s self-debilitating programme of using Pakistani soil for creating an army of radicalised mujahideen to help Washington fight its proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in late 70s and through the 80s. But what’s really worrisome is that instead of acknowledging the serious mistake of having created a Frankenstein, Pakistan army’s top brass seems to be rather proud of having authored and overseeing this vile enterprise.
An undated interview clip posted on Twitter by Pakistani politician Farhatullah Babar, has former army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf proudly admitting that “In 1979, we had introduced religious militancy in Afghanistan to benefit Pakistan, and to push the Soviets out of the country” [Emphasis added]. While he didn’t amplify as to how exactly did “religious militancy” benefit Pakistan, it’s obvious that he was referring to the billions of dollars that the then Pakistani President Gen Zia-ul-Haq was able to extract from Washington through this Faustian deal! Unfortunately, while all the dollars thus raked have vanished, the radicalised harvest it produced endures.
While Gen Munir’s impassioned call for developing national consensus against terrorism and building “mutual trust, will of the people and synergy between all stakeholders,” is inarguably praiseworthy, he must ensure that Rawalpindi takes the first step in this regard. After all, how can one expect mutual trust to develop amongst all stakeholders when the country’s military chooses to keep its own people in the dark?
Let’s not forget that Gen Zia didn’t consider it necessary to either discuss or seek consensus before deciding that Pakistan would serve as Washington’s lackey in Afghanistan. In more recent times, Gen Musharraf secretly permitted US drones to operate in Pakistani airspace and strike targets at will. Most pertinently, leave alone the public, for more than six months, even lawmakers in Pakistan were unaware that the military was busy negotiating a peace deal with TTP.
Lastly, while Pakistan Army’s rank and file deserve due appreciation for fighting terror, in order to build up mutual trust with other stakeholders, the military’s top brass needs to be more proactive and avoid shady deals while tackling terrorism. How does one expect the people of Pakistan to believe that Rawalpindi was unaware that Al Qaida founder Osama bin Laden was residing in an Abbottabad compound, just a stone’s throw away from Pakistan Military Academy?
How is it possible that former TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan who purportedly surrendered to the Pakistan Army in 2017, was able to escape from military custody alongwith his entire family in 2020? Readers would also recall that in August last year, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif acknowledged the presence of TTP and a resurgence in their terrorist activities in Pakistan’s KP province. The situation was so serious that even residents of KP took to the streets protesting against the growing TTP presence.
However, instead of acting against TTP, Pakistan Army’s media wing Inter-Services Public Relations [ISPR] made light of the defence minister’s revelation and public protests by claiming that “a misperception about the alleged presence of large number of [the] proscribed organisation TTP’s armed members in Swat Valley has been created on social media.” While accepting that “Presence of [a] small number of armed men on few mountain tops between Swat and Dir has been observed,” ISPR inexplicably tried to down-play this menacing development by stating that the “armed men” were “located far away from population.”
Hence, it’s but natural that ISPR’s patently hollow assurance that “Presence of militants anywhere will not be tolerated and they will be dealt with full use of force if required,” has done little to inspire mutual confidence amongst stakeholders. Similarly, in absence of any concerted military action against TTP, Gen Munir’s pledge that “No one will be allowed to disrupt the hard-earned gains of war against terror made thus far,” means little to the terrorism battered and violence weary people of Pakistan.
So, in case Pakistan’s Army Chief is really serious about developing consensus and building mutual trust amongst all stakeholders on combating terrorism, then Rawalpindi needs to jettison rhetoric and instead initiate appropriate kinetic actions against terrorists without any distinction!