What we conveniently forget is that for most of the last two decades, the army and the ISI used these very jihadis to further their agenda in Kashmir and Afghanistan. This long official link has given various terror groups legitimacy and a domestic base that has now come to haunt us. Another aspect to this problem is the support these extremists enjoy among conservative Pakistani and Arab donors. Claiming they are fighting for Islamic causes, they attract significant amounts from Muslim businessmen here and abroad. And almost certainly, they also benefited from official Saudi largesse until 9/11.
Now that government policy is to distance itself from these jihadis, we find that many retired army officers have continued to train them in camps being run in many parts of Pakistan. A few weeks ago, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, a prominent (and very loud) minister under both Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf, openly boasted on TV of running a camp for Kashmiri fighters on his own land just outside Rawalpindi a few years ago. If such camps can be set up a few miles from army headquarters, what’s to stop them from operating in remote areas?
Many foreign and local journalists have exposed aspects of the terror network that has long flourished in Pakistan. Names, dates and addresses have been published and broadcast. But each allegation has been met with a brazen denial from every level of officialdom. Just as we denied the existence of our nuclear weapons programme for years, so too do we refuse to accept the presence of extremist terrorists.
For years, it suited the army and the ISI to secretly harbour and support these groups in Pakistan, Kashmir and Afghanistan. While officially denying that they had anything to do with these jihadis, money and arms from secret sources would reach them regularly. Despite our spooks maintaining plausible deniability, enough information about this covert support for jihadis has emerged for the fig-leaf to slip. And even if the intelligence community has now cut its links with these terrorists, the genie is out of the bottle.
Each time an atrocity like Mumbai occurs, and Pakistan is accused of being involved, the defensive mantra chanted by the chorus of official spokesmen is: “Show us the proof.” The reality is that in terrorist operations planned in secret, there is not much of a paper trail left behind. Nine times out of ten, the perpetrators do not survive to give evidence before a court. But in this case, one terrorist did survive, and Ajmal Amir Kamal’s story points to Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. The sophistication of the attack is testimony to careful planning and rigorous training.
This was no hit-and-run operation, but was intended to cause the maximum loss of life.
Pakistan’s foreign minister said that Pakistan, too, is a victim of terrorism. While this is certainly true, the rest of the world wants to know whey we aren’t doing more to root out the training camps, and lock up those involved. Given the vast un-audited amounts from the exchequer sundry intelligence agencies lay claim to, their failure to be more effective against internal terrorism is either a sign of incompetence, or of criminal collusion. Benazir Bhutto’s murder, after an earlier attempt and many warnings, is a reminder of how poorly we are served by our intelligence agencies.
And while the diplomatic fallout from the Mumbai attack spreads and threatens to escalate into an armed confrontation, the biggest winners are those who carried out the butchery of so many innocent people. It is to their advantage to prevent India and Pakistan from coordinating their fight against terrorism. Tension between the two neighbours suits them, while peace and cooperation threatens their very existence.
The world is naturally concerned about the danger posed by these terror groups to other countries. However, the biggest threat they pose is to Pakistan itself. Until Pakistanis grasp this brutal reality and muster up the resolve necessary to crush them, these killers will tear the country apart. Dawn