While defending Pakistan recently, our foreign minister was quoted as saying that we were a “responsible state”. And when India presented our government with a list of the names of 20 people accused of terrorism against our neighbour, spokesmen immediately demanded to see the proof against them. This legalistic approach would have carried more weight had the Pakistani state shown this kind of respect for the rule of law in the past. But given the frequency with which ordinary Pakistanis are picked up and ‘disappeared’ by organs of the state without any vestige of due process, the claim to responsibility rings a little hollow.
Indeed, a responsible state would hardly allow the likes of Maulana Masood Azhar of the Jaish-i-Mohammad; Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-i-Taiba; and the Indian criminal Dawood Ibrahim to run around loose. Every time the West raises a hue and cry following a particularly vicious terrorist attack, a few militant leaders and their followers are picked up, only to be released once the furore has died down. This sends a clear signal to the security agencies that these terrorists are above the law. So why should they risk their lives arresting them, only to see them being released a few weeks later?
A Google search for terrorist groups in Pakistan reveals an appalling who’s who of killers, together with the incidents they have been involved in. Going over this bloody history made me realise just how deeply rooted this problem is in Pakistan. Ever since Gen Zia encouraged the establishment of sectarian and ethnic terror groups, we have witnessed a mushroom growth of terrorism over the last two decades. And since many of these groups have supported military governments from time to time, they have acquired important links in officialdom, as well as with some politicians.
But above all, these groups have been important pawns in the army’s proxy wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Now, having gained prominence as well as financial support, they are not going to disarm and go home just because their existence has become an embarrassment to the Pakistani establishment. It is important to remember that there is now a lot of money flowing into the coffers of these groups. Leaders drive around openly in expensive SUVs, while the rank and file are fairly well paid. These are all people who are not qualified to get the meanest of jobs under normal circumstances.
The existence of these dangerous groups, and the impunity with which they have been operating for two decades, all serve to underline the steady meltdown of the Pakistani state. Instead of treating the cancer of terrorism as a law and order issue, the army has viewed it as a political and military opportunity. Lacking legitimacy and a constituency, both Zia and Musharraf depended on religious groups for support. These parties, in turn, gave militants cover. Thus, the Islamic coalition of the MMA allowed the Taliban to flourish when they governed the Frontier province between 2002 and 2007. We are now struggling with the fallout of their policies.
As we are caught up in this vortex of ideology and violence, we often shoot ourselves in the foot. For instance, when Prime Minister Gilani declared that he would send the head of the ISI to India, this move was widely welcomed. All too soon, however, the reality of the power balance in Pakistan raised its ugly head, and the offer was withdrawn. Clearly, the army did not relish one of its own being placed on the mat in New Delhi. Nevertheless, the instinct was the right one, and had the PM been able to prevail, General Pasha’s mere presence in India could have helped defuse much of the tension.
Many Pakistanis have become so accustomed to terrorist attacks on their soil that they have forgotten that this is not the norm elsewhere. Instead of asking “What’s the big deal?” they should be putting themselves in the place of the victims. If, as seems very likely, the group that attacked Mumbai was trained and armed by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-i-Taiba, it is a very big deal indeed. Dawn