Digging up the roots

There was a joke that I heard a few years ago when the US was accusing Saddam Hussein of having WMDs: “How does Bush know there are WMDs in Iraq? He has saved the receipt.” There is a lot of chatter today about Hillary Clinton’s statement that some officials must know the whereabouts of Taliban leadership in Pakistan. Maybe it’s time for a new joke: “How do we know there are jihadi leaderhip in Pakistan? We have also saved the receipts.”

The UK newspaper Telegraph has the quote form Hillary Clinton:

“I’m not saying that they’re at the highest levels, but I believe that somewhere in this government are people who know where Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda is, where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is, and we expect more co-operation to help us bring to justice, capture or kill those who attacked us on 9/11.”

Ahmed Rashid made the point a few years ago about the connection between Musharraf and the Taliban in Pakistan.

When you have a military government, in fact thereby the army ruling the country, the military intelligence agencies don’t act in isolation from the government itself, since the government itself is the military. The decision to give sanctuary to the Afghan-Taliban leadership was a state decision: it was a decision taken by Musharraf at the highest level. What degree of support to give them, how to look after them, whether to allow them to import weapons – the mechanics of it were left to the ISI. So, what we have is a state decision backed by the intelligence agency, which was the directing agency, and this is something the Americans just did not want to see. Unfortunately, the reason for that simply is that if they did accept this is going on, it would have meant a major reappraisal of the whole relationship with Musharraf. And I don’t think they were prepared for that.

It should be remembered that the ISI backed the Taliban regime in the ’90’s and Pakistan benefited by that simply because the Taliban refused to allow Indians any access into Afghanistan. And for 10 years Pakistan was not under any kind of threat that India would be able to destabilize Pakistan from its Western border. The second benefit was this whole question of strategic debt; that with a friendly regime next door, Pakistan could take refuge with the army if they were attacked by India. You could carry out covert operations from Afghan soil – as they did when they trained Kashmir mujaheddin from Afghan soil for nearly 5 years, and Bin Laden helped in that.

Since Rashid wrote his book, Musharraf was sent packing and there has been a serious reversal of policy both from the government and the military. Army and intelligence have made great progress in destroying the hornets nest that is the jihadi network in Pakistan. But for many years that nest was ignored by Musharraf and others and was allowed to put in some deep roots. Even someone as deeply rooted in intelligence as Hamid Gul has even said he is a sympathizer for Taliban. This is a problem that will take some time and effort to dig out by the roots.

But today you would think that everyone has forgotten this. The News makes a good point: Do we really believe that our vast intelligence network has no idea what’s going on within our own borders?

It is of course impossible to say who knows what, and for that matter whether or not the ‘information’ is accurate. There has for years been conjecture about the whereabouts of Mullah Omar. As for Bin Laden, it is unclear if he is dead or alive. But we would expect Pakistan’s vast intelligence network to be able to establish these facts and also pin-point the whereabouts of key individuals. The failure to do so is disturbing and the consequences cannot be pleasant. There is another dimension to all this. Rather than simply trying to placate Washington or respond to the tough orders delivered from there, Islamabad needs to take the initiative itself. It must ensure that any strategy against terrorism serves its own interests, at least as much as those of the US. In this respect it is essential that it plans the strategy to be pursued itself. There must today be some question as to just how relevant men like Bin Laden are in the wider struggle against militancy. The fact is that this threat has been divided and sub-divided many times, spawning groups that exist in many places. It is only in our interest if Islamabad makes a greater effort to bring them to book, and by doing so demonstrate its commitment to fight terror without appearing to cave in to orders barked out by US leaders.

Actually, it’s not really much of a secret, and finding your way to jihadi sympathizers is not terribly difficult if you want to. Obviously, most people want nothing to do with these idiots, but it’s not like it’s hard to find some entry into this underworld. If people like Faisal Shahzad and the five other Americans from Washington can find their way to some terrorist camp, can we really believe that ISI has no idea where to look?

Though actual training camps for militants are active largely in the tribal northwest, it is the nation’s urban centres that serve as potential recruiting grounds for the jihadis. Hate literature is not as easily available as it once was in Karachi but it can be obtained by those who want it — perhaps through certain mosques, as underscored by the latest episode — which act as fronts for militant outfits. In Peshawar, too, hate literature is no longer commonly available; yet those who know the ‘right’ people can get hold of it. But perhaps the situation is most alarming in Lahore where militant outfits are known to openly sell their material through mosques and madressahs. If this information is common knowledge, it is hard to believe that the country’s intelligence apparatus is unaware of the jihadis’ activities.

Dawn is absolutely correct in their conclusion:

The state must neutralise the plethora of militant outfits that earn opprobrium for Pakistan internationally and weaken it internally. The networks that help spread hate and promote jihad must be decisively dismantled. Militant leaders and hardened terrorists must be brought to justice, while less lethal supporters must be urged to renounce violence and reintegrated in society. Meanwhile the ulema — whose role has been largely disappointing — should be seen to clearly dissociate themselves from the terrorists. Their contribution is vital, for the opinion of the common man is moulded to a large extent by their religious philosophy.

The need to dismantle and dig out these networks has nothing to do with America. Yes, they are also threatened by this enemy. But that is beside the point. We must dig out the roots of the jihadi network because it is essential for the survival not of America – but of Pakistan.


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