Government’s Anti-Terrorism Strategy: Trimming the branches to prevent felling the tree

Since Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan accepted the government’s offer of a ceasefire, militant attacks have continued to kill Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. A suicide bomber killed 11 and injured dozens more in Islamabad on Monday. The following day, jihadi militants shot dead a truck driver and his helper in Khyber Agency, telling reporters that they are not bound by the TTP’s agreements with the government. On Wednesday, jihadis killed 8 people including six Frontier Corps personnel in an IED attack in Hangu. Some are starting to ask whether it is complicity or cowardice that has officials like Interior Minister Nisar continuing to peddle the tired old canard of ‘foreign hand’ every time jihadis carry out an attack, but the fact that the government continues to frame the national security situation as a problem of talking with some militants and fighting others gives away the real thinking behind our confused security policy.

The lack of clarity in national security policy is evident in the way that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif talks about different kinds of terrorists. No, he doesn’t say ‘good Taliban and bad Taliban’, rather he uses a more nuanced way of saying the exact same thing, but in a way that more explicitly explains the difference between the two.

“We are ready for talks for stability and peace in Pakistan but let me make it clear we are willing to hold a dialogue only with those who have regard for the Constitution and integrity of the country…”

In other words, the problem with TTP is not that they are brutal murderers, but that they are brutally murdering the wrong people.

Notice how the government suddenly became interested in responding to militants with force only after attacks were carried out on security personnel? When 23 Frontier Corps personnel were viciously murdered by jihadis, the government responded with a brief wave of air strikes against militant camps in North Waziristan. But nothing was done in response to jihadi attacks that killed hundreds and thousands of innocent Pakistanis last year.

This attitude was made even more clear on Thursday when Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar defended the jihadi attackers, saying that the majority of Taliban are not anti-Pakistan. If the murders of 50,000 innocent Pakistanis is not ‘anti-Pakistan’, we are left to wonder what exactly is.

The answer may be found in other statements from the Interior Minister made earlier this year in response to the execution of Abdul Quader Molla  for war crimes in 1971. Leaving aside questions about the trial itself, Chaudhry Nisar claimed that the jihadi leader ‘was hanged because of his loyalty and solidarity with Pakistan in 1971′. Actually, Quader was hanged because of his involvement in hundreds of killings of innocent Bengalis in 1971, something that Chaudhry Nisar appears to equate with ‘loyalty and solidarity with Pakistan’. This raises an important question: Just as the innocent Bengalis killed by jihadi assets in 1971 were considered a price worth paying, are we now faced with the reality that innocent Sindhis, Baloch, Pashtoons, and Punjabis are also less valuable than jihadi assets?

For those who have been paying attention, this revelation is not really a revelation at all. Chaudhry Nisar claimed today that Judge Rafaqat Awan was not murdered by killed ‘accidentally‘ when his guard shot him three times. Is it really a surprise, though, when during last year’s elections the Interior Minister’s party awarded a party ticket to Sardar Ebaad Dogar, the Sipah-e-Sahaba leader who offered Rs20 million-bounty to assassinate Salman Taseer? But notice the difference between how quickly the Interior Minister dismissed the killing of Judge Rafaqat Awan while demanding a full and thorough investigation of the killing of jihadi financier Nasiruddin Haqqani.

Airstrikes that pounded Taliban hideouts in North Waziristan convinced many that the government was finally serious about taking decisive action against jihadis. But maybe that’s all they were really designed to do in the first place – satisfy an increasingly unhappy public by putting on a show of action to hide the real policy of protecting the status quo, and the jihadi assets that the state believes are necessary to Pakistan’s interests. In this sense, it increasingly appears that the government is trimming the branches in order to prevent felling the tree. Meanwhile, the trunk remains firmly rooted, and under no serious threat.

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