US on Pakistan’s new resolve against terrorism: “The proof is in the pudding”

US Department of State

Following the visit of American Secretary of State John Kerry to Pakistan, the US State Department gave a candid assessment of the state’s new ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards terrorism, and the point appears to be, “We’ll believe it when we see it.” Following are some key quotes from the briefing:

Question: Do you get the sense that in the wake of this brutal attack that the Pakistani leadership is actually changing its orientation and willing to go after groups like LET and Haqqani and so on, or not?

Senior State Department Official One: Well, keeping in mind [Senior State Department Official]’s kind of cautionary note that the proof is in the pudding, and I mean, it relies on kind of what actual operational steps are taken.

And certainly, and saying publicly and privately that they were not making any sort of distinction between terrorist groups is something that we’ve heard more uniformly, more robustly than we’ve ever heard.

Question: And are you just – do you believe it?

Senior State Department Official One: I hope to believe it. We’ll have to see kind of what develops…

Senior State Department Official Two: The Pakistani delegation told us several times today they won’t differentiate between good and bad Taliban, and there are two important things inherent to that kind of a statement. One is acknowledgment that there had been or was a policy of good Taliban and bad Taliban, which I think is interesting. But secondly, it’s a – that’s a measurable proposition going forward.

They’ve now put themselves – committed themselves to something that we can actually more easily observe and measure, because if there is no differentiation, then all Taliban and all militants should be within the specter of their operations. And that’s something that makes it much easier for us to engage with them. So I think it is a very forward-looking thing, and now it gives us the ability to kind of go back to that, and it simplifies this part of the dialogue. But we are going to have to watch and see how this plays out.

The message is pretty clear. The US is encouraged by what they are hearing from military and civilian leaders, but they will be watching closely to see if policy matches rhetoric.

Shahid Javed Burki’s Dangerous Historical Revisionism

Taliban Economists?

Taliban Economists?

Shahid Javed Burki is a world renowned Pakistani economist. He has served as Vice President of the World Bank and Finance Minister, and his economic insights have been both appreciated and promoted by this blog. However, in his latest piece, the respected economist steps out of his area of expertise, and the political analysis that he offers is not only misguided, it poses a danger to national security.

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#PeshawarAttack: What’s Different This Time?

Candle light vigil in Islamabad

Peshawar attack has been termed a ‘game changer‘ in government’s response to militants, and the nation appears united unlike it has been since long. Official numbers report that 50,000 Pakistanis have been killed by jihadi terrorists since 2001, but it was the 141 killed on 16th December that have finally crossed the tipping point. It was an act of brutality and cowardice on such a scale that it has shocked the world to its core because the attack targeted children.

The TTP have killed thousands in their seven-year insurgency, but [foreign affairs and national security advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Sartaj Aziz] said the nature of the Peshawar attack was radically different from what had gone before.

“It was targeted at the children, and those children who were injured, they fired back upon them to kill them,” he said.

The response has been swift. Nawaz Sharif lifted the ban on death penalty, and COAS quickly began signing death warrant for convicted terrorists. Today, the first two met their fate.

The popular belief is that this time, everything is different. The attack was different. The response is different. And now, the future will be different. But I worry about what was really different, and what that means for us.

The Taliban’s attack was inhuman. That cannot be denied. But targeting children is actually not new. In 2009, Taliban ambushed a school bus in Hangu killing several school children. In 2011, Taliban attacked a school bus outside Peshawar, killing four children. In 2013, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi carried out a bomb attack near a school that killed children.

A spokesman for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni group, claimed responsibility for the bomb in Quetta, which caused casualties in the town’s main bazaar, a school and a computer centre. Police said most of the victims were Shi’ites. Burned school bags and books were strewn around.

And just a few months ago, 15-year-old Aitizaz Hasan sacrificed his life to save his schoolmates when he stopped a suicide attack against his school in Hangu.

These are just a few examples of children being targeted by jihadi terrorists. What was different this time?

Obviously, the scale. Every child’s life is precious, but the evil required for killing so many at once is shocking beyond belief. Still, I can’t help but wonder whether the same response would be taking place if the school had been in Hangu and not at an Army base.

The executions that are now taking place only add to my concerns. I have no pity for the lives of Dr Usman and Arshad Mehmood, but I cannot help but notice that these were the two who were chosen to be first executed in response to the attack against school children.

Usman a former soldier of the army’s medical corps, was executed in relation to an attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan Army in 2009 in Rawalpindi. Arshad Mehmood, was executed for an assassination attempt on former military ruler, General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf.

The nation is united right now, and the state is responding. I pray that this week’s tragedy is truly a ‘game changer’, and that there will be no tolerance for any terrorist, whether they are attacking Army officers and their families, or some poor Hazara farmers.

The Death Penalty Delusion

public hanging

Nawaz Sharif has lifted the ban on death penalty, and Gen Raheel has signed the death warrants for six convicted terrorists. The reaction has been fairly predictable, with right-wing hypernationalists beating their drum to hang someone, anyone, in the streets and left-wing human rights activists worrying about whether death penalty makes us no better than the killers we are killing. I have a different opinion than either of these. I’m not going to lose any sleep over whether a terrorist loses his life. Hang him if it makes you feel better. Hang him from a lamp post if something about that makes you feel more like a man. But don’t expect me to be there cheering it on, either, because it won’t matter. It won’t make one bit of difference.

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Disturbing Facts Behind #PeshawarAttack

The most disturbing fact in the 16th December attack on Army Public School Peshawar is the one most often noted: The terrible loss of 141 innocent lives including the unspeakable crime of murder against 132 children. It was a crime that must never be allowed to happen again. In order for that to happen, we must take note of some other disturbing facts that are getting less attention.

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