Whenever people question me about my perceptions on Pakistan, I start by voicing an opinion that is counter to the belief of many. It is a common refrain among observers in India that Pakistan is imploding but its implications on India are rarely understood.
I continue to believe that Pakistan’s greatest blessing is its geostrategic location which draws big powers to it. They cannot afford to allow it to implode because the consequences will be just too far reaching. By comparison, the implosion of Syria, a nation of 23 million, has had its effects on the entire Middle East. Even more important the effects can be felt in faraway Europe where the immigration crisis is holding an entire continent to ransom and the spread of Islamic Radicalism among the immigrant population is creating a completely new internal threat.
Pakistan is a nation of 191 million and the census has never been allowed to reach any serious levels of effort at finalizing the final count. A meltdown will be disastrous for India and one doesn’t have to start imagining why.
I start with a supposedly unconnected issue because this essay is about the horrendous blast at Lahore which left 70 or more people dead; mostly Christians celebrating that wonderful festival, Easter. The dots involved here will be connected only at the end.
Almost simultaneously, Islamabad saw a huge march to Parliament by supporters of the hung assassin Mumtaz Qadri, the man who assassinated Late Punjab Governor Salman Taseer after he had supported a campaign against blasphemy laws of Pakistan. They demanded according Qadri the status of a national hero and imposition of Shariah law in the country.
The paradox that is Pakistan is something quite impossible to understand. There have been candlelight marches in Lahore in memory of those killed at the hands of terrorists, many of whom were muslims too. There have been vows of never wilting and disallowing a terrorist victory and yet there are thousands upon thousands who wish to defend Islam in the most extreme and violent ways by supporting blasphemy laws and deifying those who use violence of every form.
The most irrational radical belief appears to be emerging from the multitudes in Pakistan, a nation supposedly a democracy. It seems almost as if the belief of the ISIS leadership and the fighters it has attracted is mirrored only in Pakistani society. Much of this can be explained by the awkward strategy adopted by Zia ul Haq from 1977 to use radical forms of Islam as a weapon.
The terror group responsible for the Lahore blast is Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which rebelled against the TTP when the latter opened negotiations with the Pakistan Government in 2013. It even killed some kidnapped para-military policemen even as the negotiations for their release were on.
The group has been responsible for a large number of terror acts including the Wagah blast, although it was not behind the Army Public School carnage in Peshawar. Its heinous acts have attracted a number of terrorists from the tribal areas but Omar Khorasani, its leader is obviously not content with limiting himself to the western belt.
If the government has to be shaken up, the people convinced of the lethal power that the group enjoys and the security forces forced to extend their gaze in the heartland of their own recruitment areas, then it has to be only Punjab which needs to be targetted to send a message. It is also Nawaz Sharif’s home state.
The New York Times writes - “The attack was meant to expose as hollow Mr. Sharif’s claims — intended to reassure foreign investors and Pakistani citizens — that he has the Taliban on the run”. There has been an element of cockiness among Pakistanis that the terror problem was slowly but surely evaporating after a series of measures taken to clean up Karachi, target anti-Shia groups and achieve domination of the western tribal belt and Afghan border by the Pakistan Army.
In addition to kinetic ways, there is no doubt that terror groups are best neutralized by control of financial conduits that they are dependent upon, intercepting the chain of weapons and explosives and lastly the prevention of recruitment to their ranks. On all three counts Pakistan may have been claiming pre-mature success and the world, including India, may have been misled into thinking that the situation has improved and is on the path towards solutions.
Anyone who understands terrorism must realize that solutions towards neutralizing terrorism do not flow from short term measures which are essentially tactical in nature. Pakistan has tied itself in knots due to historic mistakes which its military leadership refuses to acknowledge. There are some ground realities which tactical measures can only offset temporarily.
First, there is an interminable flow of human resources motivated by a radical clergy, the one behind the support to the memory of Mumtaz Qadri, which is rabid towards every other segment of society, is virulently anti-India, and anti-West. It is revealed in their eyes and in their collective chants.
These are the people Zia ul Haq created as a weapon against India, taking the financial and ideological support of Saudi Arabia of those times. He espoused the theory that India would be fought not on the military front but on the ideological one. Radical ideology would unify Pakistan and the Islamic community of the world against India.
That spawned two generations of society with an ideology that does not look beyond the most radical forms of Islam. It created an anti-Shia, anti-Hindu and anti-Ahmadiyya sentiment which cannot be overcome by simply eliminating the leadership of anti-Shia terror groups. These sentiments are now embedded deep into Pakistan’s DNA, among the rabble rousers, the clergy and even within the armed forces.
The well to do, educated and liberal segments of Pakistan civil society can only put on brave faces and weak smiles while repeatedly emphasizing that they too are the sufferers from the scourge of terrorism. They enjoy finding reasons for this in issues such as Western targeting of Islamic states and the hidden evil hand of India. The real issues which are well realized are never spoken about publically because within Pakistan and outside a politically correct stance has to be maintained.
This is typical denial, something that the Pakistani state has anyway perfected. For the foreseeable future, Pakistan will have enough human resources to continue the merciless and irrational war upon itself and maintain the flow of allegations against every other quarter except itself.
Second, perpetrators of violence do not have to take a look elsewhere for war fighting wherewithal required for hybrid forms of warfare. There are enough weapons and explosives in the irregular environment within Pakistan to sustain a full-blown war. Next door in Afghanistan are networks as dangerous, such as the Taliban, Haqqanis and now the new entrant – Daesh, whose sustenance depends on arms running and narcotics.
That forms the third element, financial conduits. To think that Karachi can be cleaned up in a campaign of a few weeks should sound laughable. The port city is the core center behind much turbulence that South Asia and increasingly even Central Asia faces. The nexus of narcotics, gun running, kidnapping for ransom, political subterfuge and support to mafia cartels, makes it one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
Pakistan has a problem on its hands which it is hiding its face from. To sustain its claims over J&K and find its strategic space in Afghanistan, both in the east and the west it perceives the need of foot soldiers with ideological moorings who can take away the battle from the home governments. In the bargain, it is painting itself into a corner as these very groups promote an ideology which is counter to its internal interests.
You cannot run with the foxes and hunt with the hounds. Take the LeT and Jaish e Mohammad (JeM), for example. Both are being treated as strategic assets. Their leaders play games with the reputation of Pakistan embedding it deeply in international perceptions that it is a nation sponsoring state terrorism.
The presence of these groups and the company they keep prevents Pakistan from finding ways of effectively neutralizing radicalism; as long as that situation remains, the long road to neutralizing the ideology will not begin.
Pakistan’s secular, liberal and well-educated members of civil society are at pains to explain how much is being done by Pakistan in the field of counter-radicalization. Any amount is too little for now. Pakistan needs a transformational effort because the kind of radicalism displayed by hordes of Mumtaz Qadri’s supporters is the type of an ideology that Daesh would find extremely appealing.
At some stage, Islam’s dynamics may well place all radicals in the same boat, the Wahabis and the Barelvis, otherwise so opposed to each other. It is evident from the almost coordinated voice of disapproval against the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri.
With all that is happening in Pakistan, casual observers naturally continue finding indicators pointing that Pakistan is headed towards implosion. On many other fronts it is business as usual. No one looks at the fact that Syria’s regime is perceived as dangerous but Pakistan’s actual promoters of radicalism, the Pakistan Army, has friends all over the world.
The virtual implosion of Pakistan is not perceived by China which is pumping in obscene sums of money into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The US finds it justifiable to sell advanced weapon platforms to enhance Pakistan’s war fighting capacity supposedly against terrorists. Russia is changing a seventy-year old policy and looking at selling combat helicopters to Pakistan while the Saudis invited the Pakistan Army and Air Force to participate in the propagandist war game, Exercise Northern Thunder.
Imploding nations do not have such widespread international support and this is exactly what’s keeping Pakistan together despite every strong reason that its pieces would be for the picking by now.
So, Pakistan is a strange combination of a geostrategically important country in the throes of internal turbulence, laced together by international economic and military support. This is the very reason why its leadership (the real one) remains supremely confident of weathering the threats and emerging stronger.
However, sometimes overplaying the same card can be counter-productive and Pakistan for one must not place all its eggs in one basket. For us, it is important to realize that nothing much will change in Pakistan.
To really force a change let the economic gap between the two countries rise to such obscene levels that even the people of Pakistan start wondering at the idea of Pakistan.
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