By Lt Gen P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Since the ghastly terrorist bombing of the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in Sehwan, Sindh, that killed some 83 Sufi Muslims and injured over 250 on February 16, the Pakistan Army claims to have killed 100 terrorists in 24 hours in a countrywide crackdown. At this pace they should solve the problem of terrorism in Pakistan in no time — the same way they ‘eradicated’ it from North Waziristan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and FATA through ‘Zarb-e-Azb’. Or did they?
Of course, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) may consider ‘zero’ of no value, abhor it because Indians were the first to use zero in arithmetic, or they never heard Swami Vivekananda holding London spellbound speaking on ‘zero’. But then they may well have killed 100 like hundreds in Zarb-e-Azb albeit whether those killed were terrorist or innocent civilians can never be established.
Any journo reporting facts will be bumped off and that’s why Nadia Rahman, Pakistani supporter of Amnesty International, cautiously says: “The authorities have a responsibility to protect people’s lives but must do so while adhering to international law.” But isn’t this like telling China to abide by ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the South China Sea?
Quite amusing to see news headlines reading: “In a first, Pakistan strikes terrorist camps on Afghanistan soil”. This certainly was not the first time. Pakistan has been repeatedly attacking Afghanistan over the past several years. For example, in July 2011, Afghan media reported: “Pakistan fired some 470 missiles and artillery in Kunar, Nangarhar, Khost and Paktia provinces of Afghanistan followed by Pakistani Taliban raids backed by helicopters, killing dozens of civilians in June this year.
A July 4, 2011 resolution of the Afghan Parliament urged the UNSC and the OIC to mount diplomatic pressure on Pakistan, describing the Pakistani attacks in Kunar, Nangarhar, Khost and Paktia provinces as an “act of invasion” by Pakistan”.
The bigger joke now is Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa telling General John Nicholson, top US commander in Afghanistan, that terrorist activities and inaction against militants in Afghanistan were “testing our current policy of cross-border restraint”. Tickles one pink after all the institutionalised radicalisation, terror generation in Pakistan and heightened proxy wars on India and Afghanistan.
Sure the attack on the Sufi shrine was claimed by the ISIS — which terrorist attack is not? But which is the ISIS in Af-Pak — certainly it has not come from Syria-Iraq. The Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK) is part engineered in the Peshawar region under the tutelage of Pakistan’s ISI, as also in border region of Afghanistan. And where Pakistan attacks / undertakes fire assaults is very much part of Pakistan’s enlarging ‘strategic depth’.
Recall news report of November 2014 of an ISIS delegation meeting the Jundallah in Balochistan? Naturally the Pakistan government denied it, which is standard ISI procedure. Then you had Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mansour struck down by US Predators inside Balochistan. A former Pakistani DG ISI claims the Americans killed Mansour because he was prepared to come over ground to join the Afghan reconciliation process — can it get more absurd? But ISI will be at pains to explain on what mission was Mansour in Balochistan, which is crawling with Pakistani security forces perpetuating genocide on the Baloch population.
Ever wondered why so much violence in Balochistan and Sindh and why under pretext of Zarb-e-Azb, the ISI has manoeuvred terrorist organisations into Balochistan –- same way terrorists were shifted to POK during 2004-05 onwards. With the institutionalised radicalisation in Pakistan, who is interested in killing Sufis and Shias? Who declared Ahmediyas cannot be considered Muslims?
Agha H Amin, Pakistani defence analyst, wrote way back in 2005: “Pakistan sponsored Taliban who regard all Shias, Ismailis, non-Pashtuns, moderate Pashtuns as infidels who deserve to be massacred.” The ISK is as much backed by Pakistan’s ISI. That is the reason Russia says they need Pakistan to fight the ISIS — prevent their influence from spreading to Central Asia that would harm Russian interests.
Sure the Taliban did the massacre in Army School, Peshawar. But then the Pakistan Taliban spokesman stated this was revenge for their children and women killed in North Waziristan through aerial and artillery bombings, where regional reporters disclosed advance information was passed to enable terrorist leaders escape before the fire assaults.
The current crackdown on terrorists is more a public exercise of hard stance being adopted – besides, it helps target dissidence. Going by news reports, large number of Afghans have been rounded up, which may be by design for using them in sub-conventional operations. When the US permitted air evacuation of Pakistani forces and Pakistan Taliban from Kunduz and Khost during the US invasion of Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army brought hundreds of Afghans to Pakistan for waging irregular warfare.
Latifullah Mashal, Afghan intelligence official, stated on October 5, 2011: “Six Afghans were recruited to undertake suicide attacks in Kabul, plan and co-ordinate bigger international attacks in the US and parts of Europe and at a luxury hotel in Kabul. They also were responsible for recruiting one of the key security guards of President Hamid Karzai’s protective services. They had planned to assassinate President Karzai … the individual received explosives and weapons training in Peshawar in Pakistan.”
This so-called crackdown is because of US pressure to take action against radical mullahs like Hafiz Saeed and JuD (already re-named Tehreek-e-Azadi to escape action). Detaining Hafiz Saeed (not the first time) is an attempt to deter US President Donald Trump from taking tougher measures against Pakistan and help Chinese President Xi Jinping appease the Chinese public that Pakistan is serious about combating terrorism. It appears to have bamboozled some US Congressmen who are calling for continued support to Pakistan to fight terrorism.
Now politicians are generally the same under the skin worldwide. So if some politicians in India (even holding important portfolios during UPA II regime) were under ISI blackmail having used hawala, why wouldn’t Pakistan buy over some US Congressmen especially when their Chinese mentors have even bribed UN officials in the past. Apparently, these US Congressmen have never seen BBC documentary ‘Secret Pakistan’ that provides proof of Pakistan’s ISI training, advising and directing the Taliban.
They are possibly unaware that the ISI has a handle on both the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban through the Haqqani Network – Sirajuddin Haqqani in particular. Ironically, they never even ask themselves what action has Pakistan taken in the past decades against Haqqanis, about which US has always beseeched Pakistan to act? Also, where President Trump has vowed to eradicate Islamic terrorism, isn’t Pakistan its crucible in South Asia?
About this talk of Pakistan undergoing strategic shift in terms of terrorism, the only shift would be to refine the use of terror and dupe the world better. Look at the perception building on social media that Pakistan appears genuine this time. But the following should be crystal clear: Pakistan makes a distinction between “good” and “bad terrorists — it will act against terrorists who do not fit the ISI plans of waging proxy war in India and Afghanistan.
Also, maybe against some to keep US support going: and, Pakistan’s proxy wars on India and Afghanistan will continue unabated. Sure when you nurture thriving hatcheries of snakes, an odd snakebite to you will happen. Do pay heed to the recent article ‘Denying Pakistan the Dividends of Terror’ by Christine Fair wherein she says: “This blowback has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom are children. Yet despite the outcry in the aftermath of the bombing of the army school in Peshawar and talk of Pakistan’s ‘strategic shift’, Pakistan remains undeterred — and even evermore resolute — in its addiction to so-called ‘jihad’ to achieve its foreign policy objectives in India, as well as Afghanistan.”
Pakistan’s non-stop bamboozle will continue, egged on by China. Working on a 75-kilometre road linking China with Afghanistan through the Wakhan Corridor, Chinese troops are already patrolling deep inside eastern Afghanistan. A US aircraft carrier task forces may have commenced patrolling the South China Sea (SCS) but China’s intent is to create a SCS-type situation in the Arabian Sea in not too distant future, fully assisted by Pakistan. Not without reason, H.J. Mackinder had prophesied in 1904: “Chinese might constitute the yellow peril to the world’s freedom, just because they would add an oceanic frontage to the resources of the great continent, an advantage as yet denied to the Russian tenant of the pivot region.”
That certainly will be the case with Chinese proliferation in Indo-Pacific, including SSBNs based at Gwadar, Omari and Karachi in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka. Going by news reports, the US has seen through China’s game of recommending talks with North Korea. What the US Congressmen and the US administration needs to examine is the China-Pakistan-North Korea axis and what it means for the future of the world.
Pakistan’s ISI appears gung-ho dancing with the wolves but then one view expressed during 2013 in India Strategic Studies stated: “The seeds of ‘Punjabistan’ sown in the first decade of Pakistan’s existence have today created a country at war with itself and ready to balkanize. Bengal went away on linguistic battles while ‘Sunni-isation’ of Pakistan is killing the Shias, Balochs, Sindhis and Pashtuns along with other minorities.” Balochis are comparatively less in number but maybe one day it will dawn upon the Pashtuns how they are being steamrolled by Pakistan’s ‘deep state’.
*The author is a veteran Special Forces officer of the Indian Army. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to [email protected]
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