By Dr Subhash Kapila*
Ironically, Pakistan as a State-Sponsor of Terrorism for decades, exporting terrorist strikes against India and Afghanistan as instruments of State policy, finds itself inflicted by strikes by Pakistan’s home-grown indigenous terrorist groups in Pakistan’s Heartland with renewed viciousness.
Pakistan now stands bitten and stung by the snakes that it had reared in its backyard for decades to be used with deadly strikes against India and Afghanistan. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned Pakistan against such an eventuality years back. But Pakistan Army saw no merit in this cautionary advice. Hopefully, this time around Pakistan would see reason.
That Pakistan’s wave of terrorism underway stands perpetrated by Pakistan’s home-grown indigenous terror groups stands conceded by Pakistan’s Interior Minister who over the weekend in an interaction with the media asserted that “The decision to launch OP RADD-UL-FASSAD was taken at PM House. It is against terrorists and their facilitators inside Pakistan unlike ZARB-E-AZB which was against terrorists in border areas.”
Pakistan’s flirtations with terrorism by adopting Islamist terrorist groups to achieve its geopolitical objectives against India and Afghanistan have landed up Pakistan in a ‘witches brew’ where it now projects to the world community that Pakistan too is a victim of terrorism. This assertion does not carry conviction as what are striking Pakistan’s Heartland currently are terrorist attacks by Pakistan’s home-grown indigenous terrorist groups. Neither India nor Afghanistan can be said to enjoy linkages or influence over Pakistan’s indigenous terror groups. It is the Pakistan Army which can be said to have provided cover to such groups at different stages, in the past.
Having created the ‘Monsters of Terrorism’ the Pakistani establishment seems to have run out of control over such groups. As is always said that it is easy to create a tiger but once riding on it, it becomes difficult to dismount it.
In seminars in the West focussing on the issue whether “Pakistan is the Victim of Terrorism or a Perpetrator of Terrorism” the vast majority of eminent discussants were of the view that ‘Pakistan is the Perpetrator of Terrorism.’ This needs to be flagged initially as it lays the context for the succeeding discussion of Pakistan Heartland being revisited viciously by terrorist strikes. Much that Pakistan would like to propagate that it is either India or Afghanistan, or both in coordination, are behind Pakistan’s current affliction, the ground realities are different as targets of Pakistan’s current terrorist strikes are beyond the physical reach or in areas difficult to breach by external terrorism elements.
Missing from internal debates within Pakistan on the ongoing trend is that this is a blowback from the much-heralded OP ZARB-E-AZB, the brutal Pakistan Army operations launched in FATA and other frontier areas by the previous Pak Army Chief General Raheel Sharif in the aftermath of the Peshawar Army Public School terrorist attack. The Pakistan Army went on a berserk selective rampage of death and destruction in Pakistan’s frontier areas. These areas with complicity of Pakistan Army Generals had earlier borne the brunt of US drone strikes for years.
The significant trend in the making is that this time around the terrorists’ attacks by Pakistan’s indigenous terrorist networks are targeted in urban and semi-urban areas. It is striking where it hurts most. Even in urban areas some of the attacks seem to be taking place in up-scale neighbourhoods frequented by Pakistan’s rich and mighty eg. Lahore Mall Road area and Gulberg area.
Underlying Pakistan media reports on this new spate of terrorist attacks in Pakistan Heartland one discerns panic and trauma in the citizens, that this time the terror attacks have taken place ‘too near to us’. In other words, Punjab and Lahore were oblivious to Pakistan Army’s brutal use of artillery and air power in their counter-terrorism operations of OP ZARB-E-AZB as these were conducted in Pakistan’s peripheral frontier areas, far away from the consciousness of Pakistan’s elitist circles.
Significantly again, the Sharif brothers, the Prime Minister in Islamabad and his younger brother as Chief Minister of Punjab sitting in Lahore had earlier been resisting the induction into Punjab of the infamous Pakistan Rangers, normally on border protection duties, who were given sweeping powers to quell Karachi disturbances. In the wake of the recent spurt of terrorist attacks, on the ‘request’ of the Punjab Chief Minister, Islamabad has agreed to provide a contingent of 2,500 Pakistan Rangers with ‘police powers’ to undertake counter-terrorism operations in Punjab.
The Pakistan Army has not learnt any lessons from its mistakes of OP ZARB-E AZB and has announced a similar overdrive against what it describes as ‘indiscriminate actions against residual terrorists groups’. As if to say, that terrorism stood wiped out earlier and that all that is required is mopping-up operations.
Pakistan has repeatedly been blaming the TPP or commonly known as Punjab Taliban for spurt of terrorist attacks. While TPP has an avowed aim to inflict damage on Pakistan Army and its assets, it cannot be ignored that reports do suggest that the Pakistan Army and its ISI have been earlier motivating TTP for terrorist operations in India’s Kashmir Valley along with Al Qaeda elements.
Pakistan media has been highlighting that Pakistan is now intent on cleansing the southern areas of its Punjab province of terrorist groups. This by itself is an admission that indigenous terrorist groups have taken up residence in Punjab. For a State like Pakistan which has a brutal surveillance system by its ubiquitous ISI intelligence agency, how come that this went unnoticed so far? Or, these were sanctuaries provided with official patronage for use of these assets against its neighbours?
How can Pakistan achieve its stated purposes when in Punjab it also houses the notorious outfits of Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad used to effect against India. Both Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar, leading these ISI affiliates stand condemned as ‘Global Terrorists’”. They still flourish in Pakistan Punjab courtesy the Pakistani Establishment and Pakistan’s strategic patron China which impedes UN sanctions against them.
Moving to an examination of various Taliban groups like the Taliban which provided Pakistan with a proxy hold over Afghanistan for years until the US military intervention, or the Afghan Taliban which stood ensconced in Quetta courtesy of the Pakistan Army or the Punjab Taliban which Pakistan now hates, the singular fact is that the existence of all three has been underwritten by the Pakistan Army and its clandestine agency, the ISI.
What is the guarantee that even the Afghan Taliban in future may turn against Pakistan as it would not like to appear as a Pakistani stooge in the eyes of its Afghan compatriots, when Pakistan Army is hell bent on achieving its footholds in Kabul once again and destroying the tribal homelands by artillery fire and aerial bombings.. Similarly, the TPP which draws its membership of nearly 40,000 strong from all the seven regions of FATA would not be a mute spectator when the Pakistan Army launches massive artillery and airstrikes against the FATA region as part of its counterterrorism operations?
In all of the above the subjectivity of the ethnic factor does come into play in the Pakistani calculus, directly or indirectly. In the wake of the recent terrorist strikes, Pakistan’s prime ministerial contender Imran Khan was constrained to comment that “Pashtuns were wrongly and cruelly targeted in wake of terrorist attacks within Pakistan.”
In an insightful Column in the Pakistani English DAWN newspaper today, Cyril Almeida has classified Pakistani terrorists in three categories (1 ) India-Centric Terrorist Groups (2 ) Afghanistan-Centric Terrorist Groups, and (3 ) Pakistan-Centric Terrorist Groups.
Summarising his observations on the attitude of the Pakistan Army and the Nawaz Government towards these three categories of Pakistani terrorist groups, Almeida highlights the following (1) Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif wants India-Centric terrorist groups to be muzzled. But the Pak Army is hesitant and would not like to do it under pressure. (2) Against Afghan-centric terrorist groups, the Government wants a downturn in violence so that international blame heaped on Pakistan on this account is diluted. However, no blueprint is visible given by the Government or implemented by Pak Army. (3) As regards the Pakistan-Centric terrorist groups, the Pakistan Army wants a total eradication. There seem to be a difference here as the government sees no role beyond maybe some of the sectarian strife.
Analysis of the above throws up some varying but interesting deductions. Firstly, the Pakistan Army in its current drive would persist in targeting FATA because of the TPP factor and cleansing of Pak-Centric terrorist groups. Secondly, Pakistan Army will not proceed against India-Centric terrorist groups. It will have a handy excuse that its hands are full with the other two. Thirdly, nightmarish scenarios of terrorist strikes in Pakistan Heartland, by whichever terrorist groups, will bring back the centrality of the Pakistan Army in Pakistan’s governance.
Implications for India of the unfolding situation will be challenging and complex. India needs to be prepared for vicious terrorist strikes in Indian Heartland as diversionary tactics. The security situation in Kashmir Valley could be stirred above more forcefully by proxy use of separatists’ leaders and the foolish utterances of ‘soft separatists’ in Valley political outfits. The simple maxim which would be uppermost in the minds of the Pakistani Establishment would be if that Pakistan is being struck by terrorist violence and is in a state of turbulence, then why India should be spared otherwise. India has to be vigilant. Routine intelligence warnings can no longer be the fig leaf for Indian intelligence agencies. Accurate intelligence and warnings are required for effective counter-terrorism operations by security forces.
Concluding, one is constrained to observe that Pakistan is in a long haul in its drive to eradicate terrorism from Pakistan’s midst simply for reason that the Pakistani Establishment itself planted the seedlings of state sponsored terrorism, nurtured it and was permissive on their activities. With Pakistan General Elections due next year, the situation becomes more challenging in terms of counter-terrorism operations when politics would tend to dominate the national scene in Pakistan. The implications for India are obvious.
*Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at [email protected]