By Rajeev Sharma
It is a grave misfortune for two billion and more people of South Asia that peace and stability of their home remains hostage to the dangerously short-sighted and reckless Pakistan Army and its top leadership. The army is today led by General Ashfaq Kayani and his cabal of confidants led by ISI chief Shuja Pasha whose hatred for India and deep suspicion about the US surpasses even that of their proxies like terrorist leader Hafiz Saeed. Unfortunately, the American leadership, which is acutely aware of this compulsive disorder among the top leadership in Pakistan Army, remains firm in their grossly mistaken belief that Kayani and Pasha alone could save them from ruin in Afghanistan.
A wake up call has become essential in this context. Study the actions of the Pakistan Army on ground. Ever since October 2001, when the Americans wanted Pakistan to be its ` strategic ally` in the War on Terror, Pakistan Army has been leading Washington by its nose. The first major operation on Durand Line, Operation Hammer and Anvil, failed to arrest the wave of Taliban and al Qaida escapees into Pakistan. Neither the army nor its intelligence arm, ISI, was determined to make the operation success; in fact, they did everything possible to fail it. The chief of Pakistan Army at that time was none other than Washington’s `best bet` Pervez Musharraf and his ISI chief was Kayani who, now, has taken over the mantle of `best bet`. Musharraf and his commanders were quite clear that if Taliban and al Qaida leaders were either killed or arrested and handed over to the US, they will have no leverage over the Western nation to shell out the much required dollars to shore up their country’s empty coffers and of course keep a hefty commission for themselves.
How come Musharraf was able to buy an extraordinarily expensive flat in London’s most exclusive locality? No one really has bothered to find out how many billions, like his fellow Generals in other parts of the world like Hosni Mubarak, Musharraf had stashed away in anonymous Swiss bank accounts. As for Kayani, no one even dare talk about such a possibility in Pakistan or in the US. But isn’t it strange that Kayani and his army, who have been projecting themselves as upholders of all virtue in Pakistan, have been quite reticent in pursuing President Zardari’s ill-gotten millions (or is it billions?)? Is there a secret understanding between the two? Or, does Zardari know such black secrets about the Generals which he is conveniently using as a shield? In today’s Pakistan, nothing can be considered pre-posterous?
But more than the deeply entrenched corruption in the army and ISI, it is the absolute hatred among its top leadership towards India and western nations that makes them embrace terrorist leaders like Hafiz Saeed and makes them, in the process, blind towards their self-destructive attitudes and actions.
The Army’s anti-India and pro-terrorist leanings and actions generate not only a deep sense of anxiety among the billions who populate this region but also encourages terrorist groups and leaders like Hafiz Saeed to brandish their extremely radical religious ideology to a billion-plus Muslims who cohabit with others in this part of the world. Kayani’s attitude towards terrorist groups, to regard thes as `strategic assets` and `patriots` has encouraged terrorist groups like LeT to regroup and regain capability in carrying out their terrorist mission. Without doubt, the threat of terror attacks in India and Afghanistan has only grown manifold since the Mumbai attacks.
The possibility of terrorist attacks carried out by Pakistan-based or trained terrorists in other parts of the world has become even stronger since November 2008. Today, Pakistan-based terrorist groups, with strong support from the Army and ISI, offer training courses to radical elements from different parts of the world. The New York failed bomber, Faizal Shahzad, for instance, had first trained with LeT in its PoK campus and then with the Taliban in Waziristan. Hundreds of others, from different parts of the world, have trained in many of the terrorist training camps run by LeT and other groups in PoK, Waziristan and Khyber Pakhtunwa. Pakistan has become a mega-campus of terror today with alumni from a broad spectrum of terror groups.
What such a situation does to Pakistan itself has been kept at bay by the Army which projects itself as the country’s `sole guardian`. Thanks to Kayani’s policies, Pakistan is today teetering on the brink of a collapse. Kayani is behaving more like the Roman emperor Nero who watched, with perverse pleasure, Rome being consumed by flames. The flames lapping up at the doorstep of Pakistan is visible to all but Pakistan Army and its top leadership. The reason for this blindness is the simple fact that the one institution responsible, more than the others, for Pakistan’s fast forward into collapse, is Pakistan Army. The Army managed to usurp the driver’s seat in the political arena since the 50s when General Ayub Khan took over power from the civilians. Thereafter, to hold on to the power and spoils of power, the Army systematically subverted the nascent political process in the country, putting the Generals in positions of influence even if they were not in power. The political process, over the years, with forced compromises and assassinations, became subservient to the Army Headquarters diktat. The invisible King Maker in all elections in Pakistan has been the Army. Without the Army Chief’s nod, no political party could take charge in Islamabad. And even if it did, it could not continue for long if the party fell foul with the army’s plans. So, over the six decades of independence, Pakistan has become a slave to a British legacy to the sub-continent, Pakistan Army.
Such enormous political clout gave the Army a free hand in fuelling a venomous cocktail of hatred and violence among the often willing masses who saw India as a looming enemy. The Army’s hate campaign, four wars and the two-decade long proxy war over Kashmir, kept the people somnambulant, completely blind to the pathetic living standards they have been forced to accept in the name of keeping the religious above all considerations. Logic and liberty have no place in today’s Pakistan. The Army wanted a nation for itself and it did everything possible to keep that nation blind and deaf to reason. So when the army began promoting jihad as a panacea for all the country’s ills, millions took the bait and turned themselves into cannon fodder in the name of religion. The army then created proxy groups to recruit, train and manage this parallel militia of civilians. Their target was everything and everyone Un-Islamic.
Almost everyone in Pakistan believes that terrorist groups like LeT are not dangerous because they kill only the Indians and not Pakistanis. How dangerously flawed this opinion is. Terrorist groups not only carry out attacks but also, as part of their agenda, turn ` civil` society into a murderous mob. These groups brainwash the young, arm the jobless youth and turn women into suicide bombers. They take over the civil society in more ways than one, marginalising the few liberal elements already on the fringe of the society. The terrorist groups become legitimate owners of the civil society, leaving hardly anyone to challenge their power and influence.
This transformation of terror groups into `civil society` organisations could not have been possible without Pakistan Army which saw it as an instrument to legitimise its monopoly over everything that matters in Pakistan. They became the `strategic assets` in more ways than one; they could be, and were, used to cause mayhem and violence in India and Afghanistan or any other part of the world. These groups could also be, and were, used to silence critics, rebels and dissidents. Shias, for instance, are being silenced by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, two groups created by the Army in the early 80s after Zia was forced to capitulate on Sharia by the Shia community. Balochs are being silenced in a similar fashion for daring to challenge the army’s supremacy. The Pashtuns are the new targets for carrying revenge attacks on the army and ISI after the army killed over 300 Pashtun students, boys and girls, in a military operation in Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July 2007. Similar groups, in the past, were used to quell the Bengali Muslims who wanted, first, recognition for their language, and then a separate nation for themselves.
The wheel of terror has, however, turned a full circle. The same set of `strategic assets` are now turning against their masters because of clash of objectives. Not all the terrorist proxies the army created in the past are within their grip; some have gone `rogue`, carrying out independent criminal, extremist and terrorist operations, freely aligning with groups which are today threatening Pakistan more than anyone else. The Army, however, remains convinced that it can stem this tide of terror against their country but it would need more than a military operation or two. It would require the army to give up terror as a strategic option and crackdown on all terrorist groups with equal determination. Such an eventuality seems to be part of wishful thinking. Kayani and Pasha are not interested in reigning in even those who are in their control, leaving Pakistan at the mercy of a cocktail of terror that it once unleashed on other countries with careless abundance.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])