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Normal Civilians?

The inability to come clean on terror and refrain from the uselessness of differentiating between good and bad terrorists is at the heart of Pakistan’s failings. The real challenge is not of the capability of the State to rein in regressive forces; as much as it is of the intent of the State, this leads to shocking compromises, leniencies, and covert support.

Bhopinder Singh | New Delhi |

Some sovereign preferences and their leadership positions remain incorrigible. Pakistan on terror is one such exhausting dimension. Pakistan was forced into enrolling into the ‘War on Terror’ (having generously nurtured the terror ecosystem earlier), immediately after the 9/11 attacks.

For supposedly reneging on its terror path, Pakistan was afforded a ‘special relationship’ and a significant status of an ‘major nonNATO ally’ by the United States, in the hope that the blooming terror nurseries in the Af-Pak realm, would shut down. Initially, the United States conveniently glossed over the India-facing terror infrastructure in Pakistan to the continuing dismay of Delhi.

Soon it was the patented and institutionalised duplicitousness of the Pakistani approach on terror per se, that got the Americans forces riled up, in neighbouring Afghanistan. Then in 2001, the leadership in Pakistan was with the military dictator, General Pervez Musharaf, who was mired in his own lack of legitimacy that perhaps led him to adopt contradictory stances and be utterly dependent on forces that were resistant to change ~ either way, the halfcommitted Pakistanis began running with the hare and hunting with the hound.

It took a President like Donald Trump to go beyond polite complaints against Islamabad and state the obvious, “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No More!”

By then, the world had woken up to the deadly doublestandards on terror of Pakistan and the global counter-terrorist watchdog agency, the Financial Action Task Force, was embarrassingly on Pakistani heels towards ‘blacklisting’. While it was put on the ‘grey list’ in June 2018, it still has not cleared the air and remains under ‘increased monitoring’, pending actions to curb state complicity. But all this while, Pakistani governance displayed an ostrichlike stance and kept rationalising its own errant behaviour by counter-accusing the West of doublestandards.

While the role of the American CIA along with the Pakistani ISI in shaping the Afghan mujaheddin movement (progenitors of Taliban) is undeniable during the cold war days, Islamabad has been steadily unwilling to snap out of the extremist/terror gridlock that it created, and on the contrary, has harnessed the same.

In a brazen act of misplaced audacity, the man who supposedly led Pakistan in the ‘war on terror’ i.e. General Pervez Musharaf, infamously claimed later, “We trained the Taliban, sent them in. They were our heroes. Haqqani was our hero. Osama Bin Laden was our hero. Ayman al-Zawahiri was our hero. Then the global environment changed. The world started viewing things differently. Our heroes were turned into villains.”

Unsurprisingly, Osama Bin Laden was finally ‘taken out’ from a safehouse in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, from under the protective nose of its military. The much needed strategic reorientation from the Pakistani establishment’s core beliefs and invested positions like ‘Strategic Depth’ in Afghanistan, or its irreconcilable passion towards ‘Enemising’ India, has only led to more of the same ~ irrespective of whether the leadership is in the form of a military dictator or a civilian politician from PPP, PMLN or now, PTI.

Imran Khan who routinely, counter-intuitively, and unconvincingly plays the victim-card on terror for Pakistan, still had the gall to make a statement in defence of the biggest terror infrastructure in the region i.e. Taliban, when he said recently that the Taliban were ‘normal civilians’ and ‘not some military outfit’! This incredulous ‘cover fire’ for a force that is behind the bloodiest and the most horrific attacks on Pakistan itself like the 2014 Peshawar school attack that killed 134 schoolchildren and 15 others etc., is typically amnestic for a man who is also better known as ‘Taliban Khan’!

The unmatched barbarism of the Taliban sprang forth recently with the shameful and brutal execution of the award-winning Indian photojournalist, Danish Siddiqui, and that of the local Afghan comic, Nazar Mohammad or Khasha Zwan, and served as a grim reminder of the Taliban’s sensibilities. If one was a supremely talented professional, the other an artist who brought some laughs in the otherwise dreary lives of the Afghan swathes ~ either ways, a threat to the revisionism and brutishness of a lot that Imran Khan describes as ‘normal civilians’.

Seemingly the entire Pakistani politico-societal curricula is designed to evince popular support for religio-extremist propaganda, with a unique admixture of victimhood thrown in to blame everyone except themselves. The inability to come clean on terror and refrain from the uselessness of differentiating between ‘good and bad terrorists’ is at the heart of Pakistan’s failings. The real challenge is not of the ‘capability’ of the State to rein in regressive forces; as much as it is of the intent of the State, this leads to shocking compromises, leniencies, and covert support.

The politico-societal air in Pakistan is primed to breed religio-extremism, and that ecosystem lends itself naturally towards bigotry, intolerance and that finally begets terrorism. The unending culture of contextualising, justifying and ‘normalising’ forces like the Taliban, as undertaken by the Prime Minister of Pakistan himself, is at the root of all terror ills in the subcontinental region.

Pakistan will soon find out even more obviously that its traditionally accommodative hedge on ‘strategic assets’ amongst some terror groups (e.g. Afghan Taliban, India-facing Lashkar-e-Taiba etc.) vis-à-vis more belligerent postures against Pakistan-facing groups like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) may not be feasible ~ it never is, as the genie of terror/extremism can never be pushed back into the bottle once unleashed.

A part of the Pakistani intelligentsia realises the untenability of its overreach in pandering to such extremist forces, but like in so many countries, they remain a silent, lampooned, and electorallyirrelevant populace in the face of masses who are sold on the opium of revenge, hate and supremacism. What Imran Khan achieved with his umpteenth gaffe was not just ‘normalise’ a terror group tactically, but ‘normalising’ terror per se. That is unbelievably reckless, even by Pakistani leadership standards.

(The writer is Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd) and former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry)