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Rescue Pakistan chorus is back again

Sushant Sareen is Consultant, Pakistan Project, at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • June 18, 2014

    From the media in India it would appear that the attack by Taliban terrorists on the Karachi airport is the tipping point which would pave the way for India and Pakistan to work together against the scourge of terrorism. How the Indian media, in particular the TV channels, have come to this conclusion remains a bit of a mystery. Karachi is neither the first spectacular terror attack in Pakistan, nor is it likely to be the last. It isn't even the worst. In fact, if the attack on the Parade Lane mosque in Rawalpindi in which family members of the top brass were killed did not affect any change in the strategic orientation of the generals, then Karachi, where only dispensable foot soldiers of the security forces and other airport staff died, is certainly not going to lead to any rethink, much less a paradigm change. Quite clearly, there is as yet absolutely nothing on the ground to suggest that Pakistan is set to reverse its use of aggressive Islamism as an instrument of foreign and defence policy.

    Before India once again goes down the path of wondering how it can rescue Pakistan from itself, some home truths about Pakistan – the state and society – need to be understood. The single most important home truth is that Pakistan's hatred for India far outweighs any fear or concern or even loathing it may have about the terrorism and extremism that the Taliban have come to stand for. Cut through the clap-trap, and it is apparent that the bulk of the Pakistanis do not intrinsically abhor the Taliban. Nor for that matter is there any significant ideological opposition to the Taliban. If at all there is a problem, it is over the means used by the Taliban, not so much with their message or their objective of Islamisation. To put it differently, as long as the Taliban - good, bad or ugly - listen to and follow the orders of the Pakistan military and serve as its instruments in Afghanistan, Iran, India and any other part of the world, for example, Syria, they are acceptable.

    The trouble is only with those Taliban groups who break free and follow their own agenda which generally includes taking on and targeting the Pakistan military and other symbols of state. This is precisely the reason why Taliban groups who agree to toe the army’s line are not only embraced but even facilitated - examples include the North Waziristan warlord Gul Bahadur, the Haqqani network, Mullah Omar and his cohorts, and lately the Mehsud breakaway faction led by Khan Said aka Sajna. It's not as though these Taliban have suddenly become card-carrying liberals; quite to the contrary, they remain as fanatical as ever –take for example, the statement of Sajna's spokesman Azam Tariq announcing the reasons for separating from the Fazlullah led TTP. Surely, if Pakistan had an aversion to what these guys stand for instead of who they stand against, Faustian pacts with the military would never have been struck.

    This is exactly the tack that is adopted in case of groups that primarily focus their attacks on India. Terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba that remain beholden and loyal to Pakistan have faced no major or debilitating restraint or restriction on their activities against India. When Indian analysts lump together all terrorists in Pakistan and then on the basis of this fallacious assumption imagine that the time has come for India and Pakistan to form a joint front against terrorism, they miss the fundamental point that terrorists who attack India are not the same as those who attack Pakistan. The former are those who work with the sanction and support of the Pakistani state; the latter are those who no longer accept the dictation or work on the direction of the Pakistani state. When some Pakistanis, including those closely working for or with the military establishment indulge in sweet talk with India, it is merely a tactical move to beguile India and refrain it from doing anything that adds to the difficulties that Pakistan faces from the renegade or recalcitrant Jihadist groups.

    As is their wont, the Pakistanis are quick to blame everyone but themselves for the terrorism inside their country. After the Karachi attack, Pakistani analysts accused the Afghans of providing sanctuary to TTP in places like Kunar, Nuristan and other border areas from where these people launched attacks inside Pakistan. But there is complete silence on the safe havens that the Pakistani authorities have given to Taliban terrorists inside their own country. What is even more laughable is that on the one hand the Pakistanis lampoon President Hamid Karzai as the Mayor of Kabul, and in the same breath demand that he act against the TTP elements who are alleged to be operating from remote border regions of Afghanistan.

    As far as India is concerned, the Pakistanis and their advocates and apologists in India fling the fear of a Jihadi takeover of their state as both a threat as well as a plea to seek some concessions from India, which they claim will strengthen the ability of the Pakistani state to take on the Jihadists. But this fear of the mullah has been done to death. The fact of the matter is that the non-mullahs ruling Pakistan since its creation haven’t exactly been very well disposed towards India. The export of terrorism as part of an asymmetric war strategy was not forged by the Islamists but by the so-called Pakistani moderates. India needs to understand that what Pakistan is facing is a power struggle and the Taliban are terrorists only as long as they don’t acquire power in Pakistan. Once they do, they will become the state and India can deal with them as the situation and circumstances demand. Suffice to say, there isn’t much more that the Taliban can do what the Pakistani moderates haven’t already tried and done to harm and bleed India. In any case, there cannot be a bigger folly than for India to forge its Pakistan policy on the basis of what they hear from Pakistani liberals, who are almost in any case an extinct species.

    The big question however is whether India can even do anything to strengthen Pakistan's ability to fight terrorism? Those who ask India to make gestures don’t say what gestures India should make. India can’t give Pakistan the economic and military aid that the Americans have given. India also cannot play the role China has played and even if it did, it is unlikely that Pakistan will genuflect before India as they do in front of the Chinese. India cannot be Saudi Arabia because it is neither the custodian of the two holy mosques nor is it in a position to gift Pakistan billions of dollars in cash and oil. What is it then that India can do? Just three things: hand over Kashmir, disband the Indian army and finally plant the flag of Islam on Red Fort in Delhi. Short of this the Pakistanis will continue to raise the bogey of insecurity with India.

    Equally galling is the fact that those who advocate gestures from India do not specify what Pakistan will do in return. Unless there are clear metrics specified on what the Pakistan's need to do, it will serve none of India’s interests to save Pakistan from itself. Instead of wasting time on thinking about how India can rescue Pakistan, India needs to start worrying about how it will protect itself from whatever fallout there will be of an Islamic Emirate of Pakistan. There is after all a very good chance that once the Taliban rampage starts, the Pakistan army will crumble much like the Iraqi army has folded up in the face of the ISIS onslaught.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.