Pakistan must change its approach to terrorism

Harsha Kakkar
The recent suicide attack in the high security Police Lines in Peshawar, Pakistan, left over a 100 dead and around 200 injured. The attack was initially claimed by the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) which subsequently denied its involvement. The Pak government believes it to be a faction of the TTP aligned with the ISKP (Islamic State Khorasan Province). Within Pakistan the blame game for permitting terrorism to grow unchecked continues between the current government and its predecessors, Imran Khan led PTI. It was in the same city, Peshawar, in Dec 2014, the same TTP attacked the army school leaving 150 dead including 134 students.
Pakistan has for long been accusing the Taliban led dispensation in Kabul for not acting against the TTP. Even in this case Pakistan’s spokesperson stated that it expected ‘sincere cooperation’ from the Afghan government to address the ‘challenge of terrorism.’ The Afghan government rejected Pakistan’s accusation with its foreign minister stating, ‘We ask Pakistan’s ministers to not throw the snow of their own roofs onto the roofs of others. They should consider their problems in their own country. We advise them to look into the Peshawar explosion in great detail.’
Pakistan has always followed a policy of good versus bad terrorism. The Afghan Taliban, which it officially supported, was ‘good,’ which as per their view has turned rogue. Kabul pushed Pakistan for talks with the TTP, providing it safe re-entry into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as also giving it space and time to regroup and re-build its cadre. Its ideology of Sharia law is supported by many Pak clerics, members of its armed forces as also large numbers of its Islamized society. It is possible that this attack was facilitated by its supporters within police lines.
The Pak army’s peace talks with the TTP were questioned by the public which wanted those responsible for the massacre of army school students in 2014 to be brought to book. The public never trusted the TTP, but Imran and the establishment did. Today, the public has been proved right and the Pak leadership wrong. Yet those involved in pushing talks have refused to accept the blame. Pakistan ignored the cardinal rule that you never negotiate with terrorists.
Post earlier terrorist strikes, Pakistan could launch counterattacks at TTP camps across the border as it did post the attack on the army school. The US also compelled the Kabul administration to look the other way. Further, US drone strikes targeted TTP camps. Now with a Taliban government in Kabul any attacks across the Durand Line would result in retaliation as also provision of greater freedom to the TTP.
The strike in Peshawar and increased terrorist activities in the region is forcing a migration of the population. A subsequent attack on a police station in Mianwali in Punjab displayed that the TTP has expanded deep into the country and unless acted against could endanger the nation.
The Pak army had for decades outsourced its security duties to terrorist groups. It permitted various anti-India terrorist groups to keep Kashmir on the boil, while backing the Taliban against a democratic Afghanistan, while it raked in money from its business enterprises as also from the US. It did launch some operations against the TTP, but these were only in name as the TTP was largely suppressed by its main backer, the Taliban.
The TTP got its freedom to target the Pak army only after the Taliban gained power in Kabul. The Pak army was only involved in anti-terrorist operations against the Baloch, leading to extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. These actions added to the strength of Baloch freedom fighters, and they began targeting Chinese investors. Now with some Baloch groups swearing allegiance to the TTP, the scenario has become precarious.
The seeds of terrorism sowed by Pakistan to target neighbouring countries have returned to haunt it. Terrorist groups have grown so powerful that they are nominating their own shadow government openly challenging the state. Its defence minister,Khawaja Asif, admitted, ‘we sowed seeds of terrorism. Worshippers weren’t martyred during prayers even in India or Israel, but it happened in Pakistan.’
All concentration of Pak forces will now be towards suppressing terrorist groups expanding their hold in its western provinces. Its military might including artillery and helicopter gunships will be deployed for operations resulting in collateral damage and pushing more youth into the hands of terrorist groups. If the Lal Masjid attack in Jul 2007 created the TTP, then relentless anti-terrorist action with innocents being killed and arrested will only enhance the power of the TTP by large scale recruitment.
For decades, India had followed the policy of ‘Kadi Ninda’ refusing to target perpetrators of terrorism from across the border, while crying for global criticism of Pakistan. It took no military action buoyed down by the nuclear threat. Balakote changed the scenario and terrorism began to recede. The situation has now reversed. It is Pak which is following the policy of ‘Kadi Ninda’ and blaming Afghanistan while promising to act against terrorist groups. However, Pakistan fails to look inwards and reset its ‘good versus bad terrorist’ policies.
It is too late for Pakistan to repent its support to the Taliban. It was cautioned by the US and others but ignored the warnings and is now paying for its follies. Most of its problems emerged post the US withdrawal, for which it was directly responsible. When history is rewritten, successive Pak governments and its army will be blamed for the mess they are in, economic or security, solely because they believed they were backing good terrorists.
This weakening security environment comes when Pak faces an economic meltdown amidst political turmoil. The IMF is insisting Pak cuts its defence budget and military manpower alongside other stringent measures, most of which would impact the common man possibly enhancing unrest. Its closest benefactors, Saudi and the UAE are insisting Pak seeks peace with India and stops screaming on Kashmir. They have made promises of deposits but await outcome of IMF talks. China is conspicuous by its silence in providing aid. Pak is now fighting alone to survive.Its own policies are now haunting it.
The author is Major General (Retd)