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Pakistan’s most dangerous enemy is denial

comment Updated: Dec 17, 2014 22:23 IST

India continues to be aghast about the massacre of children at Peshawar. It has expressed sorrow through minutes of silence in schools and Parliament.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi put aside recent testy exchanges and spoke to Nawaz Sharif and called for the two nations to join hands for defeating terrorism. National security adviser Ajit Doval visited the Pakistan High Commission to sign a condolence book.

Several Indian analysts, however, reckon that they are not surprised and there have been insensitive reactions on social media. The Pakistani government must interpret the reaction of its citizens and those in India as nothing more than a plea to come to terms with the threat that terrorists of all stripes pose to their country.

It is particularly disturbing to see a cleric refuse to condemn the massacre or observe Pakistani analysts equivocate about the Taliban, still seeing them as useful strategic pawns. There are even some who blame India for the growth of the Pakistan Taliban, even if credible analysts do not endorse such views.

Pakistani strategists have long played the anti-India card to develop equities within the country and nurture non-State jihadi groups as ‘assets’. This has to change. As writer Husain Haqqani has stated, “Pakistan’s most dangerous enemy is denial”.

The fight against jihadis is admittedly tough, especially when large cities like Karachi are barely under State control. Securing public spaces is an inexact art even for more well-resourced societies.

But Pakistan’s citizens need to see signs of State resolve and improved capacity, beyond ongoing counterterrorist operations. The criminal justice system should respond to terrorist crimes to act as a deterrent — this principle is intimately linked to India’s demand to prosecute the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks. Pakistan needs an unequivocal campaign against extremism that is relentlessly pushed by its political class.

That involves the overhaul of its textbooks that ‘preach falsehoods, hatred and bigotry’ representing India in adversarial terms; portraying Pakistan as the result of a fundamental conflict between Hindus and Muslims — they disavow shared histories with India and Pakistan’s multi-religious past. It is staggering that Pakistan’s leaders can ignore the kind of threat that groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba pose to their society while being inordinately focused on India as the larger power.

Terrorism can rarely bring countries together, but Pakistan must know that for all its misgivings about India, New Delhi has kept the eastern front quiet while Islamabad was focused on its west since 2001 — and that India will cooperate if sincere efforts to counter terrorism follow.