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Exorcist: Dictator’s cut

As news of further violence in Pak makes international headlines, it is very tempting to sound smug and say "You reap what you sow", writes Vikram Sood.
None | By Vikram Sood
UPDATED ON JUL 18, 2007 05:02 AM IST

As news of further violence in Pakistan after the Lal Masjid storming by the Pakistan Security Force makes international headlines, it is very tempting to sound smug and say “Ah, but I told you so” and “You reap what you sow.” Killing of innocents, including those who died in the Lal Masjid incident, cannot be fobbed off in this manner. But the fact is that for decades Pakistan has sponsored international demons as an instrument of foreign policy. It must now tackle its own demons.

So how should the Indian media portray these incidents. Should it follow the PTV example and describe the dead soldiers as those belonging to ‘Pak occupation forces in Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Areas)’ and the dead terrorists as ‘martyrs’? This is something about which our Kashmiri ‘freedom fighters’ may want to ponder and advise.

We might be right in a way when in the India-Pakistan context we say that Pakistan too is a victim of terrorism. Except the difference is that India has been a victim of Pakistani terrorism while Pakistan is a victim of Pakistani terrorism. There is more to follow in Pakistan.

This weekend’s newspapers carry reports that the assessment finally is that Al-Qaeda militants have been operating from western Pakistan. Also that Al-Qaeda’s business of terrorism has been outsourced to other terrorist groups who merely carry the Qaeda label for better brand equity.

Yet, not many years ago, at the turn of the 21st century, if anyone in Delhi mentioned that terrorism had gone global and the response ought to be similar, Western eyebrows would disappear into Western foreheads. Indian assessments were dismissed as typical subcontinental propaganda. No one could touch the mighty West. They were far too fair, just and honourable and, of course, rich and powerful. September 11, 2001, was a huge wake -up call, followed by Madrid and London. Glasgow and London escaped another catastrophe while we in India continue to face terrorist acts. Baghdad with its horrors and Afghanistan with its unending violence and human tragedies, are a constant reminder of so many valuable lives lost and years wasted. All of America’s weapons and all of Nato’s troops cannot put the two together again.

Closer home, had Lal Masjid been an isolated incident where the State had responded with speed and force, the world could have put this incident behind it as the action sponsored by a madman. That is not how it was. Five thousand men, women and children do not get inside a mosque or a madrasa overnight; nor do they get equipped with huge amounts of sophisticated weapons without either official negligence or connivance. It is also known that this mosque has had official blessings from previous Martial Law Generals, Ayub and Zia. It is also known that this masjid had Taliban connections in Fata.

For some time it might have appeared to have been the usual Musharraf charade of frightening his Western mentors to portray the dangers in tackling extremists and of the kind of life that would exist after him. However, it seems that the West was getting a little weary of these theatrics. These tactics had been tried too often and there were increasing doubts expressed in the media and in strategic circles that the Pakistanis were unable or unwilling to do enough.

US policies and Musharraf’s tactics came in for sharp criticism in the US Congress on July 12. Congressmen across the board doubted Musharraf’s ability to take strong action against the militants and called for a re-evaluation of US policies towards Pakistan. Musharraf was accused of ignoring the growing ranks of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and that he lacked the ability or will to crack down on terrorist training camps in Pakistan. The strongest indictment came from Democrat John Tierney who heads a House of Representatives panel on National Security and Foreign Affairs. Tierney said, “The Red Mosque is merely a stark symbol of a deeper and more pervasive problem in Pakistan, where there are far more jehadist, extremist madrasas, al-Qaeda operatives, Taliban safe havens and international terrorist camps than Pakistani officials are willing to admit.” The anger is all the more justifiable since America is paying $100 million a month to the Pakistani army for fighting the Taliban.

At the same time, Musharraf’s continuance is considered important in Washington to tackle Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Democracy can, therefore, take a backseat unless the Pakistani army decides it has had enough of Musharraf and wants a change. Until then, ‘Preserve Musharraf’ will be the slogan in Washington.

Trouble erupted in Pakistan almost as soon as the action on Lal Masjid began with the first targets being three Chinese traders killed in Peshawar. Demonstrations erupted in some cities like Lahore, Multan and Gilgit where the tenor of protests was anti-US and anti-Musharraf, on occasion even anti-Chinese and anti-Karzai. Police seized a car with three men carrying suicide vests and 100 mortars in Dera Ismail Khan amid reports that the Taliban are now operating from this city in the NWFP and were, therefore, also closer to Punjab. This was followed by a series of suicide attacks in Miramshah and Waziristan over the weekend killing more than 60 Pakistani soldiers. Last year’s peace treaty signed in Waziristan has been abrogated by the Taliban. Al Zawahiri’s chilling threat to Musharraf calling for his blood must be causing sleepless nights in Islamabad. This is no consolation for Americans and other Westerners in Pakistan either who are going to be increasingly vulnerable.

It was a nervous Musharraf who addressed the nation on Thursday. The body language was different this time. The usual panache and self-adulation were missing. This time there was repeated reference to Allah Tallah. It was obvious he was particularly perturbed about the attacks on Chinese citizens. He insisted that this was most unfortunate and shameful as China was the country that had unswervingly supported Pakistan militarily, economically and diplomatically in the past and continued to do so. Either he had been rapped on the knuckles or was nervous of losing some of the Chinese support to Pakistan. Maybe he had received a Chinese version of ‘either you are with us or against us’ reprimand. This is the inevitable fate of a client State.

In the weeks and months ahead, the Pakistani army will have to tackle not only the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the Fata area but also the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Sharia-i-Mohammedi in the NWFP. Led by Maulana Fazlullah, (who considers the Taliban leader Mullah Omar his leader), the movement calls for the implementation of Sharia. Fazlullah runs several clandestine FM radio stations in the Swat Valley, which is his main base for operations, and in Bajuar Agency of the Fata. But there are others operating in these areas — like the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Jamaat-e-Islami. Fazlullah’s followers blocked the Karakoram Highway recently.

There is a possibility that Nato-American troops will get increasingly involved in the hunt for Taliban and Al-Qaeda inside Pakistan, especially because things will not improve in Afghanistan. Such operations are not going to enhance Musharraf’s popularity. As it is, both Musharraf and the army are now under attack by the very Islamists that the army had nurtured for so long. Once the army loses its aura and the jehadists feel that they take on the army on their terms in the vast valleys of NWFP, we might be seeing a long period of guerrilla warfare and a political vacuum.

Vikram Sood is former Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing

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