By Dr Mohammad Taqi
January 22, 2015
The Pakistan-Haqqani ties date back to the mid-1970s, long before any Soviets, the US, Mujahideen, Taliban or al Qaeda popped onto the scene, and are unlikely to be severed so abruptly
“Een Keh Mi-Beenam Ba Baidaareest Ya Rabb, Ya Ba Khwab?
Khaishtan Raa Dar Chuneen Nai’mat Pas Az Chundeen Azaab!”
Pakistan’s national security paradigm has changed, or so they say. Perhaps my Afghan readers, who would be the major beneficiaries of such a tectonic shift, may be able to appreciate the above quoted Persian verse, in which the classic poet Anvari says: “O my Lord, am I seeing this all while I am awake or is it a dream? Such bounties for this poor soul after such prolonged misery!” After the decades of the death and destruction it unleashed, the Jalaluddin Haqqani terrorist network, run currently by his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, has reportedly been banned by Pakistan. Additionally, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed’s Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which effectively is the political front for the proscribed terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT), has ostensibly been banned too. Amen to that! There, however, is a slight problem before one goes to town on the news: it is not official and might actually not become official for several weeks or, perhaps, ever.
The US State Department’s spokesperson, Ms Marie Harf, was quick to celebrate what is more of a rumour or feeler at this stage. In her January 15, 2015 news briefing, Ms Harf said: “So we welcome reports that the government of Pakistan plans to outlaw the Haqqani network, I think 10 or 11 additional organisations linked to violent extremism. This is an important step toward eliminating terrorist activity in Pakistan. Obviously, the Secretary (of State, John Kerry) was just there and had a wide-ranging conversation with the Pakistanis about counterterrorism, certainly...and obviously had many conversations with Prime Minister Sharif and others.” The reports that the State Department was welcoming cite unnamed Pakistani officials and are mute on what exactly such a ban would mean in practical terms. Without actually going after the leadership and operational commanders of the Haqqani network, any ban would mean diddlysquat. Where due diligence was in order, the State Department spokesperson jumped the gun.
We have argued in this column since the start of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan last summer that not a single Haqqani network ringleader has been captured or killed there while their cadres have been relocated to the adjoining Kurram and Orakzai agencies. There is no evidence to suggest that this has changed since the rumours of the ban have been going around. The Haqqani network cadres continue to lay low and its leadership remains at large. Addressing a media briefing jointly with Secretary John Kerry over a week ago, the prime minister’s national security advisor, Mr Sartaj Aziz, said, “As far as the Haqqani network is concerned, since after the North Waziristan operation their infrastructure is totally destroyed. Our commitment to Afghanistan not to allow our territory to be used against any country would not have been possible unless we had undertaken this operation in North Waziristan.” Mr Aziz skilfully skirted the question about whether there has been or will be any direct action against the Haqqanis. That all the Haqqani network operatives have gone scot-free raises serious doubts about whether the Pakistani security establishment would actually take on the Haqqanis, who have been its oldest jihadist asset. The Pakistan-Haqqani ties date back to the mid-1970s, long before any Soviets, the US, Mujahideen, Taliban or al Qaeda popped onto the scene, and are unlikely to be severed so abruptly. The same goes for the JuD, which truly is the top-drawer ‘good’ jihadist outfit that hardly ever bucks its handlers.
Despite the US’s jubilation about the paradigm shift, we have been there, done that. In the immediate post-9/11 phase, the military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, had banned a slew of jihadist organisations, ostensibly frozen their funds and jailed some of their leaders too. Similar to the current announcement via news reports, of a potential ban, the JuD’s forbearer, i.e. the Markaz Dawa-wal-Irshad was given enough lead time by the Musharraf regime to change its name to JuD in December 2001. Similarly, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network melted away, rather than facing international forces, and were retracted into Pakistan to regroup. It was a matter of time before they resurfaced in Afghanistan in 2004. Musharraf had even promulgated the Deeni Madaris (religious seminaries) Voluntary Registration and Regulation Ordinance in June 2002, which was not much different from the madrasa reforms being touted by the present government. What is so exciting about the current mantra of change then? We are led to believe that the security establishment has learnt its lesson, jettisoned its good/bad jihadist distinction and taken a fresh start under new management.
The present Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Raheel Sharif, certainly comes across as a sober person compared to General Pervez Musharraf and a much more proactive one than General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. However, if his recent talk at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) London is anything to go by, General Sharif seems no less India-centric than his predecessors. That the COAS zeroed-in on Pakistan’s dispute with India over Kashmir in his talk is understandable but the way the Line of Control (LoC) has lit up since he assumed office is a matter of concern. The Kashmir-oriented jihadists like Maulana Masud Azhar and Hafiz Saeed have become increasingly vocal and visible over the last several months, which raises the question whether Pakistan intends to decommission these India-oriented jihadists anytime soon. The answer is a cautiously pessimistic no. And therein lies the rub. One can reform and regulate the madrasas all one wants but so long as there is a demand for the jihadists, they will keep churning out more.
Moreover, the Pakistani establishment’s arrangement with new Afghan President Mr Ashraf Ghani also seems geared more towards neutralising the perceived Indian influence in Afghanistan than actually finding a permanent solution to the menace of terrorism. The Pakistani establishment is conveying that it has successfully pried away Mr Ghani from India and now Pakistan will help secure peace in Afghanistan. Never mind that by inference then, there was war and terrorism in Afghanistan thus far because Pakistan did not approve of its relationship with India. Mr Ghani is on a clock at home. He will have to show tangible results in the next three months before the whole shebang falls apart. So far, the Pakistani security establishment has not induced a single Afghan Taliban leader from the Quetta or the Peshawar Shura to make peace with Mr Ghani’s administration, which will tell whether Pakistan’s strategic calculus has truly undergone a paradigm shift or we are just daydreaming. As the Americanism goes: if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. The onus is on Pakistan to prove the bona fides of its claim.