By Irfan Husain
April 20, 2013
IN Boston, three people were killed in an act of terrorism earlier this week, and it’s still headline news in the United States. President Obama has denounced the attack, and an FBI official has promised to hunt the perpetrator to “the ends of the earth”.
In Pakistan, a terrorist attack that claimed “only” three lives would probably be buried on page three of our national newspapers. As for the search for the killers, we’d be lucky if the police even registered the case.
Why this difference in approach to terrorism? The reason lies in the seriousness with which the two states take their primary duty of protecting their citizens.
In the United States, the intelligence failures that permitted 9/11 to occur prompted American leaders to ratchet up security, change laws and become highly proactive in fighting the scourge of terrorism.
Undoubtedly, these steps, taken under the Homeland Security Act of 2002, have eroded personal liberties and human rights. But it is a fact that the Boston bombing was the first successful act of terrorism after 9/11, apart from the Fort Hood shootings by Major Nidal Hasan in 2009.
In a number of sting operations, the FBI and local police have entrapped a number of suspects — usually Muslim — who agreed to participate in bizarre attacks.
Through wiretaps on telephone conversations and email intercepts, American intelligence agencies have disrupted a number of terrorist plots.
As a result of this vigilance, terrorism in the US has virtually been stamped out. It is precisely because of this success that the Boston attack has caused so much fear and outrage.
Compare this muscular, no-nonsense approach with Pakistan’s hopelessly inadequate response to terrorism.
For over two decades, Pakistanis have suffered from murderous attacks from a lethal brew of gangs killing and maiming in the name of Islam. Frequently, these criminals boast of their deeds, and post videos of beheadings on the internet.
Almost invariably, the state is a mute onlooker. Intelligence agencies are either incompetent or occasionally collusive. While brave but ill-trained and poorly equipped policemen, militiamen and soldiers have died in their thousands, politicians and generals have been unable to get their act together.
Despite the heavy casualties suffered in this vicious war, Rehman Malik, our ex-interior minister, can still pass the buck to provincial governments in the wake of the atrocities Shias have been subjected to recently.
In the US, the FBI has primary jurisdiction over all cases involving terrorism. In Pakistan, we have been unable to create a federal force along the same lines.
The result is a mishmash of agencies, ranging from covert military outfits to the Intelligence Bureau to local police who arrive at the scene of terrorist acts.
With little coordination, it should not surprise us if investigations seldom lead anywhere.
And when a suspect is actually arrested, even with illegal arms in his possession, he is likely to be let off by our courts. Witnesses are scared of reprisals, and judges terrified of the consequences of a guilty verdict. The result is before us in the shape of an increasingly violent jihadi insurgency.
When faced with a major threat to their sovereignty and to their citizens, states normally respond with force. Pakistan’s response to the existential threat we face has been equivocal and half-hearted. While our army and paramilitary units have fought bravely when called upon to do so, both our military and political leadership has been ambiguous and confused.
There has been talk of an elusive consensus at GHQ and the presidency. But leadership is about forging a consensus and taking the nation along in difficult decisions, not heeding divided counsel.
As we have seen in the ongoing Taliban campaign of targeting candidates in next month’s elections, there are wide variations in how these killers are viewed by different political parties. The Taliban, too, differentiate between parties: witness their threats against candidates from the PPP, the MQM and the ANP, all mainstream secular parties.
Clearly, apart from the religious parties, PML-N and PTI are both acceptable to the Taliban and their ilk. This is one reason our politicians have been unable to unite on a single platform and condemn these killers in unequivocal terms.
In other countries, any political party seeming to side with terrorists, or seeking their support, would pay a heavy price at the polls.
Not so in Pakistan. This reveals the confusion among people that has been sowed by politicians and the media. People like Imran Khan have been pretending that Islamic militancy is the result of the US-led war against Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. By blaming the Americans and their drone campaign, our leaders absolve the Pakistani Taliban of their vicious crimes.
Elsewhere, no politician can get away with letting terrorists off the hook by saying their violence is motivated by extraneous factors. But by using terrorists for their own ends in Kashmir and Afghanistan, the Pakistani establishment is reaping what it sowed. Over the years, various Jihadi groups have gained legitimacy as well as support in our intelligence agencies.
Another reason for their growing self-confidence and success is the increasingly fanatical tilt in Pakistan’s public discourse.
Fuelled by a reactionary electronic media that demonises all things Western and openly justifies extremism, the deadly virus of Islamist violence grows ever more virulent.
No other country has provided as much space to terrorism as Pakistan has, and no other country has suffered as much as we have.
And yet, we continue to grope in the dark, unable to evolve a consensus or forge a strategy to confront and defeat the Jihadi monsters we have ourselves unleashed.