By Imtiaz Alam
March 25, 2019
Bilawal Bhutto, otherwise seen as hawkish on India, seems to have attracted the accusation of subscribing to the ‘Indian narrative’ because of his demand to the government to go tough on the unfinished business of tackling proscribed terrorist outfits.
The accusations by some PTI ministers against him may have reminded him of his diatribes against former PM Nawaz Sharif when the latter had tried to made half-baked overtures to ease tensions with India].
Ironically, in both India and Pakistan politicians accuse each other of speaking the language of the ‘enemy’. We see this in India too, where adversaries are blaming each other over the Pulwama attack. What Bilawal Bhutto is stressing is the urgency to effectively tackle terrorism; Prime Imran Khan himself has also talked about past failures in tackling this menace. Bilawal Bhutto has been very consistent against terrorism and has also rightly demanding a powerful bipartisan parliamentary body to oversee the full implementation of National Action Plan.
Meanwhile, China has – once again – put a hold on the designation of Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Masood Azhar as an international terrorist list by the UNSC. The move was initiated by France, US and UK who were supported by Russia, besides Germany, Australia, Japan, Italy, Belgium, Poland and Bangladesh. The UN’s 1267 Sanction Committee measures include asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo on the listed terrorist outfits (and persons), including LeT and JeM. Pakistan, which has been placed on the grey list by the FATF, is legally bound to comply with these sanctions.
I don’t understand why Pakistan should carry the burden of opprobrium. Such a listing of Hafiz Saeed and his successive fronts did not make any difference and he and his successive fronts survived international sanctions and successive bans, embarrassing Pakistan’s official national stance against terrorism of all hues. Masood Azhar being listed would not have been of any consequence.
In recently-held National Security Council and corps commander meetings, Pakistani authorities have once again resolved to effectively tackle terrorism. The National Action Plan is being revisited and a countrywide operation is underway to take over the assets of 68 proscribed outfits and put their activists under protective custody. Such measures were also taken in the past but they failed to achieve the desired results. The proscribed organisations re-emerged with new names and continued to embarrass Pakistan. Their amirs or spiritual-cum-military chiefs refused to take a backseat as they tried to reinvent their outfits for mainstream politics and welfare platforms.
From the very beginning, they claimed credit for most of their acts, which in certain cases led to the derailment of efforts towards resumption of dialogue with India by successive elected governments. Now, we hear a lot about a paradigm shift and the Bajwa Doctrine for peace, reconciliation and ending terrorism as an instrument of state policy, as civil and military leaderships are said to be on the same page. This was demonstrated in the recent standoff with India.
When it comes to the FATF, though, we need to show the task force that we will not be lenient towards rogue elements, something we have officially vowed we will not do. Otherwise, who will take us seriously? Despite undertaking successive kinetic counterterrorism campaigns and reaching a national consensus on NAP and repeatedly expressing our national resolve to not let our territory be used for terrorism against other countries, we continue to take international denunciations for our lapses. We have yet again launched a campaign against 68 proscribed organisations without, however, clearly knowing how to root out or reform them. And this is what Bilawal Bhutto is lamenting – and being wrongly accused in the process. For our national interest and future as a prosperous nation, we need a consistent strategy to root out all kinds of good or bad terrorists.
Extremist ideologies and militias were allowed to flourish for too long without giving any serious thought about their far-reaching adverse consequences. Given the past exigencies, the international community still suspects our intentions, despite the enormous sacrifices rendered by our people and our valiant soldiers in the nation’s fight against terrorism. Terrorist groups in Pakistan seem to be confused over their diminishing role. If at all they once served some limited purpose – at a great loss – they have now become totally counter-productive. Out of desperation, some of them have been playing the role of agent provocateurs and are desperately trying to make the state a hostage of their anarchist ideological designs. They have the potential to push Pakistan into an open conflict with India, Iran, Afghanistan, the US, China, Europe and the world at large.
Such elements will have to be dealt with full force. But, there are those who seem to be ready to submit to the law of the land and adopt a peaceful way of life. They have to be disarmed, re-oriented and provided with alternative means of peaceful living. While demolishing their networks, confiscating sources of funding, closing ideological and armed training centres/madrasas, they have to be absorbed in various civil subsidiaries of the state. While the experiment of their political mainstreaming was misused and has backfired, they may be allowed to have lawful political associations without the burden of their Jihadi leaders.
On the other hand, regardless of the Indian obsession with Masood Azhar or Hafiz Saeed, the real issue is that of eradication of terrorism within and across our borders. The Indo-Pak military standoff has now metamorphosed into a vociferous electoral battle in India over the dividends of the surgical strikes (or the lack of them), and ridiculous point-scoring over the larger-than-life Masood Azhar. We should let the Chinese sort out this matter with India. To Modi’s dismay, Masood escaped the UNSC’s terrorist label. This has provided the Indian opposition another excuse to expose the BJP government’s yet another failure after the doubtful gains of surgical strikes against Pakistan.
As Modi drums up aggressive nationalism and takes a warrior path in his election campaign, Congress leaders and regional adversaries have joined hands in belittling his questionable military gains while dubbing him as the follower of the killer of Mahatma Gandhi. But there is no meaningful discourse on India’s future course towards Pakistan and the growing unrest in Kashmir. On the other side, Pakistan struggles to assure a suspecting world regarding its to-be-tested resolve to put an end to the use of its territory for terrorism against any country, India in particular.
Most of the media and public opinion leaders and makers were carried away by their respective national narratives, leaving little space for saner elements to register their dissent across the Subcontinent. As the four-week tension somehow recedes, voices of peace are emerging to address the most pertinent issues facing the future of the region. With the resumption of talks on the Kartarpur Corridor, it is time to revisit security paradigms, contain religious extremism and terrorism and explore out-of-the-box solutions to our disputes and differences. Let’s not allow non-state actors and jingoists play havoc with the destiny of our own Subcontinent.
Imtiaz Alam is a senior journalist.