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The War Within Islam ( 5 Aug 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Good Lashkar, Bad Lashkar

By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

August 06, 2015

The most resounding proclamation during the aftermath of the Peshawar School Attack was Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s announcement in the All Parties Conference (APC) that Pakistan would ‘no longer’ differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. This vow of no discrimination, which candidly acknowledged the state’s hitherto duplicity in dealing with its biggest existential threat, thence became the most prominent clause of the ensuing National Action Plan (NAP) that was to target militancy in all shapes and sizes.

Despite a multitude of decisions running the protracted gamut from bizarre to baffling, it won’t be preposterous to suggest that the Pakistani state is actually showing intent in countering terrorists being nourished within its realm, despite the bigger fish like Abdul Aziz or Mumtaz Quadri still deemed perfectly safe by hordes of aficionados. As discussed in this space last week, recent Chinese investments and the CPEC have made any form of internal militancy detrimental to Pakistan’s sustenance – something that has been true for at least a couple of decades.

With critics dubbing Operation Zarb-e-Azb a one-on-one revenge game undertaken by the Army, the Karachi operation a violent form of the establishment’s historic political tussle with civilians and madrasas – spearheaded by the Lal Masjid – being seemingly exempted from the much touted NAP, question marks have continued to loom over Pakistan’s intent vis-à-vis religious fanaticism and armed jihad. The ‘encounter’ of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) founder Malik Ishaq last week, coupled with the Supreme Court’s suspension of Asia Bibi’s death penalty, seems to have heralded epoch-defining change.

While Chinese influence seems to have played a major role in the ongoing jihadist cleansing, there is one category of Mujahideen that appears to have more value than the $46 billion CPEC bid from Beijing. With Pakistan resisting the sectarian Saudi alliance with GCC countries in Yemen, the Pakistani Taliban becoming the establishment’s personal foe, Baloch separatists being dealt with bellicose paranoia and the Afghan Taliban being pushed to Kabul’s negotiation table, Islamabad seems to be en route to purging the inward and westward looking jihadists – but can the same be said for those inclining eastwards?

In spite of the two-month deadline set by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in April for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) leader Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi’s bail and the conclusion of the Mumbai attack case, the high court hasn’t taken any action over the bail’s expiry despite over 50 days having gone by. Lakhvi, who was released from Adiala Jail on April 10, has also refused to send his voice samples to India for investigation, with his lawyer claiming that Pakistani law requires the accused’s consent before a voice sample can be taken. What’s also interesting to note here is China blocking India’s move in the UN, which demanded action against Pakistan for releasing Lakhvi. This, in turn, suggests that Beijing is perfectly fine with eastward looking jihadists as long as they steer clear of the multi-pronged CPEC routes.

Yesterday’s arrest of the alleged Pakistani militant from Indian-held Kashmir, a week after the Gurdaspur attack, will ruffle all kinds of feathers in South Asia, especially after the unceremonious diplomatic Indo-Pak skirmishes of the recent past. According to the inspector general of police, the suspected LeT militant is ‘Faisalabad-based’ with the Indian media brimming over with the arrested man’s quotes about how he went to India “to kill Hindus” and how the whole thing was “fun”. Even though the claims of the Indian authorities or media – just like their Pakistani counterparts – shouldn’t be treated as the Holy Gospel, there is little doubt about sections of the Pakistani establishment historically supporting jihad in Kashmir.

Whilst the state seems to be en route to righting its historical wrongs elsewhere – under Chinese supervision – Beijing’s lack of interest in cross-border militancy towards Pakistan’s east, and Kashmir’s status as the establishment and government’s respective point-scoring goldmine, means that we just might be entering the ‘good Lashkar, bad Lashkar’ era. The dawn of a new security and counterterrorism strategy almost as detrimental for Pakistan as the ‘Good/Bad Taliban’ has proven itself to be.

Even if the ‘Faisalabadi’ militant’s story is complete hogwash, how does the Pakistani state justify Hafiz Saeed’s immunity from law? The man is the proud founder and leader of LeT, which also happens to be formally banned in Pakistan, and openly issues threats against India. That he led Mullah Omar’s funeral prayers in absentia last week, even though steps were taken by Kabul to ensure that Afghans don’t mourn the Taliban leader’s death, shows where Saeed’s allegiance lies.

The Peshawar school attack was the tragic culmination of decades’ worth of suicidal security policy, with the Pakistani state assuming that the jihadist monster can be tamed to identify and be limited to specific targets. With relations improving with Kabul and anti-Afghanistan jingoism not being particularly lucrative for vote banks – or defence budgets – the establishment seems to have persisted with its last and most treasured batch of strategic assets.

Despite the fact that grandiloquence with regards to Kashmir sells ubiquitously in Pakistan, there are many ways to counter Indian military’s human rights abuse without using the ‘Islam’ or ‘jihad’ card. The same card that has so grotesquely boomeranged on the state in the shape of the Taliban.

Granted that it’s unrealistic for Islamabad to undo quarter of a century’s mess in months, and that even in the ideal world Kashmir bound militants were always going to be at the bottom of the target list, if Islamabad – or Rawalpindi – actually believes in clinging on to the Kashmiri Mujahideen in the coming years, the whole anti-terror drive will burst without a whimper.

If Islamabad shows a hundredth of the intent in eliminating the eastbound Islamist militants as it’s manifesting against Katchi Abadi residents in Islamabad or in hanging those on death row without an iota of inhibition, Pakistan’s long-term outlook would be a lot more secure, both as a regional player and a sovereign state. As long as there’s any discrimination between Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Lashkar-e-Taiba, Pakistan will hover around square one of the counterterrorism board game. Maybe Beijing will prove to be more foresighted than Islamabad.