Oh terror! Oh States in denial! Oh Happy New Year …

First of all, Happy New Year everyone! I spent my New Year’s Eve in gloom though, where I was accompanied with the horrific realities of the Peshawar massacre as the news unfolded a thousand miles away. I have developed an infatuation for seagulls, the Fisherman’s Wharf, and sea lions here in Monterey, CA, but in truth not even memories of the Jazz festival can heal the wounds of any Pakistani citizen given that just a few weeks ago, my country, our policymakers, our notorious military establishment, and our society, have all been pushed on the back foot. It’s a wakeup call, and a serious one at that.

To my satisfaction though, glaring images of children perforated with blood and gore seemed to stoke emotions of shock and anguish directed at the Taliban by various segments of Pakistani society (a trend which was missing a few decades ago). It makes one wonder however, as to why is it always an incident of considerable gravity that results in a knee jerk response by all us humans (let alone Pakistanis). We find ourselves suddenly waking up to the gruesome realities that South Asia could find itself in, in times when bureaucrats are assassinated by demagogues and are subsequently garlanded for championing the cause of religion.

I have no hesitation in claiming that my country, in this restive region that we call our own, continues to be muddled between a Kalashnikov culture bestowed by a ruthless dictator, and opulent palaces fomenting discord under the garb of religion which dates back to the days when curbing Soviet influence in Afghanistan and politicization of religion had to come hand in hand. Cometh 16/12 and suddenly Pakistan witnesses even its staunchest advocates for the imposition of Sharia Law in the country to be hushed into oblivion. In comes nationwide outrage and international condemnation over what was arguably the worst incident of 2014.

What follows however might be cosmetic, but goes to the country’s credit:

-The Taliban are viewed as vagrants instead of strategic assets.

-The Prime Minister and the security establishment realize that they have a problem with no room for duality.

-Society is dismayed at what had struck them and a nation, which was historically obsessed with strategic depth, hits rock bottom once again.

-Strategic depth translated into strategic denial and the nation has finally woken up.

So what’s next?

The adage of too many cooks spoiling the broth might work in certain countries – it doesn’t work in Pakistan though. There has always been one cook with a lust to poison his loved ones and rule with an iron fist (which inevitably spoils everything, let alone the food), which has haunted our history for decades. For us, Zia’s poisonous seeds in the form of Hafiz Saeed and Hamid Gul are on everyone’s plates regardless of whether you are a vegetarian or not. Like Godse’s children across the border in India, they are tolerated, and I wonder whether Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif will find time to check whether the lentils have all the right ingredients or have been overcooked. A dream about forging commercial ties with each other requires dispensing with the same spoilers who have wreaked havoc on peace and tranquility in the region and continue to operate freely. Lest we forget that Hafiz Saeed is a ‘charity worker and Yogi Aditiyanath is a ‘representative of the BJP.’

With all due fairness, the lentils have certainly been overcooked.

As 2015 approaches, Pakistan has a problem, and a serious one at that. The moment protests erupted outside the notorious Red Mosque in Islamabad, against Maulana Abdul Aziz, a warning was issued by the TTP to the orchestrator, to paraphrase: ‘Lay it off, or else you are in big trouble’. Given the history of myopic policy making in Pakistan, where on the one hand the Taliban were considered strategic assets during the late 1970s, to being discarded as phantoms which haunt internal security and challenge the writ of the state on other occasions, this trend is set to stay unless the root causes of the terrorism menace are uprooted. Yes, I know I am being harsh on Pakistan and some may argue that the removal of the moratorium on the death penalty and the setting up of military courts, are steps in the right direction.

These steps, however, are cosmetic measures to ward off a threat that was supposed to be taken seriously years or decades ago. What we have now is a powerful pseudo-clergy spewing narratives that have nothing to do with religion and continue to thrive in a vacuum that has been created by policy makers who have been at the helm of power.

The India-Pakistan relationship in the upcoming year will be defined by whether our leadership persists with its myopic vision of dealing with the Taliban. Zarb E Azb’s blowback was a piece I had written for SAV, and the fact that the government was in slumber over what could have been potentially disastrous consequences came in the form of a Peshawar blowback. Serious questions have always remained over the ability of such groups to operate with gay abandon, which provides much needed fuel to Pakistan-bashers across the border. In reality, a myopic outlook will haunt a relationship that has historically blossomed whenever the center-right PML Ns and the BJPs have come into power. Sharif’s motorways and Modi’s Gujarat models can easily be hijacked by groups that are hell-bent on imposing their ideology on the whole of the subcontinent, let alone in Pakistan. With Afghanistan being in a rebuilding phase after 2014, and India being pushed to take the initiative of helping the war-torn nation come to grips with its fragile democratic transition, a lot depends on how Pakistan (which is saddled in between) deals with the clout of the Taliban and whether we, as a nation, shun away with our obsession with concepts such as strategic depth.

So yes, I am oozing with pessimism as 2015 approaches, but that doesn’t mean I only have Pakistan to feel bad about. I am also wary of the BJP’s antics, which may come to the fore as Pakistan grapples with its internal security dynamics. As much as this is a test for Pakistan, this is also a test for India. Narendra Modi’s ability to hush the hawks that advocate for grinding Pakistan into submission, particularly if an incident such as the Mumbai Attacks takes place again, will be like facing the canny Glenn McGrath on a seaming wicket, where Modi might have to deal with probes outside the batsman’s off stump and occasional half volleys which swing prodigiously after being deployed. The BJP may be a massive right-wing canvass, as many of my Indian counterparts have pointed out to me before, but the hawks, with their Pakistan obsession, are equally a worrisome reality that also needs to be dealt with. Reckless adventurism could prove suicidal, and I believe both Prime Ministers acknowledge that. How the BJP handles the terrorism issue, which to them, emanates from the Western side of the border, is equally important, as is Pakistan’s internal surgical operation.

In theory, nukes on either side render adventurism as preposterous, ludicrous or simply idiotic. Yet, both states continue to grapple with a common threat that continues to tickle, tease, or even probe the respective leaderships in both New Delhi and Islamabad. The sad part is that a vacuum is tacitly available for these spoilers to thrive. Clampdowns and executions may be promising, but one hopes for a more overarching policy of countering terrorism being formed by both governments that goes beyond tolerating certain actors at the expense of others, as is the case with Pakistan, or arousing minority religious sentiment, which is the case with India under the BJP.

My policy recommendation? It’s quite simple, really. It’s time to get real, pragmatic, prudent, shrewd and tactful and stop thinking about seagulls, sea lions or Wharfs. A trip to the aquarium to have a look at the variety of fisheries we have at our disposal will help though.


Image: A Majeed-AFP, Getty

Posted in , Cooperation, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Pakistan, Security, Terrorism

Hamzah Rifaat

Hamzah Rifaat

Hamzah Rifaat is a gold medalist with a Master of Philosophy degree in the discipline of peace and conflict studies from the National Defense University in Islamabad. He holds a diploma in World Affairs and Professional Diplomacy from the Bandaranaike Diplomatic Training Institute in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He was a freelance writer and blogger for the Friday Times and received a CRDF scholarship to the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, where he studied nonproliferation and terrorism studies at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. He was also a Graduate Editorial Assistant for Women's International Perspective, a global source for women's perspectives, based in Monterey. He has also represented Pakistan as a member of the CTBTO Youth Initiative 2016. His writings encompass political and internal security issues in Pakistan and he regularly contributes for The Diplomat Magazine. Hamzah is a former SAV Visiting Fellow (January 2016).

Read more

6 thoughts on “Oh terror! Oh States in denial! Oh Happy New Year …

  1. The enormity of the problems facing Pakistan is known to all. However since all of them are a blow back of the shortsighted policies and strategies scripted, there is very little sympathy for Pakistan. There is no need to shed any tears for the lack of dialogue between India and Pakistan, because no amount of dialogue could persuade Pakistan to abandon its terror assets. How any further dialogue can make Pakistan change its mind and policies, challenges ones intelligence.

    When there is no commonality of interests or goals, talks will remain fruitless. Pakistan can do whatever it wants to do and no Indian will care, however any terror attack sponsored or masterminded from Pakistan on Indian soil will have repercussions. For the uninformed I need to highlight that the 26/11 Mumbai massacre was not an accidental terror event but one sponsored and masterminded by a certain section within the government of Pakistan. The testimony of David Coleman Headley which saved his skin, the recorded confession of Ajmal Kasab and the transcripts between the attackers and their handlers in Pakistan, scuttled the hasty efforts at obfuscation. It needs to be emphasized that after 26/11 massacre the President of Pakistan ordered the DG of ISI to proceed to Delhi and help unravel the dastardly plot, no prizes for guessing why he refused to obey orders.

    For countries possessing Nuclear Weapons to falsely believe they have taken out insurance against incorrigible behavior or they have a protective umbrella or license to do as they please, would be a miscalculation of gargantuan proportions. Indian tolerance for terror emanating in the neighborhood is at shoe sole level, no government in India whether one led by PM Modi or anyone else can survive if it fails to retaliate to terror attacks — all are free to keep bashing Modi or the BJP however much they want to. For the n’th time we are hearing that all terror groups in Pakistan are going to be targeted. I fully agree with Secretary Of State Kerry who said yesterday in Pakistan that the proof of the pudding will lie in the eating.

  2. Bravo, you’ve stylistically highlighted some harsh realities in your think-piece. Do you think our parliament/cabinet/PM can take any policy decision vis-a-vis India anymore in the aftermath of political chaos created by power-hungry cricketer turned into Politician?

  3. @Daruwala Sir I subscribe to most points that you have alluded to barring the fact that the President of Pakistan who was then Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP could order the DG ISI to proceed to the seat of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and the latter would disobey him and plot towards destroying the very foundation on which India is laid. That, I am sorry to say is a nonsensical and ludicrous assumption, given that our foreign minister held a press conference in Islamabad, expressing our sorrow and deep regret for the Mumbai attacks taking place on Indian soil. Secondly, our president at that time, also reiterated time and time again, in fact demonized ISI stooges such as Hamid Gul in an interview for Newsweek, where he claimed that the latter was the political ideologue of terror.

    These are precisely the narratives which I believe India needs to reexamine. Terrorism is a collective threat and is not central to Pakistan alone. If you read my last post called ‘ Zarb E Azb’s Blow backs’, the terrorist groups involved in the JIA attacks were either the IMU or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who were involved with the savagery alongside proponents of the now irrelevant East Turkestan movement in Xinjiang, ( a spoiler in what is otherwise a perfect relationship between China and Pakistan). While it is true that the seeds of terror have undoubtedly been embedded during Zia Ul Haq’s times; funding from the Gulf, where opulent palaces are functioning as mosques under the garb of religion is precisely the problem. Pakistan and Pakistanis by in large are tolerant, secular and moderate people who denounce acts of terror. You could however make a more valid assertion by claiming that the Nawaz Sharif government should stop practicing dualism when it comes to dealing with this menace instead, which is plausible, because had Peshawar not taken place, he would not have stood up to the ground realities that my country has been muddled in. As far as grinding Pakistan into submission is concerned, the BJP’s rhetoric becomes immaterial in the long run given that we do not have an NFU policy and our Defense Minister Khwaja Asif has made it clear that the N button is not something that Pakistan would hesitate to press if the BJP continues with its antics across the border.

    Its in everyone’s interest to really examine themselves internally, which also means that the BJP should distance itself from the VHP’s, the Bajrang Dals and the RSS’s. Trade is the name of the game, yet conditional upon peace and tranquility which needs to take place on both sides of the border. Demonizing Pakistan is old school rhetoric. Our generations need to be taught about dealing with this menace collectively and I, personally as a student of strategic studies would be happier if India points out to unregulated funding of Madrassah’s in my country as incompetence from the ruling government rather than the same old narrative that the ISI and the government are scheming to dethrone the ideology of India. That is simply wrong.

  4. @ Sadiq Thanks my friend. Imran Khan to me or you is an inspirational cricketer. But a cricketer alone isnt he?. With the Sheikh Rasheed’s and Chaudhry’s ( Musharraf’s stooges basically) coming up with rallying cries for a revolution in the red zone, Imran Khan is of nuisance value to the Sharif government, so much so that every step he makes might not necessarily jeopardize the former’s decision to make an overarching policy which deals with India, ( which deals heavily with trade and commerce and less so about concepts such as strategic depth), but would make him recheck what is desired from the military establishment. IK has been propped up by our very own institution to try and weaken the civilian government given a history of issues which goes beyond incompetence, lack of adequate governance and serving the vested interests of the ruling PML N. It boils down to a tougher stance on India regarding LOC skirmishes, doctrines such as the CSD ( impractical anyways…) etc. So I think that this pseudo revolution from a celebrity outsider in Imran Khan will only complicate the policy making process as it has complicated other realities on the ground, ( Chinese Premier’s visit, stalling the Metro Bus project etc..). But to consider it to thwart the policy making process would be a tad overboard especially after John Kerry’s recent visit to Isloo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *