The Good Taliban Syndrome

This wasn’t him. No vitriolic tirades that would suck the nuance out of any news issue. No tasteful CGI flames embellished the television screen. No fire-breathing. In fact, there were times during the interview where the journalist’s voice was barely audible. My first encounter with him was in 2013 when I saw him unleash his wrath on a couple of retired Pakistani Army officers that were seemingly handpicked by the channel. The typical rhetoric was thrown back and forth with the words “terrorism”, “Research & Analysis Wing (RAW)”, “Balochistan,” and “Inter-services Intelligence (ISI)” popping up frequently. Fists shook in rage as the reporter lectured his guests with a studied disdain. “The Man who killed TV News” brought out the kitchen knives every night on News Hour—until his interview with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 27, 2016.

When interviewing Modi, he seemed hesitant, shy almost. Like a loyal student, Arnab gently probed with his questions, peppered with compliments such as “your fantastic speech” and “your sense of humor.” At last, it was time for the token Pakistan question. The term lakshman rekha (redlines) came up and Modi replied as only Modi could:

“…with whom in Pakistan will you decide the ‘Lakshman Rekha’—the elected government or other actors?”

Arnab set up Modi perfectly for what you would call a juggat in Punjabi; a subtle, toxic statement with resounding effect. Modi’s perfect answer rendered the poor blokes from across the Wagah not only speechless, but also slightly embarrassed, regardless of where their sympathies lie.

But it was nothing new. It is not news that the Pakistan Army controls a large chunk of foreign policy. Indian leaders often pull out the civil-military imbalance card whenever tensions flare with Pakistan. But the recent appointment of Nasser Khan Janjua, a retired three-star general, as Pakistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA) had the potential to amalgamate the views of both the civilian government and the security establishment. Replacing Sartaj Aziz, the Harvard-educated National Security Advisor Janjua had previously been deployed in what he and his colleagues view asIndia’s proxy battleground in Pakistan: Balochistan. India’s NSA Ajit Doval could rest easy knowing that Janjua meant what he said. Out of his uniform and into his suit, he fit in well at the national security briefings. In a sense, India was now dealing directly with the military.

Unfortunately, General Janjua had no real contact with India before tensions in Kashmir shut down any real engagement. Thus began an eerily familiar cycle of events. Pakistan highlighted Indian atrocities in Kashmir while India pointed fingers at Pakistan’s support for militants in the region. It is said that Pakistan has ruined its international stance on Kashmir by supporting terrorist groups. And whilst themilitary has been involved in nourishing jihadi groups, one question remains: are they still doing it post Peshawar?

The answer is an unpleasant one. Chairing the All-Parties Conference, Prime Minister Sharif swore that there would be no more distinctions between good and bad terrorists, as if to admit to the past. Operations were launched, dharnas were called off, death penalties were re-instated, and the fallen were paid tribute to at home and abroad. However, Pakistan’s anti-terrorism campaign has continued to distinguish between good and bad terrorists. While Pakistan has certainly taken the fight to certain extremist groups in Operation Zarb-e-Azb, it has not operated against “good” extremist groups, such as those targeting India.

Almost two years since the All-Parties Conference, Pakistan has experienced two major attacks—the Easter bombings and the more recent bloodbath in Quetta. The Foreign Office was quick to blame “foreign elements” (implying India) for the Quetta attack while others pointed out that these attacks were the result of a continued policy of supporting the good Taliban. However, both of these logics are flawed and disguise a larger issue: the Pakistani military’s inability to manage the terrorist threat within Pakistan. While RAW was blamed in a flurry of ill-prepared press conferences, both attacks were claimed by the TTP (read: bad) Taliban. Thus, what if the problem with terrorism in Pakistan isn’t the persistence of the good Taliban or the alleged RAW presence? What if instead the real issue is that Gen. Raheel Sharif’s men have so far been ineffective at even dealing with “bad” terrorists? Regrettably, there is little serious debate on this possibility in Pakistan, while the military retains its dominating role in foreign and national security policy.

Come November, Modi and Sharif will meet in Islamabad for the SAARC Conference after an extremely heated build-up. The outcome will be nothing out of the ordinary. Sensationalism will run rampant, as media houses on both sides will jostle for ratings. But as many level-headed observers in both India and Pakistan argue, no progress is possible unless the nature of the Pakistani state changes. And as evidenced above, the progress is not encouraging. Cyril Almeida put it best when he said, “For anything to change either the military will have to change or the civilians will have to change the military.” All the while it seems that blaming RAW has become a single-point counterterrorism policy for the Pakistani government. Unfortunately, Modi’s recent comments about Balochistan are playing into this narrative, and being viewed in Pakistan as an admission of guilt. However, there is no substantial, independently-verifiable proof like India had with the perpetrator of the Mumbai terror attack, Ajmal Kasab, and Pakistani claims lack the credibility to gain any traction. Isolated incidents like the capturing and confession of Kulbashan Yadav are vaguely construed, and no real organized Indian efforts to disturb peace in Pakistan have ever really been exposed. India, on the other hand, has had the 2001 Parliament attacks as well as the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, both of which have been perpetrated in some form from Pakistani soil.

Although it is encouraging that the 2018 Pakistani elections will likely go ahead as planned, the larger point is that there are serious doubts over whether the army’s attitude on India will ever change. They will forever have faith in the doctrine of “Pakistani nationalism” that was developed by past leaders. Thus, as a well-known gentleman who was all too familiar with the vagaries of fate once said, “Umar bhar Ghalib yehi bhool karta raha, Dhool chehray pe thee aur ainaa saaf karta raha” (All his life Ghalib made the same foolish mistake; dirt was on his face but he kept wiping the mirror).


Image 1: Muhammad Ahmad, Flickr

Image 2: Banaras Khan-AFP, Getty

Posted in , India, Military, Pakistan

Zarnaab Adil Janjua

Zarnaab Adil Janjua

Zarnaab Adil Janjua is a student of Public Policy and Social Entrepreneurship at NYU's Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service. Raised in Lahore, Zarnaab has worked with the Federal Ministry for Planning, Development and Reform in Islamabad and has worked as a researcher at Information Technology University's Center for Governance and Policy in Lahore. His research interests include counterterrorism, state-sponsored terrorism, political Islam, energy policy, sports diplomacy, sports economics, and political philosophy. He has also served as the Director for NYU's United Nations Initiative which has been involved in discussions with global leaders on campus including the Qatari and South Korean foreign ministers.

Read more

Continue Reading

Leave a Reply

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