ISI’s strategic assets turn rogue
by Sandhya Jain on 30 Dec 2014 14 Comments

Pakistan’s policy of nurturing militias as strategic assets came home to roost on December 16 when Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) jihadis shot 148 persons, including 132 students, at the Army Public School in Peshawar in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The victims, mostly offspring of military personnel, were killed as revenge for Zarb-e-Azab, the Army action against the Taliban along the lawless Pak-Afghan border; 1,600 jihadis have reportedly been killed so far.


By grim coincidence, the attack came days after the ceremony awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai, a schoolgirl from the same province who was shot in the head by the Taliban for championing education for girls. Schools have been hit previously as well, but each attack was viewed as a separate incident.


In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called his Pakistani counterpart to offer condolences and all help in meeting the threat. India’s Parliament and schools observed a two minute silence in honour of the victims; several children wept in grief. This seamless national unity achieved by Mr Modi was a far cry from the sickening politics over the Batla House encounter in which a valiant police officer lost his life battling terrorists. That aggravated minority politics is coming full circle with the Congress party considering a course correction by seeking feedback regarding its ‘anti-Hindu’ image.


In Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted a moratorium on the death penalty; two terrorists were promptly executed. Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar rushed to Afghanistan to discuss a joint crackdown on militants. Hitherto, Pakistan accused Afghanistan of not doing enough to uproot terrorist bases there, while Kabul said that Islamabad allowed the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network to operate freely on its territory and stage attacks in Afghanistan.


Gen Raheel Sharif reportedly urged President Ashraf Ghani to extradite TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah or allow Pakistani forces to pursue him. But the moot question is whether Pakistan would send Mullah Omar to face justice in Afghanistan, and cut ties with the Afghan Taliban (which has been killing Afghan and NATO troops), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Haqqanis.


Pakistani media said the attack was planned by Mullah Fazlullah; the Taliban said Commander Umar Mansoor controlled it from Afghanistan. But Islamabad later said Commander Saddam, killed in an encounter in Jamrud town, Khyber region, on the night of December 25, was responsible. The military launched air strikes against Taliban strongholds in Khyber region and North Waziristan bordering Afghanistan.


Yet, it will be difficult for Pakistan to dismount the terrorism tiger. Hitherto, it has relied on the LeT to wrest Jammu & Kashmir from India. The Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) want a Shariah-based polity; all political parties have ties to some militant group. The Prime Minister’s adviser Sartaj Aziz frankly said Pakistan would not target militant groups which did not pose a threat to itself. Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is part of the ruling coalition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, refused to blame the Taliban even after it claimed responsibility; but he withdrew his street campaign against Nawaz Sharif.


Former President Pervez Musharraf and Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed, architect of the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, blamed India for the slaughter. Gen Musharraf gave foreign terrorists refuge in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), especially North Waziristan, and created the fiction of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban.


Recently, while Gen Raheel Sharif was in the US, Hafiz Saeed held a big rally in Lahore and accused the army’s anti-Taliban operations in North Waziristan of exempting the Haqqani network (good Taliban). The authorities ran special trains to ferry people to the rally. It was only after the Peshawar attack that Mr Nawaz Sharif promised to end the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban.


Insensitive to the changing narrative, the Pakistan judiciary granted bail to Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, LeT operations leader behind the Mumbai 2008 attack. Even in jail, Lakhvi lived life king-size, planning operations with ‘cooperation’ from jailers and fathering a child! Embarrassed, the government placed him under preventive detention for three months, which he has challenged. The Lakhvi case highlights the weakness of the nation’s judiciary which has released nearly 2,000 terror accused in the past seven years. Acquittals include LeJ chief Malik Ishaq, allegedly behind the killing of 100 Shias and the attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in Lahore in 2010. Meanwhile, India still awaits the extradition of Dawood Ibrahim, wanted for the Mumbai 1993 serial bomb blasts.


The Arab world maintained stoic silence over the tragedy. In Pakistan, Maulana Abdul Aziz of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, a government mosque, refused to condemn the carnage. Maulana Samiul Haq of Madrassah Haqqaniya, Nowshera, from where most Taliban leaders graduated, kept silent. Haq had allowed the Taliban hit team that killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2008 to stay the night at his madrasa. The jihadis behind the Peshawar massacre would also have been hosted for the night by some powerful sympathiser.


Indian analysts link the attack to America’s release of TTP leader Latif Mehsud the previous week, after the Pakistan army killed al-Qaida’s Adnan el-Shukrijumah, who was on America’s most-wanted list. Washington then secretly moved Mehsud and his aides from Afghanistan to Pakistan without informing Kabul.


Survivors revealed that the assailants made the students recite the kalima before shooting them. Even shahadah (declaration of faith in Allah as the only God and Muhammad as His Prophet) was no protection against the murderous intentions of Muslims determined to kill Muslims. Islamists worldwide must now explain: can Islam be thus invoked to vindicate killing unarmed children? Can the Quran and the Prophet be interpreted only by those whose power flows from the barrel of the gun, or can victims/targets also have a voice?


Journalist Tarek Fatah says the Peshawar tragedy is an opportunity for Muslims to recognise “we have a serious problem that only we can correct. Muslims who claim the actions of the Taliban or ISIS are not Islamic must match this rhetoric by coming together and calling for a strict separation between Islam and politics. They must renounce armed jihad as unfit for our age”. As a nuclear power, Pakistan has a responsibility to ensure that home grown jihadis do not capture the State apparatus and wreak unimaginable havoc on the country or the neighbourhood. Even old friends like China and Iran are becoming wary of it. 

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