The news reports last Monday said home minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Shuja Khanzada, was assassinated in his office by suicide bombers in retaliation to the elimination of militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, in an encounter last month. By evening the same day, there were reports that the Pakistani army had attacked a militant group and killed several in the North-West Frontier Province. This violence and counter-violence would certainly be read in the context of the Pakistani army’s recent bid to push militants into our Punjab and Jammu areas and rain mayhem. More insight into this is coming from one of the militants who was captured alive. He has spilled the beans so completely that Pakistan has nowhere to hide. As if in response, the frustrated Pakistani army has resumed shelling over the Line of Control (LoC) and the international border.
This is also happening in the backdrop of Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s disappointment with Pakistan after he sought to buy peace for his country by engaging in peace talks with the Afghan Taliban that is sponsored by Islamabad to regain its clout in Kabul — which it has lost following the ouster of the Taliban regime under Mullah Omar. The Afghan President’s gamble of cosying up to Pakistan has backfired, despite support from the US and China.
The Taliban itself are in disarray in the wake of Pakistan’s attempt to impose a pro-Islamabad leadership on them after the death of Mullah Omar. In fact, Pakistan hid the fact of his death from the world for two years and used his name for its own political purposes. The Afghan President’s frustration with Pakistan was evident in his statement issued on August 10, after a series of suicide attacks by the Taliban rocked his country. “The last few days have shown that suicide bomber training camps and bomb-producing factories which are killing our people are active as before in Pakistan. We hoped for peace but we are receiving messages of war from Pakistan,” he regretted. It would be interesting to watch how the Afghan President, the US, China and others, trying to buy peace, genuflect before the Pakistani double-talk and double-dealings.
But for us, this is happening when the civilian rulers of Islamabad have agreed to resume talks at the NSA-level even as they or the other power centres, either together or separately, (we could know only later) have pounded the Punjab border and Jammu LoC with artillery and sent terrorists to both Indian Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. Read with Afghan developments, nothing could be more revealing of the risks of even hoping to get to a workable peace with the type of situation that prevails in Pakistan. The level of brutality that is daily reported — whether in the suicide bombings in Afghanistan, the training of killers across the border that the captured Pakistani militant Naved has exposed, the various videos of the Islamic State (IS) in Syria-Iraq as well as the attacks on Iraqi Shia mosques by Sunni militants and similar onslaughts on mosques in Pakistan — all beg for an explanation.
How could the militant-orthodox groups continue to recruit young people, brainwash them and get them ready to die and kill others of rival sects of the same religion in the name of religion for so long? And, on a global scale? Add to that, the reported behaviour of the so-called and self-styled warriors of jihad under the IS including its leader Baghdadi. The IS itself has sent out videos of abducted and even volunteer, co-jihadi women being forced to be sex slaves and of massacres where they refuse to be such slaves. How Baghdadi himself was using a captured US aid worker in Iraq as his sex slave for two years till she died must have shocked the global conscience.
Why are there no organised protests by Muslim institutions and noted leaders against such insult to their religion? When all these are being done in the good name of Islam by its own followers and leaders claiming to act in defence of the faith? How could Afghan President Ghani as well as the US administration be so easily inveigled to believe that Islamabad could be trusted to control the Taliban that has been receiving sanctuaries and aid from the Pakistani military? That too, after all the experience of the past decades? It exposes a certain weakness in their understanding of Islamabad’s power structure. Former Afghan President Karzai consistently refused to buy the US administration line that peace could be bought in Kabul by cosying up to Islamabad, enabling US forces to withdraw completely. Many analysts had warned US President Obama, during his first term itself, that his proposal to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan — trusting that the civilian regime in Pakistan would not interfere in the affairs of its northern neighbour — was misplaced.
In the last six years, it has become evident that Pakistan was only trying to encourage US withdrawal as it could get its brainchild, the Haqqani Taliban, to advance its influence in Afghanistan. Evidence piled upon evidence with even US Congressional investigations and testimony of its army leadership before Congressional committees making it clear that such a trust would be an illusion.
For, the Pakistani military has only one single purpose to retain its hold on the Pakistani masses led by religious orthodoxy: inflict wounds on India even if a direct confrontation is not worthwhile. In the cold logic of this military mind, Afghanistan would be a staging ground for Pakistan to vent its hatred on India. During the Taliban regime in Kabul that was what Afghanistan was. For the US administration, the truth was revealed through the shock of the 9/11 al-Qaeda orchestrated attack on American people in America itself. This attack was soon followed by one on Indian Parliament, with an elaborate plan to hold Indian leadership as a bargaining tool, but the Indian state was too strong for Islamabad’s military-mullah combine.
Now once again, the regime in Kabul, after more than a decade of relative freedom to experiment with a democratic structure, is getting snared in similar illusions and then, learning to face the reality. At the centre of it all, at least in the Islamic majority region west of India, the Macbethian witches stirring the cauldron of evil have their base in Pakistan and Muslims are as much victims of it as the others. It is time global powers face up to this harsh reality.
The author is a Delhi-based commentator on political and social issues.