If the generals have changed their mind

To be credible, their promise to fight terrorism will need to be accompanied by a realignment of Pakistani nationalism.

Written by Husain Haqqani | Published: July 23, 2014 4:08 am
If Pakistani nationalism continues to be defined in religious terms and the state rhetoric does not change, General Sharif’s efforts against some jihadis will prove as ineffective as similar juggling attempts under Musharraf  and Kayani.  Source: CR Sasikumar If Pakistani nationalism continues to be defined in religious terms and the state rhetoric does not change, General Sharif’s efforts against some jihadis will prove as ineffective as similar juggling attempts under Musharraf
and Kayani. Source: CR Sasikumar

To be credible, their promise to fight terrorism will need to be accompanied by a realignment of Pakistani nationalism.

Last month, the Pakistan army launched what it describes as a major military offensive against the jihadi terrorist safe haven in North Waziristan. Senior generals and the civilian defence minister insist that this time Pakistan will go after all militant groups, including fighters who target neighbouring Afghanistan and have, in the past, been deemed Pakistan’s strategic assets.

Accompanied by much media discussion of “Operation Zarb-e-Azb”, the Pakistani army has fought many battles over the last few weeks, killed several terrorists and lost some soldiers. The offensive has also caused a huge humanitarian crisis as more than half a million people have become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), leaving villages that were being shelled by artillery or pounded from the skies by  F-16 aircraft.

But most foreign observers and many knowledgeable Pakistani commentators remain sceptical about the extent to which Pakistan’s generals have truly changed their minds about jihadi militias as an instrument of state policy. The Pakistani military, the critics say, is only eliminating extremist groups that have started targeting Pakistan and Pakistanis. Anti-India jihadis, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), continue to flourish with Hafiz Mohamed Saeed and his cohorts parading openly in major cities like Lahore.

According to the naysayers, the military operation will target hardline Uzbeks, Chechens and footsoldiers of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who have claimed responsibility for the recent assault on Karachi International Airport. Groups such as the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban have already been directed or pushed across the Pakistan-Afghan border (the Durand Line) so that they can resume operations once NATO forces leave Afghanistan.

The Pakistani establishment has responded to its critics with a public relations offensive. In a conversation with Indian journalist Aakar Patel, a retired ISI general even made the argument that the sharp spike in violence in Pakistan over the last decade was the result of the Pakistan “military’s decision to crack down on terror groups operating against India.”

According to Patel, “The ISI general said that the thinking in India appeared to them to be that of satisfaction at the situation Pakistan found itself in. ‘Let them stew in their own juice’ and ‘You created the problem, now you suffer the consequences’ were some of the phrases he used to describe what he thought the Indian attitude was.” The Indian journalist was also informed of “limitations of the state with respect to the LeT and Hafiz Saeed in particular,” but he was also told that “this must not be seen as encouraging the group.”

Unfortunately, crisp statements are not a substitute for sound policy. Pakistan’s establishment has made similar arguments since General Pervez Musharraf famously proclaimed soon after 9/11 the country’s U-turn away from its jihadi past. Even the declaration of intent to clear the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), including North and South Waziristan, of jihadi terrorists is not new, neither is the launching of a military offensive.

There is no doubt that a large number of Pakistanis, including senior military commanders, now realise the dangers posed to Pakistan by Islamist extremists. There is substantive evidence also that the latest North Waziristan offensive is better planned and better executed than previous such military operations. But instead of dismissing the opinion of sceptics and critics, Pakistan’s military and intelligence leaders must try and understand their arguments.

Pakistan’s jihadi infrastructure grew out of a carefully nurtured national narrative and state ideology. Since independence in 1947, Pakistanis have been told that their country is a “citadel of Islam”, that its destiny is to be an Islamic State, and that its army is “the sword of Islam”. Advocates of modern, secular values or even of pluralism have been denigrated as “enemies of the ideology of Pakistan” and therefore cast as “traitors to Pakistan”.

This ideological milieu has helped religious-political groups exercise greater influence on national discourse than is justified by either the size of their membership or the number of votes they have obtained in Pakistan’s sporadic general elections. The jihadi groups, one more extreme than the other, is also an outgrowth of the decision to cast Pakistan as an ideological state.

If the Pakistan army is as serious about eliminating extremism as it asserts then it must realign itself in the context of Pakistan’s domestic ideological polarisation. If Pakistani nationalism continues to be defined solely in religious terms and the state rhetoric does not change, General Raheel Sharif’s efforts against some jihadis will prove as ineffective as similar juggling attempts under General Musharraf and General Kayani.

The generals’ promise of fighting extremism would be more credible if it was accompanied with an embrace, however gradual, of groups and individuals that have been marginalised and labelled as traitors because of their advocacy of a secular Pakistan or for supporting close ties to the West or India.

Until then, one cannot blame sceptics abroad for being unmoved by a military operation against terrorism that is supported by Hafiz Saeed. Nor will the army’s critics at home change their stance easily if clerics who issue fatwas against human rights activists are also the first ones to march in support of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The writer, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute, Washington DC, served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. He is author, most recently, of ‘Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an epic history of misunderstanding’

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  1. B
    B. W.
    Jul 23, 2014 at 8:36 pm
    Phakistan-or Fake-istan- is nothing but stolen Indian land, stolen by low-caste Hindu converts to islam now pretending to be "Arabs". Their "Urdu" (stolen from Monan Genghis Khan's "Ordu", or "Horde" in English) is nothing but Hindi with some Arabic and Iranian words thrown in. Even the name Khan so por among stanis, is stolen from Monan, as in Genghis Khan. Are Phakistanis Mongols? Tell me another joke! India should take back its Ancient land. By force.To with Phakistani nukes! India had nukes as early as 1962 (just after the Chinese invasion)-BEFORE China or Phakistan!-but has never used them or even threatened to use them against either, letting its superiority slip, till the two enemies caught up. This Phaki-stan was nothing but an under-land of the mighty Sikh empire under Ranjit Singh. India should reclaim it by force. Drive its present potion into Arabia!
    1. N
      Nasir Islam
      Sep 8, 2014 at 7:16 pm
      I guess you do not know much about Urdu. The word comes from Turkish, meaning an Army. It originated in the multilingual, multiethnic armies that invaded India in the past. It developed and flourished in Northern / Central India during the reign various Muslim dynasties. It's more por form - Hindustani - became the language of films. Most of the lyrics/ songs were written by Muslim poets in Urdu. It developed and amazingly rich literature - poetry, short stories and novels. Urdu spoken in stan has Hindi words but it is largely based on Farsi and Arabic. If I had time I would have given you some information on the etymology of the word Khan. I hope you know the meaning of the word etymology. By the way it is practically impossible to push 180 million people from stan to Saudi Arabia, particularly against their will.
      1. A
        Jul 23, 2014 at 5:45 pm
        Its the system of self serving mullahs. The more radical the mullah, the more killing he orders or conducts the more pious he becomes in the eyes of his flock. So it is a self defeating religion which tends to spiral downwards and eschews killing as a form of survival. Moderate muslims notwithstanding, who really are people living outside stan, its a 1500 year old religion which believes killing in the name of God is a good thing.
        1. A
          A S
          Jul 23, 2014 at 5:10 pm
          Comprehensive and sustained effort is required to ensure stan can become governable again. Starting with reorientation of educational system, changes in govt laws and policies with the support of silent majority. We cannot run madares teaching jihad and mullahs preaching hatred and expect peaceful atmosphere. When an arrogant MP from India thrust a roti into the mouth of a caterer who served inedible food (caterer cannot be identified as Muslim by appearance) Hafeez started spewing venom on twitter against all Indians.
          1. C
            Nov 9, 2014 at 6:13 am
            stan should first decide what they want and how achieving that will help them in the end. Are they clear what what they want in the first place ? They wanted to get away and they did. But they could not live peacefully. They drove away non-Muslims in 1947 and attacked Kashmir. That did not bring any joy to Pak citizens. They decided to give power to religious factions and condition deteriorated further. They decided to create Terrorist to empower their nation - but condition in stan became worse.The aim of religious group is to annihilate Non-Muslims. The Muslim army did so in 7-10th Century. But fighting between Islamic countries continues essence, be careful what one wants. Sometimes, the wishes, when fulfilled, becomes a curse. It has happened so many times - but people don't learn.
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