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 continued…