By Babar Sattar
The debate on Pakistan's security policy that lists the country's available options as refusing to function as America's foot soldier in the war on terror versus willingly fighting America's war in our tribal areas is simplistic and misleading. There is no gainsaying that Pakistan needs to fight its own fight against extremism. But that must be distinguished from the US war on terror in Afghanistan, the paramount objective of which is to attack and decapitate Al-Qaeda and Taliban in a manner that they are unable to execute attack on western soil. And if the war strategy results in destabilizing Pakistan or delaying the possibility of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, that could be acceptable damage for the United States. Pakistan's war on extremism, on the contrary, needs to focus on curbing the drift of portions of its own population to extremist ideologies that manifest themselves in the form of indiscriminate violence, undermine the life and liberties of moderate citizens and threaten the writ of the state.
The Bush Administration's war strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas is not working. The Musharraf regime has been a loyal ally to the Bush Administration, but the alliance has had a deleterious impact on Pakistan's internal security situation. The actions of the militants against the state and the citizens of Pakistan are immoral and completely unjustifiable. But in allying itself closely with the US, the Pakistani state and the armed forces have come to be seen as stooges of the west, which have cost them their credibility and moral authority as agents and representatives of the people of Pakistan. Pakistan must realize that its slavish pursuit of the US diktat vis-à-vis the war on terror has become an obstacle in the way of waging an effective war against extremism within Pakistan.
As a matter of foreign policy, Pakistan needs to distance itself from the US war on terror. So long as the Pakistani state, its armed forces and law enforcing agencies are fighting what is largely perceived as an alien war, there will be no popular support for such an effort. But redefining the foreign policy will have to be accompanied with (i) de-legitimization of the role played by jihadi outfits in our security policy and military strategy, (ii) reform of the decision-making mechanisms that produce such policies, (iii) overhaul of the state political structure that supports vital policies that have no popular mandate and denies minority groups a stake in the system, and (iv) addressing the brand of thinking and ideology that justifies violence and suicide attacks against fellow Muslims in the name of Islam.
Ashley Tellis -- senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace -- recently made a statement before a US congressional subcommittee wherein Pakistan's current approach toward extremist groups was elaborated, among other things. In our present context, at least this portion of the statement merits to be quoted at length: "As things stand today, it is possible to identify five distinct extremist groups that ought to be the legitimate target of Pakistani law enforcement and military operations: (i) sectarian groups, such as the Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba and the Shia Tehrik-e-Jafria, which are engaged in violence within Pakistan; (ii) anti-Indian terrorist groups that operate with Pakistani military and ISI support, such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammed, and the Harkat ul-Mujahideen; (iii) the Pakistani 'Taliban' groups, consisting of the extremist outfits in the FATA, led by individuals such as Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan, Maulana Faqir Muhammad and Maulana Qazi Fazlullah of the Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammad, and Mangal Bagh Afridi of the Lashkar-e-Islami in the Khyber Agency; (iv) the original Taliban movement and especially its Kandahari leadership centred around Mullah Mohammad Omar and believed to be now resident in Quetta; and, finally, (v) Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, meaning the non-South Asian terrorists currently ensconced in the FATA region.
"Since September 2001, President Musharraf has pursued a highly differentiated counterterrorism policy that has involved treating each of these targets differently. He systematically suppressed mainly those domestic terrorist groups like the Sunni Sipah-e- Sahaba and the Shia Tehrik-e-Jafria that had engaged in bloody internal sectarian violence but, more importantly, had subverted critical state objectives. By contrast, he largely ignored the terrorist outfits operating against India in Kashmir and elsewhere: although he has controlled their infiltration into Kashmir in recent years, this restraint has not extended to either abandoning or eliminating them in the manner witnessed, for example, in the case of the more virulent anti-national sectarian entities operating within Pakistan. Fearful of Washington's disfavour, Musharraf has attacked Al-Qaeda resolutely, if not always effectively. Although the Pakistani Taliban did not exist as realistic threats in 2001, Musharraf has also combated them vigorously and as best he can. Musharraf has approached the original Taliban in a manner more akin to the Kashmiri terrorists and has avoided targeting them comprehensively; he has especially overlooked their leadership now resident in and around Quetta."
If this information and analysis is accurate, it identifies a crucial flaw in our security planning: the patrons of our security policy continue to believe that militant groups can be recruited and relied upon to realize the state's strategic goals and further that they can be clustered in neat compartments and accorded disparate treatment. There are at least three fatal flaws in this mode of thinking. One, experience suggests that the jihadi project was misconceived since its inception: non-state actors harnessed in the name of religion might function as effective tools for a while, but they eventually acquire a mind of their own and cannot be decommissioned or reprogrammed when the goals or the strategy of the state change.
Two, in the contemporary world there is zero tolerance for non-state actors. Thus in theory it might make sense to keep the possibility of our erstwhile foreign policy vis-à-vis Kashmir and Afghanistan (with a role of 'mujahideen') alive, nurturing or tolerating any dormant jihadi cells can only have disastrous consequences for the country. Three, the possibility of connections between various militant groups cannot be ruled out even when they are pursuing different goals. For the underlying narrow-minded religious ideology used to induct and brainwash these zealots, that preaches violence and relies on hate mongering, is a shared heritage of all such groups.
While Pakistan has been the frontline state in the war on terror, there is not one popular political entity in the country that backs this war, not even the king's league. We have had a parliament for the past five years, that has had no role in devising Pakistan's policy vis-à-vis the biggest strategic and internal security challenge facing the country. In 2006 the whole world was debating whether reconciliation and peace deals with the local tribes was a good idea, except Pakistan's 'sovereign' parliament. The consequence of a one-man decision-making arrangement is that our armed forces are fighting a war that is neither supported by the nation nor regarded as just. There is no political party that has had to publicly defend this war and thus there is not even an informed debate in the country regarding its pros and cons and the alternatives that Pakistan could pursue.
Winning the war against extremism is not going to be easy. Once we begin to think about our problem of extremism in isolation from the war on terror, there are some tough decisions we must make: we must abandon our jihadi enterprise; we must undertake madressah reform boldly and deliberately; and we must provide security, freedom and public space to the intellectuals and scholars who are capable of challenging bigoted ideologies pandered in the name of religion and confront the ideological roots of violence. But none of this can happen so long as our security policy continues to be made by a handful of individuals who are neither representative of the popular will nor accountable to it. We thus need to start by ensuring that the country pursues a security and foreign policy that is backed by popular mandate. And to that end we need to make our parliament relevant once again.