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It’s now or never

Publication Date : 29-06-2012


The arrest of Lashkar terrorist Syed Ziaiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal brings Pakistan to the threshold of decisive change one way or the other. One need not dwell on the importance of the arrest and where it might lead to uncovering evidence related to the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack. What is more relevant is how Pakistan responds to the event. Islamabad’s fig-leaf is off! Despite protestations Islamabad stands exposed. Now the ruling establishment and the people of Pakistan can no longer pretend that an ugly reality they have refused to confront no longer exists.

Official spokesmen in Pakistan have protested their ignorance and innocence regarding Jundal by pointing out that Pakistan itself has been the victim of terrorism. That is correct. That hugely compounds the guilt of the pro-terrorist elements inside the Pakistan establishment. It also damns the rest which remained too cowardly to confront them. Over 40,000 innocent Pakistani citizens have died at the hands of terrorists. Their blood will forever stain the politicians and the Pakistan Army that allowed this to happen. How and why did this happen?

To start with the Pakistan Army Generals patronised terror outfits to gain strategic depth in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

This inevitably created a powerful fundamentalist constituency in the country with a skewed interpretation of Islam.

Steeped in medieval history this constituency may best be described as Islamist. It dreamt of proselytising the whole world to its version of Islam through terrorist violence. Inevitably global players like al-Qaeda entered the field to take over and mentor all the terrorist outfits of Pakistan. Sections within the Army, the Intelligence and the political class developed sympathy for and a vested interest in the Islamists.

But then things got out of hand. Violence and the gun culture became the arbiters in Pakistan’s fractured society. Terrorism became the instrument to settle sectarian disputes as well as to lodge anti-government protest. Sunnis fought Shiites, Pathans fought Mohajirs and terrorists fought the Army and police. The problem is hugely complicated because sizable sections of the Army and the ISI are participants in such terrorist activity. The government and the Army cannot purge these elements without seriously jeopardising their own existence and the very survival of a united Pakistan. So Pakistan remained in a perpetual state of denial.

Now denial is no longer possible. It will deceive only the government and the Army themselves but nobody else, not even the most gullible members of Pakistan’s repressed civil society. The time has come for the sane elements in Pakistan to bite the bullet. They should realise that even the international situation no longer allows them to avoid confrontation with the Islamists. The very fountainhead of Islamic conservatism has changed course. Saudi Arabia which initially funded the madrasas that became the breeding ground of terrorism has realised that it had created a Frankenstein’s monster. After al-Qaeda started operations to threaten even the royal family, the Saudi government dramatically changed course to cooperate fully in extinguishing Islamist terror. That is why Saudi authorities helped India to capture Abu Jundal by putting him on a plane to Delhi and alerting Indian authorities.

The Islamic versus Islamist war is on. Whether it is Muslim Brotherhood’s President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt, or the Saudi royals, the depredations of global terrorism and the advent of a new generation of Muslims with access to the Internet have compelled them to clearly differentiate Islamic from Islamist goals. So, where will this leave Pakistan?

Unfortunately the first response by Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, has been as expected totally disappointing. While his operative demand for India and Pakistan to jointly fight terror is welcome his reference to the alleged Hindu terror related to the Samjhauta train blast is self-defeating. New Delhi richly invited such a response.

As pointed out earlier in these columns, the 1267 committee of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had issued a categorical finding to hold the Lashkar and five named terrorists for being responsible for the Samjhauta train blast. On the basis of that finding were the Lashkar and Hafiz Saeed declared terrorist by the UN. Yet on the purported confession of Swami Aseemanand, India’s National Investigative Agency (NIA) nailed Hindu terrorists in the Samjhauta blast. Fledgling Hindu terrorism undeniably does exist but involving it in the Samjhauta blast was suspect. The decision appeared to be motivated for facilitating joint Indo-Pakistan cooperation for fighting terror because only in the Samjhauta train blast were Pakistani civilians also the victims. The NIA blissfully proceeded with its probe without sparing any thought or reference to the UN findings. As if on cue the government and the BJP opposition remained silent over this glaring contradiction. That is why on January 11, 2011, I wrote: “Now India and Pakistan have been put on the same page regarding terror.

Therefore, both governments can cooperate to fight terror on an equal footing. Is that what the scandalous charade about the purported Swami Aseemanand confession was all about? Was his confession a crude device to set the foundation for a joint fight against terror? If so, nothing more stupid, self-destructive and demeaning could have been attempted by the Indian government.”

Pakistan is responding conventionally to the arrest of Abu Jindal. It could be making a huge miscalculation. The latest exposure may not signify any change in India’s impotent government. It does indicate a significant change in the global response to Pakistan’s continued toleration of terrorist outfits operating from its soil. Abu Jundal’s arrest was masterminded by Saudi Arabia and blessed by America. Islamabad should take note of that.

However daunting the challenge of confronting the terrorist elements that have penetrated deeply into the ruling establishment, it can no longer be avoided. As early as January 21, 2010, it was written in these columns: “Pakistan based terrorism is not only endangering the survival of Pakistan, but also stability of the entire region. If Islamabad cannot effectively tackle jihadi terrorists it should bluntly accept the fact. It should invite Nato, US or even Indian troops to assist it with operations inside Pakistan to eliminate the menace. Islamabad should stop worrying about saving face. It needs to save the state.”

Has not the time for that arrived?

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist


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