Not much may change despite Peshawar carnage

School massacre: Onus is now on Pakistan government to launch war to end terror

Not much may change despite Peshawar carnage

The attack on the Army School in Peshawar on December 16 in which 132 children were slaughtered in cold blood was unspeakably savagic. The Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility. The Pakistan army which controls the country’s security policies believed the claim.

Army Chief General Raheel Sharif and the Director-General of the ISI Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar went to Kabul on December 17 to demand that the Afghan’s extradite Mullah Fazlullah, who claims to be the leader of the faction ridden TTP, and take action against its elements who have made bases inside Afghanistan’s eastern provinces especially Kunar and Nuristan.

It is doubtful that the Pakistan Army Chief would have been conscious of the irony of his demand. For decades, Pakistan has given refuge to Afghan and Indian terrorists and supported and encouraged them to undertake violent activities against their own countries. It has also infiltrated its own nationals into India and Afghanistan for terrorist actions.

The use of terrorists and of proxies has been made a part of its security doctrine. It is this doctrine that indirectly allows the terrorists and self-styled jihadis to flourish in Pakistan and spread the cult of violence which sprouts its venom through society and the polity. All this inexorably creates conditions which make attacks such as that of the TTP on the Army School possible.

Pakistan’s full support for the Afghan jihad against the Soviet incursion in Afghanistan along with the Army’s use of jihadis against India and Afghanistan spawned a jihadi culture in Pakistan.

Pakistani jihadism provided a fertile ground for an aggressive and cash rich Saudi Arabia determined to push its puritanical theologies in Pakistani society and a Khoemeni inspired Iran in seeking to consolidate the Shia faithful in Pakistan. This led to a proliferation of jihadi organisations wedded to extremist ideologies and the use of violence to achieve their ends.

The Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Three years later, the Najibullah government collapsed in Kabul. The Pakistan based Mujhaideen groups could not agree on government formation and turned against each other and Afghanistan descended into civil war.

Pakistan had hoped that its favourite jihadi commander Gulbuddin Hekmetyar would succeed in taking Kabul and controlling the country. However, he could not overcome the resistance mounted by the Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjsher. As civil war continued to devastate Afghanistan, a shadowy group of peasant Mullahs calling itself the Taliban came together in Kandahar under the leadership of Mullah Omar in 1994.

The Taliban soon replaced Hekmetyar as Pakistan’s favourite and with its support and guidance, began to gain territory. In September 1996, the Taliban captured Kabul and established its control over a major part of Afghanistan.

It revealed itself as an obscurantist group wedded to extremism and wanting to take Afghanistan back to the medieval ages. Earlier that year, Osama bin Laden relocated to Afghanistan from Sudan. A close connection developed between Omar and Osama who made Afghanistan his base to spread the al-Qaeda and undertake terrorist acts against the US and the West.

The rise of the Taliban inspired a number of Pakistani Deobandi elements especially in the radical madrassas where some of the Taliban leaders including Mullah Omar had studied. These madrassas supported the Pakistan army’s nexus with the Taliban. They also sent material resources and their own students to fight, alongside the Taliban, those Afghan groups that continued to oppose Mullah Omar.

By 2001, the Taliban controlled around 90 per cent of Afghanistan’s territory and only Ahmed Shah Massoud remained as an effective challenge for them.

 While the international community shunned them, Pakistan recognised the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. The 9/11 al-Qaeda terrorist attack in the US changed the entire situation and set the stage for the rise of the Pakistan Taliban.

Under pressure, then President Pervez Musharraf allowed the US to use Pakistan as a base for the war against the Taliban and the al-Qaeda in 2001. Pakistani extremist groups rose up in sympathy for the Taliban and denounced Musharraf’s volte face. Some turned against the Pakistan state.

The next year, the Pakistan army entered some parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Durand Line for the first time. This move angered the Pushtun tribes and groups among them also became anti- Islamabad. In 2007, some of these radical Pushtoon groups formed the TTP not as the monolith Afghan Taliban but as an ally.

Violent struggle

Over the years, the Pakistan army has been able to compromise some TTP groups but the hard core has been locked in a violent struggle against the state. The army and the politicians have tried dialogue and also launched a series of operations against the TTP but have not been able to break it. The US drone strikes with Pakistan approval have targeted and killed TTP leaders but others have taken their place.

Currently, the army is pursuing a major anti-TTP operation named Zarb-e-Abz which was launched in North Waziristan in June. The TTP claims that the army has targeted women and children and its attack on the Army School was to take revenge. The army is now going to proceed with the operation with renewed vigour but it is impossible to believe that it will train its guns against all terrorists, especially the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) or the Afghan Taliban, its instruments against India and Afghanistan, respectively.

The people of Pakistan have been completely shaken by the Army School attack. They have reacted with anger and revulsion against the TTP.  They are dismayed that the state has allowed such a situation to come to pass. The political class has vowed to wipe out all the Taliban. Some among them have also stretched this resolve to cover all terrorists. Will this churning change the course of Pakistan? It is doubtful that it would.

As the US completes its troops drawdown in Afghanistan, the regional situation will become more complex. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has sought the Pakistan army’s cooperation to rein in the Afghan Taliban. While the Pakistan army may, at least, pretend to do so, it will not let go of its assets against what it considers as its only real enemy- India.


January 1, 2014: Blast near a bus at Akhtarabad, Quetta kills 3 pilgrims from Iran and injures 24

January 9, 2014: Suicide attack by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan kills senior police officer Chaudhry Aslam Khan and two others in Karachi

March 1, 2014: Blast kills 11 and injures 10 others in FATA

June 8, 2014: 24 Shia pilgrims from Iran killed in terror attack in Quetta. At least 30 people were killed when terrorists attacked Jinnah International Airport in Karachi. The 10 militants were also killed

August 15, 2014: Terrorists attack Pakistan Air Force base, 12 militants killed, 11 security
officials injured

September 6, 2014: Pakistani Navy frigate PNS Zulfiquar was attacked and briefly captured by Al-Qaeda and rogue Pakistani Navy officers before being recaptured by Pakistani forces. 10 militants, including 4 rogue Pakistani Navy officers, were killed in ensuing operation to recapture the ship

November 2, 2014: A terrorist attack at Wagah near India-Pakistan border killed more than 60 people and injured 110 others

December 16, 2014: At least 148 – mostly children and teachers – were killed by militants of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan who raided the Army Public School in Peshawar and went on a killing spree. Seven militants killed by security forces

December 18, 2014: At least 3 paramilitary soldiers killed in explosion at Bajaur in FATA

(The writer, retired secretary, external affairs ministry, was ambassador to Afghanistan)

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