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Why ‘good’ terrorists are bad for Pakistan
  • Mohammed Hafiz Saeed
    Mohammed Hafiz Saeed
Despite the Government’s claims of effectively implementing National Action Plan for counter terrorism, the activity of some terrorist organisations keeps baffling the people of Pakistan as well as the international community. Why, the dissenters within Pakistan ask, are certain groups allowed and certain others manage to keep working while the army is fighting an expensive Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the restive tribal areas and the government is busy implementing NAP whereby actions are being taken against the terrorist organisations in the settled areas of the country? The answer is not an easy one. There might be an element of voyeurism in letting some of these organisations work for damage the ones we are not so fond of, but there are also some rational choices and real-world hitches that might be responsible for the way the state of Pakistan behaves viz a viz terrorist organisations on its soil. However irrational its ‘rational choices’ appear, the madness still has a method to it. It is perhaps worth it to map both, the choices and the hitches.

The security officials keep referring to many operational and strategic complexities that come in the way of across-the-board action against the terrorist organisations working and based on Pakistan’s soil. For example, prioritizing counter-terror Ops based on the declared objectives of the terrorist organisations. The India-centric, e.g. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM); and Afghan-centric, e.g. Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, terrorist organisations pose no threat to Pakistan in lieu of the tacit arrangement that the state of Pakistan lets them be and doesn’t touch as long as they remain ‘peaceful’ within Pakistan. 

In the backdrop of ongoing operation against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and allied groups in the northwest and while the borders in the east and the west remain extremely heated the civil and military leadership is not ready to open any other active front in the mainland. The situation further compounds keeping in view the ominous threat of ISIS, which the officials do not yet admit publicly but can’t deny the multiple arrests of many ISIS commanders from settled areas of Punjab and Karachi. 

The emergence of ISIS provides a viable alternative to the foot soldiers and on-ground commanders of many of these organisations in case they are squeezed at this time. The theory is, the armed and trained foot soldiers might defect to ISIS if the state tightens the noose around these so far ‘peaceful’ organisations. If gathered around the ISIS axis, these terrorists would prove formidable for Pakistan in its mainland like Lal Masjid did when an operation was launched against it in 2007. Within a month of the operation, the terrorist attacks increased by 100% and by 200% in the following year. Another example is Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the anti-Shia sectarian outfit that went rogue when the state tried to squash it. Many of its members went to ISIS while the others merged to make it LeJA that started attacking Pakistan. LeJA and Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP) jointly claimed recent attacks in Quetta.

Given these considerations, the action against the Afghan/India centric outfits remains pending. But there appears to be a growing realization among the civilian leadership that giving free playing field to some group while trying to reign in some others is a strategy increasingly failing. Those having safe havens in Pakistan are variously seen lending resources (human and technical) to the ones under attack. With a very close-knit nexus between these categories of terrorist organisations, it is difficult to maintain a textbook separation between them. 

In 2010, for example, a Frontier Constabulary (FC) check post on the border near Mohmand Agency came under attack and the soldiers ended up fighting the Afghan Taliban. After a fierce fight, some 23 soldiers had to surrender to Afghan Taliban who then handed the soldiers over to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan based in Afghanistan. The soldiers were brutally killed in 2014 by TTP. This was only possible if Afghan Taliban and TTP were working together, which they were. Similarly, the ties between JeM, LeJ, TTP and Afghan Taliban at operational level have been well documented by many researchers. 

This poses urgency for Pakistan to act against the active factions of all these organisations active in Pakistan. Going by the report by Cyril Almeida in Dawn (that created quite a stir in Pakistan), the civilian leadership is aware of this bigger challenge and is determined to negotiate it with the military leadership too. The report also hints at military’s willingness to cooperate with the civilians for this uphill task. As per the report, the Director General of ISI made the commitment in that high level meeting to personally visit all the provinces and direct his men on ground to help the government permanently shut down the terror tap of formerly ‘acceptable’ outfits. 

However, just two weeks ago, Retired General Amjad Shoaib while speaking in a current affairs show on one of the private TV channels informed that General Rizwan Akhter, the DG ISI, had written a letter earlier this year to the Prime Minister proposing two options for the way forward about these so called ‘peaceful’ groups (like JuD and other allied outfits). The first option proposed by the General was, mainstream the jihadis in the country by offering them government jobs. The Option Two that the DG ISI had reportedly proposed was that the fanatical jihadi militants who would not agree to be part of the mainstream be recruited into the security forces after being ‘deradicalised’.

Now this is a chilling report if true. Mainstreaming jihadis is a dangerous idea because the past experience has been that in addition to mainstreaming themselves they mainstream their ideology as well. And a decade down the road, we would be reaping an entire crop of ‘mainstream’ jihadis who would have penetrated in the entire social fabric and the state institutions. The best possible way for the state of Pakistan might be to ask all the armed groups on its soil to lay down their weapons, abide by the law of the land or face the consequences. Those guilty of brutalities must face the law. Those who refuse to budge in, must face the operation by the security forces / law enforcement agencies. This must not be taken as opening new wounds. This rather, would be treating the simmering ulcer that is most likely to affect the whole body.

If, instead of pulling its hands from the heads of jihadi organisations altogether, the state institutions want to help the terrorists make their living in the name of ‘mainstreaming’, even the God won’t be willing to help.
Marvi Sirmed is an Islamabad based analyst and writes on counter-terrorism related issues.