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منگل، 16 اکتوبر، 2012

The scourge of terrorism


 Since the attack on Malala has proved beyond any shadow of doubt that the Taliban are prepared to go to any lenghts in enforcing their misconceived and bigoted notions of what the faith enjoins, perhaps the time has come to build a broad resistance against their benighted activities so as not only to nip this evil in the bud, but ensure this menace is buried once and for all.
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A battle for the soul of Pakistan is raging in the country. Arrayed on one side are the forces of obscurantism, backwardness and intolerance, which would like to take Pakistan back to the medieval ages. They are opposed by progressive forces, which favour enlightenment, moderation, tolerance and development. The outcome of this battle royal will decide the destiny of Pakistan.
The attack on the 14-year old Malala Yousafzai by some criminal elements belonging to the Fazlullah-led group of the Swati Taliban was the latest reminder of the ongoing battle between the progressive and the retrogressive forces in Pakistan. Malala was attacked just because she showed the courage to champion the cause of the girls’ education and criticise the Taliban attacks on schools and school going girls.
The attack on Malala once again exposed the Taliban’s unacceptable tendency to impose their obscurantist views on others through the use of violent means. Neither Islam nor any norm of civilised conduct allows the barbarism of which the Fazlullah-led group of the Taliban has been guilty. No wonder the attempt on the life of Malala has been roundly condemned by the vast majority of the Pakistanis and the international community.
Besides providing the best possible medical care to Malala and the two other wounded girl students and apprehending the culprits responsible for this heinous crime, we must also confront squarely the scourge of extremism and terrorism that has been stalking this nation for quite some time. Till the end of 1970s, Pakistani society was, by and large, moderate in its outlook.
A sea change, however, took place with the commencement of the military rule of Ziaul Haq. Zia prolonged his military rule by encouraging religious extremism and projecting himself as the saviour of Islam. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan provided the perfect pretext to Zia to fan the fire of religious extremism in support of the Afghan jihad and indirectly to perpetuate his military rule. Zia’s death in August 1988 and the subsequent Soviet military withdrawal from Afghanistan provided an excellent opportunity to Pakistan’s civil and military leadership to take corrective steps for reversing the rising tide of religious extremism and encouraging moderation in the society.
Unfortunately, however, that was not done. Instead Pakistan’s military establishment, which had amassed too much power under Zia’s rule, virtually dictated to the successive civilian governments from 1988 to 1999 the Kashmir and Afghanistan policies of its own choice. Pakistan’s military establishment encouraged religious extremism and nurtured the jihadi elements for the conduct of the Kashmir and Afghanistan policies during the 1990s. It was not surprising, therefore, that the country, which was engulfed in the rising tide of religious extremism, experienced perhaps the worst form of sectarian terrorism during the 1990s.
Besides destabilising Pakistan internally, our Kashmir and Afghanistan policies pursued till 9/11 projected a badly tarnished image of the country abroad and alienated us internationally. Above all, these policies failed miserably to achieve their goals. Further, our Afghanistan policy led us to the critical post-9/11 situation when we found ourselves totally isolated internationally because of our support to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The result was a precipitate U-turn by Musharraf under the threat of the US ultimatum. In a matter of days, we turned from being the main supporter of the Afghan Taliban into an ally of the Americans in the war against the same Taliban. Internally also, we reversed gear and made some half-hearted attempts to combat terrorism and promote moderation, but with limited success.
The Americans succeeded in overthrowing the retrogressive rule of the Afghan Taliban and degrading al-Qaeda, which was their main objective. But they failed to manage properly the situation in Afghanistan subsequently. They imposed on the Afghan people a government dominated by the Northern Alliance (representing mainly non-Pakhtun communities) and alienated the Pakhtuns in the process. The inevitable result was the intensification of the armed conflict in Afghanistan between the Taliban, who are overwhelmingly Pakhtuns, and foreign forces as well as between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance-dominated Afghan government. It was also a foregone conclusion that sooner or later the Pakhtuns in our tribal areas would join their brethren in the armed conflict across the border because of the strength of tribal links in the Afghan culture.
The solution of the complex Afghan situation lay in a negotiated settlement among the various Afghan groups and a broad-based government in Kabul composed of the various Afghan communities and political groups, including the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. Instead the Americans chose to rely on the use of brute force to bludgeon the Taliban into submission. They also forced Pakistan to take military action against the supporters of the Afghan Taliban in our tribal areas through constant demands on us to do more.
Our willingness to oblige the Americans redirected the Taliban fury against civilian and military targets in Pakistan through terrorist attacks. So far, the Americans have miserably failed to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan through exclusive reliance on the use of force. The growing number of green-on-blue attacks show that the Americans are losing the battle for minds and hearts of the Afghan people because of their flawed policy. It is only now that they have reluctantly realised the importance of the dialogue route for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Thus, there are two sources of the threat of terrorism confronting Pakistan. The first one is from the Afghan Taliban and their supporters in Pakistan’s tribal areas in retaliation for the military action taken by our armed forces against them. This threat can be neutralised by us, to a large extent, by refraining from any military action against them and by encouraging the Americans and the various Afghan parties, including the Pakhtuns/Taliban and non-Pakhtuns/Northern Alliance, to adopt the dialogue route for durable peace in Afghanistan.
We must tell the Americans firmly that we cannot destabilise our country internally for the sake of their unrealistic aims and flawed strategy in Afghanistan. In any case now when the American and other Isaf troops have started their withdrawal from Afghanistan, it would make little sense for Pakistan to target the Afghan Taliban and their supporters, despite our abhorrence of their obscurantism.
Instead our focus should be on facilitating the commencement of an intra-Afghan dialogue for the goal of national reconciliation and establishment of a broad-based government, while scrupulously avoiding any interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
As for the threat from homegrown Taliban, who are the by-product of our flawed internal and external policies of 1980s and 1990s, we need to adopt a different strategy. We must tell them in unequivocal terms that under no circumstances their attempts to impose a retrogressive ideology on the people of Pakistan through the use of violence would be tolerated. Those who still resort to criminal acts in violation of the law of the land and the Constitution must be apprehended and given exemplary punishment. These policies must be supported by publicity and educational campaigns to promote moderation and tolerance in our society, in accordance with the real teachings of Islam. The syllabi in our schools and madrassas should be rationalised accordingly.
We must also accelerate the process of economic development to eliminate poverty and provide gainful employment opportunities to the growing number of young people to check the availability of the unemployed youth for terrorist activities. It is only through such means that we will be able to prevent tragic incidents like the assassination attempt on Malala and counter successfully the grave threat of extremism and terrorism confronting our nation.
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 By Javid Husain
The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.Email: javid.husain@gmail.com

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