Pakistan sleepwalking into Jihadi terrorism

By: |
New Delhi | September 25, 2016 6:04 AM

The Pakistani establishment is perhaps in the last stages of its final surrender to jihadi terror, as the author warns, and while this is alarmingly toxic for the hapless citizens of that state—for the region and the world at large—the jihadi sword now has a menacing nuclear tip

Soldiers stand guard outside the army base which was attacked recently by terrorists in Uri, Jammu & Kashmir (Express photo)Soldiers stand guard outside the army base which was attacked recently by terrorists in Uri, Jammu & Kashmir (Express photo)

The post-Uri mood in India of anger and anguish at the killing of 18 soldiers by a group of terrorists provides the appropriate context to the book under review. The longish title encompasses the seemingly intractable situation that Pakistan has ‘sleepwalked’ into— the progressive surrender of state and society to the perpetrators of jihadi terrorism.

In a persuasive survey of over 400 pages, Khaled Ahmed, one of Pakistan’s most respected and insightful journalists, provides a vivid account of a macabre and murderous trajectory that the Pakistani ruling elite opted for by investing in ideologically-motivated terror, with tragic consequences for itself and the extended region.

Mumbai 2008 and Uri, which is the latest terror attack on India, have a history that can be traced back to early 1990 in its current variant. The more diligent history buff can perhaps link the penchant for terror among the same elite to August 1946 and the organised killings in then Calcutta. And India is not the only target of such murderous attention. Afghanistan has been subjected to similar trauma over the past two decades and the linkage of many global terror-related incidents to the crucible in Pakistan is familiar litany.

The massacre of school children in Peshawar in December 2014 is the more visible and heart-rending of numerous terror attacks that have targeted Pakistani state and society over the past three decades. Ahmed documents the manner in which the ecosystem for nurturing such foot soldiers has been assiduously created and, in the opening section, draws attention to the root of this scourge. “If you think you improve a Muslim through education, then take a look at the curricula in Pakistan. Any attempt to tone down references to war as a way of life by the provincial authority is attacked by the clergy, after which the media starts growling, sending the education minister scurrying back to texts mandating jihad for all Muslims. This is a state that has defamed itself through proxy wars it used to call jihad.”

Divided into 32 essays, this book is a compilation of the op-ed and analytical articles written by Ahmed in the period 2013 to 2015 for two publications—Newsweek Pakistan and The Indian Express. However, the value of the book is that it is not just a cut-paste-and-publish effort (which, alas, is becoming more pronounced), but a more reflective tenor has been added with end notes and valuable personal observations.

The subjects covered are extensive and follow the major developments of the past three years. The most recent essay is from October 2015. Ahmed has a wry turn of phrase and his deep water table of the turpitude and machinations of the Pakistani military, and the ISI in particular, add to the ‘must-read’ index of this book.

Recalling a mid-1990s ISI attempt to infiltrate and shape the politics of the country, Ahmed writes of a Major Amir, who was pro-Nawaz Sharif

and feared that the Benazir-led PPP was soft on India. “Patently non-intellectual, he represented the ideological nature of the army where no intellect is required to become an intelligence officer.”

However, it is not just the disparaging jab that is relevant. In the same section, Ahmed elliptically answers a question that is often asked in India: what is Nawaz Sharif’s relationship with the right-wing clergy and the army? Is he a hapless civilian PM repeatedly intimidated and bullied by successive army chiefs—from General Pervez Musharraf (who ousted him in a coup), to his namesake General Raheel Sharif now?

Ahmed provides useful contextual detail. “Pakistan has a ‘political middle’ that can mediate between Islamists and liberals represented by Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League. It has a nexus with an intensely right-wing army and will lend ear to the plaints of the religious parties aspiring to a pre-modern utopia with an umbilical connection with the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”

The nexus between the ISI and different terror groups is disaggregated in rewarding detail. Ahmed writes of a former Pakistan air force officer, Khalid Khwaja, who was working with the pro-al-Qaeda and Taliban faction within the ISI, and his 2010 confession on camera: “The top jihadi commanders are the ISI’s proxies and are given a free hand to collect funds.” And who are these commanders? They include Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, who laid the foundations of the International Islamic Front with Osama bin Laden in 1998, and Maulana Masood Azhar, chief of the Jaish-e-Mohammmed.

An added bonus of the book is that it is a veritable bibliography of the more important books and articles relevant to an understanding of Pakistan and its addiction to terror. Of note is Riaz Muhammad Khan, a former Pakistan foreign secretary and well-regarded high commissioner to India, and his book, Afghanistan and Pakistan: Conflict, Extremism, and Resistance to Modernity. Ahmed commends Khan for his candour in exposing the truth about Pakistan’s devious foreign policy orientation and notes that the former foreign secretary “put things on record that no other diplomat had (even) dared to talk about”.

In his book, Khan drew pointed attention to the “besieged mentality verging on a persecution complex” that had been internalised by the Pakistani ruling elite, and his conversation with General Musharraf is instructive. Here, the notation by Ahmed is the value addition that I found very insightful. To quote from him: “Khan knew that ISI’s support of the ‘charismatic’ mujahideen was based not on any strategic analysis but on ‘reverse indoctrination’, something that haunts the GHQ in Rawalpindi where the army chief may at times be scared of his own officers.” Ahmed goes on to add that army chiefs in Pakistan are petrified that if they try to get rid of non-state actors who have turned terrorists, they could be killed themselves.

And then this reference to the Khan-Musharraf interaction and the quote is from the former’s book:

“In April 2000, I had occasion to raise the issue of support to jihadi groups with General Musharraf on the occasion of the Havana G77 summit.” And Khan goes on to reveal that his recommendation that Pakistan desist supporting terror groups to protect its own economic agenda was rebuffed by Musharraf. “When I persisted, he literally closed the argument with a remark that what I was suggesting could bring an end to his government.”

As a long-time student of the internal dynamics of Pakistan and its distinctive strategic culture where the ‘deep state’ has tenaciously trapped itself in the jihad-terror simulacrum, I found the sections dealing with top Pakistani army generals and their certitude about Islam and the sword both revealing and disturbing.

Ahmed’s portrayal of the late Major General Hamid Gul, a former ISI chief, and General Shahid Aziz (a relative of Musharraf), and their inflexible theological beliefs may be the tip of a much deeper DNA trait about the Pakistani fauj.

The Pakistani establishment is perhaps in the last stages of its final surrender to jihadi terror, as Ahmed warns, and while this is alarmingly toxic for the hapless citizens of that state—for the region and the world at large—the jihadi sword now has a menacing nuclear tip.

Ahmed is representative of one constituency, albeit feeble, in Pakistan that makes an impassioned plea for a certain degree of rationality and rectitude in the ‘India-is-THE-enemy’ orientation that the Pakistani GHQ has imposed on the state.

In his most recent column (The Indian Express, September 23, 2016), Ahmed again highlights the voice of restraint and reason by quoting four eminent Pakistanis who wrote a joint op-ed in Dawn (September 20).

The authors include Inam ul Haque, Riaz Hussain Khokhar and Riaz

Mohammad Khan, all former foreign secretaries, and Major General

Mahmud Durrani (retd), a former ambassador to the US and national security adviser.

They caution: “The perception of Pakistan’s erstwhile support to extremist militancy in Kashmir in the 1990s and our association with the Taliban have hurt Pakistan’s international image. Of late, the delay in prosecuting especially those implicated in the Mumbai terrorist incident has been misconstrued as weak Pakistani commitment to fighting terrorism, the nemesis of all modern societies. This undermines Pakistan’s ability to forcefully advocate the Kashmir cause. Nothing will help India more than an evidence of outside militant elements blending with the indigenous Kashmiri uprising to justify its extreme violence in India-held Kashmir and its aggressive posture against Pakistan. We should be open to cooperating with any investigation into the Uri attack.”

Maybe this will be part of the next book by the gifted Ahmed, and the title could well be Post-Uri: The Turning Point. Whether the turn will be for the better or worse remains moot.

C Uday Bhaskar is director,
Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi

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