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It's Hell Next Door

It's Hell Next Door

Author: G Parthasarathy
Publication: The Times of India
Dated: April 8, 2009
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/4370916.cms

Intro: Pakistan's descent into chaos calls for a rethink of our strategy

Think tanks across the world ranging from the Brussels-based International Crisis Group to the US-based Asia Society and Atlantic Council are ringing alarm bells about Pakistan's descent into chaos.

An Atlantic Council Report co-authored by senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel warns: "We are running out of time to help Pakistan change from its present course towards increasing economic and political instability and even ultimate failure."

The report gives Pakistan six to 12 months before the situation descends from bad to dangerous. The International Crisis Group alludes to radical Sunni groups simultaneously fighting internal sectarian jihads within Pakistan, regional jihads in Afghanistan and India and a global jihad against the West. Despite ritual Pakistani denials, there is now global consensus that the Pakistani army establishment, including the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has led the country to the brink of disaster, by its patronage of these jihadi groups.

Public attention has been largely focused on the deteriorating situation on Pakistan's western borders with Afghanistan, where Taliban rule prevails barely 100 miles from Islamabad. What is less understood in India is that Pakistan today faces a siege from within. There were 2,148 terrorist and sectarian attacks in 2008, a dramatic 746 per cent increase since 2005.
Three predominantly Punjab-based sectarian Deobandi/Wahhabi outfits backed by the ISI the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Sipah-e-Sahiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed have joined the Taliban to wage jihad in Afghanistan, and taken on Pakistan's army in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

They have also waged war on Shias, destroying Shia mosques across the country, provoking strong protests from Iran. Likewise, the majority Sufi-oriented Bareilvi sect in Pakistan has had its leaders assassinated by these groups. Ominously, even the elite Defence Housing Authority in Karachi has seen the construction of 34 mosques, out of which 32, including the prominent Sultan Mosque, are under extremist Taliban control. Complaints by Shia organisations about intimidation from these mosques are routinely ignored.

According to Pakistan's foremost expert on Afghanistan, Ahmed Rashid, Pervez Musharraf adopted a "complex policy" of minimally satisfying American demands to act against the al-Qaeda, while giving the Taliban leadership and fighters havens in Quetta and the tribal areas, bordering Afghanistan. Musharraf also signed six agreements, virtually surrendering to Taliban groups and abdicating the authority of the Pakistan state.
This set the stage for the siege of the Lal Masjid in the capital Islamabad by Pakistan army commandos in 2007, which resulted in terrorist reprisals against the army and state institutions across the country. As the Taliban comes under pressure in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan from attacks by American drones, it is joining Punjabi groups to launch terrorist strikes across the Punjabi heartland, striking at the very heart of Lahore, virtually at will. Like Musharraf, his successor General Kayani has pretended he is ready to deal with extremism, while in actual fact, retaining the army's links with the Taliban for "strategic depth" in Afghanistan and Punjabi groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, to "bleed" India.

With the Pakistani army under siege and confined to the provincial capital, Peshawar, along the Afghanistan border, the Taliban have repeatedly struck at convoys carrying supplies for NATO and American forces in Afghanistan. The US and its NATO allies are now hurriedly finalising or have already concluded agreements with Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and even Iran for alternate sources and routes for supplies. Moves are underway to deal with a situation, wherein Pakistan abdicates state authority and fails to guarantee transit facilities to Afghanistan.

All indications suggest that civil society across Pakistan is gradually adjusting to the reality of the country's increasing radicalisation. One can see increasing manifestations of this even in a cosmopolitan city like Lahore. Even Pakistan's lawyers, who spearheaded an agitation for restoration of chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhury, have remained silent when the Taliban rendered them redundant in Swat, with the introduction of sharia law.

The Obama administration is placing increasing hope on the Pakistani army in overcoming the tide of growing radicalisation, particularly in Pashtun areas along the Afghanistan border. This appears a forlorn hope. The army itself is increasingly radicalised and captive to its links with the jihadi groups it has cultivated over the past three decades.
Its officers and soldiers have no appetite to fight Pashtuns, who cannot be dealt with like lightly armed Baluch, the Sindhis or Muhajirs. Historically, Punjabis have subdued Pashtuns only during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, with an expeditionary force led by General Hari Singh Nalwa. Politically, the only politician who can today mobilise public opinion in Punjab against the rising tide of extremism is Nawaz Sharif. But whether Sharif, whose political base is confined largely to Punjab, can deal with Taliban control of the NWFP is questionable.

India will have to face up to the reality of the growing radicalisation across its western frontiers, rather than entertaining illusions that civil society or political parties in Pakistan have the ability, or will, to take on the radicals. Our traditional approach to internal security will have to be thoroughly reviewed. More importantly, we need a political consensus that the impact of developments across the border will not be allowed to erode communal harmony in the country.

- The writer is a former high commissioner to Pakistan

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