The recent disclosure by former Inter Services Public Relations chief retired Major General Athar Abbas that despite strong recommendations from the military leadership, the previous Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani had refused to undertake a full scale military action against the terrorists in North Waziristan is indeed disturbing. For if this accusation is in anyway true, then surely General Kayani is guilty of knowingly looking the other way while the TTP was firmly establishing itself in this region and acquiring the capability to wreck widespread havoc in Pakistan. General Kayani apparently felt that , being a contentious issue, ordering a full scale military operation against the TTP was best avoided as it would take a heavy toll on soldiers as well as expose civilians to the inevitable ‘backlash’ from this terrorist group and this could well lead to criticism of his decision. However, being an army man, General Kayani would have also known all along that there was just no other choice but to strike at this Hydra, sooner or later. Unfortunately, instead of taking the hard decision of ordering military action against the TTP, he chose not to act, leaving the existing sorry state of affairs in North Waziristan to deteriorate further and the rest is history!
Equally disquieting is the accusation made by Major General Abbas is that General Kayani had decided to disregard the repeated calls made by the Americans to take action against the Haqanni network, as this once again confirms the Pakistan army’s patronage of what it considers to be the ‘good’ Taliban. Luckily, his successor General Raheel Sharif has shown the decisiveness expected from an army chief and by ordering full scale military action against the TTP, taken the bull by the horns. While it may be still too early to judge whether ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ is able to reduce, if not completely eliminate the TTP threat, the fact remains that he has atleast conveyed the firm message to the TTP that the Pakistan army means business and that no cost is too much when it comes to eliminating the scourge of terrorism. The general impression that the Pakistan army discreetly endorsed a ‘live and let live’ policy when it came to the TTP had gained wide currency due to General Kayani’s hesitation in taking resolute action against this terrorist group. However, thanks to ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ this myth has been effectively demolished and thus has received the overwhelming public support it deserves. Moreover, if the present ISPR chief Major General Asim Bajwa’s announcement that “terrorists of every hue and colour” would be targeted during the ongoing military operation is true, then there are reasons to be optimistic about the outcome of the ongoing military operation.
While the Pakistan army has been unrelenting and uncompromising in its war against terror, it has still not been able to decimate the TTP. This is not because it lacks either the will or the capability, but simply because it believes in the concept of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. By patronising the Haqqani network, which the Afghanistan Government holds responsible for terrorist activities on its soil, the Pakistan army has made the TTP Kabul’s ‘darling’- after all, isn’t there an old saying that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend?” Already there are strong suspicions that while ‘Zarb-e-Abz’ rages on in North Waziristan, the TTP leader Mullah Fazaullah alongwith bulk of TTP cadres are biding their time in the safe environs of TTP hideouts in the Kunnar and Nooristan provinces of Afghanistan- just like anti Afghanistan Taliban chief Mullah Omar is supposed to be safely holed up in Pakistan according to the Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai! It is this unending ‘cat and mouse’ game of selectivity in targeting terrorist groups by both Pakistan and Afghanistan that is bringing the sacrifices of soldiers on both sides of the Durand Line to naught as also causing untold miseries to its people. The ‘self –destructing’ philosophy of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban is costing both countries dear and thus needs to be remedied on priority.
In the present day context, the survivability of any terrorists group lies not in its ideology, numbers or military capabilities but on the patronage it receives. So, a terrorist group can hope to survive and thrive only as long as it enjoys the institutionalised patronage of a nation state and the case of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) amply proves this point. Readers would recall that the LTTE was able to successfully withstand the repeated massive combined onslaughts of the Sri Lankan army, air force and navy as long as it enjoyed the patronage of New Delhi. However, the moment it fell out favour, the LTTE was doomed and completely decimated. Even though this fact is well known to all, the Pakistan army has unfortunately continued to pursue a dual policy on terrorism for which the people are paying the price. ‘Hawks’ in Pakistan often resort to the use impressive jargon with phrases such as ‘strategic depth’, ‘asymmetric warfare’ and ‘strategic assets’ to justify patronising the Haqanni network. While their contention may make military sense, but just as acquisition of a new variety of weapons can trigger an arms race between two hostile neighbouring nations, creation of ‘strategic assets’ by a country prompts its neighbour to do likewise and thus terror groups automatically multiply and so do the woes of the common man!
However, if the Pakistan army does go after the Haqqani network this time as it has promised, then there are fair chances that Kabul, may reciprocate in equal measure by denying TTP the use of its soil for sanctuaries and directing attacks in Pakistan. Both countries are bearing the brunt of terrorist activities being perpetuated by one against the other through their proxies and the moment one side calls it ‘quits’, the other will surely follow suit as this would finally rid the region of terrorists and end the sufferings of its people at their hands. Yet, things may not be so simple, as there is something very ominous in what the ISPR chief has said. Though he has unambiguously stated that the Pakistan army would target “terrorists of every hue and colour,” he has subtly added the caveat to this declaration – “that means any terrorist who is on the soil of Pakistan right now within the area of operation.” With strong rumours of the Haqqani network members having already left North Waziristan after being tipped-off in advance by the army regarding ‘Zarb-e-Azb’, the ISPR chief’s clarification assumes great significance. So, if the Haqqani network is not targeted by the Pakistan army simply because they are not “on the soil of Pakistan right now within the area of operation,” then despite all the blood, sweat and tears, it will be ‘status quo ante’ the moment the army withdraws from North Waziristan!
Tailpiece: Using terrorists to wage ‘proxy war’ against a neighbour comes at a great price and who knows this better than the Pakistan army. By his decisive actions, General Raheel Sharif has demonstrated that he is genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of both his army and the people of Pakistan. Besides being a decisive person, he is also known to be a great thinker who, even before he became the army chief, dared to declare that for Pakistan, terrorism was as much a threat as was India. So, could we expect him to use his great abilities to break the stereotype military thinking of destroying the ‘enemy’ by ‘bleeding it through a thousand cuts’? If the enemy has to be ‘destroyed’, then there are other ways to do so and one could introspect on Abraham Lincoln’s famous poser- “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”