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Opinion
Massacre shows Taliban cannot be tamed
From the Financial Times of Thu, 18 Dec 2014 18:43:04 GMT
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan,Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. Taliban gunmen stormed a military school in the northwestern Pakistani city, killing and wounding dozens, officials said, in the latest militant violence to hit the already troubled region. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)©AP

On Tuesday Pakistan suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history. Even as the blood was being scraped from the floor of the Army Public School in Peshawar, Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif vowed that there would henceforth be “no differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban”, a reference to the state’s historic use of jihadist proxies.

Yet days later, as Pakistan still mourned its children, one judge took the extraordinary decision to free on bail Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a member of the state-sponsored terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and an architect of the 2008 massacre in Mumbai, India. Nothing better illustrates the ideological and institutional depth of Pakistan’s cancer, and the implausibility of Mr Sharif redeeming his pledge in full.

Pakistan’s handling of the Mumbai plotters was a travesty even before this decision. Hafiz Saeed, LeT’s leader, remains free to preach violence against India to enormous crowds, with government trains laid on for supporters. His group is banned but operates under the flimsiest of fronts and sends a steady stream of bombers into Afghanistan. The bailed Mr Lakhvi had continued to run operations from jail. The trial itself has been repeatedly postponed, cycling through eight judges in five years. LeT’s terrorists are accorded this treatment because they abstain from directing their violence towards the state, and serve instead to bleed Kabul and Delhi.

But they are part of a toxic, decades-old ideological milieu in which jihad is normalised, public discourse allows a prominent voice to extremists and Pakistan’s foreign demons — India and Afghanistan — distract from the rot within. LeT is just part of this dispiriting story. For instance, other ostensibly banned sectarian terrorist groups, responsible for the slaughter ofthousands of Pakistani Shia in the past few years alone, have supplied manpower and support to the Pakistani Taliban, the perpetrators of Tuesday’s massacre. Yet the prime minister’s own party, the PML-N, has struck tacit alliances with them to keep the violence away from Pakistan’s — and the party’s — political heartland, Punjab.

Each of these groups has distinct aims. But their networks overlap in complex and dangerous ways, frustrating Pakistan’s efforts to use some and quarantine others. And so it is not enough to end the distinction between good and bad Taliban, as Mr Sharif promised — he must also end the distinction between good and bad jihadis across the ideological spectrum.

The problem is not that Pakistanis are innately violent. According to a Pew survey from last year, 89 per cent of Pakistani Muslims believe that targeting civilians is never justified — a greater proportion than in Indonesia, Nigeria, or Tunisia. Nor do Pakistanis share the extremists’ agenda. For example, 87 per cent of Pakistanis believe that education is just as important for girls as boys. But, like much else, Pakistan’s foreign and security policies — and therefore the state’s relationship to jihadis — are not matters of meaningful democratic deliberation. They are the purview of the army and intelligence service, which has deliberately nurtured a deep-rooted and widespread denial about the indigenous nature of the threat.

When General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military dictator, argued on Wednesday that India should be held responsible for the previous day’s massacre, he was only echoing a wave of similar delusion on social media. From there, it is a short step to the view that the solution is more LeT, more Haqqanis and more Afghan Taliban — whatever the price to innocent civilians.

It would be callous, in the country’s week of sorrow, to neglect the positive. Pakistan’s politicians have displayed impressive unity in condemning the attacks. But this concord, heartening as it is, will not produce lasting change unless the security establishment is compelled to change course.

The day after the Peshawar massacre, Pakistan’s army chief visited Kabul to demand the extradition of the Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah, who almost certainly resides in eastern Afghanistan. But how can Pakistan expect regional countries to extend the hand of friendship and co-operation when jihadis continue to shelter in state-run safe houses, extremist preachers exhort terror in public rallies, and mass-murderers are freed on bail?

However much we might hope that Peshawar is a turning point, we should be clear-eyed about the challenge.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute



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