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Pakistan will not touch the ‘good terrorists’

By Invitation: Pranay Kotasthane

Will the horrific terror attack in Pakistan change its perception towards terrorism? 

Acts of extreme violence and brutality are not new to Peshawar, let alone the whole of Pakistan. This year alone, a total of 448 people have been killed in the state of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (of which Peshawar is the capital) in various terrorism related incidents. At the same time, beyond the glare of international discourse, the Pakistan army has been ruthless in suppressing the Balochistan nationalist movement that has entered its tenth continuous year of civilian strife. 

Elsewhere, the army's Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan has also led to fatalities and large-scale internal displacement. Just one day before the Peshawar incident, another school was blown up with an explosive device in the Charsadda district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Religious and sectarian violence have become an inescapable truth in large parts of Pakistan. And yet, the brutality of the Peshawar terror attack, in which 132 innocent school children were killed, has taken violence to levels never seen or heard before. The gruesome act marks a definite escalation in the continuous brutalisation of the Pakistan society. 

The source of violence in the Pakistani society, as multiple evidences have made it conspicuous, is the Military-Jihadi Complex: a network of terrorists, military, intelligence and Islamist politico-economic agents conjoined by the forces of Islam and a nationalism that is by definition anti-India, anti-US and anti-modern. Though this complex seems apparent to the world, it barely has a constituency in Pakistan. As a result, reports and statements from Pakistan blamed the attack on the failure of intelligence and security capacity rather than an acknowledgement of the dangers that this complex has ushered Pakistan into. Consequently, terrorists like Hafiz Saeed are freely seen making statements to the media in condemnation of the Peshawar attack. This suggests that jihadist elements like the Haqqani network and Lashkare-Taiba still remain indispensable agents of the Pakistani State. 

The question that confounds everyone is, will any lessons be learnt from this unfortunate incident? Will it trigger any changes in Pakistan? 

At the very least, this attack will put even the most vociferous political supporters of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on the backfoot. We already see Taliban apologists like Imran Khan changing their public stance and voicing anger against the TTP. The Pakistan army will be forced to go after the TTP with greater force. In the counterterrorism plan, which is likely to be formulated next week, a renewed Operation Zarb-e-Azb might be on the anvil. But this operation is more likely to target TTP rather than targeting all terrorists residing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. As a result, there is a possibility of the same characters resurfacing under a new banner at a later point of time. 

The scale of the Peshawar attack will draw a wedge between some terrorist groups and the military. But the military establishment is likely to resist action against any terrorist element that has a non-Pakistan focus. The entrenched Military-Jihadi Complex will continue to survive as long as the civil society remains prisoners of the dominant narrative, which has fictional characters like the "good Taliban". For now, the international community can only hope that a narrative against terrorist elements of all types gains enough strength to compete against the dominant ideological frontier: The Pakistan army. 

Pranay Kotasthane is a geopolitical analyst with the Takshashila Institution, an independent policy think tank


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