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The gathering storm

Afrasiab KhattakSouth Asia attracted international attention once again during this week but unfortunately once again it was for the wrong reasons. The news was not about double-digit economic growth, impressive social indicators or ground breaking technological innovation. The news was about nuclear saber rattling between India and Pakistan after a terrorist attack on an Indian military base in Indian controlled Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir has been in the news for the last few months because of a mass uprising by the people of the area for their rights, facing brutal repression at the hands of Indian security forces.

In view of the scale and nature of current mass uprising in Kashmir it is not difficult to conclude that there is no military solution to it. There will have to be a political solution based on the respect to the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. But the Uri terrorist attack was unfortunate not only because it resulted in loss of human lives but it also diverted attention from the mass uprising in Kashmir and brought nuclear armed Pakistan and India to the brink of war. These developments have proved once again, if there was a need for proof at all, that the scourge of terrorism not only kills innocent people directly but it can also pave ground for mass annihilation by stoking the fire of devastating wars between states. There is record for proving the fact that Al-qaida planned subversive activities for pushing Pakistan and India to war. LeT and JeM have developed an expertise for subverting Indo-Pak peace process. They have more than once successfully derailed peace process between the two South Asian neighbors by launching terrorist attacks in India after every peace initiatives by the top government leaders. The bitter fact is that Pakistani state has failed to dismantle private militias run by Let, JeM, Taliban and other outfits. The trail of person’s accused of Bombay attacks many years ago shows no sign of coming to a logical conclusion. Failure to eliminate terrorist organisations from Pakistani soil is the single most important factor responsible for growing international isolation of Pakistan. The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif deserves credit for handling the crises in a mature and serious way. By and large Pakistani media also demonstrated sobriety and responsibility in resisting the temptation of spreading war hysteria. Unfortunately the same thing can’t be said about many of the Indian media outlets.

Although the eastern front dominated the news because of growing military activities on front positions, the western front is far from quiet. Afghan Taliban, using their sanctuaries in Pakistan, are fighting a full fledged war against the state and people of Afghanistan. Quetta Shura of Afghan Taliban is an open secret and Pakistan isn’t any more in a position of plausible deniability. Haqqani network, after relocation from North Waziristan to Lower Kurram and Tall sub-division of Hangu district, is working very hard to capture some districts in the adjacent Afghan provinces of Paktia and Paktika for establishing a “liberated zone” not far away from their basis in Pakistan. Taliban war in other parts of Afghanistan is meant for spreading the energy of Afghan security forces too thin. The actual and ultimate focus of Taliban military strategy is on eastern and southern Afghanistan. It is pretty obvious that Afghan security forces can kill or capture Taliban inside Afghanistan but they can’t do much against those sitting in Pakistan and supplying fresh fighters.

The policy of pushing Afghan refugees out by force is continuing by the government of Pakistan despite opposition to this policy by all major political parties in general and by those from Pashtun areas of Pakistan in Particular. Apart from being a blatant violation of international humanitarian laws it turns common Afghans against Pakistan. Taliban indulge in terrorist activities on both sides of the Durand Line. The latest suicide attack in a mosque of Anbar sub division of Mohmand agency in which 36 innocent people mostly young people lost their lives was a grim reminder of the fact that the military operation Zarb-e-Azb has failed to bring peace to FATA Pashtuns. The way this horrible tragedy was ignored by the so-called mainstream Urdu media and government of Pakistan has reinforced the idea of Pashtuns being second-class citizens in the country. Target killing in Pakhtunkhwa remains rampant and there is no sign of relief.

Pakistan’s current Afghan policy doesn’t have even the pretension of approval from important state institutions such as parliament or the federal or provincial governments. In fact it has come under severe criticism in the Senate on a number of occasions but the deep state which is the architect and implementer of the said policy seems to be least bothered by it. On September 20 three former Foreign Secretaries and a former National Security Adviser (who also happens to be a retired general) wrote an open letter to the government based on their suggestions for “responding to a dangerous situation”. The open letter was also published in the press. In soft but clear language the experienced and respected former high state functionaries came out with sound proposals for diffusing the current crises like situations on both eastern and western borders of the county. They were particularly critical of the policy of supporting Taliban in Afghanistan. But unfortunately all such sane proposals are falling on deaf ears and a dangerous and adventurist Afghan policy that was devised by some fanatics in the security apparatus of the country during the Cold War is holding the ground. Imposing the retrogressive and obscurantist violent elements on Afghanistan through “ Jihad” as a first step to establish a Caliphate was the original objective of this policy which had certain similarities with IS. The existence of such a policy in this day and age on state level is an affront to any civilized state polity. If continued it is sure to pit Pakistan not just against Afghanistan but also against the rest of the world.

The Nawaz Sharif led civilian government has survived dangerous ambushes that came one after another but it has failed in saving the country from coming into the eye of storm after loosing control over the commanding heights of state policy. Even if the present crises is temporarily defused the country will remain in the eye of storm as long as the so called non-state actors (terror networks) are regarded “strategic assets”.

Writer: Afrasiab Khattak

The writer is a regular contributor to THE PASHTUN TIMES. He is a retired senator and a leader of Awami National Party (ANP). He tweets    @a_siab 


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