By Anees Jillani: the News, July 24, 2007
I probably have spent all my life pleading with the relevant quarters not to support militancy, whether directed towards our eastern or western neighbour. However, I have always given a 'sermon' about bleeding the Indians and the doctrine of strategic depth when it came to supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. India did not really bleed in the nineties and early part of this decade, except that the Muslims in the Indian-held Kashmir and the foreign mujahideen waging a jihad did; the Indian defence forces nevertheless definitely also incurred a cost, both financial and a substantial human loss. A few major bomb blasts in Mumbai and Delhi also resulted in extensive damage. While the Indians bled we were not spared either and had our own share of bomb blasts coinciding with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and continuing till date. In fact, we also experienced something that the Indians did not: sectarian violence that led the factions to even kill worshippers in mosques while praying.
We may blame 9/11 for turning the tables but things had started to deteriorate prior to that. The withdrawal from the Kargil heights in 1999 was seen by many in the Indian-held Kashmir as a great betrayal and broke the back of the freedom movement that was already experiencing immense difficulties. However, 9/11 forced Pakistan to discontinue `its moral, diplomatic and political support to the freedom fighters of Kashmir'. The attack on the Indian Parliament and the consequent belligerent reaction resulted in President Musharraf making his famous January 2002 speech renouncing and denouncing all support to terrorist outfits. Several mujahideen organisations were banned following that speech.
There is no turning back and it has been our continuous fate to bleed since. The freedom fighters and the mujahideen have apparently decided to first free themselves and us from the clutches of the American sponsored rulers before turning their attention to neighbouring states. Most of these outfits have an Islamic orientation and thus also inclined to attack Shiites. The situation is thus chaotic, to say the least as the unemployed freedom fighters are constantly looking for excuses to hit at the state while the Taliban on our western borders are consolidating themselves in the tribal areas and also practice target shooting on our troops.
The most ironical part of this whole development is the sizeable support that these militants enjoy throughout Pakistan, particularly in most parts of the Frontier Province and the tribal areas. It is thus almost a `catch-22' situation in that any move to crush the militants results in gearing more public sympathy for them. The fact that the whole exercise to oppose the Islamic militants is widely seen as an American sponsored ploy does not help matters.
The Lal Masjid fiasco must be seen in light of the above context. The Indians experienced such sieges a number of times in the Indian-held Kashmir. It was now our turn to bleed. Not everybody can operate a sub-machine gun as competently and professionally as the militants did at the Lal Masjid. They were obviously trained. Where were they trained? And by whom?
Pakistan also remains one of those few countries left where one can buy machine guns, grenades and anti-air craft guns especially from the tribal areas and even from rest of Pakistan as easily if one was purchasing detergents. Our intelligence agencies most of the time know the minutest details about the personal lives of our politicians and other relevant personalities, particularly those opposed to the rulers, but cannot seem to find out how sophisticated arms reached the mosque and the madressahs. No one could even tell till the end about the estimated number of militants, students, children and women holed-up in the mosque. This is nothing short of shocking and a shame as the crisis did not erupt suddenly and had been brewing since January this year. What were our agencies and the interior ministry personnel doing all this time?
It is for history and the public to judge as to how the crisis was handled. However, it became obvious to all that the country has no force and mechanism to deal with such situations. There are special forces constituted to control such eventualities in other countries. Special committees or task forces are automatically convened in such situations. We had none and the government did not even bother to call a meeting of the National Security Council in the midst of such an embarrassing quandary. We ended up doing what we always do in such situations: rely on the military. The civilians were nowhere in the picture.
The prime minister mercifully was not on a foreign tour but the interior minister was in Rome to advise the Afghans about improving law and order in their country, while the interior secretary was in Delhi to jointly control terrorism with the Indians. It did not matter that these two key personnel of the interior ministry were not in the country.
The army is not trained to conduct such rescue missions. Patience is the name of the game in such situations while the army usually employs brute power, coupled with tactics, to crush the enemy and this is exactly what we eventually witnessed. It is not the job of the army to negotiate; however, the terms of reference for such assignments in our country are inter-mingled anyway as almost one-third of our top-most diplomats posted abroad are former military generals.
There were no professionals available to negotiate on the government's behalf and the president of the ruling party ended up being the top negotiator. The militants within the Lal mosque till the end kept complaining that they had a hard time understanding Chaudhry Shujaat on the mega-phone and asked him to negotiate face to face; they should have known better. There was no one willing and available to represent the Government of Pakistan in front of these talibs, most of whom were probably in their twenties.
The irony is that nothing has changed even after this bitter experience. The whole world was being told for the past five years that the western media was unnecessarily maligning the madressahs that were rendering immense service. The Americans were rolling in millions of dollars to institutionalise madressahs and improve their system of functioning and they were led to believe that their dollars had turned these religious schools into nothing less than regular high schools in California. However, the fact that a school in the capital of Pakistan right under the noses of our rulers and intelligence agencies was armed to the teeth goes to show the level of inefficiency of our institutions.
The problem is that the world may like to write us off and may avoid us as if we have the plague. But we remain one of the major countries in terms of population and export of terrorism if even a small segment of the populace could prove to be nightmarish for the world. And what are those opposed to militancy and freedom fighting supposed to do in these circumstances? There may be millions in this world who did not clap when the twin towers collapsed in New York but did not clap either when the Americans bombed Iraq and Afghanistan back to the Stone Age? Where do these folks fit in this era of `enlightened moderation?'
The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org