PAKISTAN: BACK TO SQUARE ONE

Lt Gen Kamal Davar (Retd)

It was indeed a carnage, rarely witnessed in recent human history, when more than 145 innocent children and their teachers were massacred by deranged monsters belonging to the terror outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) last Tuesday while the children were pursuing their studies at the Army Public School, Peshawar.

That soon after this inhuman attack, the TTP claimed responsibility for this dastardly act on the grounds of seeking revenge for the Pakistan Army’s ongoing operation, Zarb-e-Azb, against TTP terrorists in adjoining North Waziristan, should not be much of a surprise to Pakistan’s security establishment. That this merciless un-Islamic terror outfit will strive to repeat such unholy acts should be more than expected both in Pakistan, and similar strikes expected from other terror conglomerates in India and Afghanistan respectively.

That major political parties in Pakistan, including the otherwise highly anti-Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf of cricketer Imran Khan, have all closed ranks to unitedly fight the alarmingly escalating terrorism in Pakistan is indeed a welcome development for them. Equally encouraging has been beleaguered Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s declaration, after this tragedy, that the nation will combat terror in all its manifestations inside Pakistan and in the entire region, was a welcome declaration of intent. In addition, Sharif clarifying that there are “…….no good or bad Taliban” ostensibly displayed a new orientation to Pakistan’s strategy to combat terror.

Regrettably, the events of the last week has brought Pakistan inexorably back to what it has been propagating since the last many years! The release on bail of 26/11 Mumbai terror strike mastermind, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi by a Rawalpindi court (since detained once again for three months) coupled with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chieftain Hafeez Saeed’s continuing spewing venom against India has shaken the sensibilities of all Indians who grieved alongside the Pakistanis when they saw TV images of the ghastly murder of school children in Peshawar.

Why this selectiveness by the Pakistani establishment in branding terrorists, ask the millions of Indians who all had sympathized with the Pakistani public in their recent hour of utmost grief. To all of India, and so will it seem too much of the world, that Pakistan is back to square one in its fight against terrorism. If there is no good or bad Taliban can you have ‘good or bad terrorists’?

While Lakhvi has been released from the Rawalpindi prison where he was being allegedly treated as ”a state guest” and even fathered a child while imprisoned —- according to respected Pakistani journalists — it portends terror orientated activities being directed against India in the immediate future. It is gratifying to note that India’s Intelligence Bureau and the home ministry have sent intelligence advisories to the states to button up their watchfulness and security preparedness. Not only in the coming holiday season but right till US President Barack Obama’s visit to attend the Republic Day 2015 celebrations, our security establishment will have to be more than alert and proactive 24X7.

Preventive actionable intelligence, eternal vigilance and ensuring sound and speedy reactions by our security forces is the only way to ensure the safety of our citizens and strategic assets. Living in a troubled neighbourhood, we can never let our guard down. Meanwhile, India will also have to keep its other options, including the military, in readiness to raise the costs for Pakistan — state or non-state actors’ mischief against India.

India, through diplomatic channels, must convey to Pakistan firmly that we can be of assistance to Pakistan as they marshal their not so abundant resources in their fight against their domestic terror by keeping the Line of Control and the International Border with them peaceful, which by past precedent, the Pakistanis have had a propensity to violate to infiltrate their sponsored terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir. They could now divert some of these resources deployed in these areas to augment their counter-terror operations. But importantly, they must rein in the likes of Hafeez Saeed, Lakhvi, Dawood Ibrahim and Mullah Omar and ensure that no mischief directed against India is ever perpetrated by them.

India may wish to also explore the option of initiating direct talks between its military with the real power centre in Pakistan, namely, the Pakistan Army to arrive at some consensus on a common counter-terror strategy for the region. As a much larger nation, there is no harm in taking an initiative especially when the chips are down for Pakistan — that is statesmanship.

Some back-channel parleys could be initiated to drive some sense into Pakistan that more than conjuring up imaginary threats from India, it will only be more appropriate for them to look inwards and go all out to tackle the twin demons of terrorism, and equally, extremism/fundamentalism which gives birth to the former. To an extent, the dwindling civil society in Pakistan should be encouraged by India so that they can come out of the morass they have sunk into. However, all of India’s good intent is possible only if the Pakistani “deep state” changes tack drastically in order to get their priorities right to save their terribly besieged nation.

Not many Pakistan watchers and geopolitical and security analysts in India, Afghanistan and including Pakistan’s former mentor, the US, opine that Pakistan and its “deep state” will ever change, and thus continue with its myopic and self-defeating ways. Nevertheless, in keeping with the Indian ethos — as we diligently prepare ourselves to meet all security challenges to our nation —– let’s once again give peace a chance in our region.

(Lt Gen Kamal Davar (retd) was the first head of India’s Defence Intelligence Agency and Deputy Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff)