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  The Rawalpindi ruse

The Rawalpindi ruse

Published : Jan 28, 2016, 12:06 am IST
Updated : Jan 28, 2016, 12:06 am IST

Terrorism and how best to contain the challenge was the central theme of French President Francois Hollande’s three-day visit to India as chief guest for the Republic Day parade.

Terrorism and how best to contain the challenge was the central theme of French President Francois Hollande’s three-day visit to India as chief guest for the Republic Day parade. Prior to what is often billed as the world’s most spectacular and colorful parade, there was considerable anxiety among intelligence professionals about a possible terror attack in Delhi given that the French President is a high visibility target. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had threatened to avenge the death of its cadres who carried out the November 13 Paris attack and were neutralised by French security forces.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealed that soon after the Paris attack he had decided to invite Mr Hollande to the Republic Day parade as a mark of solidarity apropos the terror menace. Predictably, the joint statement issued by India and France on counter-terrorism is explicit and names the various groups that have a South Asia-Pakistan connection.

The relevant section notes: “Stressing that terrorism cannot be justified under any circumstance, regardless of its motivation, wherever and by whomsoever it is committed, both leaders asked for decisive actions to be taken against Lashkar-e-Tayabba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen, the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. Condemning the recent terror attacks in Pathankot and Gurdaspur in India, the two countries reiterated their call for Pakistan to bring to justice their perpetrators and the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which also caused the demise of two French citizens, and to ensure that such attacks do not recur in the future.” Mr Hollande commended India for its stabilising role in South Asia, particularly in Afghanistan, and its “recent initiative to launch a comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan”.

But will this attempt to resume dialogue with Pakistan yield any positive outcome when it comes to terrorism This question acquires greater relevance against the backdrop of the terror attack on the Bacha Khan University in Chardassa (January 20) and the killing of innocent students, recalling the horror that was unleashed on an Army school in Peshawar in December 2014.

That the Pakistani deep state supports certain terror groups as part of its strategic depth policy is well documented. Its origin goes back to the early 1980s when the image of a mujahideen holding the Quran in one hand and a Kalashnikov in the other became the visual symbol of resistance against the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan. Over the years, General Zia-ul-Haq honed the policy of Islamisation of Pakistan — both state and society — with active Saudi support. The inflexible Wahhabi-Salafi strand of Sunni Islam became the dominant theological denomination and the Punjabi ethnicity enabled to become the ruling dispensation in the post 1971 truncated Pakistan.

Creating and nurturing terror groups against India (LeT and JeM among others) and supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan was part of this security policy that Rawalpindi, the general headquarters of the Pakistan Army, alone controlled — much to the chagrin of the civilian leadership in Islamabad — and this arrangement was subtly endorsed by Pakistan’s principal benefactors. The United States, China and Saudi Arabia were more than aware of this Rawalpindi support-to-terror policy and accepted it as part of a complex quid pro quo to advance their own interests.

The global discourse about jihad-driven terrorism which had reared its bloody head in the mid 1990s was shaped in such a manner that Pakistan’s dubious role was excluded though the mainstream Western media and intelligence agencies were more than aware of this policy.

Consequently, a meta-narrative was created about Pakistan being in the forefront of the US-led global war against terror and this charade was maintained till the fiasco of Osama bin Laden being in Abbottabad and the perfidy of the Rawalpindi GHQ was revealed in May 2011. But even the enormity of this disclosure was glossed over by the US and its allies, and the image of Pakistan as a victim of terror was kept alive.

The Faustian bargain that Pakistan had entered became evident when the same terror groups turned against the Pakistan state and military and targeted General Pervez Musharraf. His attempt at trying to clear the Lal Masjid in Islamabad of the jihad supporting right-wing in 2007 marked the end of his tenure and over the next few years the terror groups became even more audacious — Mumbai 2008 is illustrative of this.

The terror footprint within Pakistan has no doubt grown, as Peshawar and Chardassa have demonstrated. But the selective policy approach of Rawalpindi cannot be ignored. This is what compelled then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to observe that Pakistan was “keeping snakes in the backyard and expecting them to only bite the neighbours.”

What is instructive is that notwithstanding the tragedy of Peshawar and the responsibility claimed by the local Taliban, the spin doctors in Pakistan were again seeking to pin the blame on India. The hope that Peshawar was the turning point in Pakistan’s internal battle against terror was belied and Chardassa happened. Students who did not want to, had been converted into martyrs.

The make-believe continues and the Economist noted of the two attacks: “With more imagination than evidence, Pakistani conspiracy theorists saw India behind both acts of violence on their soil,” and sagely counseled that “Pakistan must bring its Frankensteins to heel.”

This is a prescription that even US President Barack Obama reiterated. While describing the Pathankot attack as “another example of the inexcusable terrorism that India has endured for too long,” he noted that Pakistan “can and must” take more effective action against terrorist groups operating in its territory by “de-legitimising, disrupting and dismantling” such networks.

But will it do so On current evidence, this appears unlikely for the deep state in Pakistan remains tenaciously committed to its own charade that the selective approach to terror is ostensibly in their national interest. For “national” read Rawalpindi GHQ!

The writer is director, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi