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Pakistan and terrorism

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    Pakistan and terrorism

    About terrorism and us (The News)

    Nasim Zehra
    Renewed concern is being expressed by Washington--and also by some Pakistanis--about Islamabad's link to the 'terrorism' problem. This Pakistan-centered terrorism problem, they argue, has a considerable and negative impact both within Pakistan and at the regional and international level. Periodic and scattered responses to these assertions have come from official and unofficial sources. The issue of Pakistan and so-called "terrorism" nevertheless lives on; occupying perhaps centrestage both within the context of domestic politics and foreign policy. An anatomy of the various dimensions of this issue is, therefore, necessary.

    On the issue itself, first. How do our external friends, especially Washington, state and experience the issue? The stream of American visitors who lined up in Islamabad all let Pakistan's present rulers know that Washington hopes that the government of Pakistan will take some steps to deal with what they called "terrorist" organisations like Harkatul Ansar. In addition to Harkat, Washington and other western capitals are also concerned with similar organisations and madrassas who are involved with practically or intellectually promoting armed struggle against those they believe are responsible for the oppression of Muslim people. They threaten peace in South Asia, carry out cross-border terrorism and also hurl open threats to American citizens.

    There is also a degree of impatience within Washington about Islamabad's lack of response to an issue on which Washington itself has already taken action. In its own wisdom, based to some degree on Delhi's wisdom, the American government has already declared Harkatul Ansar a terrorist organisation. The US government would like to tell its home constituencies that it has successfully advised its Pakistani interlocutor to take action against a "terrorist" group that threatens American lives.

    Significantly, there was a unanimous message that was conveyed, during the last fortnight, by the different shades of visitors who came from Washington. They included Democrats and Republicans, legislators and members of the executive and of the legislative branch of the US government. All of them wanted Islamabad to take some concrete step to demonstrate its commitment to addressing Washington's concern that Pakistani territory breeds "terrorists" who destabilise South Asia and Central Asia and also threaten the lives of Americans. These armed groups, tutoring the message and providing the means for a religiously sanctioned-armed struggle, the Americans believe are destabilizing India and are also undermining Delhi's efforts to deal with the Kashmir problem.

    Regarding the recent hijacking the message was clear. Even if the government of Pakistan was not involved in the hijacking the Americans insist that Islamabad should use its 'good offices' and seek information about the hijackers from Afghanistan's Taliban government. Americans believe the Indian position that pro-Kashmiri Pakistan-based armed groups were involved in the December 24 hijacking of Flight IC-814.

    The fact that the hijackers sought release of members of guerrilla organisations actively involved in promoting the Kashmiri right of self-determination, Americans believe, also points to the involvement of these armed guerrilla organisations in the hijacking.

    Washington's concern regarding the role that these armed groups play in Indian-held Kashmir is an understandable given Washington's own Kashmir policy. While for now Washington itself remains committed to 'containing' the Kashmir problem, these armed groups actively work against the 'containment' of the Kashmir problem. They are, therefore, committed to subverting the status quo on Kashmir; to either accepting Indian suppression of the Kashmiri freedom struggle or to conceding to the Indian demand that the Line of Control be turned into an international border between Pakistan and India.

    These armed groups, supported both by sections of the Pakistani society and by sections of the Pakistani establishment propagate a message and strategy, however controversial, are seeking solution, not containment of the Kashmir issue. Washington seeks 'containment' of these groups. The American government hopes the government of Pakistan will ban some of these armed organizations. Washington believes that such a step will practically demonstrate Pakistan's commitment to fighting terrorism. After all, some in Washington argue, Pakistan must make some concrete gestures to demonstrate that it is serious about engaging in a meaningful dialogue with Washington over issues of mutual concern. They also maintain that unless Islamabad makes some concrete gestures to address American concerns on issues of terrorism, any possibility of the American president's visit must be completely ruled out.

    As already stated, Washington is not alone in raising concerns regarding the impact of these armed groups and the madrassas. Some Pakistani commentators have consistently argued that these groups have created problems for Pakistan itself on domestic and foreign policy fronts. The charge-sheet is long and varied.

    First, on the domestic front: they have encouraged violence within Pakistani society; they have distorted the 'real' Islam ; in contrast with tolerance and unity that Islam preaches they have actively promoted a social and political environment of intolerance, division and hate within Pakistan; these groups which constitute an armed minority claim monopoly over defining for the majority what is morally, religiously and culturally appropriate for Pakistan; they actively encourage the creation of an Islamic state and polity while a secular state and polity is the answer to Pakistan's current problems; they run madrassas which, instead of imparting knowledge, required to deal with the contemporary challenges, teach religious and social bigotry, intolerance and violence to very young and highly impressionable minds; through their political philosophy and madrassa teaching they encourage irrationality and passionate hatred for those who do not agree with their definition of Islam ; they are opposed to genuine debate and instead they brainwash Pakistan's economic underclass and ensure that those who join them become wedded to notions of sectarianism.

    Similarly, on the foreign policy front, too, there is a complaint sheet against these groups: they are viscerally anti-West and want Pakistan to adopt an isolationist policy; they are instinctively anti-Washington and, therefore, oppose signing of harmless treaties like the CTBT; they have largely contributed to perpetuating hostility between India and Pakistan; they are responsible for Pakistan adopting a self-destruct position on Kashmir, Afghanistan and Central Asia; they have given Pakistan a bad name abroad and finally that had it not been for the fear of these groups the government would have, by now, signed the CTBT.

    In short, many blame these armed groups and madrassas for pressurising the Pakistani state into adopting policies and positions that are against the interest of the Pakistani people generally and against Pakistani economic, social and cultural progress specifically . Also these groups are viewed as being directly, though not exclusively , responsible for ruining the peace and harmony, within the Pakistani society. A few of the Pakistani commentators who have supported the October 12 Musharraf take-over were particularly pleased that a general who was "liberal" and "brave" enough to carry his dogs for a foreign television interview and declare that Ataturk was his ideal , would indeed deal with the jehadi or the terrorist problem head-on. In some cases disappointment has overtaken the initial optimism of these commentators. After all, what are the options available to General Pervez Musharraf or to any government to deal with the issue of Pakistan and the so-called "terrorism"?