Peshawar changes nothing for India
Ashok K Mehta
Of the 800 on death row in Pakistan, 300 are convicted on charges of terrorism. So far, six have been hanged. 17 others plus six sentenced by a Military Court are to be executed shortly. The Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif’s first tweet after Peshawar, ran: “Execute the 300 in 48 hours”. This is the Peshawar effect – after the most gruesome terror carnage on the sub-continent.
Peshawar has empowered Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to stem the tide of terrorism in his country. Uniformly, revulsion over the brutality prevails, ranging from righteous indignation to outright condemnation, many outing from the closet of denial with the majority agreeing that the hand that feeds the pet is now being bitten by it.
No agreement though, on good or bad terrorists, as many Pakistanis confuse it with good and bad Taliban. As the joke goes, the Army and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan-friendly Imran Khan is also called Taliban Khan. Still, one thing is clear: General Sharif will not rest till he has got TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah. Peshawar, the avowed turning point in the war against terrorism, is part of a chain reaction to tit-for-tat acts of revenge – the sacred credo of the Pushtuns.
Attacking the progeny of the military, meant to be both Machiavellian and macabre, was a cardinal sin. The demise of the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna in Sri Lanka was precipitated when it struck at the families of the army and the police. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s collapse was triggered for the same reason.
The Lashkar-e-Tayyeba’s second spike in May 2002 against an army family camp at Kaluchak was designed to provoke the ultimate response after the attack on Parliament. Peshawar aimed to elicit a horrific military reprisal, leading to huge collateral damage from air and artillery attacks. What the TTP failed to factor was the revenge and revulsion this would create among civil society. The public outcry, though, will unlikely tilt the balance of advantage as it is neither loud nor potent. In these tribal badlands revenge is cyclical.
Meanwhile the army will claim 35, 57, 67… and escalating numbers of militants killed. Many will be innocent civilians or sympathisers droned down by erred choice of revenge. General Sharif will claim intelligence and operational cooperation from Afghanistan, which he may get, but only for coordinated not joint operations against Kunar Province where some of the TTP are holed up.
Why should the Afghans cooperate when they seek revenge for the almost daily multiple attacks on Kabul and rest of Afghanistan launched by the Haqqanis, Afghan Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami – the first two sheltered and sponsored by Pakistan?
With the Americans pulling out of Afghanistan for the third time in three decades, they require the good offices of and help from the Pakistan Army to withdraw intact, just as the latter ensured that the mujahideen did not shoot in the back of the de-inducting Soviet troops. Gen Sharif’s two week-long very successful visit to the US earned that assurance for Americans and one billion dollar for Pakistan, but with a rider worth $300 million that the Pakistani Army would target the Haqqani network – the Pakistan-designated good terrorist. Pakistan’s western front is ablaze with operation Zarb-e-Azb, though in covering the flanks of the withdrawing US troops, some dilution in operations will occur.
For India, Sharif’s testament on terrorism after the Peshawar massacre is familiar stuff. First, a new national action plan to fight terrorism duly approved by Parliament would be ready by today. The previous National Counter-Terrorism Authority in which the army was represented, will probably be strengthened by networking the 30-odd intelligence agencies, presumably minus the Inter-Services Intelligence. Second, Pakistani soil will not be allowed to be used for terrorism against a neighbouring country (Iran, Afghanistan, China and India).
The former Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, had, at least twice, to ward-off Indian military offensive following the attack on Parliament, pledged to end terrorism against India ‘permanently, visibly, irreversibly and to the satisfaction of India’. This was conveyed to New Delhi by then US Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Twice later, Musharraf repeated the pledge to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but 26/11 happened. Third, Pakistan would not rest till the last terrorist was liberated from its soil. Fourth, ending the inconclusive debate on ownership of the war. It was asserted ‘this is our war’. Fifth, he removed the distinction between good and bad terrorist – whatever that means.
The national tragedy has united the political opposition and the Government, with Khan ending his 126-day long protest campaign, though he refused to name the TTP as a terrorist organisation. The military has closed ranks with the Punjabi predominant Army ostensibly galvanised into a renewed burst of operations to finish off the TTP.
Still there are doubts how committed an army that is highly Islamised, radicalised and trained to fight India, will fight brother Muslims when in the past, soldiers have willingly surrendered to the TTP and colluded with it to stage dramatic attacks on military installations. Has Peshawar altered the mindset of the embattled soldier? Hardly likely.
Further, chief cleric of Lal Masjid, Abdul Aziz, defended the Peshawar attack on television. Those who protested against him outside the mosque were booked – not the cleric, for his hate speech. Hafiz Saeed and Gen Musharraf, both blamed India for Peshawar. Security specialist Zahid Hameed said: “We will not forgive India for this atrocity.”
I recall Second Lieutenant Amjad Hameed of the Frontier Force Regiment, writing in our visitors’ book after a hefty lunch in the Officers’ Mess following the surrender at Dacca, the following: “You fought well. One day, we will take our revenge”.
My two Pakistan friends, Lt General Moinuddin Haider, who became Gen Musharraf’s Interior Minister; and Air Chief Marshal Hakimullah, who rose to be the Air Chief, used to openly warn me in 1985 at the Royal College of Defence Studies, London: “Mehta Saab, we will take badla, for your helping Mukti Bahini in the 1971 war and for Siachen.”