With the killing of a Major General alongwith another officer and one soldier in a roadside bomb attack in the Upper Dir district of the restive Northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province of Pakistan, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has clearly demonstrated how serious is about negotiating with the Nawaz Sharif led government. Coming just days after the Pakistan government announced its decision to withdraw the army from KP and the release of six TTP terrorists in its custody as a ‘confidence building measure’, this attack may appear to be the most despicable act of ingratitude to any sane person. However, for those who have been following the TTP activities, this will come as no big surprise as the TTP, like any and every other terrorist outfit, has a long history of rescinding agreements.
There is no gainsaying that it was Nawaz Sharif’s over-obsession to smoke the peace- pipe with the TTP that made him overlook the inherent problems of his fixation and proceed post-haste by taking the initiative of calling for an all-party meet (APC) to ‘sell’ his idea of brokering peace with terrorists. And he succeeded, since the other political parties, though skeptical, did not wish to be seen as impediments to peace by the violence weary electorate. While General Kayani who was present during the APC alongwith his ISI chief too concurred, it was probably just to demonstrate once again that, the government and the army were ‘on the same page’ and it is obvious that, he was not as optimistic as his Prime Minister was regarding the prospects of the negotiations. Remember, he did make it a point to caution the APC about the ‘elements’ within the TTP which would oppose any reconciliation and had advised the government to ‘tread carefully’ and ensure that the talks were ‘meaningful’.
This brings us to a larger question- what makes a terrorist group so conceited that it has the gumption to challenge the writ of a government and respond to its unconditional peace overtures by attacking high-ranking army officers. Obviously, it is the fear of losing one’s power and influence, as the bottom-line of any negotiated settlement with the government would require the terrorist group to give up its weapons and eschew violence. However, a terrorist group can only adopt such a defiant and hostile attitude when it has absolute confidence that the security forces cannot subdue it militarily. And this throws up the natural question- what gives a terrorist outfit such unbounded confidence in its invincibility? The harsh reality for the arrogance displayed by terrorist outfits is that being created, nurtured and financed by powerful entities and even nation states for implementing their clandestine programmes against a hostile neighbour, terrorist outfits today are no longer a rag-tag collection of ‘misguided’ men, but well equipped ‘private armies’ enjoying State patronage!
It was the ‘ugly’ Americans, who by conscripting ‘mujahideens’ to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan under their devious programme codenamed ‘operation cyclone’, ushered in the vile concept of the ‘good militant’ and unashamedly used religious fundamentalism for rallying support. Needless to say, this served their purpose well and taking a cue from the Americans, General Zia-ul-Haq too followed suit and attempted to do in Kashmir what the Americans were doing in Afghanistan. The fall of the pro Pakistan Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the installation of the hostile Northern Alliance based government in Kabul resulted in the Pakistan army, creating another brand of ‘good militants’ to create instability in Afghanistan. However, following a ‘tit-for-tat’ policy, both India and Afghanistan took a leaf out of the ISI book of ‘dirty tricks’ by creating their own bands of ‘good militants’ and soon the entire region was engulfed in the battles, with the ‘good’ militants fighting the ‘bad’ regimes and this has landed all of us in an ‘ugly’ situation!
Even though India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are all bearing the brunt of terrorist violence and vehemently accusing the other of fomenting trouble in their respective countries, none is willing to take the first step of reining- in its ‘good militants’. To add to their woes, some oil-rich nations have also been investing heavily in the region and attempting to impose their own brand of radical Islam by providing generous support to terrorist outfits with fundamentalist leanings and this has added to the chaotic situation. However, since by wrecking havoc in a neighbouring country, each terrorist group is perceived to be ‘furthering’ the strategic interests of their ‘sponsor’ nation, the benefactors will ensure that no negotiations between their ‘good’ terrorists and the ‘bad’ regime they are fighting, succeed. Readers will recall the United Jihad Council chief and Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Sallaudin’s candid public confession that his outfit was ‘fighting Pakistan’s war in Kashmir’ and this unsavoury truth is applicable to all terrorist outfits as each of them is fighting someone else’s war somewhere else. Thus, it is not at all surprising to see the TTP behaving in the arrogant and unconcerned manner it is.
Terrorism has many other murky dimensions. Firstly, it satisfies the myopic and chauvinist aims of nations and armies by making them believe that this is a convenient way can get the better of their opponents, without getting ‘directly involved’. For nations who perceive that they are victims of externally sponsored terrorism, encouraging terrorism against the ‘culprit’ nations is considered a morally justified and befitting practical response of ‘paying back’ in the same coin. The next issue is the close relationship which terrorism shares with finances. There is no doubt that a colossal amount of money is required to maintain these ‘private armies’ and these are met through ‘secret’ government funds of respective nations and as these are meant for financing extremely ‘hush-hush’ operations, they do not come under the purview of public disclosures or audit.
Since the expenditure of ‘secret’ funds is exempt from scrutiny, it provides governments an easy and ‘safe’ source of money to finance shady political deals. This was more than evident during the Mehran Bank scandal in which the Pakistan government in collusion with the ISI had diverted huge amounts from ‘secret’ funds for political purposes, making an exasperated Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry hearing the case remark, “Secret funds are meant to be used for national interest, not for being used against democracy.” Moreover, for the bureaucrats and intelligence agency officers who control and handle its expenditure, ‘secret’ funds offer a reasonable scope for financing extensive foreign tours and meeting other lavish expenditures under the garb of ‘secret missions’. So, it suits the bureaucrats and sleuths to create an imaginary threat where none exists merely to justify their existence and make out a strong case for the requirement of ‘secret’ funds. It is also in the government’s motivated interest to make liberal allotments of these funds, as it provides them with a source of unlimited money that does not have to be accounted for.
Thus, while nations continue to play the ‘cloak and dagger’ games against each other, it is ultimately the common man who bears the brunt of these ‘sponsored’ terrorist activities. It is time that India, Pakistan and Afghanistan realised that promoting terrorism in each other’s country is a recipe for ‘mutually assured destruction’ as in this covert game of senseless violence, everyone loses and it is only the terrorist who not only wins, but also emerges ever stronger! So, the time has come for our leaders and Generals to shed their parochial inhibitions, sit down together and sincerely resolve to put an end to this senseless game which is taking a heavy toll on their people and retarding national developmental activities. But will rationality be able to overcome our deep-rooted suspicions and prejudices? Your guess will be as good as mine!