Why patriotic Pakistanis must channel their anger against the military-jihadi complex
It is reasonable to argue that patriotic Pakistanis are angry with the United States for conducting a campaign of drone attacks in their country, even if the intended targets of the attacks are taliban militants and if the impact on innocent civilians (via the Lowy Interpreter) is smaller than what the Pakistani media makes it out to be.
But it is entirely another thing to justify acts of terrorism—like Faisal Shahzad’s attempt to explode a car bomb at New York’s Times Square—which is what the Pakistani foreign minister did. “This is a blow back” said Shah Mehmood Qureishi. “This is a reaction. This is retaliation. And you could expect that. Let’s not be naive. They’re not going to sort of sit and welcome you eliminate them. They’re going to fight back.” Even as the US authorities try to find answers to when Mr Shahzad was ‘radicalised’, his own confession that he was motivated by anger against drone strikes is enough of an explanation.
This, however, does not absolve Pakistan. On the contrary, it is a damning indictment of the Pakistani government’s policies—that continue to this day—that have resulted in it being rightly accorded the dubious distinction of being the epicentre of international terrorism.
First, contrary to what is made out to be, Pakistan didn’t start employing jihadi groups during the anti-Soviet war in the 1980s—it has used Islamist militancy and terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy since 1947 (Read this review of Praveen Swami’s book). But it is true that it was during the anti-Soviet war that the Pakistani military establishment acquired—from the United States and others—the training, mindset, resources and infrastructure to conduct international terrorism. The United States is responsible for helping Pakistan build that infrastructure, but its roots are as old as Pakistan is. (See Sadanand Dhume’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal)
Second, not only did General Musharraf’s regime refuse to dismantle the jihadi infrastructure he failed to take any meaningful steps to deradicalise the population. The school syllabus continued to inject poison. Madrassas and mosques linked to extremist organisation continue to spew venom against the United States, Israel and India for crimes real and imagined (largely the latter). All this is amplified by the ‘free’ media of which the less said the better. Cleaning up all this would have been a Herculean task for the civilian government of Asif Ali Zardari—but it doesn’t even stand a chance now that General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has seized effective control of the levers of power.
These are ideal conditions for someone like Faisal Shahzad to acquire all that is required to set off a bomb in New York.
Finally, the United States has been forced to conduct drone strikes because the Pakistani army refuses to go after al-Qaeda and taliban militants that are holed out in its territory. These strikes would be unnecessary—at least by the United States—if the Pakistani army were to genuinely engage in a real war against the jihadis and militants that operate in Pakistan’s cities as much as in FATA.
The Pakistani army’s refusal to act against the jihadi groups, therefore, lies at the root of why patriotic Pakistanis end up getting angry with the United States. Its support for and tolerance of the jihadi groups makes Pakistan the most attractive destination for wannabe terrorists. To complete the circle, the Pakistani government and media can be counted on to deflect the blame towards the United States, setting the stage for more anti-Americanism.
The thoughtful among the patriotic Pakistanis must understand that if their country is regularly in the dock for being a source of international terrorism, it is because their government is in a deadly embrace with jihadi groups—what we call the military-jihadi complex. Destroying this complex, demobilising the jihadi groups and deradicalising Pakistani society is more in Pakistan’s interests than it is in India’s and the United States’s. For its part, the Obama administration ought to realise that building power plants in Pakistan is a poor substitute for this urgent, necessary task.