‘To defeat jihadis, Sharif and Sharif need to unite’

Pakistan has a unique place in the global jihad. It is both a leading victim and a leading patron of the jihad. This week’s awful massacre in Peshawar is a potentially defining moment for Pakistan’s leaders; they need to make a decisive break with decades of duplicity and defeat the Frankenstein that threatens to consume them.

A quarter century ago, Pakistan and America defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan from mujahideen base camps around Peshawar.

The Cold War ended in Russia’s defeat but we can now see the global jihad also began in the Afghan war. As early as 1992, President George H W Bush wrote to then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that Pakistan was in danger of being listed as a patron state sponsor of terror because it was using the connections and tactics it had forged with the Afghan mujahideen to patronize terror in India.

Bush warned this would come home to haunt Pakistan. Bush was right. It has become a nightmare. The terror apparatus Zia-ul Haq created has gotten out of control, murdering Benazir Bhutto, attacking the country’s military headquarters, schools, mosques, funerals, churches and hotels. Sectarian violence wracks the country.

The Pakistan army has lost thousands to the war against extremism. The Taliban chose an army school in Peshawar for a reason: they want to intimidate the army leadership to give up the fight. Chief of army staff Raheel Sharif was paid back for Operation Zarb-e-Asb, the latest and most effective army counter-terror offensive against the Pakistani Taliban.

But the army still patronizes other jihadi terrorists like Mullah Omar and the Afghan Taliban, Hafiz Saeed and Lashkar-e-Taiba. These terrorists are also the offspring of the Afghan war 25 years ago; Omar was trained by the ISI in the 1980s and LeT was created to take the mujahideen war into Kashmir and India. General Sharif and his predecessors have been these jihadis’ patrons for decades. Saeed has already blamed India for the Peshawar atrocity.

Others blame Kabul. The Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban and LeT are all close allies of al-Qaida.

Both the PM and the army chief now need to make a choice. Promises are not enough, action is needed. Many will be sceptical of words for good reason. Yet, if they work together the civilian and military leadership can break decisively with all of the jihadis.

We will know they are serious when Omar and Saeed declare war on the two Sharifs. It will be a very difficult war, an epic battle that will shake the fundamental stability and survivability of a nuclear-weapon power. It will be a Pakistani fight; America and India will welcome a full-scale war on all extremists but can offer only marginal help on the battlefield itself.

The more likely alternative is more of the same — playing patron while bleeding as victim. This is the all too easy approach. Hard decisions are made half way, the old game is played like always. It may end in disaster not just for Pakistan but the world since the game is played in the most dangerous part of the world with atom bombs as the ultimate card.

This piece was originally pubished by
The Times of India