Mar 6, 2009

Terror war comes to Lahore

Shafqat Mahmood
They are destroying everything that made life normal. A game of cricket with a visiting foreign team, gave a message of well being. This made cricket an enemy. The resolve of the Sri Lankans to help Pakistan project an image of peace was heroic. This made them a target. It is about time we understood that the real enemy is within. It may be comforting to blame outsiders; and nothing can be ruled out in the murky world of spy wars. But, this cannot be an excuse to deny that we have a problem. This is not of American origin or Indian design. America began the rot by bankrolling a surrogate army to fight the soviets in Afghanistan. India raised the temperature by letting lose a reign of terror in Kashmir. But, we nurtured and nourished these non state actors as an adjunct to our normal security apparatus.What we did not consider was the cost to the country or the blow back that this will create. The power of the gun is a heady brew. Those using it become accustomed to attention and to intimidation to get their way. They were not going to melt away just because a certain politician or General said that time has come for them to go back to their shops or ploughshares. Even expecting anything like this was fool hardiness. Myths were also created to place these organizations in the mainstream of our national narrative. These are good people who will never fight the Pakistani state, we were told. Their enemy is only India and their theatre of operation the Indian occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir. Also, that they are within our control and will do as they are told. Time has shown these beliefs to be total fabrications. They have never shied from committing acts of terror within the country. From the bombing of French engineers in Karachi to sectarian wars in Punjab and now the attack on the Sri Lankan team, the footprints of these organizations are everywhere.They have reached a level of strength where they have become completely autonomous. There has been serious speculation for some time that the attack on the Indian parliament was carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammad. Pakistani intelligence operatives had no clue about it. The Mumbai attack is now recognised to be a Lashkar-e-Taiba event. The government has half accepted this and more is to come. Again, despite some reckless accusations by Indian politicians, Pakistan intelligence agencies had no advance information of it. Even later, it was only the investigation and reportedly confessional statements by some of the accused that lay bare the details of the plan. The legendary Pakistani agencies were clueless.Not being aware of operations by organizations that traditionally worked closely with them is not good for the intelligence agencies. While it creates plausible deniability, it also shows how autonomous these jihadi outfits have become. Spy games are not about mounting operations. Those are rare. Good intelligence is all about information. When available, it can help prevent the bad and encourage the good. No information means being completely out of the loop and having little ability to influence events. This is paralysis and a nightmare for the agency concerned. Ultimately, it reflects a weakness of the state. That seems to be happening in this case. There are reports on Wednesday evening, as I write this, that about five of the accused involved in Sri Lankan firing have been arrested. If these are the real people, it is possible that we may find out their true motive. But, without knowing much, I can predict that these attacks on the bus of the Sri Lankan cricket team had a fair amount to do with the arrest of LeT members and their expected trial in the near future.Horrendous as this tragic attack is in which so many policemen have lost their lives and some Sri Lankan players injured, this should be seen as test of our resolve. If we buckle under and start making appeasing noises, the terrorists would have succeeded. This is a time to keep the pressure on and show that acts of terror will not deter us from trying criminals who use our territory to wage war outside.We should also stop legitimising them by placing their acts in a context of anti-Americanism. This is what some people are doing when analysing events in FATA and Swat. The assumption is that if somehow the Americans would disappear from Afghanistan, all would be well. This is balderdash. American presence in Afghanistan has indeed created a sanctuary for some Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas but extremist elements in other parts of the country have an agenda of their own. Pamphlets have begun to appear in Lahore markets and other places essentially targeting women. They should be modestly dressed and not shop alone etc. More is likely to come. The seeds of extremism have been sown in all parts of the country. It is now almost a cliché to blame the madressah system for the spread of extremism but like most clichés it has a great deal of truth in it. Particularly in southern Punjab, the impact of the madressahs largely funded by Saudi money is huge. These alternatives of education and nourishment are sucking in thousands among the poor. They otherwise would have no option but to depend on the state school system, which is in an abysmal state. It also does not provide meals. Mundane as this may sound it is not something to be scoffed at. Unless the state is able to compete with these alternatives, the battle for the hearts and minds of the poor is lost. To create the possibility of winning, the state will first have to acknowledge internal terrorism as a serious problem. Despite much mouthing of right words, there is no evidence that a comprehensive holistic plan has been made to fight extremism. This involves, besides better policing, a combination of better services and a much better access to health and education for the poor. In other words, investing serious money into the fight against extremism is essential. It would involve modernising the police force, creating greater capacity among prosecutors and court systems, and, investing in services for the poor. It is this three-pronged strategy that will possibly turn the situation around. This hand wringing and mouthing of pious slogans by the leadership would not get us anywhere.While hopefully someone will pay attention to this, let us pause and say a silent prayer for Pakistani cricket. For many of us, it was not a sport but a passion. A cricket match would be more than a sporting contest. It was a gladiatorial fight and a social event rolled into one. Now for years to come, no one will come here. Another element of our way of life has come to an end. This is not the passing of a torch from one generation to the other. This is a paradigm shift. We are not leaving a better world behind.

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