Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lessons from a school shooting

Both houses of the Indian Parliament observed a moment of silence and passed resolutions condemning the killing of school children in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Beyond the natural empathy one feels at the cruel loss of young lives, there are some sharp lessons to be learned.

1. People should understand just how the Pakistani Army conducts its counter-terrorism operations.  I will give only an excerpt, and will raise the question where military operations have created so many internally displaced people?

From The Dawn, Karachi, December 7:
Over half a million civilians have been evacuated from North Waziristan and almost the same number of people have to leave their houses in Khyber Agency.

2. Even more important to understand is whom the Pakistani Army is (and is not) fighting.

3. Former Ambassador to the US from Pakistan, Husain Haqqani:
The savage attack in Peshawar demonstrates the futility of attacking one group of jihadis while leaving others in place. But there is still no sign that Pakistan will give up its policy of embracing some jihadis for regional influence against India and Afghanistan while fighting others.
 4. Then US Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton (via Husain Haqqani):
In October 2011, Hillary Clinton had told Pakistani officials that "you can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors." Her dire prediction that "eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard" has been coming true with considerable regularity. The senseless massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar represents a new level of atrociousness in the Taliban's behavior. Will it finally convince Pakistanis to hunt down the snakes in their backyard?
 5. The Editors of the New York Times:
The attack should help the army see the terrorist threat more clearly and strengthen its efforts to confront it or at least end support for militants in the region. But there is reason for skepticism.

Wedded to an outmoded vision of India as the mortal enemy, the army has long played a double-game, taking American aid while supporting and exploiting various Taliban groups as a hedge against India and Afghanistan, and ignoring the peril that the militants have come to pose to Pakistan itself. The extent of cooperation among those groups in the tribal areas has made that game even riskier; the Pakistani military has long provided support for the Afghan-focused Taliban, even while trying to fight the Pakistani Taliban in recent years. Intelligence experts say the army is still collaborating with the Afghan Taliban in fighting the government in Kabul.
To defeat the extremists, Pakistan will need more than a military strategy. It will need responsible governance and an acknowledgment by top leaders that they cannot contain attacks from one terrorist group while enabling another one.
 6. Bill Rogio, of the Long War Journal:

Pakistani military and government officials were quick to condemn today's attack. And while the military and government have pursued the Taliban for waging war against the state, the Pakistani establishment is in many ways responsible for the group's survival.

While the Pakistani government views the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and other jihadist groups (such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) as "bad Taliban," it treats other Taliban groups, such as the al-Qaeda-allied Haqqani Network, the Hafiz Gul Bahadar Group, and Lashkar-e-Taiba as state assets. In the words of the chief adviser to the prime minister on national security and foreign affairs, such groups are "not our problem." These Taliban groups, the so-called "good Taliban," only seek to wage jihad in Afghanistan or India - not overthrow the Pakistani regime - and thus offer Islamabad "strategic depth."

This good-versus-evil view of the Taliban, however, is fatally flawed. The so-called good Taliban shelter and support the Pakistani Taliban as well as al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups. Moreover, while the Pakistani military has launched an operation in the tribal North Waziristan area to root out the Taliban, the group would be unable to operate there without the assistance of the so-called good Taliban of the Haqqani network.

Over the next several hours and days, Pakistani officials will clamor for the destruction of the Taliban in Pakistan, as they have done after similar atrocities in the past. But destroying the Pakistan's Taliban is impossible until the leadership in Islamabad decides to end its double game of backing some jihadist groups while fighting others. Until the government decides to pursue the leaders of terrorist groups like the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba and dismantle their jihadist networks’ infrastructure, Pakistani civilians will continue pay for their leaders' duplicity in blood.
 7.  Finally, one should understand the governing ideology of Pakistan.  I don't have the time to give you the background of this quote, but it should mostly speak for itself.   This is from Mihir Sharma's review of Ayesha Jalal's latest book on Pakistan.

Here Professor Jalal tells us, in her capacity as the 21st century’s Sole Spokesman, what Pakistanis wanted from Mr Clinton in 2000: “Some reassurance from the leader of the most powerful nation on earth that redirecting energies to ‘regional peace’ would bring Pakistan solid post-Cold War dividends.” This is, in its own way, a reasonable representation of what Pakistan still wants from America and the world. It is almost tragic that even the apologetic history that Professor Jalal has offered up to that point does nothing to disguise the sheer shared lunacy of this expectation.

Peace, it is clear to the Pakistani establishment, whether “liberal” (like Professor Jalal) or Islamist or military-backed, is only worth it if America bribes you into it. It has no intrinsic value; nor do tangible benefits flow from it. That the Establishment can find justice in this view of peace even when a hundred children die is beyond tragic. And it is also too fundamentally pessimistic and illiberal a principle to underlie a national history. For any country, that is, other than Ayesha Jalal’s Pakistan.