Why Pakistan can’t fight terrorism

Map of Waziristan, FATA und Punjab. © Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Pakistan

March 8, 2010
By Khaled Ahmed
By Khaled Ahmed

There are factors that persuade Pakistan to fight against the terrorist organisations located on its soil. There is an equal number of factors militating against Pakistan’s campaign to fight terrorism. These two contradictory compulsions taken together characterise the current scene. Because of this fault-line of intent, the determination to fight against terror is constantly undermined, leading at times to internal rifts in the institutions that decide and implement anti-terror strategies.

The persuasion to fight terrorism grows out of concern for ‘loss of territory’ and writ of the state to terrorist organisations that impede exercise of sovereignty. Terrorism undermines the ideology adopted by the state to keep the people of Pakistan united. Therefore, terrorism has to be brought under control if not altogether removed. Since 2006, also the Planning Commission has woken up to the fact that two economic functions – investments and exports – are discouraged by Pakistan’s lack of ‘soft image’, which in turn is caused by high levels of violence in society.

Non-state actors and Al Qaeda

The factors militating against the intent to fight terrorism are located within the nature of the Pakistani state. Pakistan is an ‘Islamic state in the making’- unlike Iran where a clear status of the Islamic state has been achieved through ‘legitimate’ use of coercion by the clergy. In so far, as terrorists claim to fight for the implementation of the true Islamic system (Sharia), they usurp and supersede the function of the Islamic state. The Sharia does not accept the modern state that punishes only crime (munkiraat), but not the lack of piety (marufaat). The Taliban, supported by the network of madrassas and the clergy, claim to perform both functions.

In the past, the state has used terrorists as ‘non-state actors’ in foreign policy of covert ‘proxy war’ in Afghanistan and India. It continues to do so, even after these elements have aligned themselves with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The use of fully armed non-state actors in deniable wars has tended to create multiple centres of power in Pakistan, meaning that the state has abdicated a large portion of its ‘monopoly on violence’ in the Weberian sense. Parts of the state, handling these clerically headed non-state organisations, have suffered a split from the decision-making apparatus of the state, namely the military and the intelligence agencies.

The security institutions of the state are indoctrinated to link the survival of Pakistan to the conflict with India. This gives rise to an ambivalence that undermines the fight against terrorism. There is a tendency to blame terrorism on India in the face of clear evidence that violence is being perpetrated by the non-state actors trained by the state as jihadi organisations to fight India. Psychologically, this is the most dangerous hurdle in the national effort to overcome terrorism and normalise the state. The conflict with India is embedded in Pakistan’s nationalism, based on textbooks and the message from the media, which Pakistan lacks the intellectual suppleness to remove. Anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism radiating from the Islamic world in general and the Middle East in particular muddy the water further.

Terrorism and Pakistani mind

Who are the terrorists? There is a regular stream of incoming Arab warriors that Pakistan facilitated during the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. This ‘replenishing’ stream still continues and forms the inner core of Al Qaeda located inside Pakistan. (After a rash of arrests of the Taliban leaders in Karachi and Peshawar in the first quarter of 2010, it is no longer arguable that Al Qaeda is entirely located in Afghanistan, nor in Pakistan.) This foreign ‘manpower’ injection also includes expatriate Pakistanis who no longer integrate in the Western societies where they live. Both types imbibe terrorism from clerics: expatriate workers in the Middle East are radicalised in sympathy with local populations mostly alienated from their ‘pro-West’ ruling elites; expatriate Pakistanis from Europe embrace violent worldviews owed to their alienation from the societies where they live in.

Money is a major cause behind conversion of normal Pakistanis into terrorists. Even the jihadis, whom the state used against India, were in most cases attracted to the meagre support offered by the state to help their families back home. (Most jihadi organisations were made self-financing with the passage of time.) Later Al Qaeda began to pay large sums to the affected families; and its warlord Baitullah Mehsud was allowed to accumulate enough wealth to pay Rs 6 lakh (600, 000) for each child suicide-bomber supplied from Punjab by businesslike clerics with expertise in ‘persuasion’. Reports have now confirmed that children are being forced to become suicide-bombers. Since the military is predominantly Punjabi, state ‘recruiters’ were mostly Punjabis too – Punjab leads in the support to state’s India-centrism – the jihadis have come mostly from Punjab where 60 percent of Pakistan’s population lives.

South Punjab is once again in focus as the Indo-Pak talks in the last week of February 2010 ended in a disappointing deadlock, India asking Pakistan to punish the terrorists located on its soil, and Pakistan asking India to make a move on the resolution of the Kashmir issue. The Pakistani challenge is expected to come in the shape of an increased ingress of non-state actors into Kashmir across the Line of Control. Since a large number of the non-state actors have joined Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the latter’s campaign to punish Pakistan through terrorism for cooperating with the U.S. in Afghanistan, it is going to be difficult to get a fresh crop of non-state actors out of them. The two jihadi organisations most expected to do the job – Jaish Muhammad and Lashkar Tayba – are located in South Punjab. Out of the two, the latter is less involved with the Taliban terrorism against Pakistanis, but its sympathies for the ‘Arabs fighting the Americans’ are also known.

South Punjab in focus

The foreign policy of Pakistan is in the hands of the army. The PPP government in power is too involved in its battle with the state judiciary and its rival party Pakistan Muslim (Nawaz) or PMLN to compete with the military for the running of Pakistan’s international relations, especially the ties with India. It has, therefore, joined the ‘national consensus’ against India and is promoting a revival of the Kashmir issue on the basis of the ‘jihad leverage’. In Punjab, the PMLN is securing the electoral ground for a victory in the midterm elections when they come, by aligning themselves with the Deobandi elements dominant in South Punjab. Already many of its local supporters in that region belong to Sipah Sahaba which has given birth to Jaish, the outfit that fights Pakistan’s battles with India.

The daily jihadi publication Islam (23 Feb 2010) reported that Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah visited Jhang and paid his respects at the tomb of the founder of the greatest banned sectarian-terrorist Deobandi organisation, Sipah Sahaba: Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. He led a delegation of the PMLN which also counted parliamentary secretary Iftikhar Baloch and party MPA from Jhang, Sheikh Yaqub. He visited the tombs of other Sipah Sahaba martyr-leaders like Maulana Isarul Qasimi and Allama Azam Tariq. The News (27 Feb 2010) in a report titled PMLN sees no harm in seeking banned outfit’s blessing observed: ‘A defunct sectarian organisation, Sipah Sahaba, is rearing its head again and its leaders’ participation in an election rally in PP-82 constituency, along with Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, has sent shivers down the spines of citizens here, who have seen sectarian bloodshed for over a decade before it subsided in 2002’.

Why can’t Pakistan fight terrorism? The question can be posed more clearly, if one examines the psychological dimensions of using jihadi organisations to achieve strategic objectives in the region. It has taken Pakistan a complex legerdemain of rationalisation in order to secure what has been called its ‘strategic assets’ for its power projection into Afghanistan and India. The media brainwash used to reconcile the role of the jihadi organisations in domestic and external terrorism is not seen as such by Pakistanis. The army has carried out more than a dozen operations against domestic terrorists but only the last two – in Malakand and South Waziristan – have been seen as being partially successful; the others were not even seriously undertaken. The bureaucracy was given the complicated task of reconciling the public mind to jihadi organisations killing Pakistanis: India was projected as using its ‘foreign hand’ to employ Pakistani jihadis against Pakistani citizens.

Pakistan has become ‘path dependent’ in its embrace of the doctrines of strategic depth and India-centrism. The public mind is prepared against India on the basis of textbook nationalism inculcated over the past decades; in the case of Afghanistan, the public mind is imbued with an intense anti-Americanism issuing from pan-Islamic sources. In both instances, the state encourages a schizoid national identity that ignores contradictions, so that no change in the above foreign policy doctrines is allowed. In the coming days, the unnatural alliance of Pakistan with the Western states fighting Al Qaeda terrorism will be exposed for its hollowness. Pakistan cannot carry on hating the US while receiving large annual grants from it to prop up an economy decimated by the terrorists it gives safe haven to. On the other hand, the natural alliance between the Western powers and India will mature to Pakistan’s cost because of its sound economy and its potential role in world trade.


Khaled Ahmed is a Pakistani Political Analyst and currently working as a Director at South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA), Lahore. He is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and contributing Editor of Daily Times (2001-2009). He has been in journalism for the past 30 years, starting with The Pakistan Times in 1978, The Nation in 1990 and The Frontier Post in 1992. He received Masters Degree in English Literature from Government College Lahore. He also has a Diploma of International Relations from Punjab University and a Diploma of Interpretership (Russian) at Moscow State University in 1970.