Twice this week President Zardari has spoken about the root of Pakistan’s problems with religious extremism and militancy. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, the president said that the military’s erstwhile ‘strategic assets’ were the ones against whom military operations were now required. And in a meeting with retired senior bureaucrats in Islamabad on Tuesday, Mr Zardari was reported in this paper to have said that ‘militants and extremists had been deliberately created and nurtured as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives’.
The president is right, and we would add the policy was wrong then and it is wrong now. It cannot be any other way. How is it possible to rationally explain to the people of Pakistan that the heroes of yesteryear are the arch-enemies of today? The militants’ religious justifications remain the same; what’s changed is that the militants were fighting the state’s ‘enemies’ yesterday but have turned their guns on the state and its allies today.
Perhaps more than anything else impeding the defeat of the militants today is the inability of the security establishment to revisit the strategic choices it made in the past and hold up its hand and admit candidly that grave mistakes were made. Should we have ever used jihadi proxies to fight the Russians in Afghanistan? Should we have ever supported the idea of armed jihad in Kashmir? Should we have ever sought to retain our influence in Afghanistan through the Taliban? If any of those choices ever made sense, then we should have no complaints about the rise of Talibanisation in Pakistan because we created the climate and opportunity for them to run amok.
Blaming the US’s invasion of Afghanistan is no good — the first and foremost responsibility of the state is to ensure the security of Pakistan, and allowing an internal threat to create a space for itself is anathema to that idea. Whatever the catalyst, the fact remains that it was because a jihadi network was allowed to flourish inside the country that we were left exposed to its eventual wrath against us.
The fault is of course not ours alone. The US, obsessed with the Soviet enemy, happily colluded in the creation of Muslim warriors. Our Middle Eastern and Gulf allies were happy to create a Sunni army to counter the ‘threat’ from post-revolution Shia Iran. But, at the end of the day, it was Pakistani soil on which they were primarily nurtured. Because they were raised in our midst we should have always been wary of the extreme blowback we are now confronted with.