NOT long ago, a leading Pakistan columnist warned me that if the Taliban ever came to occupy Islamabad lakhs of Pakistanis would cross into India. I did not take the remark seriously. But it made me sit up and think. After the Taliban’s 16-hour attack on the naval-air base at Karachi, I wonder if the warning needs serious attention. I am not trying to sound panicky. But we should not rule out such an eventuality.
Terrorism is what India and Pakistan should be discussing, not any other issue, however important. The Sir Creek problem, pending for years, requires an urgent solution. Yet the entire scenario has taken a different shape. The Taliban have attacked Pakistan, going beyond a bomb blast at places near Afghanistan, Wazirstan border. They have proved again, if any more proof was needed, that they can strike anywhere, even the highly-protected places, at any time. They have already hit the army and air force installations. This time, they have shown that the navy was not beyond their reach.
The killing of Osama bin-Laden may have spurred them on to take revenge. But this is not the real cause. The Taliban declared a war against Pakistan some time ago. They are only pursuing their objective. That the responsibility for the Karachi attack has been taken by the Pakistan Taliban makes the problem more serious. It means that the Taliban have spread all over the country and penetrated the intelligence agencies and even the armed forces.
No doubt, there is a glaring negligence in guarding most key installations. This is nothing new. The nonchalant attitude was apparent when the US commandos killed Osama at Abbotabad in the heart of Pakistan. Yet, the admission of lapse does not absolve those who gave the clue about Osama’s presence or those who connived at the operation.
By this time, some high ups should have been singled out and held accountable. This may not be possible because even the National Assembly and the Senate are not willing to face the fact of failure. Finding fault with the security apparatus does not amount to turning back on the armed forces. It is an open secret that the Taliban are dangerously close to nuclear weapons in Pakistan. And if their supporters are not uncovered, a catastrophe cannot be avoided.
I suspect that the oft-repeated threat by India would once again let the military off the hook, although civil society in Pakistan is increasingly reluctant to accept the bogey of India. My recent tour to Pakistan gives me the impression that people are separating the propaganda from reality. They realise that the enemy is within, not without. Their worry is that enough is not being done to tackle him because some vested interests want the Indian angle to cover up for the mistakes they make. People in India honestly believe that the integrity of Pakistan is essential for the integrity of their country.
It is heartening to see Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani presiding over a meeting where top military officers were present. Such things strengthen the hope that civil will come to have full control over the administration. However, I continue to harbour the belief that the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is a law unto itself. The ISI link in the 26/11 attacks, as revealed in the US federal court at Chicago, only reconfirms what is generally said about the outfit. The testimony of David Headley may have many holes and one should wait for the verdict before reaching any conclusion. Yet there is no doubt about the ISI being larger than life size.
When the joint session of Pakistan parliament backed the armed forces, it heard in appreciation the statement by ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha that the Pakistani forces were prepared to combat any strategic strikes by India and even had “selected the targets” in that country. He should have been taken to task by the Prime Minister for his irresponsible statement. But Gilani did not probably do so, knowing that the Army Chief General Pervez Kayani is India-centric. This should ring alarm bells in Pakistan.
However, I adhere to my earlier contention that we should retrieve Pakistan from the brink at which it is teetering. And we should make some unilateral gestures to wash out the anti-India poison from the Pakistan body politics. But is Islamabad willing to reciprocate and change the policy it has followed practically since the birth of Pakistan? What should New Delhi infer from the statement by Pakistan foreign secretary that the 26/11 is too old to be recalled? India, on the other hand, is awaiting the outcome of the trial of the charge-sheeted Pakistanis. The litmus test is the action that Pakistan takes against Hafiz Saeed, the chief of Lashkar-e-Toiba, alleged to have planned and executed the attacks on Mumbai.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s approach towards India has been different. He entered into a time-bound solution of the problems, including Kashmir, with the then India’s Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who journeyed in a bus to Lahore. However, General Pervez Musharraf, chief of the army staff at that time, had some other ideas and initiated the Kargil misadventure. Look at his own admission that Pakistan trained the jihadis to go into Kashmir. Islamabad must realise that the course it has taken so far has led it nowhere. In fact, it has lost 35,000 people at the hands of jihadis who are mere terrorists.
New Delhi has also made many mistakes. But going into the past would only deepen bitterness, not act as a balm on the pent-up anger. The future is important, more so when the US will probably reach an agreement with the “good” Taliban and begin to withdraw its forces. Maybe, the news of the death of Taliban leader Omar Abdullah has been circulated to announce to the world that Washington has completed its job of chasing Al-Qaida and the Taliban for the 9/11 attacks on the US.
America looks after its own interest while staging the drama of democracy. We in the region, both India and Pakistan, have to join hands to eliminate terrorism. How can we do so when we do not trust each other? We may be prisoners of history but we cannot build the future without purging hatred and hostility from our mind. We too can have an understanding with such Taliban who want to come into the main stream.
That takes me back to the warning sounded out by the Pakistani columnist that if the Taliban advanced in their country, lakhs of people from across the border would cross into India. New Delhi has to strengthen Islamabad’s hand, however jaundiced and military-oriented its views are. We have too much at stake in Pakistan’s viability.