The South Asia Channel
In Pakistan, Playing the Blame Game
Blaming India and failed domestic policies for insecurity in Pakistan has become a habit. Instead, constructive criticism of current operations against militants needs to bring about true reform.
On May 13, six armed men on motorbikes carrying 9 mm pistols targeted a bus carrying minority Ismaili Shias to their place of worship in Pakistani city of Karachi, killing 45 people, including 16 women.
Hours later, while the Pakistani investigators were busy searching the scene for clues as to the perpetrators, and layer upon layer of government and state functionaries were releasing statements of condemnations with the proverbial resolve of tracking down the culprits, a telephone caller introducing himself as spokesman for the proscribed Jandullah group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The same day, Karachi police officials said they had found pamphlets of the Dawlat-e-Islamia, the Pakistani version of the Islamic State or ISIS, claiming that the killing was “revenge for what is happening in Iraq and Syria.”
While the killing in broad daylight of members of the Ismaili sect, one of the most peaceful sects, raises concerns about the effectiveness of the year-long police and military operation against militants in Karachi, the incident also galvanized a debate in the Pakistani media: point an accusing finger at “foreign intelligence” (meaning India) or blame decades-old policies.
The animosity between Pakistani and Indian intelligence is not new. Just a week before the May 13 attack on the bus, Pakistan’s top military commanders openly accused India’s spy agency RAW (Research & Analysis Wing) of “whipping up terrorism” in Pakistan. The blame was reiterated just a day after the attack when Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry was addressing a seminar; he said that RAW was involved in creating unrest in Pakistan.
Earlier, on May 12, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Kabul along with a high-level delegation that included top officials of the Foreign Office as well as Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif, one of Pakistan’s key points that came under discussion with the Afghan authorities was not to allow India’s intelligence agency to operate from Afghan territory against Pakistan’s interests.
Government insiders suggest Pakistan’s main concern was Indian intelligence support for Mullah Fazlullah, a Pakistani Taliban chief, who is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan’s mountainous Kunar and Nuristan provinces, and the alleged training camps for Baloch separatists in Kandahar, the southern city of Afghanistan. They say the Pakistani delegation also provided some evidence of India-provided arms to the Fazlullah-led Taliban.
Lately, Sharif and his team have started accusing the Indian intelligence of trying to sabotage the recently-signed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, which is supposed to be completed with a Chinese investment of $45 billion used to build a network of roads and railway lines from China’s western-most city, Kashgar, to Pakistan’s Arabian seaport of Gawadar.
The agreement has been under criticism from Pakistani nationalists, mainly in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, who accuse the ruling Pakistan Muslim League of changing the original route plan and diverting it towards Punjab, the home province of Sharif and most of his cabinet ministers.
Even one of Pakistan’s leading English-language daily newspapers, the News International, suggested that RAW forged the CPEC route map and provided a fake route plan to some Pakistani legislators to sabotage the multi-billion dollars project.
India, too, has been lobbing accusations at its neighbor. For years, the Indian side has been accusing Pakistan of sending Kashmiri fighters across the border besides the allegations of running training camps for the Kashmiri “mujahideen” on the Pakistani side of the border.
Pakistan’s recent release of Pakistani Zia-ur-Rahman Lakhvi — an accused mastermind of the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai — from prison caused India to send a letter to the United Nations’ al Qaeda sanctions committee.
Given the history of bloodshed, wars, and border disputes between India and Pakistan, it is simply unbelievable that spy agencies of the two neighboring countries will ever sit with ease without interfering in each other’s affairs.
Critics of the entanglements of intelligence agencies in Pakistani society are often the victims of attacks or threats.
For example, just a day before the killing of members of the Ismaili sect, an eminent figure in Pakistan’s education policy field, Bernadette Dean, abruptly left Pakistan, explaining to friends: “I have to leave Pakistan fearing for my life on the advice of family, friends, colleagues and police.” Dean, who accused a political party of unleashing a hate campaign against her, was one of the 12 members of the Government of Sindh’s advisory committee on school curricula reforms in the province.
“She was accused of being a foreigner woman who has single-handedly made changes to the curriculum and textbooks that made them secular… The truth is that she was targeted for trying to ensure that school textbooks meet the requirements of the Pakistani Constitution,” writes A. H. Nayyar, a university teacher, in the English language daily newspaper Dawn.
Article 22(1) of the Constitution of Pakistan states: “No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instructions, or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.”
Another unfortunate example occurred on April 25, when armed men shot and killed Sabeen Mehmood, director of the T2F, an organization working to provide a space for dialogue for minorities on social issues, hours after she organized a conversation on Balochistan, the Pakistani province where groups of ethnic Baloch are fighting an armed struggle for their independence from Pakistan. The Pakistani intelligence agencies accuse India of supporting the Baloch insurgency.
In a similar attack on journalist and TV anchor Hamid Mir just over a year ago, on April 19, 2014, Mir accused the Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, of involvement and the allegations led to clash between his TV channel and the security establishment.
To believe that the intelligence agency of a country that has been seen as an existential threat for decades will keep its hands off any chance to harm Pakistan is equal to living in a fool’s paradise. But it’s also necessary to consider the circumstances that help create opportunities for a foreign hand to interfere with the affairs of another country.
“Instead of complaining about the oft-repeated involvement of a foreign hand, Pakistan needs to set its own house in order first,” says defense analyst Brigadier (ret.) Saad Muhammad Khan.
The first question Pakistanis should be asking then, is how has the jihadi spectrum started operating in Pakistan and continued to grow, both in size and strength, despite numerous military operations and promises of paradigm shift in policies?
Speaking at the National Defense University on May 16, Karachi Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Naveed Mukhtar rightly pointed out vested interests, political expediencies, sponsored militancy and ethnic, sectarian and political disharmony as the factors effecting ongoing operations in the densely-populated Karachi. But one may rightly ask: What are the causes of failure in restoring peace in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas despite several operations over the past decade?
Did Pakistan really do away with the past approaches of discriminating between the “good” and “bad” Taliban and is the strategic depth policy toward Afghanistan really a thing of the past now?
When shrewd politicians and intellectuals, such as Sherry Rehman, stress the need for indiscriminate action against all groups, what people should really hear is that discriminate action is being taken against some groups. If this is true, it is better to blame oneself first before pointing an accusing finger at others.