‘Good terrorist-bad terrorist’ Policy Dogs Pakistan

Chief of Pakistan's Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) Hafiz Saeed (C) leaves after being detained by police in eastern Pakistan's Lahore (Xinhua/Sajjad) (lrz)

The involvement of highly educated terrorists in a recent attack in Karachi highlighted, not for the first time, the alarming fact that Pakistan’s “good terrorist-bad terrorist” policy has come to haunt the state and people of the troubled country…. Writes Ishaq Mohiyudeen

Chief of Pakistan’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) Hafiz Saeed (C) leaves after being detained by police in eastern Pakistan’s Lahore (Xinhua/Sajjad) (lrz)

The recent murderous attack on a senior Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Khwaja Izharul Hassan by a relatively new terrorist group in Karachi exposed more than the colossal failure of the state to contain terrorism in the country despite tall claims and a heavy cost in terms of men and money in the recent years.

Although the political leader survived the attack, the involvement of highly educated terrorists highlighted, not for the first time, the alarming fact that the state’s “good terrorist-bad terrorist” policy has come to haunt the state and people of Pakistan.

This was yet another reminder to the people and the army Generals they so blindly follow and support that incidents like the present one were clears signs of the inevitable blowback of supporting terrorist groups. The most horrendous signal, however, had come more than three years ago when more than 130 school children were massacred by terrorists in an army-run school in Peshawar.

Former Pakistani Army Chief General Raheel Sharif (Xinhua/ISPR)

There is an infinitely slow realization gaining ground among the people of Pakistan that the Generals have been hoodwinking the country in the name of fighting terrorism by allowing older terrorist groups like the Haqqani Network, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba survive, and prosper, and at the same time encouraging the emergence of new more deadlier groups from within the country whose targets are not India but the people of Pakistan and the state.

The group involved in the Karachi attack was a new one; it calls itself Ansarul Sharia Pakistan and the attacker was one Abdul Karim Sarosh Siddiqui, a former student of the University of Karachi. Another of the attacker who was killed in the cross-fire, was later identified as Ahsan Israr, a Phd holder who also taught at an engineering university. He was a former student of Applied Physics at the University of Karachi and a central commander of Ansarul Sharia.

This is not the first time that well educated persons were found to be terrorists. There have been several cases in the past when highly educated terrorists, often from engineering and medical stream, were found to be involved in dastardly attacks within Pakistan. In the Safoora carnage in which over 60 members of Ismaili community were shot dead, most of the attackers and their facilitators were highly qualified graduates from different universities. The main accused in the American journalist, Daniel Pearl, Omar Saeed Sheikh, was a graduate of the London School of Economics. Similarly, the al Qaeda IT expert Naeem Noor Khan, al Qaeda operative Dr Arshad Waheed, Time Square bombing planner Faisal Shehzad, Danish embassy bombing perpetrator Hamad Adil, and hijacker of a navy frigate at Karachi dockyard Owais Jakhrani  were all middle class educated elite.

Well-known security analyst and commentator, Amir Rana, wrote recently in Dawn that “religiously motivated radicals and militants are still operating overtly and covertly on campuses. While administrations fear radical elements and are thus reluctant to take action against them, the government is neither willing to provide any protection to the administrations nor take on such elements itself.”

The radicalisation of the campuses in Pakistan was being engineered by sectarian and terrorist groups which often operate with the complicity of the state. In most cases, the instruments of radicalization are the student wings of extremist groups like LeT. In fact, for years it has been known and reported widely in newspapers that some major university campuses like that of Punjab and Karachi have been hotbeds of extremism. The state has remained a mute witness to these developments, letting colleges and campuses churn out new cadres for their “strategic assets“. This has been an old strategy of Pakistan Army, starting sometime when East Pakistan was burning and the Generals wanted to quell the dissent through terrible means—they recruited, trained and dispatched university students to create mayhem in the eastern province.

Speaking to BBC Urdu recently, Afrasiab Khattak, a senior leader of Awami National Party, nailed the culprit squarely. As quoted in The News, the ANP leader “declared General Ziaul Haq’s jihad policy responsible for the increase in extremism in the country,” adding that at that time the state had become extremist, and it radicalised society. “How a society can be de-radicalised if the state continues running factories of radicalisation,”he asked.

In a hard-hitting editorial, The Express Tribune has been more elaborate in its scathing assessment. It wrote “religious extremism has been percolating through this society since decades, becoming increasingly blatant over time. At best, it has divided society along the lines of faith; at worst, it has been the impetus for committing murder in the name of God. Acts of terrible violence – targeted killings, lynchings and bombings, etc – have claimed tens of thousands of lives.”

The newspaper pointed that the state, instead of checking the growth of extremism in the educational institutions, and in the society as a whole, has been more keen muzzling those who have been raising their voice against such violence and state complicity. “Instead, perversely enough, the state has muzzled voices of reason, ‘disappeared’ individuals with views critical of the establishment, and demonised those professing ‘secular’ opinions.”

The editorial argued that “despite the success of the military operations against terrorist groups, almost every day continues to bring forth evidence that Pakistan’s slide towards obscurantism continues unchecked. Violent extremism is no longer the preserve of the poor and uneducated segment of society: as recent examples show, even university-educated youth are becoming agents of terror.”

The writing on the wall is becoming clearer to the people of Pakistan—they have been misled by their saviours, the Generals in khaki, and there is no easy way out of this disastrous conundrum, unless the Generals are kept in check, confined to their cantonments, reminded of their solemn pledge to protect the country, its interests and its people.