‘Pakistan is facing fundamental challenges to its capacity’

By Sahana Ghosh,

Kolkata : With Sunni militants advancing on Iraqi capital Baghdad and the twin attacks on Karachi airport, an Indo-Canadian author and expert on South Asian politics says Pakistan’s fight against insurgent groups is getting harder while the country is “not that effective” in confronting them, given the complexities and contradictions of its policies.

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Author T.V. Paul described the airport attacks as a “tit-for-tat” strategy and said the country must confront both arms of the Taliban – the Pakistani Taliban as well as the Afghan Taliban – to tackle the long-standing issue.

“Pakistan is facing a fundamental challenge to its capacity to control the Pakistani Taliban. The state tried to appease them and bargain, negotiate with them but didn’t succeed, then they use force…so its basically tit for tat attacks,” Paul told IANS at the Oxford Bookstore here on the sidelines of a discussion on his book, “The Warrior State – Pakistan in the Contemporary World.”

In the country to promote his book, the academic, originally from Kerala and who has penned 15 books, advocated the need for Pakistan to formulate a coherent counter-terrorism policy.

“The (Pakistan) civilian authority has great difficulty in developing a coherent policy…a coherent-counter terrorism policy is needed. There is the big problem of Afghanistan with the Afghan Taliban there; so Pakistan has to confront this menace …they have to go all out against both Taliban,” he said.

Earlier this month a brazen terror attack was mounted at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, in which 23 people, including 10 militants, were killed. Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the militant group, along with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack.

A second strike followed when the Airport Security Force (ASF) Academy’s camp near the airport came under attack from heavily-armed Taliban gunmen. The attackers managed to escape.

Paul elaborated: “They (Pakistan) are still keeping the Afghan Taliban as a bargaining chip for a greater influence in the post-Karzai regime. This is the challenge…how do you maintain on the one side support for Afghan Taliban and on the other hand oppose the mystic Taliban or other forces?

“And do the civilians and the military really collaborate or co-ordinate…so far they are doing it but it’s not very clear they have a coherent policy.”

Meanwhile, in Iraq, a violent campaign is being waged by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in north and northwest Iraq.

“So now, with the Iraq situation developing, the fight against these insurgent groups will be getting harder. They are getting more emboldened and the state of Pakistan is not that effective in confronting them, given the complexities and contradictions of their policies,” he said.

In the face of such crisis, India, with its investments in Afghanistan and its newly-opened dialogue with Pakistan, Paul believes, should deal with more tact. This means the Narendra Modi government should involve Afghanistan in its dealings with Pakistan.

“India has to be a bit more pragmatic diplomatically because it’s investing in Afghanistan and if Taliban again becomes a real menace, then that investment will be affected in a real way. So, India has to use as much diplomacy with Pakistan…what negotiations India is doing with Pakistan should include Afghanistan … what do you really want?

“If you want peaceful Afghanistan then let’s talk about developing a regional approach to reconstruction and individual countries,” he said.

Lauding Modi’s decision to invite South Asian leaders, including the much-anticipated meeting with Pakistani Prime Minisiter Nawaz Sharif, for his swearing-in ceremony, the author underlined the importance of policy-making as the logical follow-up of these diplomatic steps.

“It was a very good step. Inviting all South Asian leaders is good PR plus atmospherics for a government because all these countries have issues with India…to show he is willing to listen to their issues…he is doing the right thing. But what sort of policy initiatives follows this…will the dialogue with Pakistan continue, for instance?

“A big problem is that even if they start (talks), spoilers of peace can come either from India or from Pakistan,” he said, citing the example of Pakistan military’s peace spoiler in the 1999 Kargil operations after then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had travelled to Lahore by bus.

“So we don’t know what will be the reaction of those who don’t want the kind of peace that these political leaders are talking about,” said Paul.

Though India’s current diplomatic stance with Pakistan is “good”, Paul cautioned against making any provocative move.

“India has to be careful not to do anything provocative even in Afghanistan…the current policy is good I think…supporting the infrastructure building…civilian support…all the help that India is giving.

(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at [email protected])