Pakistan is now suffering from the same extremist groups that have long found support and refuge within its borders.
For years, the United States and Afghanistan have consistently asked Pakistan to detach itself from the militant groups that are operating freely inside its soil and are focused on attacking Afghan and coalition forces. Despite assurances, the country has not done enough to stop their destructive activities to date. In fact, it has been Pakistan’s policy during the last decade to allow the Taliban and other extremist groups to plan, coordinate, and execute attacks against Afghan and US/NATO troops present in Afghanistan. And after years of insurgency and insecurity, not only Afghanistan, but also Pakistan has suffered enormously from the very forces that have found support and refuge within its borders.
Whether they are the Afghan Taliban or Pakistani Taliban, the extremist groups have been able to inflict great losses on both countries. Unfortunately, until now, the strategically calculated notion of “good” and “bad” Taliban that was devised by the military establishment is still dominant within its policy circles. The idea is considered vital from the Pakistani national security perspective in order to maintain influence over those groups that are fighting abroad.
From the military’s point of view, the insurgencies that are serving its interests must be abetted and supported at all costs; particularly, the militants focused on Afghanistan and India who do not pose any harm or threat to the Pakistani government and society.
On the other hand, Pakistan’s military seeks to root out and eliminate groups such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an outlawed organization fighting to implement strict sharia law in northwestern frontier regions. Though the continuation of this policy has proved harmful for Pakistan’s domestic security as well as its international reputation, it has nevertheless remained to be the central plank of the country’s strategy in dealing with extremists groups.
Moreover, the presence of Afghan and Indian focused radical groups in Pakistan has not only tarnished the image of the state, but has also negatively impacted its relations with regional countries. With the terrorist attacks that occurred on January 2 on an Indian Air Force base in Pathankot and several high profile attacks in Afghanistan, the political relations between Pakistan and its eastern and western neighbors have once again dropped to their lowest ebbs.
Soon after the Pathankot incident, India was prompt to blame the Pakistan based militant group Jaesh-e-Mohammad (JeM) as responsible for the attacks, with the help of some certain elements in Pakistan. The JeM has been operating in Pakistan since 1990s when it hijacked an Indian plane en route from Nepal to Delhi and landed it in Kandahar, Afghanistan during the brutal regime of the Taliban.
Now with the second major strike of the JeM at an important and strategic military base, India has apparently demonstrated shrewdness by engaging Pakistan diplomatically, unlike previous occasions of threats to retaliate. Pakistan has also shown willingness to cooperate with Indian authorities on the information provided by the Indian security services to track down the perpetrators. It remains to be seen how Pakistan will demonstrate its sincere cooperation to arrest those responsible and bring them to justice.
As far as Afghan focused groups are concerned, they are actively crossing the border and carrying out attacks against the Afghan government and military targets on a regular basis. And despite the many promises by Pakistani officials, there is not any result-oriented action in this respect until now.
Furthermore, the sanctuaries of the Taliban and Haqqani Network, despite the long awaited launch of the Pakistan army’s operation Zarb-e-Azb, still remains undisturbed. The Afghan Taliban not only enjoy full freedom of movement across the country, but a strategic depth reaching as far as Karachi port for their fund raising and for establishing contacts with different associate organizations.
While Pakistan itself remains the victim of terrorism on daily basis from various extremist groups, it appears that the country has not learned its lessons yet; specifically, from playing with the same forces of radicalism that have brought nothing but immense destruction to its own people.
Among the many terrorist attacks that occurred over the past few years, the most brutal and horrific the country has ever suffered at the hand of the Pakistani Taliban was on December 16, 2014. That was when the group launched a deadly attack and indiscriminately massacred over 150 students, mostly children, in an army-administered school.
For these reasons, it is perhaps the time and certainly not too late that the policy of supporting and abetting extremist groups must confront the truth and accept the past mistakes. To this end, the Pakistani government and society as a proud nation must demonstrate a strong determination to root out terrorism and extremism in all its forms and manifestations from its soil.
It will undoubtedly help the country to regain its status as a responsible regional partner, which has been severely suffering over the past years due to terrorism. This will not only bode well for Pakistan’s own security and prosperity, but also for the regional countries such as Afghanistan and India. Certainly, it will also pave the way for more improved and constructive relationship with Kabul and New Delhi.
As a result, the three countries could embark on a new journey towards an integrated and prosperous region that has always remained the sole aspiration of its noble people.