Need to treat different mullah groups differently
A strange, two-track change of narrative seems to have come to Pakistan recently. First, of course, the foreign minister’s talk of policy reset and the need to ‘clean our own house’, etc. Does he really mean that the government is admitting that the security policy of the last three decades was not such a smart idea after all?
Then there was the NA-122 surprise, where the Mille Muslim League and, even more surprisingly, Labbaik ya Rasulallah party made quite an impression. It turned out later, though in a hush-hush manner, that it was indeed the mysterious establishment trying to experiment with bringing hardliners into the political mainstream.
So what is the reset really going to be? Does it mean getting rid, finally, of some of those groups? Or does it mean bringing them closer to the central political spectrum than ever before?
To make sense of the situation, DNA talked exclusively to Lt Gen (R) Amjad Shoaib, whose comments on the matter stirred quite a storm recently.
Question: The country has been struggling with a national narrative to counter extremism, etc, for quite a while. Do you feel mainstreaming extremist, banned organisations is the narrative that the ‘establishment’ has finally come up with? Do you agree with the wisdom behind this?
Amjad Shuaib: Extremist organisations are of two types. There are organisations which have been killing Pakistanis and fighting against the state of Pakistan and other type includes those organisations which have not indulged in any act of terrorism but are blamed by India and US for terrorism in neighbouring countries. Although the Pakistan army is fighting against all those terrorist groups who are fighting against Pakistan yet in order to choke their reinforcements by preventing the ordinary civilians from falling into the hands of terrorists, we do require a counter narrative. For this purpose, certain measures have already been included in our National Action Plan.
On the other hand there are certain proscribed organisations who are blamed for sending volunteers to fight against the Indian forces in Kashmir. We know that after 2004, when Pakistan had signed a US brokered agreement with India to keep the LOC calm, these organisations have not indulged in any jihadi activity. In fact most of the militant elements within these groups either formed Punjabi Taliban or joined hands with TTP to fight against Pakistan. The saner elements within these groups, under their erstwhile leadership, changed the name and started participating in relief and welfare activities within Pakistan. To the best of our knowledge these people are not involved in any violent activity but after having been included in the list of UN designated terrorist groups the international perception about these groups is creating problems for Pakistan. Our critics should realise that we neither have any cases against them in Pakistan nor India or US have provided any evidence to prove their allegations against these groups in any court of Law. These people cannot be hanged or thrown into prisons just to please India or US. They are Pakistani citizens and it is our responsibility to divert their energies towards productive and more transparent activities. Hence certain proposals for the de-radicalisation and mainstreaming of these groups were floated which I think are still under consideration with NACTA.
Q: Why, in your opinion, has Kh Asif come under such intense pressure for acknowledging the need to “put our own house in order”? Isn’t acknowledging a problem the first step in overcoming it?
AS: In my opinion Kh. Asif’s statement is not a prudent statement particularly when we view it in the context of US allegations against Pakistan. The government of Pakistan should have demanded solid proof of the so called terrorist safe heavens from the US. The US has not levelled these allegations because there are any safe heavens in Pakistan. They have done so because they need to have an excuse to promote Indian interests at the cost of Pakistan. Moreover we have to be mindful of the fact that the US demand of do more has no end. Hence our foreign minister should have brushed aside the US allegations in a polite and tactful manner.
Q: Is the implication behind the foreign minister’s “reset of foreign policy” the same as mainstreaming banned outfits? Do you think the government intends to finish such groups off or, as hinted in NA-120, make them part of the mainstream?
AS: As far as I know, the government hasn’t yet started the process of de-radicalisation or mainstreaming these elements. Their decision to participate in NA- 120 was their own.
We must realise that Pakistan has no means to annihilate these groups. We have already imposed a number of sanctions against these groups in order to meet our international obligations under the UN charter. If we decide to adopt any tough measures against these groups then many of their workers are likely to go underground. There is also a dire possibility that they may fall into the hands of hostile intelligence agencies and start fighting against the state of Pakistan. Hence gagging or punishing these groups with tough measures is not advisable.
Q: It finally took Chinese pressure –at the BRICS summit – to get Pakistan to wake up about its security policy. How do you think our friends will feel about our plans to bring militant outfits into the political mainstream?
AS: In my opinion the Chinese have accommodated India’s stance in the BRICS joint communiqué only to oblige them in return for India’s unilateral withdrawal of forces from Doklam. At the same time, in order to soften the Indo–US nexus and also serve its economic and strategic interests, China would prefer to maintain a high level of cordiality with India. We should therefore avoid putting all our eggs in the Chinese basket. The handling of proscribed organisations will remain our internal problem as long as they stay away from suspicious activities. However Pakistan will have to adopt an aggressive policy to blunt Indian propaganda against these groups which primarily is aimed at convincing the international community that the freedom struggle in Occupied Kashmir is in fact a Pakistan sponsored insurgency.
Q: How far do you feel Pakistan’s security policy is in keeping with the requirements of the National Action Plan (NAP)?
AS: Our government has failed to fully implement the National Action Plan. National security plan includes a number of elements ranging from military strength to economic strength, availability and security of natural resources, social security, ability to fight calamities and climate change. However keeping in view the problems related terrorism our NAP, if implemented in totality, could have made significant contribution towards our National security Plan.