globeAsia Times Online
  January 16, 2002  

Search buttonLetters buttonEditorials buttonMedia/IT buttonAsian Crisis buttonGlobal Economy buttonBusiness Briefs buttonOceania buttonCentral Asia/Russia buttonIndia/Pakistan buttonKoreas buttonJapan buttonSoutheast Asia buttonChina buttonFront button<


Pakistan's actions will speak louder than words

By Sudha Ramachandran

BANGALORE - To destroy the serpent of terrorism, it is essential to strike at its head. However, President General Pervez Musharraf's strategy to rid Pakistan of terrorism, sectarian extremism and the "Kalashnikov culture" is striking only at the tail.

In what has been described in the media as a "dramatic U-turn", Musharraf, in a hard-hitting speech on January 12, distanced himself from terrorism "in all its forms". He came down heavily on extremist religious organizations operating in Pakistan, accusing them of misusing Islam and spreading sectarian violence. Breaking with policies of previous regimes and his own approach hitherto, Musharraf denounced the way jihad was being carried out by the extremist organizations. Pakistani territory, he said, will not be allowed to be used for terrorism.

Among the measures he announced to crack down on terrorism is the ban of the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (the two terrorist organizations India blames for the December 13 attack on its parliament) as well as three sectarian outfits, the Sipah-e-Sahaba, the Tehrik-e-Jaffria and the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat. He also announced that the activities of mosques and madarasas (religious schools) would be monitored henceforth. At least 1,600 members of the banned extremist organizations have already been taken into custody so far.

It appears from Musharraf's announcements and the ongoing arrests of extremist organizations that the Pakistani government is determined to root out terrorism from the country. However, these measures are unlikely to break anything but the tip of the iceberg.

For one, the organizations that Musharraf is cracking down on were given ample time to relocate, transfer funds and regroup. Musharraf's action against them is a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Moreover, Musharraf has refrained from targeting the brain behind the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan - the country's own intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). It was the jihadis, no doubt, who carried out the terrorist and sectarian attacks, but they were really only the foot soldiers of the ISI. In most cases, they merely carried out the ISI's orders and implemented its "grand vision". It is the ISI that has funded, armed and trained the jihadis, especially those who have over the years been exported to India and Afghanistan. Blaming the religious organizations and cracking down only on them and their infrastructure is a superficial step to tackle terrorism. The steps Musharraf has taken will therefore bring only cosmetic change.

If Musharraf's measures seem on closer examination to be half-hearted and unlikely to curb domestic sectarian violence, the impact these steps will have on tackling cross-border terrorism is far more doubtful.

In some ways, Musharraf's statements on Kashmir have undergone a change. For the first time, the Pakistani president did not describe those who perpetrate violence in Kashmir as freedom fighters.

At the Agra Summit in July 2001, he said, "What's happening in Kashmir is a freedom struggle, not terrorism." Following the bomb blast outside the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on October 1, Musharraf, while condemning the attack as a terrorist act, said that "India must realize militancy in Kashmir is a freedom fight". Again, following the assault on parliament on December 13, while condemning the act he described those who carried it out as "armed intruders". On January 12, he said that the October 1 and December 13 attacks were "acts of terrorism" and in a historic break from the past he said, "No individual or organization will be allowed to indulge in terrorism in the name of Kashmir."

At the same time, Musharraf clarified that his country's position on Kashmir remained unchanged. Pakistan, he said, would continue to give the Kashmir cause moral, political and diplomatic support.

Sections in India are willing to see his "no compromise on Kashmir" language as motivated by domestic compulsion. But few are willing to accommodate his harping on the need for international mediation, as this indicates that he continues to reject past agreements between the two countries, like the Simla Accord of 1971, where the two sides agreed to bilateralism in resolving outstanding disputes.

Ultimately what matters to New Delhi is not what Musharraf says but how he acts. Will he translate his words to action?

He has cracked down mainly on sectarian groups that pose a threat to the stability of his regime. Will he strike against groups that are engaging in terrorism in India? Will he crack down on groups based in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK)? How will he deal with groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed that are reported to have shifted base to POK?

A report in the Pakistani daily, The News, says that the banned groups have already moved their operations to POK, where authorities have decided to let them operate as pro-Kashmiri freedom political groups under new names.

Most important, will the infiltration of men and weapons across the Line of Control and the International Border into India cease? Thousands of armed jihadis from Pakistan and members of the Al-Qaeda are already in India. Will Musharraf order them to return home?

There is deep skepticism in India whether Musharraf's measures signal a real change in Pakistan's approach to cross-border terrorism. In an article in The Indian Express, Jasjit Singh, former director of the Institute for Defense and Strategic Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi, writes that skepticism at this stage is natural given the "history of broken promises and agreements by Pakistan". Besides, the fact that Islamabad backed cross-border terrorism in Kashmir "as a 'low cost option' ... has eroded hopes of rational Pakistani policy".

However, the withdrawal of legitimacy bestowed so far to terrorism as a tool of state policy in the name of Islam is a truly historic break from the past. A lot will depend on whether Musharraf carries the steps announced on Saturday to their logical conclusion.

There is a possibility that the measures Musharraf announced on January 12 are the first steps in a larger plan to root out terrorism. He might wait and see whether there is a domestic backlash before he takes steps that are more comprehensive.

For real change on the ground, Musharraf must gradually alter the anti-India core of Pakistan's domestic and foreign policy. For this he would first need to clip the wings of the ISI and purge it and the military of jihadi elements. Cracking the whip on the religious organizations alone will amount to little as long as the brains behind their operation remain active.

((c)2001 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)

Front | China | Southeast Asia | Japan | Koreas | India/Pakistan | Central Asia/Russia | Oceania

Business Briefs | Global Economy | Asian Crisis | Media/IT | Editorials | Letters | Search/Archive

back to the top

©2001 Asia Times Online Co., Ltd.

Room 6301, The Center, 99 Queen's Road, Central, Hong Kong