Of dogs’ tails and leopards’ spots - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 22 December 2014

Of dogs’ tails and leopards’ spots

Major General Rizwan Akhtar, the chief of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Dec 2014

After the sickening murder of over 130 schoolchildren in Peshawar last Tuesday by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists, India has sceptically noted Pakistani declarations that terrorism must be fought without discriminating between “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists”. The crucial question is: will Pakistani anger be visited only on the TTP? Or on all groups in the lawless Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) along the Afghanistan border, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, which the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has long supported? Or will the crackdown eventually encompass Punjab-based jihadis like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) that are “strategic assets” of the Pakistan Army, meant to bleed India. In other words, will only “anti-Pakistan” groups be in the cross hairs, or will “anti-India” groups be targeted too?

Few Indians believe that Pakistan is about to shut down its long-running sub-conventional war against India. Even so, it would be strategically unwise to entirely rule out that the Pakistan army might gradually realise what the world already sees: that growing operational, intelligence and ideological linkages between radical Islamist groups make it impossible for Pakistan to defeat terrorism in FATA without simultaneously addressing it in Punjab.

Without doubt, the sceptics have powerful arguments, which are centred on the sub-continental colloquialism: a dog’s tail can never be straightened. Yet, while Indian TV anchors and analysts gracelessly repeated Hilary Clinton’s 2011 adage --- “you can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours” --- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s compassionate statement of solidarity to Pakistan left the door open for cooperation, should the Pakistani establishment choose to correct course.

So far, the naysayers are being proven right. The Pakistani military has targeted only anti-Pakistan militants in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. Visiting frontline units in Khyber on Friday, Pakistan’s army chief, General Raheel Sharif, exhorted them to finish off “the rebels”, clearly distinguishing between the rebel TTP and the obedient, pro-Pakistan LeT.

Sharif also read from a well-worn playbook by dashing off to Kabul the day after the Peshawar killings to urge Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to act jointly against militants “operating from Afghanistan”. This perpetuated the Pakistani narrative that foreign countries are responsible for all militancy in Pakistan. Singing chorus was LeT chief, Hafiz Saeed, who told baying crowds that India was masterminding and bankrolling the TTP and was behind the Peshawar killings.

On Sunday, Imran Khan’s jihad-friendly party, the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), spoke out against the jihadis, condemning “the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and all other terror groups that have unleashed their brutality on the people of Pakistan”. The subtext: “Why don’t you stick to unleashing brutality on the people of India? We don’t have a problem with that.”

If this needed unambiguous, official endorsement, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s closest foreign policy advisor, Sartaj Aziz, provided that in an interview with the BBC last month, in which he said Pakistan would not target militant groups that “did not pose a threat to the state”. Islamabad claims he was quoted out of context; most of the world believes Aziz was being unusually truthful.

What of Pakistan’s actions since the Peshawar horror? Press reports suggest that retaliatory air strikes have killed over 120 militants in FATA. Since air strikes are blunt weapons, only a few were probably militants, while the rest were collateral damage --- relatives, even children, and little fish who were with the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Islamabad has resumed executing “terrorists” on death row, with six having already been hanged and some 55 in the queue. It has emerged, however, that several of those are violent criminals, not terrorists.

Pakistani commentator Pervez Hoodbhoy argues that the killing of 132 children will hardly shake Pakistan’s conscience. He notes: “nothing changed after Lakki Marwat when 105 spectators of a volleyball match were killed by a suicide bomber in a pickup truck. Or, when 96 Hazaras in a snooker club died in a double suicide attack. The 127 dead in the All Saints Church bombing in Peshawar, or the 90 Ahmadis killed while in prayer, are now dry statistics. In 2012, men in military uniforms stopped four buses bound from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, demanding that all 117 persons alight and show their national identification cards. Those with typical Shia names, like Abbas and Jafri, were separated. Minutes later corpses lay on the ground.”

Indian scepticism is also stoked by numerous broken pledges of action. General Pervez Musharraf promised action after India mobilised its military in response to the December 2001 parliament attack. In a widely reported speech on August 14, 2012, General Ashfaq Kayani announced, “the war against extremism and terrorism is not only the army’s war, but that of the whole nation”. Nothing came of that either.

What will it take to force a crack down on Punjab-based radical groups like the LeT? Pakistani columnist, Cyril Almeida, recounts that previous army chief General Ashfaq Kayani was asked in a closed-door meeting with security experts why Punjab-based terror groups were being spared, even though the Pakistan Army knew that the fight in FATA could not be won without targeting them. Kayani’s response: that would fracture the Pakistan Army and he would not allow that on his watch.

Even so, New Delhi must be alert for signs of change in Pakistan; the associated political difficulty would force change to be slow and stealthy. Note should be taken of the immediate re-arrest of LeT operations chief and alleged 26/11 mastermind, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, after a court granted him bail. Islamabad’s attitude towards Hafiz Saeed must be similarly monitored. Earlier this month, two special trains from Karachi and Hyderabad conveyed his followers to a two-day congregation in Lahore. Any visible reduction of this government patronage would be a sure sign of change.

On Sunday, an “anti-terrorism working group”, constituted after the Peshawar attack, has finalised recommendations to strengthen Islamabad’s counter-terror mechanisms. These will now be reviewed by an All-Party Conference and the National Security Council, and might indicate changing attitudes.

Can Pakistan’s tiny (but courageous) civil society induce the government to act? Last week they staged a vocal protest outside Islamabad’s infamous Lal Masjid, branding its chief cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, a “Taliban apologist” for refusing to condemn the Peshawar attack. It would be recalled that the heroic preacher had dressed as a woman to flee the Pakistan Army’s assault on the Lal Masjid in 2007 --- a tactic emulated in 2011 by Baba Ramdev to escape a police crackdown in New Delhi. This time, the Islamabad police quickly broke up the protest. Reform: 0; Status quo: 1. 


  1. We're expecting too much from Pakistan. We can hope for it but we really expect anything from it. Pakistan is a weak nation with many cultural-ethno-religious divisions. Pak army simply cannot afford to fight at FATA and other similar areas and at the same time against Punjabi terrorist-militant factions like LET and Hafiz Said and all!

    Pakistan is sad, failed state! We Indians have quite bit of hatred for Pakistan and a feeling of enmity but there will be a very very tiny minority in India who would not want a economically-culturally stable Pakistan with a full on working democracy!

    Something like that would be totally in faovur of Pakistan as a nation and its population as well as for India, the region and the world in general.

    But none of this is going to happen!

    Pakistan is a 'mad' country with a hell-bent-dog-tail!

    Indian must always be vigilant when it comes to Pakistanis. Surly Pakistan has a civil society which might not be anti-India but it is a tiny-tiny minority and really does not matter!

  2. Why bring Ramdev into the discussion? , why the need for equal = equal. Ackthoo

  3. It's has become a devil society. Less said the better. A wounded and failed state surviving on the hatredness for India.

  4. Dear Col. Shukla,

    I have been reading your blog for some time now, I must say that your articles are well researched and thorough, far better then the sensational journalism we see today.

    Keep up the good work Sir.

    Anuj Kumar

  5. Why is India and people are foggy about Pakistani backed terrorists? India need to have a leverage to contain Pakistan ie terrorist for terrorist or get enough people in Pakistan to disrupt the network in Pakistan. Don't spend too much time analysing.Pakistan will be it's all tricks in couple of weeks for Obabama's Visit. In the mean time India should work with Afghanistan and Iran to counter the snake pit that is Pakistan.Send in the Mongoose to neutralise the snake pit..

  6. Ajai, quit clutching at the straws. Pakistan will not change - not because of the 4 wars with India, not because of the humiliation of 1971 or the J&K issue. Pakistan will not change since its DNA is Maududi's not Jinnah's. JNU jholawalas and editorials in the 'The Hindu' can indulge in their intellectual fantasies but peace with the Pakistani state is impossible. One can sympathise with the civil society in Pakistan and introduce a scheme to offer them asylum in India but nothing beyond that.

  7. It is laughable to talk about Pakistani civil society having any influence. They are more concerned about making sure that their families have one foot outside Pakistan in places like UK, US, Canada and Dubai so when the proverbial s**t hits the fan, they can get on a plane and get out. None of them believe that Pakistan has a long-term future.

    The only reason that english TV channels in India continue to roll them out on TV is because of the PLU (people like us) factor. They have no relevance in Pakistani establishment's security strategy vis-a-vis India or Punjab based terrorist groups.

  8. Yes, as always, we must be vigilant and alert. Don't know about the Pak civil society, but since you are part of the Track II bus...would be nice to know how have these retired Pak babu and babalog have responded to 'India, RSS, Modi, RAW' did the Peshawar carnage theme.

    Also, I echo the other poster...why bring Ramdev into the article. Would like to know how is he/or his actions comparable to Red Masjid mullah? Thanks!

  9. Col Ajai Shukla needs to pour some cold water on his face. He then needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Then he needs to read the points given below very clearly:

    1) It is not just the Pakistani Army that supports terrorists. Even Pakistan's civil society and political parties give support to them. Terrorist support system in Pakistan is more broad based and not just limited to Pakistani Army. In her book, Malala (who is now a Nobel Laurete) recounted how her father was on the verge of becoming a suicide bomber for one of Kashmiri militant groups)

    2) In such a scenario, Pakistan's military and political leaders cannot combat them -even if they want to. So your advice to us to watch out for a change in Pakistan's heart is just a chimera that will never be realized.

    3) Even if Col Shukla does not know it, the political and military leaders know very well that they cannot fight extremism in Pakistan. Cyril Almeida clearly explains that if Pakistani Army starts to fight religious extremism in its entirety (Punjab etc), then the army will go broke. This was stated by none other than previous COAS Gen Kayani. The only thing that they are trying to avoid is that if indeed when Pakistan implodes, then it should not be on their watch.
    4) Fact of the matter is religious extremism is embedded in the very psyche of Pakistan. Jinnah used the Islam banner to create Pakistan. Successive rulers have marched on the ideology (Liquat ali Khan, Zulfiqar Bhutto, Zia Ul Haq) to lead their country to the only logical destination of complete annihilation.
    5) If Col Shukla indeed have to give some advice to India, it is this: In Pakistan, religious extremism is going to from bad to worse to total depravity. We need to be on guard that when Pakistan goes down, it does not take India along with it.

  10. The Pakistani stance on the TTP and others has changed. Remember before TTP took over swat, they had near 80% support there. After few month of their rule, the people were sick of them and the swat operation was launched. In many cases the civilians were killing the TTP.

    The affect of this bomb attack are also going the same way. Media is already being tightened up, and going after them. The hate mullahs are being told to shut up if they value their life.

    The basic fact is that the Pakistani public has been hardened by killings and wars and once the mood of the public changes, the Taliban will find no support and be dealt with the Pakistani way, by the people who know them. This is especially so when they lose face with the public and it becomes more wide spread the support they have recieved from india, thanks to a certain Latif Mehsud.

    Question is will there be a blow back to the support india has been giving to TTP. Even USA knows that Pakistan will never tire of revenge and pay back in kind. I hope somehow we can cross this point. It may have nothing to do with Modi, but his attitude and that of his NSA makes Pakistani's think of nothing else.

  11. I think most elites in Pakistan and the officer cadre in the army are Pakjabi's who have a hatred for India and cannot seem to get over the 71 defeat. As Gen.Kayani was quoted, Pak army will never target punjabi terrorists but will go after afghan based terror groups. In fact Afghan militants do not see India as their enemy.

  12. For starters it is vital to take those Indians to task who insist on inviting the Musharraf's and Imran Khans to India to deliver whatever crap they wish to speak on the so called civil society forums.

    For now let the Aman ki Asha be a one way train. The jingoists who think its going to induce change should be encouraged to go and perform in Pakistan for now rather than we inviting them to India.

    And last but not the least ... its time to ensure the Separatists in Kashmir are booted out swiftly with no delay whatsoever.No mercy no limits. Either you are Indian or your are not. If not then you aint no friend of ours either.. %$#@ off. Rest let the pakis continue with their drama... afterall the price of 136 dead children is a couple of extra million dollars in the garb of security aid which we all know will only go to make their rich richer . Why even waste time trying to guess their intentions?

  13. Nothing is going to change ever. Old names replaced by new, old bodies by new but the soul stays that way. The more we expect change more sorrow we get. Wanna bet on it?


  14. Dear Col. Shukla,

    Keep sharing the "Biased Information" and keep spreading the hatred, This will ultimately help us in some way.
    Enjoy living in a Fools Paradise.

    Thanks you

    Hater's Death and Lover's Heaven


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