Terrorism is usually framed as an ideological conflict by the west.

Dunya News Special Report

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the demographics and nomenclature speak for themselves. As a major contributor to the dynamics of global politics, Pakistan has always been a subject of scrutiny and more than often apprehension. Is it an internal conflict? Is it the people, the establishment or the external perpetrators? Misguided zealots, political conspirators or businessmen? India, Israel or the United States of America? Religious fanaticism, opportunist miscreants, or financial vacillators? Many labels to ponder on, but one umbrella term: terrorist. How did Pakistan bring itself to the verge of international trepidation? What circumstances led the 69 year old state to implode into itself, marked crimson with the lives lost in the name of religion (?). This statement, and the question mark in the parenthesis, is the summary of all the moral, strategic, political, ethnic and armed wars that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has grown battle-worn fighting. The 180 million dwellers, irrespective of identity, religious beliefs, situation, race or caste have been victims of the broken paradigm, which never really had a glorious era to reflect on, to begin with.

Recently, Pakistan has experienced a shift in the state of affairs with the recent massacre in Lahore. Prior to this carnage, Pakistan was on the verge of achieving regional stability, owing to the persistent and noble sacrifices laid down by Pakistan’s armed forces and its people, the eradication of insurgent outfits, the exponentially growing awareness amongst the general public and the most crucial of all elements of the universe combined; literacy.

But March 27th changed the conversation.

An amusement park bathed in the blood of the innocent. Their citizenship was their ‘identity’ and that was their felony; the citizens of the state are enemies to any anti-state elements. That is a universal statement, which does not demarcate religion, ethnicity or age. Malice and detestation do not discriminate.

The world watched in horror, and Pakistan once again was the antagonist of the story; the incident was portrayed as an attack on the minorities, and how Pakistan has been home for discriminatory violence and sectarian killings. The Easter holiday was the context, the 12 innocent Christians (read: Citizens of Pakistan of Christian faith) were the highlight of the tragedy. The total headcount was 74; the seemingly arbitrary number is the number of families incapacitated. The rest of the fatalities lay, if not abandoned, but as casual fatalities in a war larger than the worth of human life.

For instance, the city of Peshawar has been burdened with more than its fair share of the consequences of this war for the past decade. According to a statistical report, 204 citizens of other religions have been killed in Peshawar in terrorist attacks. Most of these fatalities occurred at places of religious worship, Churches, Temples and Gurdwaras. The same report suggests that 1730 Muslims died in attacks waged on Mosques, in the same decade. Their felony, as stated earlier, was not what divine entity they worshipped. Their vice was the land they inhabited. Where the Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was killed, the home minister of Punjab Col Ret Shuja Khanzada also embraced martyrdom. They were two fundamentals of the establishment, not a Christian and a Muslim. The Youhanabad Christian colony massacre in Lahore was a national tragedy, retaliated to with the public lynching and the burning alive of two suspected Muslim boys. The conflict was not religious, it was moral.

Religious extremism took a new shape in Pakistan after the 9/11 attacks and suicide bombings became a norm. Let alone in 2006, there were 657 terrorist attacks, including 41 of sectarian nature, leaving 907 people dead and 1,543 injured, reported Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies.

Pakistan has received regular allegations for being the most insecure state for the minorities. However, this phenomenon is certainly based upon false data since most of the terrorist attacks are rooted in geopolitics rather than religion. "Religion is certainly a part of them, but it is not the only part,” said Manager Global Terrorism Database (GTD) Erin Miller in her case study.

The claim is similar to the one made in a 2011 report by the US government s National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC), which stated that: "In cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years."

Terrorism in Pakistan is usually framed in the international media as an ‘ideological conflict’ and the term ‘radical Islam’ is widely used to define or refer to the terrorism in Pakistan and it is implied that the minorities are unsafe in Pakistan. The leading media outlets in Pakistan also seem to play along the lines of western media to uphold their liberal image by typically crying about the plight of minority groups.

After the Lahore incident, The Washington Post’s headline read “An Easter Sunday suicide bombing shows plight of Pakistan’s Christians” and The Guardian headlined “Lahore Attack: Christian leaders express horror at massacre” whereas the list released by the Punjab Police revealed that out of 72 killed in the attack, only 12 were confirmed as Christians and the rest were evidently Muslims. The attack’s taking place on the Easter’s eve was a guarantee that it would capture the interest of international media but it is also pertinent to note that it came just days ahead of the Nuclear Security Summit. The Prime Minister of Pakistan was scheduled to attend the summit and after so many years, Pakistan seemed to be in a better position to present its case to the world. But the ‘Bloody Easter’ changed the conversation and Pakistan was no longer ‘heading towards stability’ and was back to square one as being a dangerous place for minorities. The timing seems anything but incidental.

For more than a decade, the leading media houses in the west have branded Pakistan as a nation of religious fanatics, where people with religious attachment have the power to bend the rules and dictate national policies and that the religious and sectarian minorities constantly face the wrath of religious extremism. Terrorists have killed Pakistanis indiscriminately, regardless of religion, sect, age or ethnicity. Scores of mosques have been attacked by suicide bombers, and the argument that ‘only minorities are not safe’ does not hold up very well as the statistics belie the notion that only minority groups are targeted by the terrorists.
Terrorism in Pakistan is anything but an ‘ideological conflict’. It may be an extreme form of political protest ¬which stems from the economic deprivation and social conditions. The western media portrays the suicide bomber as an exceptionally religious individual, who is driven by extreme love for religion, but the ground reality is different, the suicide bomber in Pakistan is not some ideologue who is driven by pain or passion, but merely is a programmed weapon that is only designed to explode itself.

This is an irony that in nearly all the terrorist episodes, the foot soldiers usually belong to the most downtrodden regions of the country, like of FATA and southern Punjab. These areas are basically cut off from the rest of the country and face hardest living conditions where most of the people do not have access to the stable means of livelihood.

The military and police accounts reveal that the terrorists sanctuaries busted during operation Zarb-e-Azb included some terrorist factories in disguise of Madrassahs where suicide bombers were literally being manufactured as ‘market products’ and were available for sale for a price as low as Rs. 150,000.

What the world needs to understand is that terrorism in Pakistan is complex and multi-faceted; blaming it on ‘religious extremists’ does not solve the problem but in-fact glosses over the much bigger factors which are the geo-political conditions of the region and the strategic interests of major regional actors. Keeping the bigger picture in mind, the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) faction, which claimed the responsibility of the attack, seems nothing but merely a pawn in a ‘master strategic plan’.

The capture of Kulbushan Jhadav, an Indian spy working for the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has confirmed the presence of violent non-state actors (VNSA) in Pakistan. According to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) head Lt Gen Asim Bajwa, the RAW spy was aimed at disrupting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with Gwadar as a ‘special target’. In his confession video, Jhadav claims to have been operating under the direct orders of Anil Kumar Gupta, the joint secretary of RAW. Jhadav further stated that he is a serving officer in the Indian Navy and was given the task to destabilize Pakistan through cultivating ‘anti-national and separatist’ activities from Balochistan and Karachi.

Interestingly, Jhadav started his intelligence operations in 2002 and 2003 while residing in Chabahar, Iran. At the time of capture, Jhadav possessed an Indian passport which had a ‘valid’ Iranian visa. Moreover, he entered Pakistan through the Iranian border which has caused a string of speculations regarding the Pakistan-Iran relationships.

The Indian Foreign Ministry has confirmed that Kulbushan Jhadav is an Indian Navy officer.

Cross-border terrorism has harmed Pakistan for decades, yet our situation at home is not pleasing as such. Jihadi networks have been causing security rifts since the end of the Cold War and non-state actors have been manipulating jihadi networks to cause unrest and terror across the country. However, Pakistan has been a victim of the ‘war against terror’ initiated by the United States and has launched various operations to wipeout extremism from the tribal areas, yet banned outfits in the homeland have been ignored.

In the aftermath of the Lahore blast, Pakistan Army alongside Rangers decided to initiate a military crackdown against militants and their hideouts across Punjab. Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Lt Gen Asim Bajwa confirmed that the military had already captured suspects with huge cache of arms and ammunition in areas of Punjab.

The decision to launch the operation in Punjab was taken at a high-level meeting at the General Headquarters headed by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Raheel Sharif. The operation against militants in Punjab will be implemented alongside Pakistan Rangers which will give Rangers the power to raid, interrogate and arrest suspects across the province.

Moreover, the chief of the paramilitary forces revealed that Sindh Rangers have substantial information on extremists who have been working under the instructions of India’s RAW to cause terror and havoc across the province.

Interestingly, Pakistan’s military establishment believes that Punjab police does not have the required equipment or the training to fight terrorists. Therefore, the army leadership recommended that Rangers should be given the responsibility in Punjab to track and eliminate terrorist networks that have been ignored for a long time.

In 2013, Pakistan Muslim League-N under Nawaz Sharif took power. Among the priorities was the project to cleanse Karachi from terrorism and the launch of Zarb-e-Azb. The first step to ensure this was to create a National plan to counter terrorism which was later passed as a bill from the National Assembly of Pakistan in 2013. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif initiated the operation in 2013 under the Pakistan Rangers and gave them complete autonomy to strike and eliminate any potential threats.

During the first phase of the operation, around 9000 criminals were arrested during 677 raids. The federal government faced strong opposition from the ruling party (Pakistan People’s Party) and Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). This resistance was due to the multiple raids that were conducted at nine zero, the political Centre of MQM, and the arrest of numerous people belonging to the PPP. MQM has recently been accused of having ties with India’s RAW which further adds to the complexities of the Pakistani security dilemma.

Hasan Abdullah, a well-known journalist, has shed light on the complex world of militancy in Pakistan through his research titled, ‘Consortium of Terror’. In his research, he tries to establish the fact that terror groups in Pakistan and beyond are interlinked through a complex chain of networks.

The research reveals that the consortium of terror networks and extremists is headed by four major terror networks namely, Al-Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The ‘Big Four’ of the terror groups has multiple sub-groups that act in accordance with the parent terror regimes. The sub-groups contain TTP Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Lashkar-e-Khorasan, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Haqqani Network, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Jandullah, Amsar-al-Mujahedeen and the ‘Other’ Militants.

It is extremely difficult to separate the militant groups that are working in Pakistan alone as these groups share tactics, space and resources to cause confusion. In short, they all work through co-operation and almost all of them reside in Pakistan in one way or the other.

Pakistan requires a much deeper cleansing of its ideology on terrorism alongside the eradication of militant groups. The state needs to respond to Masood Azhar and his ever present call for violent jihadi activities. The state has to question Hafiz Saeed and the ideology that the Jamaat-ud-Da’wah imposes on its followers. The curious case of Maulana Abdul Aziz and his allegiance with Daish remains unanswered as Pakistan continues its fight to attain peace and stability.