One would have thought that the absolutely horrific terrorist attack on an Army Public School in Peshawar that killed more than 140 (mostly schoolchildren) would force the Pakistan State to crack down on terror with an iron hand.
But already there are signs that nothing is going to change in the near future.
26/11 shocked the world and jolted India. Around 164 people died: A toll greater than that of the Peshawar attack. Under immense pressure from India, Pakistan finally charged Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operations commander Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi and many others and the trial began in 2012.
While the Peshawar attack took place on December 16, just two days later, Pakistan decided to release Lakhvi and the others accused on bail. What is the message being sent to the world? That you will set right a terrorist attack that killed more than 140 by releasing the accused of another terrorist attack that claimed 164?
With this move Pakistan has clearly shown that they are continuing with their good terrorist (those that help them) and bad terrorist (those that don’t) policy. There is no such thing. Every terrorist is an equal enemy to any country in the world.
Pakistani terrorists have killed more Pakistani citizens than Indian citizens. There is absolutely no guarantee that an anti-India terrorist when released will not carry out an operation that will kill Pakistani citizens.
The Pakistani leadership continues to be blind to this simple fact.
Another problem is that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) still has sympathy in Pakistan despite the public outrage. Immediately after the attack, the TTP claimed responsibility, but many Pakistani top shots refuse to name or blame it directly.
PTI leader Imran Khan has been a strong advocate of holding talks with the Taliban and was muted in his initial reactions. Nothing much will be achieved if the Pakistan leadership persists with its “good Taliban” theory.
Last month Nawaz Sharif’s advisor Sartaj Aziz had hinted that there was no point in going after terrorists that considered other countries as enemies. More 50,000 Pakistani citizens have been killed after 9/11 in terror attacks. Can they change after one more attack?
Another point to be noted is that this is not even the first claimed attack of the TTP on Pakistani soil. They have taken responsibility for the Jinnah International Airport and Minhas Airbase attacks, the shooting of Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, the attack on the Karachi naval base among many many others.
In fact the TTP has also been implicated in the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and they have been extremely active from that year. Despite that Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched only in June this year.
Things are complicated even more so by prominent personalities are obfuscating the issue by pointing fingers across the border. General Pervez Musharraf bizarrely blamed India for the attacks. While it might be routine for religious leaders and tribal warlords to spout crazy conspiracy theories,
what of a trained military man who headed a country?
26/11 mastermind and terrorist Hafiz Saeed also said the same thing. Pakistan is a country where a terrorist and a former Army Chief and President may concur on such issues. Such conspiracy theories abound in Pakistan and ensure that the actual perpetrators of terrorism are never caught.
If it’s not India, then it has to be Afghanistan. The very next day after the Peshawar attack, Army Chief General Raheel Sharif in a surprise move flew to Afghanistan and read them the riot act and indicated that Pakistan would practice “hot pursuit” into Afghanistan.
The Afghan government must be quite amused for Pakistan has been Taliban’s biggest friend for decades now.
While General Sharif’s tough move is admirable, the truth remains that TTP is headquartered in Pakistan and houses thousands of terrorists. While trying to bring both Afghanistan and India into the picture Pakistan’s own role has been obfuscated.
The cancer of terrorism has spread so badly in Pakistan that concrete hard-hitting measures are required. Nawaz Sharif announced that the death penalty would be imposed in such cases. But what difference will that make to a suicide bomber?
The real issue is that conviction rates for captured terrorists are low in Pakistan and there seems to be no remedy for that.
The average Pakistani’s fear that the Peshawar attack will become just another terror statistic will come true if the authorities do not effect a major course correction soon.
On December 19, Twitter was abuzz with the Pak Army chief ordering Nawaz to hang 3000 terrorists in 48 hours. On checking the said account https://twitter.com/pakarmychief, it was found to have been suspended.
Either ways, the news of 3000 jailed terrorists appears to be true and it remains to be seen how many (like Lakhvi and company) will be convicted and how many released.
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here.