Shahid M Amin
SOME recent statements made by Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif have drawn international attention to Pakistan’s policy vis-à-vis Islamist extremists. On 6 September 2017, he reacted to the BRICS statement in which China had joined India and others in expressing concern about terrorist groups (Jaish-i-Muhammad, Lashker-i-Taiba and Hizb-ut-Tahrir) which have a Pakistani connection. This produced jubilation in India over a seeming switch in China’s foreign policy. However, what India ignored was that BRICS had also included TTP (Tehrik Taliban Pakistan), a hostile anti-Pakistan group, in the same category.
Commenting on China’s stance, Asif told a Pakistani TV channel that “friends should not be tested every time, particularly in the changed scenario. Instead, we should impose some restrictions on activities of elements like LeT and JeM, so that we can show the global community that we have put our house in order.” He noted that “the world is pointing fingers towards us. I am not making a political statement but telling you a fact: we will continue to face such embarrassment till the time we keep our eyes off these organizations in our country.” Asif claimed that Pakistan made a wrong decision in 1979 (when it opposed Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan) and “acted like a proxy for the entire next decade. After 9/11, we again made a wrong decision and adopted a war which was never ours.”
Asif noted that the army had done its part, but asked: “did we do our work; did we implement the NAP; did we complete the process of de-radicalisation; did we bring the activities of banned outfits to a halt or are they active and even participating in politics with changed names?” He added that Pakistan would have “to convince the world it had nothing to do with terrorism”.
Asif made another such statement on September 27 while addressing Asia Society in New York. He reminded Washington: “Don’t blame us for the Haqqanis or the Hafiz Saeeds. These were people who were your (i.e. American) darlings just 20 to 30 years ago. They were being dined and wined in the White House and now you say go to hell Pakistanis because you are nurturing these people. You cannot divorce history just to move forward. They (the militants) are a liability and it will take time for Pakistan to work its way through that.”
Asif stated that Pakistan had stood firmly with the US in the Afghan War against the Soviets “which was a wrong decision. It was a proxy war. We were used and discarded.” Asif accused the US of abandoning Pakistan in 1990s. As a result “we went to hell and we are still burning in that hell.” Pakistan was a pluralistic society but due to the Afghan Jihad “we reversed everything. Our heroes have become non-heroes and non-heroes have become heroes. In that process, our ethos was destroyed and the whole generation of my country is paying a heavy price.”
Some critics are accusing Asif of making damaging admissions about presence of terrorists in Pakistan. Actually, many of us have long lived in a state of denial. Some leaders used to say that no Muslim could be a terrorist. They asserted that Israel, India or USA must have sent agents to carry out terrorist acts in Pakistan. But this was in clear disregard of overwhelming evidence that terrorist groups were openly functioning in Pakistan. They were mainly the product of brainwashing by some misguided fanatical religious preachers, who used the cover of Islam to spread hatred and violence. Anytime a terrorist was caught or identified through DNA, he turned out to be a Pakistani, usually from our tribal areas, although south Punjab also became a hotbed of such extremism. Later on, some of us sought to divide the extremists as good or bad Taliban. But in truth, there are no good terrorists and nothing can justify terrorism. World opinion is overwhelmingly against terrorism, whatever the reason.
Our flat denials about existence of terrorists or self-serving defence of some terrorists merely damaged our credibility. The outcome is that our narrative is often not believed, for which our diplomats are made the convenient scapegoat. Our enemies have taken advantage from this situation and unleashed a relentless propaganda against us. There is no doubt that we have suffered grievously due to the stamp of terrorism imposed on us: our image has been marred. A recent survey showed that the Pakistani passport ranks the second worst in the world for international travel, with only Afghanistan behind us. But until about 1980, Pakistanis could travel anywhere without needing a visa. There must be no longer any doubt that it is in Pakistan’s own vital interest to stamp out terrorism, leaving aside what USA, India and Afghanistan are saying.
Khawaja Asif’s recall of history, however, needs to be corrected. Playing partisan politics merely distorts our judgment. We joined Afghan Jihad in 1980 not at US urging, but due to our perception that the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan represented a direct threat to Pakistan’s own security. Moreover, this occupation of a neighbouring Islamic country was illegal and immoral. This view was also held by nearly all countries, outside the Soviet bloc. Similarly, after 9/11, if Pakistan had not supported the US/NATO operation, it would have become totally isolated and even branded as a terrorist country supporting the Afghan Taliban regime. The choice was between the devil and the deep sea. However, we should have negotiated better terms for our cooperation.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.
Shahid M Amin