By Zamir Akram

Pakistan today is in peril. Over 10 days renewed terrorist attacks across the country have claimed more than 150 lives. Confrontation is escalating with India and Afghanistan, who are promoting terrorism and insurgency in Pakistan while accusing Islamabad of instigating terrorism against them. Their strategic partner, the US, has joined this chorus to cover up for its own failure in Afghanistan and to build up an alliance for containing China with the immediate shared objective to de-rail CPEC. Our forbearance and restraint has only encouraged greater aggression. To defeat these machinations, the time has come for us to get tough — but only through a comprehensive, calculated and calibrated response.

First, we need to put our own house in order. Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations — sectarian, ethnic, criminal — must be eliminated from its roots and branches. The writ of State must be enforced. This will not only require kinetic action but a comprehensive approach to immediately ensure peace and security while over the longer term to eliminate poverty, inequality and injustice. This will be a long haul but we can at least start by fully implementing the National Action Plan to combat terrorism. While dissent is an essential part of democracy, there should at least be consensus on national security. Petty political bickering must end now in the national interest.

Externally, we should be realistic about the nefarious designs of India and Afghanistan. Talk of friendship with India is ridiculous. Indians have never accepted the existence of Pakistan; dismembered our country and seek hegemony over the region. The best we can achieve with India is conflict management — willingness to resolve disputes without compromising our interests. Given its challenges, it is in India’s own interest to resolve differences with Pakistan.

Officially sponsored Indo-Afghan support to terrorism and insurgency in Pakistan through Afghan based TTP-IS cohorts must be reversed by force and aggressive diplomacy. We must exercise the option where required to destroy TTP-IS camps across the border if the Afghans and their American mentors are unwilling or unable to take action while also sealing the border by land mines where necessary. Denial of transit trade and expulsion of illegal Afghans are further options.

We should ask the UN Security Council to take action against Indian and Afghan sponsors of terrorism against Pakistan. We must also confront the Indians themselves with the evidence of their perfidy — which we have so far not done for reasons that are inexplicable. Indian failure to cease and desist should then justify paying them back in the same coin. Given the multiple insurgencies that are raging from Indian Punjab to the northeast, they must realise they are playing with fire.

It is important to draw a distinction between official Indo-Afghan support for TTP-IS terrorists and Pakistan’s engagement with the Taliban, which is not a terrorist group but a political force with which Kabul and Washington themselves want to engage and expect Pakistan to being them to the negotiating table.

In the much touted “Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process”, it is upto the warring Afghan parties to reach accommodation especially since they have
failed to find a military solution. Pakistan should not be held responsible for bringing the Taliban on board nor is there any chance of success of any dialogue with the Taliban as long as the US-Afghan military option continues to be used against them. We should no longer expend any more political and diplomatic capital on this thankless and pointless exercise. Let the Afghans stew in their own juice.

The new Trump administration has so far not articulated its South-Asian policy but it appears that the American establishment, especially Pentagon and the CIA, will persist with the untenable pursuit of a military solution and fighting to the last Afghan. They have also so far not recognised that the real threat to US security comes from the IS and its TTP allies rather than the Taliban who also oppose the IS and therefore, are a potential ally. Moreover, Washington does not want Beijing to break out its containment strategy, for which reason it may be covertly if not overtly supporting Indian opposition to CPEC as well as its sponsorship of the TTP-IS nexus that includes terrorists targeting China. The other reason could be to use the TTP as leverage against Pakistan to end its alleged support to the Afghan Taliban. Such an American approach is short-sighted and dangerous.

It is, therefore, time for us to be absolutely candid with Washington. Not only should we be clear that we will not use force against the Taliban as this would be against our interests but insist that the US should enforce its counter-terrorism campaign against the TTP. Failure to do so would prove US complicity with India and raise questions about Pakistan — American counter-terrorism cooperation including use of our transit routes. At the same time, we should try to engage the US in countering the IS-TTP threat from Afghanistan to the entire region, as we are already doing with China and Russia.

We should also engage with Iran and Turkey which are similarly threatened by the IS and have converging interests with China and Russia. In time, the US may come to the same conclusion since Trump has identified the IS as the principal security threat to US interests.

Ultimately, our ability to effectively counter the strategic challenges confronting Pakistan will require maintaining credible Full Spectrum Deterrence. Therefore, we must continue to make all necessary efforts to preserve and enhance our strategic capabilities, irrespective of the pressures that would be exerted against us.