The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan may be down, but it certainly is not out. Various factions of the terrorist group have launched and claimed several deadly attacks in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in the past months. January was no exception, and the TTP factions struck twice in two consecutive days; first, against a paramilitary border force and then targeting the Bacha Khan University, Charsadda in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa's agricultural heartland where Pushkalavati (the Lotus City), the capital of the ancient Gandhara empire, once stood. The attack on the ragtag paramilitary border patrol barely registered on the Pakistani media's radar, but the university assault drew in political and military leadership to the ground zero. At least 20 students and faculty perished in the most brutal assault on this institution named after one of the foremost 20th century torchbearers of nonviolence, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan aka Bacha Khan.
According to reports, a teacher, Syed Hamid Hussain, put up armed resistance to stymie the terrorist attack, or the losses could have been much worse. Pakistani military eventually neutralized the four attackers. While the TTP's main spokesman denied involvement in the ghastly attack, the outfit's splinter group, led by Khalifa Umar Mansoor, claimed the attack in a detailed video message. The director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations, Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, alleged that the assault was masterminded from Afghanistan and the attackers crossed through the Torkham checkpoint on the Durand Line, apparently after duping the Pakistani security detail there. The military spokesman stated that the attackers were receiving phone calls from an Afghan mobile number during the attack. General Bajwa later on played an audio recording of a phone call where a a terrorist leader is ostensibly calling a Pakistani reporter to claim the attack. As General Bajwa did not share the details of which cellular towers the said number was using during the call, it is hard to comment on the veracity of his claims, especially since Afghan-origin cellular SIM cards are used in tribal and some settled areas of Pakistan rather commonly.
The sooner Pakistan realizes that it is not one bad fish but a rotten jihadist ecosystem, almost exclusively of its own making, that has inflicted such incredible misery on the whole region, the better.
Nonetheless, the Pakistani military seems to have laid the blame for the Charsadda attack squarely on Afghanistan's doorstep as it has done on multiple occasions in the past. The Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif again wasted no time in picking up the phone and called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani directly. Whatever the veracity of the claims -- which have been swiftly rejected by the Afghan government -- the general's call was a curious move. The Pakistani COAS was not only completely out of line in calling a foreign head of state but in doing so he also trampled upon the civil-military relations in Pakistan. The call could have been initiated by the civilian government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, especially since the premier was scheduled to meet the Afghan president within hours in Davos, Switzerland. General Raheel Sharif clearly sought to assert his preeminence at home and abroad, painting both Nawaz Sharif and Ghani as weak leaders, and divert attention from the Pakistan army's disastrous jihadist policies and monumental failures to contain the monsters it has created. The Pakistani military leadership has claimed periodically that the TTP rump is now holed up in Afghanistan's eastern and northeastern regions and have been calling for an Afghan campaign against them. The idea seems to be to create a false equivalence between Pakistan's well-thought-out, decades-old strategy of harboring the Afghan jihadists and the ostensible presence of the TTP elements who escaped from Pakistan military operations to the unruly Afghan frontier regions where Kabul's writ is skimpy at best. The military spokesman has conveniently deflected the questions about how, if at all, the terrorists were able to cross a security checkpoint at the Durand Line between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is in line with the military's track record of shoving its own failures under the rug. For example, the inquiry report into the deadly attack on Army Public School in Peshawar that killed over 140 students, has yet to see the light of day.
It is a well-known fact that the current TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah had first escaped the Pakistani operations in Swat. He has been on the run since and has reportedly been in and out of the areas straddling the Durand Line. Similarly, scores of other jihadists escaped the Pakistani army's Zarb-e-Azb operation in the North Waziristan tribal agency. In fact, not a single terrorist ringleader has been known to have been captured in the Zarb-e-Azb operation while the identity of the some 3,500 jihadist cadres, whom the Pakistan army claims to have killed, has not been made public either. Analysts had been warning that the fanfare before the Zarb-e-Azb operation had given jihadists ample warning to flee and melt away into the population. That several jihadists potentially crossed over into Afghanistan was no surprise either. Pakistani military still sticks to its dangerous definition of the "good" jihadists who fight against the Afghan government and India and the "bad" jihadists who attack Pakistan. The problem is that the good, the bad and the ugly jihadists consort together and share cadres as well as similar sanctuaries, recruiting grounds and training facilities. Chances are that if the TTP elements are in Afghanistan, they are not exactly receiving diplomatic protocol from the Kabul government but hanging out with their Afghan Taliban counterparts. The sooner Pakistan realizes that it is not one bad fish but a rotten jihadist ecosystem, almost exclusively of its own making, that has inflicted such incredible misery on the whole region, the better.
Listening to the about 11-minute video released by the TTP thug Umar Mansoor claiming the Bacha Khan University attack, it becomes abundantly clear that jihadist terror is Pakistan's homegrown problem and a self-inflicted wound. Mansoor speaks Pashto in a dialect typical of Pakistani urban. His diction and idiom are completely free of any Afghan or tribal area language influences. He seems to be a man who has not spent enough time outside Pakistan for his language to absorb any Afghan influence. His frame of reference is quintessentially Pakistani, too. I know this how? Well, because his Pashto is no different than mine, and, like me, he grew up in the Pashtun heartland in Pakistan. According to media reports, Umar Mansoor went to school in Islamabad and then worked with his family in the port city of Karachi. The question is why did he take up arms against the Pakistani state and the army, especially if the latter too has a jihadist bend. The answer simply is that once indoctrinated to conduct jihad, individuals like Umar Mansoor remain ideologically hardwired for good. The niceties of Pakistani army's duplicitous policies where it pretends to facilitate the peace process between the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul government while continuing to host the new Taliban emir Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in the Quetta suburb of Kuchlak, are lost on the rank and file jihadists. They see even a tactical retreat as the betrayal of their common jihadist cause. What seems lost on the Pakistani army planners is that the jihadist cadres neither have an on/off switch nor do they conduct jihad in the bankers' hours only and take the weekends off. For the top echelons of the Pakistani army, jihadism may be just another tool of prosecuting foreign policy, but for individuals like Umar Mansoor, it becomes both a vocation and a way of life.
The way Pakistan is shifting blame for its jihadist blunder to Afghanistan just reinforces the concern that it is still in no mood to correct its deadly course.
Decommissioning jihadists is trickier than enlisting and unleashing them. And it is not just because of their current motivation to fight, but also because of the ideological milieu that Pakistan has created over the decades to support its jihadist venture. For 68 years of its existence Pakistan has either officially denigrated towering political figures and champions of nonviolent and secular political struggles like Bacha Khan or banished them from the educational and public discourse. In 17 years of my education -- 12 of them at a civilian school run by the Pakistan Air Force -- in Pakistan I was not taught one single line about Bacha Khan and his monumental political struggle against the British and then the military dictators of Pakistan. On the other hand, the Muslim warrior-kings like Mahmud Ghaznavi and Aurangzeb Alamgir filled the pages of our history books. The boys in my school were divided in four houses named after the Muslim warriors Khalid bin Waleed, Tariq bin Ziyad, Muhammad bin Qasim and Salahuddin Ayyubi, while the girls were in the Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Muhammad Iqbal houses. An anti-India or more specifically anti-Hindu curriculum was taught in the name of "Pakistan Studies," and it passed for secular education. I shudder to think about the curriculum of the madrassas that Umer Mansoor and his ilk might have gone through.
The attack on the Bacha Khan University goes to show that there are legions of indoctrinated Pakistanis who are willing to kill and be killed in the name of religion and jihadism, supported logistically by a larger network of fellow travelers and even bigger hordes who condone their brutal, relentless and violent jihadism. The attackers were all Pakistanis as were their accomplices. Unless the Pakistani army planners see the disastrous errors of their ways and decide to roll back both the theory and practice of their jihadist enterprise, there will likely be more attacks like the one on Bacha Khan University. The first step would be to realize "if you break it, you own it." Blaming Afghanistan for the Pakistan army's sins and dereliction may be a good excuse, but it makes for a horrible solution to Pakistan's terrorism conundrum. The way Pakistan has dragged its feet on apprehending the banned terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Muhammad leader Masood Azhar blamed for the recent attack on the Indian airbase at Pathankot, it seemed that despite the lip service to the contrary, the Pakistani brass has little or no desire to dismantle its jihadists proxies. And now the way Pakistan is shifting blame for its jihadist blunder to Afghanistan just reinforces the concern that it is still in no mood to correct its deadly course.
Earlier on WorldPost: