Pakistan needs an integrated and multi-faceted anti-terror policy

Pakistan needs an integrated and multi-faceted anti-terror policy

For Pakistan, it has been a long, slow descent into hell. The brutal, mindless mass murder of 133 children at a school in Peshawar on Dec. 16 confirms, if nothing else, that we have arrived. Much has been written and said over the past few days about the depravity and inhumanity of the attackers, but no net of words can capture just how far these people have fallen from the human norm.

How has it come to this? And what do we need to do to set things right? Three seemingly unrelated events conspired to set Pakistan on its way to perdition. The first was the OPEC-imposed oil embargo on the U.S. in 1973. By the time the embargo ended in 1974, global oil prices had quadrupled.

Petrodollars started to flood into the coffers of OPEC producers. The second event was the overthrow of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977 by the Islamic ideologue General Zia ul-Haq. Finally, the Soviet invasion of peaceful Afghanistan in 1979.

This last event was especially fateful. The cold war was raging. The Soviet move could not be left unchallenged. The United States and its allies came up with a plan. It involved launching an Islamic jihad against the Marxist infidels who had overrun a Muslim nation. General ul-Haq would lead the charge. His Islamic leaning and need for legitimacy made him the perfect candidate. The money would come from the overflowing coffers of Arab OPEC countries.

It worked. A guerilla army of jihadists trained by Americans, funded with Arab oil money and manned by Pakistanis and a motley grouping of Arabs and other Muslims was set up. And so there would be no shortage in the supply of ideologically-blinded young foot soldiers, a network of “madrassas” – religious schools – was expanded and fed a curriculum of hate.

Afghanistan, as planned, became a living hell for the Soviets. Ten years later in 1989, the exhausted Soviet Army bowed to the inevitable and left. American planners must have patted themselves on their backs at their brilliance – they had humiliated and defeated a mortal enemy without a single soldier on the battlefield and with other people’s money to boot.

The celebration was premature. When the Soviets did leave, they left behind an army of jihadists.  Trained, armed to the teeth, and imbued with religious fervor, the jihadists suddenly had no fight to fight. Armies, like air, do not like a vacuum. And so the jihadists turned their attention to other would-be enemies that they could take on. And lo and behold, it seemed to them that their erstwhile patron and chief cheerleader, the United States, may in fact be as dangerous an enemy as the Soviets. After all, was the U.S. not supporting Israel in oppressing and killing Palestinians? Was it not building military bases in the heartland of Islam – the Arabian Peninsula?

From there it was only a matter of time for a 9/11 event to occur. The jihadist monster had come back to bite its creator. Had there been a wiser man in the White House than George W. Bush, he may have sought to address the base causes of the event, rather than to match brute violence with brute violence. An opportunity to defang the monster was lost.

But what does all of this have to do with the killing of school children at the school in Peshawar? As it turns out, everything. The events of the 70’s and 80’s are at the base of all the terror that Pakistan has had the singular misfortune of experiencing since then. The Peshawar event, though incomparably egregious to anything in the past, is no exception.

There is no doubt that Cold War geopolitics and misguided U.S. policy introduced terror to Pakistan. But in the final analysis, we have only ourselves to blame for failing to take on terror as a mortal enemy to the existence of our state. General ul-Haq is long gone. Since then, moderate and liberal governments have alternated running the country.

Not one of these governments has formulated a comprehensive integrated and multi-faceted anti-terror policy. Such a policy must run the gamut of options. All state institutions and resources have to be deployed. Terrorist ideology – their particular brand of misguided Islamic thought – has to be challenged and discredited; their funding and arms supply interdicted. Their bases and control centers have to be destroyed. Special anti-terror laws that allow for swift trials must be enacted. Curricula at all madrassas have to be brought in line with normal schools. Economic development in their backward recruiting grounds must be accelerated.

But more important than all of this is leadership. Someone has to lead Pakistan and sadly, the present prime minister has shown no sign that he is up to the task.  Nations gear up for great challenges because their leaders inspire and unite them. Some prime minister of Pakistan has to get up on national TV and state in clear language that, “Terror has nothing to do with Islam, that we will no longer tolerate even an iota of terror and that we will not rest until every single terrorist has been uprooted from this land.”

And until some leader who has the respect, admiration and trust of Pakistanis does this, we will remain where we have arrived: In hell.
*Nadeem M Qureshi is Chairman of Mustaqbil Pakistan