Michael KreponPakistan’s Trials

Update: The “read more” link should work – The Wonktern

Even for a nation accustomed to severe trials, what happened in Peshawar on December 16th was unbearable. Pakistani children, mostly belonging to military families, along with their teachers, were gunned down with automatic weapons held by nihilists posing as religious zealots. Another ring of Dante’s Inferno reached — beyond murdering health care workers trying to inoculate children from polio.

Conspiracies occlude reality in Pakistan. Zealots still given air time tell viewers not to believe the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s press release admitting responsibility for slaughter. Also disregard the group photos of stalwart child-killers. Apologists continue to say it was because of the Americans. Or the drone strikes. Or the Indians, Israelis, Uzbeks, or Arabs. At least Imran Khan, the most popular politician in Pakistan at present, and a former apologist for the TTP, has now pinned responsibility where it belongs. As has Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Party.

The Peshawar tragedy has given impetus to a long-delayed action plan against terrorism. Military courts will hear terror cases and capital punishment has been resumed. The first executions were of those attempting to kill President/General Pervez Musharraf and those involved in storming General Headquarters. Other key elements of the National Action Plan, as laid out in a government release on December 24th, include:

  • A commitment to ensure that no armed militias are allowed to function in the country
  • Strengthening and activation of the National Counter-Terrorism Authority
  • Countering hate speech and extremist material
  • Choking financing for terrorists and terrorist organizations
  • Ensuring against re-emergence of proscribed organizations
  • Establishing and deploying a dedicated counter-terrorism force
  • Taking effective steps against religious persecution
  • Registration and regulation of madrassas
  • Ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organizations through print and electronic media
  • Administrative and development reforms in Federally Administered Tribal Areas with immediate focus on return of internally displaced persons
  • Dismantling communication networks of terrorist organizations
  • Tangible measures against abuse of internet and social media for terrorism
  • Zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab
  • Taking the ongoing operation in Karachi to its logical conclusion
  • Empowering Balochistan government for political reconciliation with complete ownership by all stakeholders
  • Dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists
  • Formulation of a comprehensive policy to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees, beginning with registration of all unregistered illegal refugees
  • Revamping and reforming the criminal justice system, to strengthen counter-terrorism departments including granting of powers to the provincial Criminal Investigation Departments to intercept terrorist communications


Pakistan’s future depends on implementing this long-overdue agenda. So, too, do the reduction of nuclear dangers and normalization of relations with India and Afghanistan, held hostage by Jihadi groups finding safe havens in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif, who sleep-walked through the first year of his third try as Prime Minister, now has a chance to redeem himself and his office.

The challenges are immense, commensurate to the errors in judgment that preceded them. Rawalpindi doubled down on militant Islamic groups after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, and is now living with the consequences. Momentously bad national security decisions always exact terrible downstream consequences – a dynamic to which U.S. observers can relate.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States are working more collaboratively than ever to deal with the TTP on both sides of the Durand Line. Will they also work together against the Afghan Taliban? Pakistan government and military leaders now repeatedly assert that there will be no distinction between “good” jihadis and “bad” jihadis. National security adviser Sartaj Aziz, during an unguarded moment in an interview with BBC Urdu on November 18th, spoke otherwise: “Why should Pakistan target those who do not pose any threat to its security? The enemies of America have become enemies of Pakistan for no reason.”

Everyone will be able to tell the truth about Pakistan’s ties to the Afghan Taliban in the months ahead – by what Pakistan’s security forces do and what they don’t do. Skepticism is warranted until proven otherwise.

And then there’s the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Three weeks before the mass execution of school children, Hafiz Saeed, the head of the Lashkar — rebranded as the Jamaat ud-Duwa — convened a massive public rally in an honored public square commemorating the path to an independent Pakistan. He rode to the event on a groaning white steed. No government official or security agency dared impede this rally. Hafiz’s relative, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, collared as the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai massacre, was granted bail from gentle custody only one day after the Peshawar slaughter, along with another declaration by Nawaz of Pakistan’s enduring enmity against extremist violence. The state immediately acted to extend custody after this embarrassing juxtaposition, but Pakistan’s judiciary is just not able to deal with those who carry out mass-casualty attacks against India. No fewer than seven judges have sat on the hot seat during unhurried judicial proceedings against Lakhvi.

How, then, will Pakistan implement its new zero-tolerance policy for extremism in the Punjab, where the Lashkar maintains its base? Concerns raised during a recent trip to Pakistan about the LeT were met with silence, or with the oblique rejoinder that its parent group, the Jamaat ud-Duwa, engages in many social welfare programs.

Taking on the TTP is now job one; if there is a game plan to deal seriatim with the ISI’s deadly offspring, the LeT will be last in line. For now, Pakistan is the recipient of the world’s condolences. If the LeT carries out another mass slaughter in India, triggering a nuclear-tinged crisis, condolences will be replaced by condemnation.


  1. Jonah Speaks (History)

    “nihilists posing as religious zealots” – This sentiment is held by most of the civilized world.

    Murder goes against the common understanding of right and wrong, and goes against the traditional morality of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Claiming that a just God of peace approves and rewards murder is the ultimate folly. In addition to being morally depraved, this foolish belief is completely irrational.

    That a significant segment of the Muslim world tolerates and excuses such murder is very troubling. Let us hope that sensible people in Pakistan can overcome this terrorist mentality.

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