At Transit Point Time to Pay Toll

Indian Express, June 20, 2002

The terrorist attack on the US consulate in Karachi leaves no doubt that Pakistan is now a major target of groups linked to al Qaeda. Officials may well say that the current wave of terrorism is the price Pakistan is having to pay for supporting the United States since September 11 last year. But in fact, the price Pakistan is paying may be for allowing militants from all over the Muslim world to transit to and from Afghanistan since 1979.

Officials have mentioned the possibility of Indian complicity in the bombing. But playing the traditional South Asian blame game without substantive evidence serves no purpose except to divert attention from the Al Qaeda linked groups. It is time to prepare Pakistani public opinion for the hard truth about terrorism, whether home-grown (sectarian groups) or imported from the Middle East. Instead of facing the challenge squarely, officials have shied away from admitting the presence of al Qaeda in Pakistan. During the anti-Soviet resistance, militants from all over the Muslim world transited through Pakistan to participate in the jihad.

Some of them created covert networks within Pakistan, taking advantage of poor law enforcement and the state’s ambiguity towards pan-Islamic militancy. Now that the al Qaeda and Taliban’s base in Afghanistan have been disrupted, they are using their former transit station as a temporary staging ground.

If General Pervez Musharraf’s commitment to opposing terrorist groups is irreversible (as it appears to be), there is no reason for government spokesmen to deny the existence of terrorist groups within the country. Terrorist attacks in Pakistan have not started merely because of Musharraf’s policies, though the post-September 11 shift in the country’s stance has increased their frequency and intensity. Al Qaeda’s ally, Egyptian Jihad, bombed and destroyed the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad on November 19, 1995. A few months earlier, on March 8, 1995, two employees of the US Consulate in Karachi, Gary Durell and Jacqueline Van Landingham were killed in a terrorist attack on a consulate van.

On April 22, 1996 explosive devices were hurled on the US Information Service building in Lahore. Four Americans and two Pakistanis working with the Union Texas oil Company were killed on November 12, 1997, again in Karachi. On November 12, 1999 rocket attacks targeted offices of the United States government as well as the United Nations in Islamabad.

It is obvious terrorism has been at work in Pakistan before and is now menacing the country with a vengeance. Musharraf’s decision to fight a multi-pronged battle—against domestic political rivals, India and terrorism—could give the terrorists an advantage. They have nothing to protect, only targets to destroy.


The diminishing of the recent stand-off with India has given General Musharraf some breathing space. But despite lessening of tensions, India appears unwilling to withdraw its troops from the border. The recent reduction in India-Pakistan tension is based on US verification of an end to Pakistani support for Kashmiri militancy. Indigenous Kashmiri groups will most probably keep up their fight, as will those al Qaeda types who are already inside India or in Jammu and Kashmir. But helped by US intelligence, India is expected to know the extent and nature of Pakistani support for the militants.

Pakistan could soon find that it is having to clamp down on the militants without necessarily securing a discussion over the future of Jammu and Kashmir. Musharraf has a tough act on his hands, one that requires political skills that he is not known to possess. He will have to roll back the jihadi movement without seeming to do so on American or Indian orders and without getting an immediate quid pro quo over Kashmir. He will probably face defiance from militants and religious parties, as well as from ideologues within the establishment.

He could pull through if he reached out to mainstream political parties and if India eased pressure on him. The problem is that General Musharraf hates Pakistan’s politicians almost as much as he dislikes India. Believing as he does in his good luck he could be tempted to take on the militants and Islamist ideologues without cutting a deal with mainstream politicians at home. He could also try to keep up his anti-India rhetoric at least in public which may not go down too well with hardliners on the other side of the border. The breathing space provided by the Armitage and Rumsfeld missions could evaporate in a very short time.


The world continues to see Kashmir in terms of militancy and terrorism instead of as an issue of self-determination. The legal, moral and political merit of Pakistan’s position continues to be ignored despite considerable focus—call it internationalisation—on the question of Kashmir’s future. The reason for this lies in factors that General Musharraf, as a military man, may not be able to comprehend or accept. Pakistan has consistently neglected non-military aspects of national power, such as economic growth and diplomatic potential. It has an effective military but is ineffective in most other realms. The greatest tool in statecraft, political skills, cannot evolve in a country where politics remain suspended for long periods.

General Muhammad Moosa, Chief of Pakistan’s Army during the 1965 war went on to become Governor of then West Pakistan. After his retirement he was asked why he failed so miserably as governor after such an illustrious career as a soldier. Musharraf would do well to pay attention to General Moosa’s reply: ‘‘In the army,’’ he said, ‘‘I was trained to locate the enemy and liquidate the enemy. In politics I discovered that things are more complex. It is not always easy to locate who the enemy is and sometimes you discover that you can’t liquidate him even if you locate him’’.