Pakistan's dangerous blind spot

On December 11, 2008, two weeks after the attacks in Mumbai, Pakistan’s Dawn that the young man whose face had been beamed over the media was his son.”

“I was in denial for the first couple of days, saying to myself it could not have been my son,” he told Dawn in the courtyard of his house in Faridkot, a village of about 2,500 people just a few kilometres from Deepalpur on the way to Kasur. “Now I have accepted it. This is the truth. I have seen the picture in the newspaper. This is my son Ajmal.”

 The thing to notice here is the dates. The report was published 15 days after the attack and at least one week after the newspaper itself had verified the identity (December 11 was a Thursday). Why was the information held back? The answer to that has two elements.

Illustration by Binay Sinha
The Indian media is thought to march in lockstep with its government when it comes to national security and particularly when it comes to Pakistan and China. To a large extent this is true. Also true is the fact that Pakistan’s media, which is often braver and more honest than ours, is compromised on the matter of jihadi groups. This is out of fear of their country’s military. Even reporters we would consider to be right wing, like Hamid Mir of Geo TV, have been shot for their work (Mir survived the attempt). Others, like Syed Saleem Shahzad, who reported on details of the Mumbai attackers’ training, have been tortured and killed.

 So fear is one reason why such things are not reported or, as in the case of Dawn, reported late and after much hesitation. There is another reason why the Pakistani media has not done as much work as it should have on the jihadi groups inside the country. And that has to do with its denial of the damage that the jihad project has done internally to Pakistan.

An Al Jazeera report (filed by a brave Pakistani reporter) confirms that the structure attacked in Balakot was linked to Jaish-e-Mohammed. The board outside the place carries the names of Jaish chief Masood Azhar and his brother Yousuf. The report suggests that while access to the structure is restricted by Pakistan’s military, it appears that the damage done was peripheral. However, what has enraged Pakistan is not the fact that India’s raid killed several Pakistanis, but the fact that the intrusion by our military represented a loss of their sovereignty. There are two aspects of this loss to sovereignty. The first is the one that the Pakistani state and most of its media are focused on. That is the loss of sovereignty to an external, whether the US Navy Seals in the case of the raid in Abbottabad or the Indian Air Force’s jets. In a warrior society, this physical intrusion into your space results in a loss of honour and must be corrected.

 The events of Wednesday in and around Jammu and Kashmir, which one must accept were not expected in any way by either the Indian government or the media, were precipitated by this desire to avenge the loss of sovereignty. Pakistan felt compelled to act even though India had specified it sought no escalation and even though it was obvious that Pakistan’s actions would lead to escalation.

The second loss of sovereignty is the more serious one and that is the loss of internal sovereignty. Pakistan’s acceptance of covert jihad as a weapon first against the Russians in Afghanistan and then in Kashmir has brutalised their own country internally. 

Indians may not know that jihad emanating from Pakistan has killed more people in Pakistan than it has in India. Violence peaked in Kashmir in 2002 when 4,507 people died (violence has fallen 90 per cent since then). But in Pakistan as recently as 2014, terrorism claimed 5,519 lives.

Jihad has damaged Pakistan so much that it will soon fall behind even Bangladesh, which was once seen as a “basket case”.

 The hard Islamising of Sunni groups like the Jaish and its predecessor the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen has produced an army of volunteers for anti-Shia activity inside Pakistan itself. Ordinary clerics can not only capture land in Islamabad but defend it militarily against the Pakistan army (as happened in the case of the Lal Masjid episode) when they try to clear it. 

So entrenched is jihad in Pakistan that the leader who tries to reverse course is himself attacked. Jaish-e-Mohammed organised two suicide bombings against president Pervez Musharraf, when he tried to ban the group. 

Lashkar-e-Taiba is so widespread and powerful today that moderate Pakistanis fear it can no longer be touched, even though its damage to Pakistani interests outweighs any leverage it can give to the military.

Pakistan has suffered four intrusions into its territory— two by the American and coalition forces from the West, and now two from India. It has res­ponded to the last one, and we do not know for now what the long term implications of our raid will be. 

However, the pain that Pakistan has inflicted upon itself through the state’s tolerance and encouragement of jihad and the media’s ignoring of it has harmed it more than a thousand Indian raids could ever have done.

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