Terrorstan

by Dish Staff

bialik-datalab-peshawar

Before Tuesday’s horrific attack on an army school, Carl Bialik grimly notes, Pakistan’s terrorism problem was on a downward trend, from utterly horrifying to just god-awful:

More than 3,000 Pakistani civilians died in terrorist attacks in both 2012 and 2013, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which monitors violence in the region. This year, through Sunday, 1,595 civilians had died, including 26 this month. Twenty-six is a horrific total for most countries in a year — 20 more than the number killed in all of 2013 in the U.S., which has roughly 75 percent more residents than Pakistan. But it’s also a monthly rate of about 58 civilians, the fewest killed in a month in Pakistan since 56 civilians died in August 2007. Tuesday’s attack reversed that modest progress; December now is the deadliest month since February.

So how did Pakistan become so unmanageably violent? In part, Matthew Green blames the government’s longstanding policy of cultivating ties with some militants in order to fight others:

First, and most important, Pakistan’s security establishment has to make a permanent break with its decades-long romance with jihadi proxies. The distinction that some in the nation’s security apparatus draw between “good Taliban” — shorthand for groups who serve their regional interests — and “bad Taliban” — militants at war with the state — must end. … The upshot is that religious extremists and allied Kalashnikov-toting thugs now wield a far greater degree of influence over Pakistani society than their small constituencies might otherwise project. As long as nobody is quite sure where the military and its feared intelligence agencies stand in relation to jihadis, liberal politicians, community leaders and moderate religious voices rightly assume they will live longer by keeping quiet.

“When a government coddles and finances terrorist groups for this long,” Omer Aziz argues, ” it is only a matter of time before the jihadists start attacking their masters and eventually their fellow citizens”:

It was not always so. In the 1970s, Pakistan was a fairly liberal society. When Paul McCartney landed in Pakistan in 1964, he was swarmed. That there was once a vibrant Jewish community in Karachi has all been forgotten. The same Peshawar where militants roam freely was even once part of the famous ‘Hippie Trail’ that brought adventurous Westerners to South Asia. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a barrister trained in England who founded what was then named the Dominion of Pakistan, told his newly independent nation: “You are free to go to your temples. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed.” This imagined community of liberal Muslims has been extirpated in favor of a conservatively Islamic state.

While successive Pakistani governments supported terrorist groups, so they also embarked on the politically expedient but morally criminal mission of Islamizing the country, transforming Pakistan from a state for Muslims into a Muslim state. … An entire generation was born into a society coarsened by years of religious fundamentalism where it remains a widely-held opinion that Malala Yousefzai is a CIA spy.

It’s also high time, in Juan Cole’s opinion, for Pakistan to take real responsibility for governing and developing its dirt-poor, lawless northwest:

[T]he Federally Administered Tribal areas or FATA need to be made a province and integrated into the Pakistani state. The standard of living of people in Waziristan is extremely low. Maybe some of the investment of China in Pakistan could be slotted for FATA. This is an area where some 800,000 people have been displaced by the Pakistani military campaign against militants in North Waziristan. There are torture facilities and bomb-making workshops. These need to be rolled up and FATA needs to be developed.

In response to the massacre, Pakistan will step up its anti-terror operations:

“We cannot take a step back from this war against terrorism,” Nawaz Sharif said, addressing a hastily called meeting of political parties in Peshawar, where Tuesday’s horrific school attack occurred. The fight would spill over “on the Afghan side of the border,” he added, after speaking with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. It was not clear what actions that might entail. But such a cross-border offensive would mark a significant shift in Pakistan’s tactics against Taliban militants, whose strongholds and supply lines straddle the frontier.

Rogin and Lake expect the US to deepen its involvement:

Inside the Obama administration, officials have been divided between those who believe that the TTP represents primarily a threat to Pakistan and those who believe the U.S. has a real national-security interest in helping the Pakistani military destroy the group. But due to the seriousness of this attack, the Obama administration will now feel compelled to more heavily support the Pakistani military as the war against the TTP escalates and the implications for the entire country’s future become more pronounced.

That may be especially true now that the TTP, as Sami Yousafzai and Christopher Dickey report, claims to be coming for us next:

In fact, the terror networks to which the TTP is linked have grown more complex and treacherous than ever, with some factions connecting not only to al Qaeda but to the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) that now controls large swathes of Syria and Iraq. And while analysts think it is unlikely the TTP can mount an attack against American targets inside America again soon, the TTP said it butchered the children in Peshawar specifically because of the U.S.-backed campaign against it.

Amanda Taub, meanwhile, offers another possible explanation for Tuesday’s carnage, namely internal power struggles within the Taliban:

The TTP has split into multiple factions in recent months. A number of moderate factions have made peace with the government, Staniland explained, so that what is left behind is an increasingly radical core that is splintering into different groups. That process was accelerated when Maulana Fazlullah, an outsider who formerly headed a group of militants in Pakistan’s Swat district, took command last year. He has been a divisive leader, causing the powerful Messud family to leave and form its own organization. Competition for power within an armed group or between different splintering factions often leads to increased violence, as leaders jockey to prove their authority and improve their reputations by carrying out ever more audacious or brutal attacks.

But Saim Saeed can’t imagine how the TTP will score PR points by butchering innocent kids:

the Taliban have just taken on the unenviable task of explaining how murdering scores of innocent children is a good thing for Islam. No one, no one, will support the Taliban after this. The attack was even condemned by Hafiz Saeed, whose Jama’at-ud-Da’wah  is the subject of United Nation’s sanctions. Hardline mullahs may have twisted and contorted Islam to endorse blasphemy laws, child marriages and jihad against America and India, but even they will have a tough time arguing that this attack somehow fulfills their purpose. They could perhaps argue this was an Indian or American conspiracy, but that argument is also slowly losing credibility, not least by the Taliban’s own desperate attempts to claim this attack.

The depressing situation leaves Pankaj Mishra at a loss:

Something more than just economic and political distress must explain the worldwide proliferation of men who espouse spine-chilling convictions and fantasies of mass murder. We cannot afford to renounce the possibility of achieving a more democratic, free and just society through political change. Yet we can no longer believe that the enabling conditions of nihilistic violence or the apocalyptic mind-set can be removed by reform or modification of public policy alone, let alone by military retaliation.

The blood of innocent children rouses us to drastic action. But it is not cowardly to acknowledge problems to which there are no stock sociopolitical remedies, and to grasp the unprecedented nature of the threats in our time to human life, freedom and dignity. Certainly, however deep our revulsion to atrocities perpetrated by all sides — sectarian or secular, governments or terrorists — it won’t help to blame religion for a phenomenon that is so clearly rooted in a catastrophic loss of the religious sense.