With the recent Chinese acknowledgment of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism drive, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif’s visit to Beijing can be considered a success. The Chinese FM’s pledge to stand by ‘iron brother’ and enhance the bilateral cooperation has put an end to the black cloud hanging over Sino-Pak relations after it emerged that the latter had signed off on the BRICS statement naming Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in the list of terror groups deemed a threat to regional peace.
While China’s support is crucial for Pakistan in the wake of the US President’s new Afghan policy, we need to move beyond the habit of seeking allies and recraft our foreign policy instruments and goals. Aside from diplomatic engagement and lobbying, Pakistan needs to carry out serious policy introspection.
Our FM had rightly pointed out before his China visit that we cannot convince the world to listen to us unless we act against banned terror outfits. Sadly, the government of Pakistan has failed miserably on this front. Anti-terror military operations cannot gain complete success until the sympathisers and facilitators of such groups, and those sharing their mindset continue their operations with impunity. Pakistan will have to take across the board action against violent extremists, and the leaders of banned outfits that were once considered as the state’s ‘strategic assets’. This should not be done to appease the Americans or the Chinese but to put our own house in order. How many more Pakistanis are we going to ‘sacrifice’ in acts of terrorism. From sectarian militias to Kashmir-centric and Afghan jihad groups we have provided space to many a militia. This must end for Pakistan’s sake.
At the same time, we agree with the state’s position that Pakistan has suffered immensely due to the so-called war against terror. Thousands of soldiers and security personnel have laid down their lives in this fight and even more civilians — including children — have been victims of terrorists brutality. It is about time the government of Pakistan realised that by not doing enough against extremism, it is devaluing our own people’s sacrifices in this neverending war.
After the FM’s statement on the need to act against the outlawed groups, it is hoped that the cabinet will review our past policies of high-tolerance for violent groups; and find ways of curbing their activities and prepare a reintegration plan. This won’t happen by mainstreaming jihadist elements in local politics nor will it happen by parading them on TV as repentant brothers and sisters. The policy framework developed by the civilian and military leadership after the 2014 Peshawar school attack needs to be implemented.
China is an important ally and we should be grateful to its leadership for reminding the world about Pakistan’s role in the fight against terrorism. But reliance on Chinese largesse will take us nowhere unless we review our flawed foreign and security policies. There are limits to Chinese support; and sooner rather than later will we find ourselves in a tight corner if we don’t change the security paradigm that values proxy militias.*
Published in Daily Times, September 10th 2017.