The status of the state’s, especially military intelligence’s, alliance with the madrassah nexus is hazy at best as far as public opinion goes, which is odd considering the long years since this war on terror came to Pakistan. The same is true for proxy militias; not the FATA variety, but far more institutionally trained, in national nerve centres, a world away from the Durand Line. The word in Punjab, where these lashkars and jaishes are centred, is that they split with the state after the ’07 Lal Masjid operation, and have since found increasing common cause with Al Qaeda instead, hence the Punjabi Taliban. That would put some of TTP’s attacks in perspective, especially those involving military top brass and highest security installations, including the ISI offices and the GHQ. Yet pretty much of the local and almost the entire foreign press seem obsessed with the ISI, and its continuing patronage of Islamist militias, even after they declared war on the state. Why?
Part of the reason is the official response. Granted, the military has clearly won most of the public’s admiration and allegiance, especially over the matter of dealing the Taliban a military blow in Waziristan. But the insurgency is more than just a military nuisance. The jihad model first tried in the Soviet war relied heavily on forced indoctrination, and how religion was used to achieve political aims is no secret, especially for the military. And even though hardliners have spread this indoctrination virus right through the Deobandi clergy, there is still no official counter narrative, which has serious implications.
Just like the Lal Masjid aftermath proved, these militants must be attacked on numerous fronts. Just force, though necessary, was not nearly enough. They were able to spin subsequent events in their favour to the extent that the religious right, even sections that had resisted militant tactics, gathered around to defend them, indeed believing they were defending the cause of Islam. If there had been greater official indulgence in the information part of the war, which the TTP waged far more effectively – Mullah FM, etc, – the far right would not have been able to hijack centre stage of the public debate at present, as talks seem destined to fail once again.
Then there are also certain actions, or rather lack of necessary action on occasion, that speak volumes. And there has not been enough action to neutralise the TTP’s logistical network across the country. Journalists, analysts, even the common man, and especially the military now know of the close working relationship between religious madrassas and the TTP. And once again journalists are risking savage reprisal attacks by bringing these linkages to the fore, yet the state lets them mushroom. The fact that they have dubious funding sources, outrageous anti-state and religion subverting syllabi, and outright treasonous political aims, is not highlighted often enough. They also facilitate kidnapping and extortion, along with other similar operations, which make for another attractive source of funding for the insurgents. So long as these practices are not checked, the war against terrorism will not be won. And however much the military exercises muscle in the badlands, it will not be able to control revenge attacks in urban centres.