Can Pakistan curb terrorism?

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After the serial bomb blasts in London on July 7, the international community has once again shifted focus to Pakistan.

Western investigating agencies have found evidence that three of the four bombers visited madrassas in Pakistan just months before 7/7 and even met Al-Qaida operatives in the country during their visit.

The leader of the bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, along with Shahzad Tanweer, one of the suicide bombers, stayed in Pakistan for over four months before the bombings.

Pakistani authorities also admitted that Tanweer met a top Al-Qaida operative during his stay in the country and visited several madrassas, including the infamous Markaz-e-Dawa-wal-Irshad in Muridke, about 45 kilometres from Lahore.

Focus on madrassas

The needle of suspicion points to Islamist organisations based in Pakistan, which have fomented the jihadi wave in the subcontinent and beyond for decades.

In fact, Lashkar-e-Taiba is none other than the armed wing of the Markaz-e-Dawa-wal-Irshad, founded in 1987 to wage a ‘holy war’ in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Jaish-e-Mohammad, on the other hand, was founded by a notorious terrorist named Massod Azhar who was released from an Indian prison in 1999 in exchange for the lives of hostages of the hijacked aircraft IC-814.

After the IC-814 face-off ended, television images showed Azhar disappearing into the dusty horizon of Kandahar.

He was believed to have been sheltered by the Taliban, but only a few months later, Azhar surfaced in Lahore. There he addressed public rallies, exhorting young Pakistanis to take up arms for the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir.

9/11 and after…

But September 11, 2001 changed the way the world looked at terrorism. The very fact that terrorists could strike at the heart of America with devastating consequences threw up new challenges for the international community.

Days after the 9/11 attacks, the US government sought Islamabad’s help in nabbing the perpetrators, believed to have been hiding in Afghanistan and supported by the then Taliban regime.

The US also moved to ban Pakistan-based terrorist organisations and freeze their bank accounts, which were under the watch list of US intelligence agencies for years.

Faced with an “with us or against us” ultimatum from the US, Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf explained in an address to the nation that Pakistan has to “shun extremism” and take “tough” measures against the Taliban and Islamic terrorists.

Over the next few years, the military regime in Pakistan slapped bans on terrorist organisations in Pakistan including the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.

But despite the Pakistan government’s bans, these organisations continued to operate with impunity, merely by changing their names. Thus, Lashkar-e-Taiba became Tehrik-e-Furqan while Jaish-e-Mohammad assumed the identity of Jamaat-ud-Dawa.

Combating terrorism

Even today, as the world grapples with the fallouts of militant Islam, fundamentalists in Pakistan are imparting the same fanatic teachings, advocating jihad to young impressionable minds in thousands of madrassas across the country.

Recent reports in the Pakistani media also point out that terrorist training camps still exist in the country, operating under the very eyes of the ruling establishment.

Time and again, India has voiced concerns over the existence of the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan, though the military regime claims it is doing all it can to curb activities of terrorist groups.

In the post-9/11 scenario, India pointed out to the international community that there can be no ‘double standards’ on terrorism and that the global war against terror cannot be selective.

The haunting past

Following the London blasts, President Musharraf once again addressed the nation on July 21, facing renewed pressure from the West to act.

But this time, the General said there was “no credible intelligence” tying the London bombers to his country and asked Britain to put its house in order before blaming others.

At the same time, General Musharraf turned his anger against the West and the United States. He said the West is to be blamed for propping up extreme Islamic groups like the Taliban in this region.

“The Taliban, which trained and equipped in the madrassas of Pakistan, went and fought a jihad in Afghanistan for 10 years against the Soviet Union. They received support from the West, United States and Pakistan,” he said.

Concerns raised

It is no secret that for decades, the Pakistan Army’s intelligence wing, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), has been providing funds and military support for jihadi elements, first in Afghanistan, and then in Jammu and Kashmir.

As the focus once again shifts to the global war against terror, questions are being raised over whether the Pakistan government is in fact serious about its ‘crackdown’ on terrorism.

But the bigger concern is whether the Islamist monster created and nurtured by the Pakistani establishment over the decades has become too powerful for even the Pakistan government to control.