THE challenge facing Pakistan in cleansing itself of the evil of extremism was underlined in no uncertain terms by the killing of Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzada last Sunday at his village home near Attock and the reaction to the death of retired Lt-Gen Hameed Gul.
Khanzada, a former army colonel who had put in a long stint in the ISI before his retirement, was said to be spearheading the campaign against terrorism in Punjab and was directly overseeing the Counter-Terrorism Department of the police.
He was vocal in saying that Lashkar-i-Jhangvi terrorists would be given no quarter and the terror group had threatened him when their leader Malik Ishaq and several other LJ members were killed in what was claimed as an ‘encounter’ with CTD in southern Punjab at the end of last month.
The sort of jihad Hameed Gul stood for discredited the Kashmiri liberation movement and led to death and destruction for many Afghans.
It isn’t clear why the former soldier and intelligence officer, who must have been aware of the dangers of leading the anti-terror campaign, wasn’t as well protected as he should have been. Many explanations have been offered.
The foremost among these was that the culture of the area he belonged to precluded frisking any visitor as it would be tantamount to disrespecting them and, therefore, the suicide bomber breached the minister’s already thin security and got in unchallenged.
Nobody thought the fight against terror in Pakistan would be painless. Blowback was anticipated, so much so that reportedly such fears made the last army chief shy away from taking action. It is incumbent on the security apparatus to better protect high-profile personalities in the vanguard of the fight as when the leaders are targeted the morale of the force inevitably suffers.
The government would do well not to let its foot off the accelerator pedal as the fight needs to be relentlessly taken to the safe havens of the terrorists in Punjab as it was in Fata and KP.
There isn’t another option. Any let-up will be seen as a sign of weakness, of tentative policy implementation and will serve as a fillip to the terrorists who seem to be desperately thrashing about as we speak. Admittedly, this would still be but one prong of the fight.
Take for example the tributes being paid to another ISI officer, the agency’s former chief, retired Lt-Gen Hameed Gul, who died the day before Col Khanzada’s assassination. The nature of the tributes was articulately analysed in this paper on Friday by Asha’ar Rehman.
Apart from notes of dissent from the usual suspects in sections of the English press, what one saw and read in the wider media were not obituaries or even balanced profiles of the man but outright eulogies.
Having interviewed him once for the BBC at his Rawalpindi home in the late 1990s, I found him to be a courteous and gracious host. My quarrel with him wasn’t because he was impolite to me, rude or curt. It was his agenda.
If his passion had been theoretical for jihad transcending national boundaries and the glory of a religion he thought ought to replace democracy, one would have ignored it by saying anyone is entitled to dreaming a dream.
But his actions whether in trying to engineer, what his mentor Ziaul Haq used to call, ‘positive’ results in the elections at home as the ISI chief or his blind support to ruthless and murderous Afghan militant leaders such Gulbadin Hekmatyar can hardly be ignored.
The consequences of each of these actions need no reminder. His meddling in internal politics and the electoral exercise ensured a weak, shaky civilian government followed the darkest dictatorial night of 11 years in the country’s history, discrediting civilian rule. If this wasn’t enough, intelligence officers inspired by him continued to undermine and demonise the elected prime minister.
On the other hand, his favourite Afghan ‘resistance’ leader is said to have singlehandedly destroyed Kabul by raining thousands of rockets on it in his quest for power when the Soviets and the Soviet-installed regime were long gone and the so-called Mujahideen were in power.
This destruction outstripped any damage the Afghan capital suffered during the several years of the war against the Soviet army. Such adventurism, which continues to this day, cancelled out the enormous goodwill Pakistan may have earned by hosting three million Afghan refugees and helping the country expel Soviet troops.
Very few focused on how rash and impulsive Hameed Gul was. His own dream of seeing the ‘sabz hilali parcham’ (the green Islamic flag) flying over not just Pakistan but also Kashmir, Afghanistan and the former Soviet Central Asian Republics was shattered at the gateway to Central Asia in the spring of 1989.
For that was when he considered piety and religious zeal enough to offset lack of military planning, and assembled hordes of zealots to march on and capture Jalalabad, the first major Afghan town across from the Khyber Pass, in the belief that the goal would be achieved in under a week since the Red Army was long gone.
Troops loyal to Afghan president Najibullah are said to have fought hard against the attacking forces and inflicted heavy casualties on them. What Najibullah’s soldiers couldn’t do was achieved by infighting among groups assembled by Hameed Gul to take Jalalabad.
Ironically, the sort of jihad he (and many others in the military) stood for damaged and discredited the Kashmiri indigenous liberation movement; it also meant death and destruction for so many Afghans; and its fallout has drawn an unthinkable amount of blood in Pakistan and caused untold pain to thousands.
An indication of Pakistan’s challenges and Gen Gul’s powerful legacy came at his funeral. It was attended among other militant leaders (presumably all ‘good’ Taliban) by Hafiz Saeed, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil and Syed Salahuddin. Also in attendance was the COAS Gen Raheel Sharif.