Islamabad: The Pakistani military has not been alone in indulging the men of violence, civilian leaders too have cut deals with jihadis, said a British journalist.
The author of `Pakistan: Eye of the Storm` said the jihadis, if circumstances permitted, would like to see those politicians, with whom they shook hands, not only out of power but dead and buried too. "And this is not a point that favours one party over the others: all the mainstream parties have made compromises with the extremists."
In an article published by the Dawn under the headline `Partying with jihadis`, Owen Bennett-Jones said: "For millions of Pakistanis who are not at the top of the various power structures, it might seem obvious enough that people who use violence to secure their objectives should be opposed. But most of those who have held power in Pakistan seem to have seen it differently. And while the military is often criticised for sponsoring jihadis, it`s only fair to point out that the politicians have themselves repeatedly appeased them."
Bennett-Jones, however, observed that there is an important difference between the two - ever since 1947-48, when the state connived in allowing Pakhtun tribesmen to go on jihad in Kashmir, the military has perceived the jihadis as a strategic asset that can help achieve various policy objectives, and some objectives have been achieved. The successful Mujahideen campaign against the Soviets in Afghanistan demonstrated that the violent jihadis can serve a purpose, he added.
Stating that the politicians have different motives - some are simply trying to protect themselves, after all, anyone extending favours to the jihadi leadership must calculate that there will be an improved chance that they won`t be the victim of an attack, he said. "But it`s not just a case of avoiding physical harm. There is also the grubby business of political advantage. Politicians on all sides have calculated that if securing power depends on reaching a deal with the religious hardliners, it`s a price well worth paying."
Citing a few examples to buttress his argument, Bennett-Jones gives the most obvious recent example concerning the decision of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial administration to grant USD 3 million to Samiul Haq`s Haqqani madressah, where some of those who assassinated Benazir Bhutto met whilst planning the attack.
And Imran Khan (former cricketer-cum-Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) has form in this area. When, in 2013, he agreed to head up the Pakistan Taliban`s negotiating team, he demonstrated not only that he thought peace could be achieved through dialogue but also that he was willing to represent and speak for the TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan).
Besides, in 2010, the Punjab provincial administration gave USD 1 million to institutions linked to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, says the writer, adding that in the same year, files recovered from Osama bin Laden`s compound in Abbottabad reportedly revealed that as Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif suggested the Pakistan government was ready to re-establish "normal relations" with the Pakistani Taliban as long as it did not conduct operations in Punjab; and, there have been compromises within Punjab as well.
In the run-up to the 2013 election, there were widespread reports of a seat adjustment deal between the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) (earlier known as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan). Faced with criticism about these arrangements, some PML-N spokesmen did not issue a denial, but argued instead that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) exhibited a blatant double standard on the issue because it had done much the same thing in 2008.
Certainly, the PPP has on occasion helped hardliners. Given what happened in Islamabad in 2007, it is astonishing that today Abdul Aziz Ghazi is not only back in charge of the Lal Masjid but also drawing a state salary, the writer noted. As a recent independent documentary, `Among the Believers`, has recorded, it is not as if Ghazi has changed his view on the need to overthrow the government and impose Sharia: "if you think you can change us, forget it," said Ghazi."
"And yet while Asif Zardari was president the authorities not only oversaw the rehabilitation of Abdul Aziz Ghazi but went as far as offering him land for a new madressah on the edge of Islamabad. The idea, it seems, was that Lal Masjid needed to be compensated for the destruction it had brought upon itself," he wrote.
He noted that these examples of civilian willingness to do business with violent jihadis suggest that "they should not be taken too seriously when they criticise the Army" for doing much the same thing.
(With ANI inputs)