Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad: Politics of Ethnic Fascism in Pakistan

The recent wave of terror in Pakistan has once again forced Pakistani state to take immediate actions to neutralize imminent threats and for this purpose Pakistani Army’s PR wing ISPR recently announced Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad. Regardless of what Pakistan’s civilian govt says, this operation was obviously planned and unilaterally announced by Pakistani military. Pakistan’s civilian govt has no clue how to tackle this recent wave of terror, which has links with terrorist elements in Afghanistan. Instead, the civilian govt is busy trying to get out of the mess that is called Panama Papers and tackling terrorism is clearly not on its priority list. Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad is a follow up on Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which was ex Pakistani Army Chief General Raheel Sharif’s way to tackle terror and was one of the most popular counter-terror ops in Pakistan. Operation Zarb-e-Azb saw the elimination of terror from previously no-go zones in North Waziristan, etc while it also succeeded in largely containing and minimizing the criminal activities that were once considered ‘normal’ in Karachi. The achievements of Op Zarb-e-Azb were acknowledged by everyone from Sir General John Nicholson to the British Army. During the time of Op Zarb-e-Azb, some people in Pakistan and abroad tried to make the operation controversial. There were cries of ‘ethnic discrimination’ when Pakistan Rangers and Sindh police went after the criminal gangs of Karachi, who often enjoy political patronage. Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, that claims to represent ethnic Mohajirs, accused Pakistani paramilitary forces of systematic ethnic discrimination because many of those arrested had links with MQM. These were later found out to be some very dangerous people; basically all kinds of scum from target killers to extortionists. It didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has known Karachi from within that many of them had links with MQM, the political party that has been ruling Karachi for over a decade. It only makes sense that the reason MQM failed to act against the criminal elements in Karachi during its rule was because MQM was actively in bed with them and was providing political backing to a lot of them in exchange for ‘favors’. All this was proved to be true when confessions were extracted from the heinous criminals that were arrested related to Karachi violence. While the op in Karachi was rushing ahead with full speed, MQM leadership tried to make it even more controversial by holding protests in some Western countries accusing Pakistani state of systematic ethnic oppression and these pathetic whims of MQM were echoed by the usual suspects like Hussain Haqqani who propagate Indian narrative about Pakistan in U.S. Initially, Pakistani state tried to dispel these clearly false accusations by indiscriminately going after criminals and terrorists, which resulted in some high-profile cases with links with other groups and political parties, such Pakistan People’s Party, coming to the surface. Pakistanis, finally, started finding out what their so called leaders have been up to. But this wasn’t even the icing on the cake. In August 2016, something nobody could have predicted happened and it shook the whole Pakistani nation. The self-exiled leader of MQM Mr Altaf Hussein, while addressing the local leadership of MQM in Karachi, raised anti-Pakistan slogans including calling for ‘Death to Pakistan’. Then MQM’s local thugs forced their way into a media house of a private TV channel and smashed it up while everything was caught on CCTV. Pakistan’s law enforcement forces sprang into action and in little time most of the people involved in the violence were arrested. But the bigger question remained: MQM’s leader just called for Death to Pakistan. What followed was a nightmare where civilian govt essentially defended the MQM and refused to ban the party. It wasn’t handled like it should have been. While the media entered a new debate of who is a traitor and whether the Jinnahpur maps existed or not, I still remember thinking to myself at that time: Do none of these people realize what a political party claiming to represent an ethnic minority possibly working for an enemy state means? Few at the time realized the repercussions of ignoring something so dangerous.

Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad has once again ‘activated’ those who tried to make Operation Zarb-e-Azb controversial. But this time it’s not MQM that is crying ‘ethnic oppression’. This time the agitators include some people of Awami National Party (ANP), Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) and some groups and individuals who claim to speak for all Pushtoons. But their target is the same old one: Pakistani military and its counter-terror efforts. The accusations being hurled at Pakistan’s law enforcement and military are completely baseless as they were during the time of Zarb-e-Azb. But facts and ground realities haven’t stopped Pakistan’s enemies from propagating utter lies. Within 36 hours of the announcement of Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, the usual suspects started a venomous social media campaign. The usual suspects were furiously tweeting fake notices ‘highlighting ethnic oppression’ against Pushtoons, Change.org petitions calling for an end to it and even sending out dozens of anti-Pakistan tweets with human rights groups, State Dept. etc tagged in them. Obviously, I predicted this all before it happened. I also said in a recent article that Pakistan’s ethnic fault lines will be tested. To the surprise of no one, this situation too was handled very, very poorly by the civilian govt. In fact, some people within the civilian govt, with their way of talking, may have wittingly or unwittingly affirmed the false propaganda being waged on social media and now even on prime time TV shows.

The facts are in and they are simple: If we compare the data of all the major terrorist attacks (not included: target killings) of last ten years in Pakistan, we will find out that an overwhelming number of attacks have been carried out or facilitated (or both) by people who happened to be Pushtoons or Afghan nationals. Needless to mention, this does not mean that many attacks have not been carried out by non-Pushtoons and non-Afghan nationals. Coming back to the recent wave of terror, these attacks have clear links with individuals and groups based in Afghanistan. To say that some Afghans and Pushtoons may be involved in these attacks or future attacks is not ‘ethnic oppression’ or racism but a conclusion reached after analyzing irrefutable and undeniable evidence. Some Pakistani Pushtoons who don’t recognize the Pakistan-Afghanistan border (also known as Durand Line) and call for the creation of Pushtoonistan or identify as Afghans are more likely to be sympathetic to Afghanistan-based terrorism against Pakistan. Does this mean all Pushtoons are suspect until proven innocent? Of course not, and implying that could be dangerous for ethnic harmony. A terrorist is still a terrorist and a facilitator is still a facilitator regardless of their ethnicity. But political correctness in real world where lives are at stake can prove to be fatal. If, for example, law enforcement were looking for a terrorist who looks a certain way, belongs to a certain religion/sect/ethnicity or speaks a certain language, the only way to nab the terrorist before he strikes is to minimize the circle of suspects by pinpointing who he is. With too much political correctness in the system, real lives can be put into danger and even lost. This has already happened in some Western countries where authorities were too politically correct in the beginning and discouraged law enforcement officers from pinpointing what kind of suspects they were looking for. In the case of Western countries, the political correctness revolved around religion. In Pakistan, it revolves around religious sects and ethnic groups. In both cases, it is equally dangerous and if law enforcement agencies are forced to take political correctness into consideration every time they’re trying to stop a terrorist attack, we may have dozens of MORE terrorist attacks every year. How law enforcement agencies deal with terrorism is not public business and if made public can also prove fatal in the fight against terror since people forget that terrorists use internet and read news too. What people should do is to trust their law enforcement and intelligence agencies that they will do what is best for the country and avoid becoming part of any campaign that may harm those who are trying to protect you.

If MQM’s founder Altaf Hussein wouldn’t have raised anti-Pakistan slogans last year, who knows where things would be today? MQM would have probably continued to propagate against Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies on the instructions of their UK-based leadership. But I don’t see those trying to make Op Radd-ul-Fasaad controversial making the same mistakes that MQM’s founder made. It is up to Pakistan’s civilian govt to control the narrative and take political parties into confidence, esp when we’re talking about a country-wide op like Radd-ul-Fasaad. As of now, that has not happened. It would also be foolish at best to actually expect that from the civilian govt, which brings me to the question for which I don’t have an answer yet: What is Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment thinking after patiently watching this mess?

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