South Asia and the rest of the world the other day got a strategically significant message from Amritsar, Punjab’s religio-cultural capital, saying that cross-border terrorism continues to threaten peace, progress and security in the region despite huge investments made in terms of money and manpower to fight the menace. The message was delivered by the Heart of Asia (Istanbul Process) conference held a few days back where Pakistan got a rap on the knuckles for its disguised policy of using extremism as an instrument of state policy. The conference declared, “Recognising once again that terrorism, violent extremism, radicalisation, separatism, and sectarianism and linkages among them are the gravest challenges that the Heart of Asia region and the rest of the international community face, and these problems would continue to pose a severe threat to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, economic development and bilateral and regional cooperation….”
Referring to the understanding reached in Islamabad last year that “violent extremism facilitates, encourages and justifies acts of terrorism and violence”, the participants in the conference decided to introduce measures to curb the spread of violent extremism and terrorism.” It highlighted the need to “express strong and unequivocal support for the ongoing constructive efforts of the Government of Afghanistan towards regional engagement” for finding a durable solution to the problem.
Interestingly, the declaration made at Amritsar mentions the Taliban and other extremist networks — the Taliban, terrorist groups including the ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant)/ DAISH and its affiliates, the Haqqani network, Al-Qaida, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the TTP(Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan), the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and Jundullah — which have been indulging in violence to terrorise the governments and society with little hope of these outfits disappearing with the passage of time. At the same time, the conference attempted to find a way to silence the extremists with the help of regional cooperation.
Yet the Amritsar declaration appreciated the efforts made by the Afghanistan government to hold talks with Taliban factions with a view to finding a way for them to join the Ashraf Ghani government. The Taliban will remain the Taliban irrespective of the concessions that may be given for ensuring success of the conciliatory efforts.
Incidents of violence may come down after the Taliban joining the government, but it will be difficult to run the government because of their backward-looking ideology and known stand on different issues.
They have their strong reservations on girls’ education and foreign policy issues like relations with India and western nations. The Afghanistan government can never ignore the role of India in the reconstruction of the war-torn country. They, in fact, do not want the elected government headed by Mohammed Ashraf Ghani to survive as they consider it a US puppet. That is the reason why the Taliban factions have been attacking anything linked to the government. Though the extremists have suffered huge losses since US-led NATO forces invaded Afghanistan following the terrorist attack on the Pentagon in Washington DC and the twin Trade Towers in New York on September 11, 2001, the Taliban factions and their Al-Qaida associates have ultimately succeeded in making the US and other world powers realize that the extremists cannot be defeated by military might alone. President Barack Obama admitted in the course of his final speech on national security as the chief of the US armed forces, “I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture. The situation in Afghanistan is still tough. War has been a part of life in Afghanistan for over 30 years. The US cannot eliminate the Taliban or end violence in that country.”
He, however, added, “But what we can do is deny Al-Qaeda a safe haven and what we can do is support the Afghans who want a better future; which is why we have not only worked with our military but we also backed a unity government in Kabul.”
Incidents of violence may come down after the Taliban joining the Afghan government, but it will be difficult to run it due to conflicting ideologies
The acceptance of this harsh reality is behind the change in the US stance that the Taliban should be invited to join the government after reaching an agreement with them that they will shun the path of violence when they become a part of the administration. This indirectly amounts to accepting defeat at the hands of those being called extremists and terrorists.
This policy shift may have helped the US in extricating itself from the Afghan quagmire, but it can embolden the extremists to carry on their destructive activities as this, in their view, will bring them dividends in the long run. This is not a happy scenario. How the countries can then associated with the Heart of Asia initiative defeat the extremists having their bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan? Dialogue and discussion constitute the only alternative available to them to save the region from terrorism and extremism.
In such a situation, is it possible to make the extremists accept any other viewpoint? All that was discussed at Amritsar appears to be a wishful thinking unless all countries in South Asia agree and find a way to weaken those wedded to the extremist ideology. Use of ideology to defeat the destructive ideology can prove to be helpful to a considerable extent to achieve the objective outlined in the Amritsar declaration of the Heart of Asia conference.
It, however, all depends on how serious the Pakistan government is in fighting the scourge? Pakistan’s commitment and role are crucial in this regard as most terrorist outfits have their roots and bases in that country.
Terrorism in the region can be made to die its natural death if the government and the army in Pakistan both realise that extremism always leads to instability and slowing down of the economic growth process. Pakistan’s honest cooperation can help in creating a situation in which terrorist outfits may die of financial starvation and shortage of fresh recruits. All this is possible when the atmosphere of distrust between India and Pakistan, and Afghanistan and Pakistan is replaced by an approach of cooperative coexistence and economic growth.