The horrific attack by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on an army-run school in Peshawar, a city on the eastern side of Pakistan, which killed more than 130 children, is a grave tragedy already destined to be regarded as just another event in Pakistan's botched history of simultaneously promoting and fighting terrorism on its soil.
Pakistan's attempts to manage terrorism as a state tool used to try and control its interests against India, and portray itself as a victim of the same kind of violence and extremism, are failing. Extremism coming from its tribal belts such as FATA, North Waziristan and so on is condemned while other outlets are clandestinely celebrated.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who along with Pakistan Army Chief Raheel Sharif visited Peshawar in the aftermath, highlighted the fact that his government does not differentiate between good and bad Taliban. A few hours after the school siege, reports of airstrikes conducted by Pakistan in its tribal belts as retaliation to Peshawar started to surface, detailing that dozens of militants had been killed.
As another reactionary measure, Pakistan announced that it was removing its moratorium on the death penalty, and that it plans to execute 500 militants over the coming few weeks. This move on the face of it seems designed to only quell the international outrage over the Pakistani Taliban's seemingly unchallenged presence in the country despite the Pakistan Army's military campaign against it.
However, Pakistan's problem in tackling militant groups in its backyard emits from its very own institutions. The constant battles between the civilian government and the Pakistani Army with its intelligence wing, the ISI, to clip each other's wings and dominate Islamabad's policies, specifically towards India, are taking a toll.
In August, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Pakistan Army was close to a deal with the government which will see Nawaz Sharif hand over control of security affairs and foreign policy, specifically management of relations with US, Afghanistan and India. The same month, friction between Sharif's government and the Army was in the news again as reports claimed that the Pakistan Army was backing protests against Nawaz Sharif being orchestrated by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri.
Pakistan's support for groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Daawa, responsible for death and carnage in Mumbai in 2008 and continuous militancy in Kashmir, and others affiliated or supported by the Pakistani Army and ISI highlights the core problem that needs a fix. This double-faced policy of fighting the TTP while supporting the likes of LeT, the Haqqani Network and so on is rapidly adding to Pakistan's deterioration. The most unfortunate part has been that this is no secret, and is widely accepted by many, even inside Pakistan's civil society and bureaucracy.
As things stand, terror groups such as LeT are not in any danger of being left high and dry of their military support. They receive training, weapons, money and supplies from the military establishment. Even as the Pakistan armed forces strike the regions of the tribal belts near the Afghan borders, in the Punjab regions, terror outfits working to target India live and operate freely with complete impunity. Even if Nawaz Sharif looks to tackle these groups, he would possibly precipitate a situation in the country where the army will disallow such a move and look to topple the government.
The days following Peshawar offered a view inside the power struggles of Islamabad. Barely 24 hours after, a Pakistani anti-terror court in Lahore granted bail to Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi on the back of lack of evidence. Under pressure, Pakistan maintained his arrest by detaining him under the Maintenance of Public Order Act, which Lakhvi has challenged in court, and could be a free man again within months if it goes his way. Lakhvi was a principle architect of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, who even continued to operate from inside his prison. More recently, another anti-terror court in Rawalpindi dismissed the ongoing detention of Malik Ishaq, chief of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, an extremist group banned in 2001, yet operating freely in Pakistani Punjab.
Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan Ambassador to the US has said that Pakistani jihadism's roots lie in its establishment's obsession with India. He highlights that Pakistan was dealt with a huge blow after it lost East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1971, and since then a lingering paranoia amongst the country's Punjabi elites, who largely run the country, has led to drastic insecurities within the state, which in turn has made the country's policies lose vital perspective.
Executing 500 terrorists is significant only on number sheets. Pakistan's problem is etched into its institutions via ideological leanings, and these institutions include the military, governance and judiciary. Unless the battle is taken to these very ideologies plaguing the nooks and corners of the country's institutional organs, little change can be expected in the time to come.