October Issue 2015

By | News & Politics | Published 9 years ago

Lt. General (R) Moinuddin Haider is not among those soldiers who fade away after retirement. He has maintained a high-public profile after hanging up his uniform in March 1997 — he served first as governor of Sindh (1997-1999) and then as interior minister in Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s cabinet (1999-2002). As interior minister, Haider was witness to one of the most critical phases of our history, in which Pakistan transformed into a frontline state and a major US ally in the war against terror after the terrorist strikes in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Presently, Haider is much sought after by news channels. Newsline spoke to him soon after the Sept. 18 terrorist attack on Badaber to discuss the challenges and prospects of the war against terror.  Excerpts from the interview…  

There has been a decline in terrorist attacks since Operation Zarb-e-Azb began in June 2014. However, terrorists still manage to pull off a major strike every now and then, the Badaber attack being the latest example. What does it signify?

It signifies that the cancer of terrorism has spread far and wide over the last 30-35 years. FATA has been identified as an epicentre of terrorism. Militants have been defeated in Swat. And after South Waziristan, an operation is underway in North Waziristan. Terrorists are on the run. Their operational areas and sanctuaries — used for training, manufacturing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and planning terrorist activities — have been taken away from them. They have melted into the cities and areas near the Pak-Afghan border. However, their sleeper cells continue to exist, and they can still play havoc. It will take time to fully eradicate them. The key [to this problem] is the army’s presence in FATA and continued pressure on militants, including operations against them in the cities.

While one aspect of this fight is being taken care of by the army, the challenge of defeating the extremist mindset is there. Extremists claim that they are fighting for a noble cause and exploiting the sacred name of Islam. But their aim is to destabilise Pakistan and for personal gains, which must be exposed. To defeat the extremist mindset, we need to reform the education system, improve governance and ensure quick and cheap justice. If people are disillusioned, they become easy prey to extremist ideologies.

Which areas need urgent attention in the war on terror?

Firstly, internally displaced persons IDPs call for our urgent attention. They need to be made stakeholders in the peace process. There’s a need to reconstruct their destroyed homes and infrastructure.

Secondly, the mistakes of the Swat operation should not be repeated. The provincial administration, the police and the judges failed to fill the vacuum after the military ousted the militants from Swat. This should not be repeated in FATA. The government must deploy the best human resources there and move fast to integrate FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Thirdly, we need to restore the sanctity of the Pak-Afghan border, which was destroyed after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Before the Soviet invasion, there was a system of passes, but for the last 30-35 years there have hardly been any checks. The Afghan side does not agree to fencing the border because they believe it will make the Durand Line permanent. No Afghan government has recognised the Durand Line as an international border. But such measures must be taken. How can you defeat terrorism without border surveillance and control? Even the Badaber attackers sneaked into Pakistan from Afghanistan.


How do you view the military strategy?

The army is learning from experience, and from its shortcomings and mistakes. It has improved since the South Waziristan days, when the casualty rate was high. But now all battalions sent to the tribal areas are trained in mountain and guerrilla warfare. As a result, the casualty rate is down and they are proving to be more effective.

Intelligence gathering is another challenge. If you are not forewarned, you can not be forearmed. Therefore, informers need to be infiltrated into terror groups. Sometimes intelligence is timely, at other times not. But occasionally despite information, the 24/7 security is relaxed. We still need to learn lessons from incidents like Badaber.

Certain quarters allege that the army operation is not across the board. For instance, Indians accuse Pakistan of not targeting groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT).

In my experience the LeT does not break any Pakistani law. It’s a Kashmir-centric group, which is occasionally accused of carrying on activities beyond the disputed territory — that is inside India. It is a serious matter as it can bring two nuclear-armed countries to war. But for us the question is, why open another front when the group is not threatening us?

After the UN Security Council resolutions in 2002, the LeT transformed itself into Jamaat-ud-Dawaa (JUD), which focuses on social work. But the Mumbai attack created complications. We do not think Hafiz Saeed was involved in the attack. However, sooner or later, Pakistan needs to ban all private armies. But right now, the focus should be only on those challenging the writ of the state and attacking our armed forces.

Is there a fear of an extremist mindset prevailing within certain sections of the armed forces? 

Such people can exist at various levels. For example, Javed Nasir, who was appointed as ISI chief by Nawaz Sharif, had an extremist mindset. We hear that he sent militants even to a friendly country. But during the Musharraf era, such elements were removed. However, even before Musharraf, the army as an institution kept an eye on such elements.  It’s not possible for anyone to deviate from the army’s stated policy. Several officials were court-martialled for extremist tendencies. The army always takes action against such elements, regardless of sect or school of thought.

How do you view the role of the civilian side in this war?

After [the formulation of the] National Action Plan, coordination among the law enforcement agencies has improved.  The provincial counter-terrorism departments are functioning. However, the central secretariat has not been established yet, because of lack of resources, but that isn’t the only issue. Politicians give the impression that the operation is only the army’s concern and not their responsibility. They are interested mostly in money-making ventures. They are least bothered about reforms in the police force, which suffers on account of political interference and corruption. There is nepotism even in its recruitment. In Sindh, many policemen have been arrested for their involvement in crime and extortion. A list of 3,400 policemen involved in crime has been made public.

Also, no one is willing to take ideological ownership of the war against extremism. The problem of a multi-tier education system, which is dividing society, is not on the radar of the political parties and neither are judicial reforms on their agenda.

As a consequence of the high fees of lawyers and a slow judicial process, cases keep dragging on. Also, politicians do not want local bodies — a must for solving the day-to-day problems of citizens and providing them basic amenities.

Many term Musharraf’s decision to join the US-led war on terror an unwise one. Why?

At that time, there was a military government in place and one man could take a decision. However, even if there was a democratic government, a similar decision would have been taken as the United States was in a rage. It had pulled out a sword to salvage its honour after the 9/11 attacks. “Are you with us or with terrorism?” was the kind of question being asked. It was a difficult situation. Americans had no problem dropping bombs this or that side of the Durand Line. For them it was an emotional time, but it also served the objectives of the neo-cons — that of bringing boots on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not just Musharraf, any other leader would have made a similar decision.

Are you hopeful that Pakistan will prevail in this war?  

Frankly speaking, a few years ago it seemed that the militants could knock and enter any door. We were on the defensive. But now the initiative is with the armed forces. And it is the militants who are on the run. They can still resort to a fleeting attack as they did on Badaber, but we are on the right course. The focus of this operation now is also on corruption money, which is being used in terrorism. Whether the politicians like it or not, the crackdown on corruption enjoys overwhelming public support.

This interview was originally published in Newsline’s October 2015 issue.

Amir Zia is a senior Pakistani journalist, currently working as the Chief Editor of HUM News. He has worked for leading media organisations, including Reuters, AP, Gulf News, The News, Samaa TV and Newsline.