Why Isn't The West Helping Pakistan Fight Terrorism?

I have worked as a consultant with the highest levels of Pakistani civil society for 10 years, and the one constant in that time was the country's struggle against terror.

The deadly church attack in Quetta on Sunday (December 17) reminds us that every government must keep its citizens safe, whatever their religion or sect.

Sunday's attack was not an isolated incident, however. On Easter Sunday last year, 75 people, mostly women and children, were killed in Lahore by a Pakistani-Taliban affiliated group.

During Christmas in 2014, 132 schoolchildren were murdered by six foreign terrorists in Peshawar. Some of the victims were as young as eight.

It is this attack that can tell us the most about what is really going on in Pakistan. The target was an Army Public School, and the victims were the sons and daughters of officers in Pakistan's Armed Forces—the one institution that has muscle in the country's fight against terror.

For years, the real war in Pakistan has been a macrocosm of what happened in Peshawar: An army fighting against a militant threat from both within and without the country.

The refusal of some of us in the West to understand this has not only prolonged, but actually exacerbated Pakistan's suffering. And it has made the region, and the world, more dangerous.

In the 1980s, the U.S. worked with Pakistan to fund and manage the Mujahidin. The goal was to save the free world from Soviet domination by humiliating the Red Army.

That goal was achieved, but as the foreign money dried up the relationship soured, and the inheritors of the Mujahidin turned on the Pakistan army, exploiting sympathizers within parts of the Pakistani establishment in the process.

Quetta church attack
A policeman walks amidst debris and damage after gunmen attacked the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, Pakistan December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

To this day, the Pakistani army has found itself fighting a war on terror on two fronts: One direction is to root out the persistent support networks inside the country; the second direction is to put down the continuing insurgencies coming from the Pakistani Taliban.

The matter is complicated by allegations that the Pakistani Taliban has received support from Indian intelligence, as well as elements of the Afghan government who see the Pakistani Taliban as a counterweight to the Afghan Taliban (the two groups are ideologically and ethnically aligned, but in practice rarely see eye to eye).

The foreign involvement is most pronounced in Baluchistan, the site of Sunday's church attack. Baluchistan houses Gwadar port: A Chinese-owned and operated port on the Arabian sea. It is Pakistan's gateway to Asian trade and a prominent feature in China's plans to dominate Asia economically through ambitious initiatives like One Belt, One Road, and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Recent Chinese investment in Pakistan totals more than $60 billion (£44 billion). Not only has this significant consequences for China, but also for its regional rival India.

Sino-India relations are so frayed that, as recently as August this year, Chinese and Indian troops were at an armed stand-off over the disputed Doklam territory.

Pakistan has had 19 Prime Ministers since 1947. The most successful one lasted four years. The most short-lived lasted four days. Is it any wonder that many ordinary Pakistanis see the army as the guardian of the state?

Ultimately, Pakistan's problems can only be solved through generational change driven by civil society institutions. But civil society can only flourish when there is security and stability. Right now, the army is a necessary institution to supply this framework of security.

No doubt, Pakistan's history proves that the army alone is not the answer. Successive civilian governments have skirmished with the army, complaining it has too much power, while the generals complained about poor performance of civilian leaders while they defended the nation.

The reality is that if we want the massacres to stop, the West must support Pakistan's security forces in fighting the terror threats it faces and stopping it from proliferating abroad.

Only then can we see a chance of a more stable civilian democracy emerging that is friendly to our interests. Otherwise, we will see an accelerating shift to China, even as the killings continue.


Muddassar Ahmed leads British PR consultancy Unitas Communications. He is a former UK Govt advisor and the President of the John Adams Society. You can follow him on Twitter.