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Peshawar attack may signal coming collapse of Pakistan

By Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)
December 19, 2014 11:53 IST
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Attack on Peshawar school'A collapsing Pakistan may well unleash its nuclear weapons as the last throw of the dice. With a nuclear arsenal of over 50 bombs, even a regional nuclear exchange can devastate the world,' points out Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

Terror attacks on innocents are abhorrent and especially so when depraved men target school children. The Peshawar school attack on December 16 will surely be classified as one of the most dastardly along with the Beslan school attack in Russia during which 385 people including 186 school children were killed by Chechen terrorists in North Ossetia ten years ago.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Chechen terrorists both claim to be fighting for their Islamic faith and said the attacks were for revenge. Peshawar, a global centre of Buddhism in ancient times, is no stranger to violence against children.

In September, a church was attacked and over 80 worshippers, including many children, killed.

Along with sympathy for grieving Pakistani families, many in India fervently hope this will be a wake-up call for Pakistan and its people/government will give up their sympathy/support to other terror groups that target India.

Coincidentally, to the day, the Peshawar terror attack took place exactly 43 years after another traumatic event for Pakistan; the defeat in the Bangladesh war of 1971.

If one has to go by the Pakistani record in this respect, then one should have little hope of the Peshawar attack becoming a turning point.

Pakistan can be called the capital of conspiracy theorists. A survey after 9/11 had showed that a full 75 per cent people believed that the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York was a Central Intelligence Agency/Israeli conspiracy by pointing out the difficulty in accurately flying an aircraft into buildings by amateur pilots.

The conspiracy theorists are silent about the other two aircraft, one that targeted the Pentagon and other that was forced to crash in Philadelphia. These are ignored as they do not fit into their narrative. Even these nuts cannot argue that the CIA targeted the Pentagon or the White House.

On a visit to Pakistan in July 2006, I heard similar stories about the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament or the July 2002 attack on Indian Army families in Kaluchak, Jammu and Kashmir, as orchestrated by Indian intelligence agencies.

About the Mumbai 2008 attacks, fantastic stories are mouthed by Pakistani talking heads on Indian television. It was first claimed that the lone captured terrorist was an Indian and not a Pakistani.

When the Pakistani media traced him to his village in Pakistani Punjab, it was claimed that he was a cook or that he was kidnapped in Kathmandu and planted in Mumbai while Indian intelligence planned the attack to defame Pakistan.

Muhammad Saeed of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, who planned the Mumbai attacks, is already claiming that the Peshawar attack was carried out by Indian agents.

Pakistan is a delusional State founded on lies. The first lie was to give a slogan of 'Islam in danger' to incite the masses in 1946/47 to demand separation from India. In reality, it was the Muslim aristocracy's fear of loss of privilege and land in a democratic India that prompted feudal elements in Uttar Pradesh to demand Pakistan.

To scare the Congress leaders with violence in 1946, Mohammad Ali Jinnah gave a call for 'direct action,' an euphemism for communal violence. Even after the formation of a separate state and ethnic cleansing of minorities (whose proportion went down from 14 per cent to less than 1 per cent) the insecure elite needed the bogey of an Indian threat to cling on to power.

The monster of the Taliban and its fanaticism has its roots in the Zia-ul Haq years of indoctrination. In 1979, under his instructions teaching of history was abandoned and instead a new subject 'Pakistan Studies' was created. I obtained Pakistani text books for classes VI to X. The books revealed a frightening picture of hate India brainwashing being carried out. This was published for the first time in an Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses journal (October 1988, Vol XII, No 7).

The writing on the wall was clear -- once this Zia generation come of age, Pakistan would be a jihadi country. This point was conveyed to the government of the day and to the US National Security Council (in July 1991) personally by me. In the late 1990s, two eminent Pakistani scholars, Professor A H Nayyar and Pervez Hoodbhoy took up the issue of revision of Pakistani text books and detoxify them. It is nearly two decades since that effort began, but the indoctrination of Pakistani children continues unabated.

Finally some questions to the Lashkar-e-Tayiba leadership in Pakistan that spearheads the proxy war against India. It is quite understandable that they are consumed by a desire to avenge the Bangladesh defeat and also wrest Jammu and Kashmir from India.

But given the adverse balance of forces (India's is 9 times that of Pakistan), the presence of nuclear weapons, the end of US support, an ambivalent China and declining Arab clout as oil revenues shrink, do they seriously think that Pakistan can militarily defeat India?

It has been a record of past history of guerrilla wars that in the end the fight has been won by conventional forces. This was true of the Chinese civil war, Vietnam and Afghanistan. The final outcome had to wait till the conventional army collapsed and joined the insurgents. Till this happened even Mohammad Najibullah of Afghanistan defied the Taliban for three years from 1989 till 1992.

Does the Lashkar-e-Tayiba expect the Indian Army to collapse or defect en masse? If not, then what does the terror campaign achieve except heaping misery on the people? Some Indians will lose their lives but for a country of over 1 billion plus, these losses are not unacceptable.

Muhammad Saeed needs to re-read the history of medieval times. At the end of the 17th and early 18th century the Mughal empire was one of the strongest in military terms. Emperor Aurangzeb became obsessed with defeating the Marathas. He moved south and fought for 27 years, ended up being buried in Maharashtra. The Mughal empire lay in tatters at the end of this war. Can the fate of Pakistan be any different?

Rather than being a wake-up call, the Peshawar incident may well herald the beginning of the end of Pakistan as we know it. Herein lies the danger, not just for India, but for the entire world.

A collapsing Pakistan may well unleash its nuclear weapons as the last throw of the dice. During the Cold War era, as the Soviet Union showed signs of decline, Henry Kissinger often worried that a collapsing Soviet Union may well plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust. Luckily, mankind eluded that nightmare.

Will the direct or indirect supporters of Pakistan worldwide take note of this danger to their and the world's survival? With a nuclear arsenal of over 50 bombs, even a regional nuclear exchange can devastate the world.

Optimists may feel that the horrific Peshawar incident may well make Pakistan take another U-turn (like in the wake of 9/11). The stakes are indeed high for India.

We must help Pakistan on to the path of reform while the world must keep its powder dry to defang a likely Talibanised Pakistan.

Image: Soldiers at the site of the Peshawar attack. Photograph: Reuters

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) is a military historian and coordinator, Indian Initiative for Peace, Arms-control & Disarmament.


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Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)