Michael Kugelman, a senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson
By Iftikhar Hussain and Niala Mohammad
Michael Kugelman, a senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington D.C. and a leading expert on Pakistan. Kugelman says that militants in Pakistan are resilient due to the enabling environment of extremism. Following the Quetta suicide attack, Michael Kugelman spoke with VOA Deewa on the continuous militant attacks within Pakistan, limited impact of Pakistan’s campaign against terrorism, the military’s anti-India approach, and its policy of distinguishing between good and bad Taliban. The interview with Kugelman was done by VOA’s Iftikhar Hussain. Following is a complete transcript of the Michael Kugelman’s interview:
Question: Your recent WSJ piece “Hospital Bombing in Quetta, Pakistan, Fits Pattern of Terror Attacks on ‘Soft Targets'” gives an interesting insight to why militants thrive in Pakistan. Could you elaborate on those reasons for our audience?
Kugelman Answer: I think it’s very simple why Pakistan continues to suffer from terrorism even after two years of a heavy military offensive in North Waziristan. The issue here, the environment, the climate continues to be conducive for terrorists. You have the types of narratives, the types of ideologies that drive militancy and terror. This messaging coming from clerics, that appears in school text books, that you quite frankly hear on the television that talks about how India, the US and Israel are trying to surround and harm Pakistan and Islam. These are narratives that are everywhere across society in Pakistan. And these are the types of narratives that terrorists are able to act upon violently. So, you have that on the one hand and then of course the other issue is that you have a Pakistani state that continues to distinguish between so called good and so called bad militants. And it only goes after the terrorists that launch attacks in Pakistan. You have plenty of terror groups inside Pakistan like Lashkar e Taiba and the Haqqani network that don’t attack Pakistan they attack other places, other countries.
All of these terrorist groups regardless of who they target, they are all cut from the same cloth, and they all want to do terrible things. And most importantly you have members of these diff orgs that go back and forth between the other. This comes back to what I was saying earlier, that the climate and the environment in Pakistan is simply so enabling for extremism and allows terrorism to flourish. This is why you can kill so many terrorists as Pakistan has. And yet until you kill the ideology that drives these terrorists you are not going to make terrorism go away.
Question: Pakistan’s military chief Gen Raheel Sharif visited Quetta following the massacre stated that the attack was “an effort to destabilize CPEC”. This statement was widely criticized because terrorism was already in existence in the region and attacks had occurred prior to CPEC being launched in the province. Why do you think General Sharif he devised his statement as such?
Kugelman Answer: I think it was really inconsiderate and inappropriate of the Pakistani military to essentially suggest that this attack was meant to sabotage CPEC and to undermine the improved security environment to sabotage CPEC. I mean, let’s face it, Baluchistan was not exactly a stable place before this attack happened. The military by pitching its argument that way, by saying this was meant to sabotage CPEC that allows the military to really subtly accuse India of being behind this attack. Because the Pakistani army for several months has been accusing India for trying to sabotage this CPEC. And of course CPEC is very important for the Pakistani military. So essentially what you have here is the Pakistani security establishment has been resorting to the same type of blame game and denial that it has so many times. It simply refuses to acknowledge that there are forces inside Pakistan that continue to have the ability to launch horrific mass causality attacks.
A group like Jamat ul Ahrar its status or connection to the Taliban is unclear. At one point it had broken off I think it is still a part of the TTP, but the bottom line is that even after two years of military offenses in North Waziristan you have a terror group like Jamat ur Ahrar that is able to stage mass causality attacks across the country as its done in the Lahore park attack, its attacked, it’s gone after churches. This is a group that staged at least 10 attacks over the last year or so. It has a lot of ability to get things done, and if the army were to acknowledge that, then it would essentially be admitting that the military has not eliminated the all of the major threats, the terrorist threats to the Pakistani state. So instead it simply resorts to the usual blaming of India and blaming outside forces which is not very helpful and of course is not very accurate.
Question: Pakistan’s anti-terrorism policy has not delivered. To put it in the words of Pakistan’s Senate Chairman, Raza Rabbani “it’s like fire-fighting, the state puts out one fire and then waits for the next fire to erupt.” What type of strategy does the state of Pakistan need in order to yield results?
Kugelman Answer: I would actually agree with what Senator Rabani has had to say in this regard that Pakistan really does need a strategy, it needs a very clear strategy, a very specific strategy that lays out exactly what’s going to happen and when. But on the other hand Pakistan has come up with strategies, plenty of strategies, Pakistan has developed all kinds of policies and measures to deal with terrorism. One of the more prominent ones in recent years was the National Action Plan (NAP), which was a 20 point agenda for dealing with terrorism and violent extremism. The problem is that the measures laid out in that NAP have not been followed up on, they really haven’t been implemented. And this is the crux of the problem, I think that devising the right strategy is hard enough but the issue of implementing, and overseeing and enforcing various aspects of implementation are the challenge. And quite frankly it’s perfectly nice to have this 20 point plan that talks about the need to criminalize hate speech to remove hardline extremist narratives but, actually getting that done is very difficult. And in Pakistan the reason why it’s so hard to get that done is that you have very powerful interests such as those that I had mentioned earlier, religious forces and even elements of the state that really don’t have interest. They don’t want these enabling environments to be eliminated because let’s face you could argue that the state in Pakistan derives some benefit from propagating these hardline narratives about India and all because it essentially portrays India to threat which therefore gives the military legitimacy to essentially have a big role in the state in Pakistan to protect the country from India.
So, I would argue that the big problem and the big challenge for Pakistan is not as much with developing policies and strategies but actually implementing them and following through on them. And for that to be done you’re going to need some whole sale changes in state policy. One being the need to essentially reject all forms of terrorism and its practitioners.