Pakistan’s utter failure to stop the extremist political party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), from openly challenging the writ of the state by terrorizing people and unleashing a wave of violence and arson across the country for over a week should raise red flags in countries that are trying to befriend Pakistan, especially Israel.
Israel’s attempt to establish diplomatic relations with a state which patronizes Islamist groups openly is likely to boomerang as France is learning to its cost.
The TLP came into prominence last year when it held Islamabad captive last November to its protests demanding severing of all ties with France over cartoons of Prophet Muhammad published in a French satirical magazine. The Islamist party wanted the immediate ouster of the French Ambassador to Pakistan.
The ferocity of the protest, aided by the patronage of the group by the powerful army, forced the Imran Khan government to capitulate and accept a negotiated surrender. The government accepted the party’s demands and promised to sever all relations with France. The deal was negotiated by a senior officer of the ISI, the army’s intelligence wing.
The army’s direct and open involvement in dealing with the political party’s protest showed the hold the extremist group had on the establishment. The TLP is a progeny of the army, created to politically counter former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his party in Punjab.
What should really worry Tel Aviv is the rapid growth and influence of the extremist party in such a short period and the army’s ready capitulation to its own creation. The party, as in the present case, can virulently turn against Israel in no time, scuttling whatever grand strategy it must be dreaming in befriending an ungovernable Islamist country.
What stands out in the impasse between the Islamist forces now running riot across Pakistan is the visible dithering on the part of the army leadership, resulting in the state writ being challenged so openly. This abject surrender on the part of the army will, as in the past, lead to the consolidation of Islamist forces. A similar episode had kept Pakistan, and the world, on tenterhooks, when several militant groups, once patronized by the army, turned against their master during the regime of military dictator Pervez Musharraf. It was only when the interests of several countries, including China, came under direct threat from these rabid elements, that Musharraf had to use military power to suppress the rising tide of Islamist forces.
The rise of Islamist forces in Egypt, Iraq and Iran in recent times are a clear indicator of such a possibility taking root in Pakistan where the state, particularly the army, has been using extremist religious groups as an instrument of domestic as well as foreign policy.
Tel Aviv should take particular note of the reports of a clutch of Pakistan’s intelligence and security agencies, including the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA). The reports have concluded that the TLP had not only challenged the state writ but decimated it and the emergence of this new force of terror would be contested by other sects and the country could therefore witness competing acts of violence in the near future. The counter-terrorism authority has also warned of increased Sunni radicalization and militarisation.
It is clear from the failure of the army and the Imran Khan government to stem the tide of anarchy unleashed by a few thousand TLP mobsters that Pakistan faces a prolonged civil conflict which is likely to be fuelled by the imminent exit of the US and allied forces from Afghanistan.
A diplomatic relationship with Islamabad would prove to be Tel Aviv’s albatross around the neck. Besides being trapped in an anarchic future, as the TLP episode portends, Israel will risk creating suspicion in neighboring countries which consider the Jewish nation as a close friend and ally. There is nothing to gain from supporting Islamabad. Instead, Israel should join hands with like-minded nations to prevent Pakistan’s surrender to Islamist forces like the TLP.