One of the most unintended casualties of the terrorist attack at Pathankot has been that the Indian media, or large sections of it, went overboard in giving out the "news" of the "detention of Masood Azhar", the chief of the dreaded Jaish-e-Mohammed which has been accused by India of masterminding the attack on the Indian Air Force base. Governmental authorities in both India and Pakistan contradicted the story. This was too natural. Masood Azhar is very close to sections of the Pakistani civil and military administration.
It was later clarified that he was only taken under "protective custody". A day after, the Pakistani establishment openly clarified that Masood Azhar was not arrested.
But this is enough to shake the very foundation of the state of Pakistan. It conclusively establishes before the world that Pakistan is now only some steps away from being a territorial conglomeration of different terrorist power centres. Very little of Islamabad's writ runs in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas(FATA). In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan(TTP) is supreme. Although a provincial government run by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) of Imran Khan is there, it is common knowledge that the PTI could win the election because of tacit support from the TTP. Different terrorist organizations have in fact divided Sindh among themselves and have carved out their own territorial jurisdictions. In Punjab four terrorist organizations - Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-i-Sahaba - are really powerful. Of late the TTP has also penetrated deep inside the province.
Pakistan has now the onus to prove to the world that it is not a terrorist state. It has now become extremely necessary for Islamabad, after US President Barack Obama's comments that Pakistan could become a safe haven for terrorists and that the country would continue to face instability for decades to come.
The Pathankot incident, however, did display a difference with what happened during the Mumbai attack of 2008 when Pakistan had denied any connection with the terrorists and washed its hands off the charge. This time, the response as well as cooperation from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was prompt. It shows that a qualitative change has occurred in the equation that some of the terrorist groups enjoy with the Pakistani administration and the army.
This change is however half-hearted and, therefore, Pakistan is now saying that it would take action against Masood Azhar if his culpability is proved "beyond doubt". There is no need to wait for the completion of the probe as there is plenty of evidence against the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief and his organization. After it was banned in 2002, Jaish-e-Mohammed split into several cells which were linked to the Al-Qaeda. Masood Azhar coordinated the activities of these splinter groups from his underground shelter and launched two successive attempts to eliminate then president Pervez Musharraf. Azhar was also the principal brain behind the building up of Islamic fundamentalist insurgency around Islamabad's Lal Masjid.
The Pathankot terrorist strike affects Pakistan very seriously. By a single stroke, it has disrobed the extreme vulnerability of the country's security and stability. Both India and Pakistan have exhibited prudence by only deferring the foreign secretary-level talks and rescheduling it in the "very near future". But saner voices in Pakistan are now questioning the policy of the state in giving long rope to some non-state actors who are creating havoc with impunity.
But Pakistan needs to undertake some surgical operations into its polity if it really wants to come out of the quagmire and stave off destruction. There is a limit to which it can go so far as operations in the FATA area are concerned. Moreover, the Pashtun community lives on both sides of the Durand Line that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the agreement creating the Durand Line expired long ago and if the Pashtuns living on the Pakistan side and facing military action now want to join Afghanistan, it will mean the dismemberment of Pakistan.
Patronization of the Deobandi school of thought has now become the bane of Pakistan. Fundamentalism has now struck so deep a root that even the Election Commission has not been left untouched. During the last election, the commission had invoked articles 62 and 63 of the constitution which forbade anybody who was not a practising Muslim from contesting. Even the candidature of a renowned journalist like Ayaz Amir was rejected on the charge that he drank.
The Pakistan Army must immediately dismantle the unholy alliance between a section of it and the fundamentalist outfits. Unfortunately no such serious attempt is in sight. On the contrary quite a few army and naval officers, many of them being Shias, have been murdered after they protested against inaction on the part of their superiors against organizations like the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
(Amitava Mukherjee is a senior journalist and commentator. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)