Wed January 18, 2017
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Opinion by Heela Najibullah

ISI’s strategic depth has failed the nation of Pakistan

As an Afghan, the barbaric slaughter of school children in Peshawar was a reminder of the everyday carnage of innocent Afghans by the same extremist groups who have continued killing their own Muslim brothers and sisters for decades now. As I was reading the news and following the unfolding of the events on social media, I was confronted with many reports and opinions that inspired me to share my thoughts with my Afghan fellows and the youth in Pakistan.

I grew up in violence and conflict in the 1980s Afghanistan, although the world condemned the government in power because of the support it had from the Soviet Union, the news of innocent lives lost would hardly reach the countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The Mujahideen were the holy warriors and the West lauded their actions of terror as acts of freedom fighters. Hillary Clinton acknowledged the fact that groups such as the Haqqani were financed by the US during the Cold War in Pakistan. Despite claiming responsibility for killing innocent Afghans, the Haqqanis and their likes are walking freely on Pakistani territory.

What disturbs me about the coverage of media on Peshawar's attack is that the extremist groups responsible for terror attacks are labeled on the basis of nationality. The continued distinction of the terror groups by the Pakistani authorities is the indication that their fear towards India still dictates their policy of strategic depth in Afghanistan. If the Pakistan government and ISI want to end the menace of terrorism in the region, they have no choice but to change their mindsets as well as their current narrative on terror groups such as the Taliban. There is no such thing as a good or bad Taliban, Afghan or Pakistani or young and old Taliban and none of these groups have leverage over each other. We all have fallen prey to the violent acts of terror.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani very accurately points out in his article today, "The savage attack in Peshawar demonstrates the futility of attacking one group of jihadis while leaving others in place." Therefore, ISI's strategic depth has failed. My father, the former Afghan President Najibullah, twenty years ago, in one of his speeches had explicitly said that the fire Pakistan had ignited in Afghanistan would eventually engulf the region and the world. In the short term, with the five years of Taliban rule, perhaps ISI thought of itself as a winner but in the long run not only ISI but all of us have lost. We have lost because our future generations have to live in fear and become victims of hatred and violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan or India.

It is important that the Pakistani leadership, in this historical and delicate moment, take decisions not on the basis of fear but for the future of the region. They have to stop hosting and sponsoring the Taliban and other terror groups. A school going child in Kabul, Paktika, Helmand, Kunar is no different to the school children in Peshawar, Quetta or Karachi. They have one aspiration, i.e. to learn and they should be given an equal chance to do so.

To the citizens and Pakistani youth, I would like to say that you are not alone, there are many Afghans such as myself who share your pain, fears and sorrow. I lost my 1st grade teacher who was eight months pregnant and her 12 years old son in a market bombing in 1982 when I was five years old. I lost a dear classmate in a cluster bomb because he thought it was a toy, he was only 11 years old in 1988. I would have nightmares, as a child that what happened to Shah Rukh would happen to me. I have lost family members whose deaths remain a mystery like the ones of assassinated Pakistani leaders. Even today, three decades later, in 2014 the Taliban have killed many young innocent children and teenagers in Paktika, Istiqlal School, and Helmand. Therefore, I can say that Afghans such as myself can only understand the pain of the families and friends who have lost their loved ones in Peshawar. If there is any nation that understands your sorrow, pain, anger and fear that would be Afghanistan because decades since the start of strategic depth, Afghanistan's new generations are still killed in vain by acts of terror.

In this moment of trauma and pain, I just hope that you take a moment to also look deeper and understand why this is happening to you. I hope that you realise that the failed policies of ISI and the Pakistani authorities have equally wounded us. I dream of the day that your recognition of a desperate need for a shift in the regional policies of your country can eventually lead to a change of your policy makers mindset. In the hope that it may extinguish the fire my father had spoken about so our next generations can live in peace. From experience, I know that your hearts will carry this heavy weight of loss for years to come but I know with time you will heal. May their souls rest in peace along all those who have been the victims of terror around the world.

Heela Najibullah is a peace scholar and an aid worker.

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