Best towards the border

In an act of unprecedented depravity, seven Jihadi extremists sent by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) killed 132 innocent school children at the Army Public School, Peshawar, on December 16, 2014. According to Mohhamed Umar Khurasani, the TTP spokesman, the killings were meant to avenge the deaths of innocent people in indiscriminate air strikes and artillery bombing during the ongoing military operation Zarb-e-Azb (sharp and cutting) launched by the Pakistan army in North Waziristan in June 2014. He said, “The government is targeting our families and females… we want them to feel the pain.”
The attack went well beyond mere revenge. Various factions of the Taliban have been waging a continuing war against all education that is not imparted to children in madrassas. (The Taliban are particularly opposed to education for girls as their perverted logic leads them to believe that a woman’s place is at home.) Between 2004 and 2013, as many as 724 attacks were launched by terrorists against schools in Pakistan (Kathy Gilsinan, “Terrorist Attacks on Schools Have Soared in the Past 10 Years”, The Atlantic, December 17, 2014.) The TTP also wished to send a message that the organisation had not been weakened despite military operations launched against it by the army and that it was still capable of striking at will. 
The TTP is an umbrella group of 13 anti-state fundamentalist terrorist organisations that seek to establish an Islamic emirate in Pakistan. It was formed in 2007 by Baitullah Mehsud, a militant tribal chief in Waziristan who was killed in a US drone strike in 2009. The TTP cherished desire is to ensure that Pakistan is governed under Sharia law. It has been instrumental in launching several attacks against Pakistani military establishments – including GHQ, Rawalpindi, and the Mehran Naval Base. It launched a major attack on the Karachi international airport in June this year to avenge the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, the second TTP chief to be killed in a drone strike. (Maulana Fazlullah, the firebrand Islamist leader popularly known as ‘Radio Mullah’, the most recent chief of the TTP, is also reported to have been killed in an air strike by the Pakistan Air Force in Afghanistan soon after the attack at Peshawar.)
At least some factions of the TTP are reported to be sympathetic to the intention of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – the newly proclaimed Caliphate – to expand eastwards to establish the Islamic state of Khorasan, which will include Afghanistan, the Central Asian Republics, eastern Iran and Pakistan. The proponents of caliphates believe that Ghazwa-e-Hind, the final battle, will be fought to extend the Caliphate to India. (Their ultimate aim is to establish a contiguous series of caliphates from the Maghreb in North-west Africa to Indonesia with a common Caliph, the Amir al-Mu'minin – the Commander of the Faithful or Leader of the Believers.)
The deteriorating internal security environment in Pakistan has gradually morphed into its foremost national security threat. Karachi remains a tinderbox that is ready to explode. 
The army claims to have killed over 1,500 terrorists since Zarb-e-Azb was launched, many of them foreign terrorists. The operations, however, have not been very successful as North Waziristan has rugged mountainous terrain that enables the militants to operate like guerrillas and launch hit-and-run raids against the security forces. When cornered, the militants find it easy to slip across the Durand Line and find safe sanctuaries in the Khost and Paktika provinces of Afghanistan. 
As a result of the operation one million civilians were forced to leave their villages and become refugees. Over the last decade, the Pakistan army has deployed more than 150,000 soldiers in the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. 
The Peshawar attack sparked large-scale outrage across Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called it a national tragedy and promised to fight till the “last terrorist is eliminated.” Army chief Raheel Sharif echoed the same sentiments. There is, however, no evidence as yet to suggest that the attack will actually be a ‘turning point’ in Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policy. Sartaj Aziz, foreign policy advisor to Nawaz Sharif, had said recently that terrorists who do not threaten Pakistan’s security should not be targeted.
Prof Christine Fair of Georgetown University, Washington, a well-known South Asia scholar, has written, “Why would anyone believe that Pakistan’s military is discontinuing a long-held policy of distinguishing between ‘good militants’ who operate on its behalf in Afghanistan and India and those “bad militants” who kill Pakistanis? …there should be no doubt that many tens of thousands of Pakistanis are going to die before the Pakistan army abandons jihad as a tool of foreign policy.”
The Pakistan army and the ISI, which together form the ‘deep state’, will not easily give up their strategic assets – the so-called ‘good Taliban’ – (that that they have employed to destabilise India and Afghanistan). In a carefully drawn up strategy to bleed India through a thousand cuts, the Pakistan army and ISI had launched a proxy war against India in Jammu and Kashmir in 1989 through organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). In Afghanistan they used similar tactics even while ostensibly supporting the NATO-ISAF coalition. Such low-cost, high-payoff policies are strategically seductive and get deeply ingrained into the psyche of an army over a period of time.
Creeping Talibanisation and radical extremism are threatening Pakistan’s sovereignty. If the Pakistan army fails to conclusively eliminate the scourge in the north-west, it will soon reach Punjab. After that, it will only be a matter of time before the terrorist organisations manage to push the extremists across the Radcliffe Line into India – first ideologically and then physically. There has already been one major incident of violence at the Wagah border on the Pakistan side. It is in India’s interest for Pakistan to succeed in its fight against radical extremism, or else India will have to fight the Taliban at the Atari-Wagah border.
The writer is former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.