Adnan Qaiser provides insights on Pakistan’s increasing religious extremism and path towards self-destruction.
By Adnan Qaiser
At the Chicago Summit in May 2012, President Obama stated that the “United States did not want Pakistan to be consumed by its own extremism”. These words echoed the worries of his former National Security Advisor, General James Jones (Ret’d) who had noted in December 2011, that “Pakistan is hell-bent on self-destruction”. Despite Pakistan momentarily shaken into the reality of its internal terrorism following a heart-rending terrorist attack at an army school in Peshawar on 16 December 2014 which killed 143 people including 134 innocent children, Pakistan remains far from realizing the extent of radicalization in its society, which continues to foster terrorism and take the country towards its slow death.
The CIA’s National Intelligence Council report of December 2000, had predicted that by 2015 Pakistan’s “further domestic decline would benefit Islamic political activists, who may significantly increase their role in national politics and alter the makeup and cohesion of the military, once Pakistan’s most capable institution.”
The CIA was not off the mark; nearly all of its estimates proved to be true. Pakistan has become a hub of global terrorism, buoyed by a vast network of ‘supporters and sympathizers among its population’; a fact acknowledged by its interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan. Despite having lost 55,973 precious lives between 2003 and 2014, a sizeable majority in Pakistan seems to be suffering from ‘Taliban Stockholm Syndrome’ and still views militants as its ‘misguided children’.
As Pakistan’s nationalism became notions and expressions of Islamic rage, Muslim honour, and religious certainty (intolerance), it got badly stuck in the maelstrom of extremism, militancy and sectarianism. A 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre found 84% of Pakistanis favoured sharia (Islamic law), which is indicative of the society’s fast-paced radicalization. Pakistan’s isolationist mindset is evident from anti-American tendencies, with 74% considering the U.S. an enemy, and political parties lauding Osama bin Laden as a “martyr of Islam”.
After the Peshawar tragedy, a distraught army officer had been quoted by The Economist as saying, “I am not sure if Pakistan was created in the name of religion, but it is surely being destroyed in the name of religion.”
The military, which has been called by the US Secretary of State John Kerry as a “truly binding force” has been weakened over the years. It vainly tried to take charge after Pakistan’s “9/11” moment. It huddled the wrangling politicians, lifted the government’s moratorium on hangings of convicted terrorists and obtained a consensus on military-courts for speedy trials of terrorism cases through 21st constitutional amendment. However, seen as a parallel judicial system that alters the constitution’s ‘basic structure’ and forfeits fundamental rights, an incensed Supreme Court already stands at warpath against the army.
While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif noted, “Pakistan won’t survive if terrorists (are) not wiped-out”, his 20-point National Action Plan has already failed. Out of 1,859 suspects arrested in 9,074 (pro-forma) operations most of them are already out on bail. With the national coordinator for the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) confirming that three key aspects of the National Action Plan are “no more under consideration” – including action against proscribed outfits, reform of madrassas (religious seminaries) and the repatriation of Afghan refugees – it is generally perceived as having been put to sleep (NAP).
Pakistan’s Islamization finds its roots in the ‘Objective Resolution’ of 1949 by its first Constituent Assembly, which Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto reinforced through his 1974’s ‘Islamic measures’. Later General Zia-ul-Haq brought political Islam not only into the lives of ordinary Pakistanis, but also into the governance and the affairs of state. Unsurprisingly, by 2011 Pakistan had no less than 24 religious parties, 82 sectarian organizations, 104 jihadist outfits and 26 Tableeghi (missionary) groups operating in the country. Over and above, at least six jihadist welfare trusts are said to be providing financial assistance to the Mujahedeen and jihadists, not only in Pakistan but also around the world.
General Pervez Musharraf’s ‘moderate enlightenment’ – by opening-up electronic media – further fuelled religious extremism, as it barraged the conservative population with Western cultural and Indian secular influences, for which it was not prepared. Musharraf’s rigged elections of 2002 brought into power a consortium of religious political parties and sectarian groups called Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in the provinces of NWFP (now KPK) and Baluchistan. MMA – often referred to as Mullah-Military Alliance – adopted several Islamist policies, including a Taliban inspired ‘Hasba bill’ that distorted the complexion and ethos of the society.
Unregulated Madrassas, on the other hand, continue to “fuel militancy” as found by The New York Times in May 2009. Having an estimated 22,052 Madrassas registered in the country, worryingly around 8,249 remain outside the purview of the government. Madrassas’ armed strength and religious clout can be gauged by their refusal to let police enter their premises when the government attempted to register 800 Madrassas in 2005. Inculcating and inciting the spirit of jihad (as religious obligation) among children as young as five, Madrassas had been denounced by former US Secretary Colin Powell as ‘real breeding grounds of fundamentalists and terrorists’ in 2004. Sensing a threat to their monopoly over political Islam and an inflow of unaccountable foreign and domestic funding, clerics, calling terrorism the ‘necessity of the West’ have already rejected Madrassa reforms as ‘an organized campaign against Islam’.
Despite banning some 95 jihadist outfits and putting 4,582 suspects on a terror watch-list, (under a revised strategy of abandoning jihad as an extension of defence and foreign policies since 2002), Pakistan continued to overlook their business as usual under new names. These non-state actors, who in December 2007 became the Punjabi Taliban and joined the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), turned their guns towards the state and demonstrated their lethality through a spate of suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. While the military establishment baulked, the centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) kept appeasing proscribed sectarian and militant groups, considering them its vote-bank. The Long War Journal’s report that Punjab Chief Minister sought to strike a peace-deal with Al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban in July 2010 to spare his province from terrorism is damning, if accurate.
The government’s incapacity can be seen from its provision of police protection to a militant cleric, until recently, despite an arrest warrant issued against him. It was Maulana Abdul Aziz’s Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) whose Fatwa (religious decree) denying Islamic funeral to soldiers martyred in the ‘war on terror’ sparked a mass desertion of troops and resignations of army officers in 2004-2006, as several families refused to receive their dead bodies. While security and intelligence agencies ring alarm bells about Red Mosque, its women seminary, Jamia Hafsa, has invited Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the so-called Islamic State to take revenge for the storming on the Red Mosque in July 2007 – an act tantamount to waging war against the state.
For a long time, Pakistan ignored the issue of terror funding in the country. In the absence of the government’s welfare, it has been the hidden economies and charitable activities providing sustenance to the masses. Pakistan has been unable to put in place a legislative framework and organizational capability that could track the movement of funds connected with illicit militant activities or organized crime. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has admitted that Pakistan’s State Bank and Federal Board of Revenue ‘lack expertise, training and knowhow to monitor such transactions’ – most of which come from four Middle Eastern countries, Hawala/Hundi (cash couriers) and social welfare organizations.
Finally, Pakistan’s army, whose slogan is ‘Iman, Taqwa, Jihad-fe-Sabeel-Allah’ (Faith, Piety and Jihad in the name of God), remains confused and weak. What else could be expected from a force whose former army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, confessed, “We all are fundamentalists because we believe in the principles of Islam. It is only the extremists who need to be sorted out.” The general continues to be castigated by his peers for dithering – being “either scared or too reticent” to take action against the terrorists in North Waziristan who kept slaughtering innocent people and bombing the cities.
The army’s internal conflicts and ideological indoctrination further inspired some of the ex-commissioned and non-commissioned officers to help-out the militants, considering the war on terror an ‘American War’. Unsurprisingly, the attacks carried-out on the military installations, including two assassination attempts on General Musharraf in 2003; attacks on GHQ and ISI headquarters in 2009; Mehran Naval Base in 2011; and Naval Dockyard in 2014, had ex-military footprints. Meanwhile, senior serving officers with links to the banned extremist organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT) continue to emerge.
Acting as a frontline state in the Afghan Jihad, and a major non-NATO ally in the war on terror, Pakistan failed to see the ideological linkages between Mujahedeen, (Kashmiri) Jihadists, Al-Qaeda, Afghan Taliban and Pakistani militants. The army’s fixation with strategic depth in Afghanistan and its preoccupation with the Kashmir uprising allowed these ‘good Taliban’ to flourish for over three decades. On the other hand, political expediency of respective governments kept the sectarian groups unscathed. Such criminal negligence in rooting-out extremism, meanwhile, allowed the Mullahs to thrive through the power of pulpit, militant-Madrassas, and religious economy.
In the absence of a ‘national security policy’, the half-baked ‘internal security policy’ of February 2014, continues to lie in cold storage. Due to serious distrust and a lack of coordination between it’s 33 intelligence agencies, the Peshawar school attack could not be prevented despite an accurate warning issued on 26 August, 2014.
Despite being at war, Pakistan, unfortunately, does not have the will, understanding or urgency to combat terrorism. It has yet to realize that, without eradicating the ‘ideological sources’, militancy, sectarianism and extremism cannot be rooted-out. The fact remains, that all terrorist attacks and sectarian killings in Pakistan are religiously motivated. Taliban, extremist militants and suicide bombers use a false interpretation of Islam, quoting Sharia and Prophet Muhammad’s Hadiths, to justify bloodshed. For too long the radical clerics have used the bogey of ‘Islam under threat’ to propagate jihad and establish their militant foothold among a largely illiterate and conservative populace. Religious leaders now drumming-up NAP as a conspiracy to ‘secularize the country’ further put Pakistan on path towards extermination.
Pakistan did not learn from its dismemberment in December 1971, when East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Without firm resolve, it is getting late in the day for Pakistan to extricate itself from the claws of jihadism. While religious extremism tears-apart this nation-state thread by thread, we are reminded of Martin Niemoller’s famous line, “Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Adnan Qaiser is a defence and political analyst having had a distinguished career in the Pakistan army as well as in international diplomacy and public and social sector development. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the CDA Institute.
(Photo courtesy of Jawad Zakariya via Wikimedia Commons)