From the Daily Times
The religious groups that opposed Pakistan’s creation in 1947 — namely, the JUIF and the JI — are closing ranks for a common cause: opposing military action against the Taliban and undermining Pakistan’s rebirth as a moderate Muslim democracy
The ongoing military operation against Taliban insurgents in Malakand Division is more than a matter of national survival: it is Pakistan’s last chance to rid itself of the self-induced cancer of violent jihadi politics, and reclaim Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan as a democratic state in sync with rest of the world.
However, it is important to note that the religious parties that opposed Jinnah’s Pakistan 62 years ago are now trying to subvert the struggle for reclaiming Pakistan. This was amply reflected at the All Parties Conference held at the Prime Minister’s house in Islamabad on May 18. While the main national parties supported military operation against the Taliban, the Jama’at-e Islami and the Jamiat-e Ulema-e Pakistan (F) opposed it, leading some Conference participants to note that these “religious parties were opposing the military action because of their ethnic and religious affinity with the Taliban,” as reported in this paper. (May 20)
Even so, there is nothing new about the pro-Taliban, pro-Al Qaeda stance of the JUIF and the JI. In the past, security forces have apprehended or gunned down Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists in the homes of JI and JUIF members in Rawalpindi and Zhob, where the terrorists were hiding. Indeed, for leaders of JI and JUIF, Osama bin Laden is a hero of Islam and attempts to portray him as a terrorist are part of conspiracies against Islam.
One only has to recall the reaction of this religio-political lobby during the Musharraf era to an ad the print media carried portraying bin Laden and Al Qaeda leaders as “religious terrorists”. Reacting to the ad at a public meeting, the JUIF information secretary asserted that “Osama is a hero to Islamic world and the Musharraf government would not get any sympathy by branding him a religious terrorist”.
On his part, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, then Amir of the JI, described the ad as part of an international conspiracy in which “Pakistan’s government had sided with the Zionists’ agenda”. He went on to argue that “bracketing of Islamists with terrorists (was) a Zionist conspiracy because Islam is fast spreading in Europe and America”. (The Nation, July 2, 2002)
However, it is intriguing that many Pakistanis, especially in the religious right, continue to see the September 11 attacks against America as part of an Israeli conspiracy to discredit Muslims — even after key Al Qaeda leaders have virtually owned up to the 9/11 attacks. In fact, in a website interview last year, Al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al Zawahiri accused Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah of “trying to discredit Al Qaeda network by spreading the conspiracy theory that Israel was behind the 11 September attacks”. “The purpose of this lie,” Zawahiri went on, was to suggest “that there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hit America as no one else did in history.” (The News, April 24, 2008)
At the same time, Zawahiri denounced the peace deal on Swat last month, describing it as part of an American strategy “encouraging Pakistan government to make deals with Taliban across the border with Afghanistan”. However, confident of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan’s loyalty to Al Qaeda’s agenda for violent global jihad, Zawahiri warned that despite the deal “the problem will not end…It will escalate”.
No wonder, then, that the TTP was quick to ‘escalate’ the problem: it turned the Swat agreement on its head and invited Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omer to “settle” in Swat. At the same time, Taliban militants moved into Buner and Lower Dir, instead of laying down their arms as required by the Swat agreement between Taliban godfather Sufi Muhammad and the government.
Clearly, the breakdown of the deal was a deliberate act rooted in the Taliban-Al Qaeda agenda for pushing violent jihad across Pakistan in the name of sharia. Indeed, as the Taliban made clear, enforcing sharia law was not to be confined to Malakand Division, as Sufi Muhammad had assured the government, but “across Pakistan and the whole world”, as Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan told CNN in a telephonic interview.
Given these home truths about the Taliban-Al Qaeda nexus, the religious right’s argument — that military action could have been avoided had the government given the peace deal a chance — carries little weight. Indeed, if there is “an international conspiracy to change the geography of Pakistan”, as JI leaders claimed last Friday at a press conference in Islamabad, such conspiracy seems rooted in a global jihadist agenda of turning Pakistan into a base for a Wahhabi-Salafist Caliphate.
The fact of the matter is that the Taliban insurgency is spurred by a religiosity where terrorism and assassination are religious traditions; concepts that Al Qaeda ideologue Abu Mu’sab al Suri brought from Muslim Brotherhood camps in the Middle East to the Taliban training camps in Afghanistan where he was an instructor. These ideas continue to be flaunted in jihadist CDs celebrating beheadings of their opponents in Pakistan.
Ironic as it may seem, perhaps no leader in the Muslim world had a deeper grasp of the dark side of Al Qaeda and Taliban than former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. This is reflected in Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West (Schuster, 2008), the book she completed on the day of her assassination on December 27, 2007.
Indeed, her observations on the insurgents in northwestern Pakistan and their hatred for democracy encapsulates the present crisis of Pakistan — where “Al Qaeda and Taliban operate…with impunity, arrogance and brutality.” For Bhutto, the answer to the crisis lay in strengthening democracy, which “removes the oxygen from the air of extremists. They understand this better than anyone else and deliberately target democratic forces as a strategy for expanding their goal of an obscurantist Empire, which they call ‘Islamic’. Muslims such as myself reject the notion that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or extremists are the real face of the Muslim masses.” (p.208)
In a sense, then, the ongoing battle for Pakistan reflects a contestation between two opposite narratives: on the one hand, Pakistan as a modern democratic Muslim state spurred by an egalitarian spirit of Islam as envisioned by Jinnah; on the other, Pakistan as a launchpad for a theocratic Islamic caliphate envisioned by a trinity of Arab terrorists — the Saudi bin Laden, the Egyptian Al Zawahiri and the Syrian Al Suri.
Here, the religious groups that opposed Pakistan’s creation in 1947 — namely, the JUIF and the JI — are closing ranks for a common cause: opposing military action against the Taliban and undermining Pakistan’s rebirth as a moderate Muslim democracy.
In the long battle that lies ahead, it is imperative to rally around Jinnah’s legacy to confront jihadi terror, which has wormed its way into Pakistan and destroyed Afghanistan.
Suroosh Irfani is an educationist and writer based in Lahore.