The Enemy Within

Terrorism and the denial problem

By Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi              crosspost from Daily Times, 28 March, 2010

The most serious threat to Pakistan’s political stability and economic development is the growing terrorist attacks by the various Taliban groups and other militant Islamic groups that use violence to pursue their narrow-based religious and political agendas.

        Gen. Zia ul Haque

    Pakistan army soldiers carry a coffin of a colleague who lost his life during a fight against al-Qaida and Taliban

Pakistan’s societal harmony and political stability is threatened by the complex challenges of religious intolerance, Islamic-sectarian violence, militancy and jihadi culture against the backdrop of the regional and global environment that is not always helpful. These domestic ailments have compromised Pakistan’s capacity to cope with global pressures and improve its bargaining position in international diplomacy.

Pakistan’s most serious handicap is its troubled economy, which depends heavily on economic assistance from international financial institutions and other countries, especially Western countries, including the US. It faces acute problems both at the macro and micro levels, with growing economic pressures on the common people due to inflation, corruption and power shortages. Further, religious extremism and terrorism have dissuaded foreign investors from bringing their capital into Pakistan. Several Pakistani investors have shifted a part or all of their economic activity to the Gulf States, which has adversely affected Pakistan’s economy and weakened its links with the global economy.

In addition to the problems of the economy, Pakistan’s internal harmony and stability are threatened by Islamic-sectarian violence and terrorist attacks in different cities. This type of violence causes serious human and material losses and threatens economic prospects. Suicide attacks and bombings also cause insecurity among the people and weaken their confidence in the government.

The main sources of Pakistan’s current troubles are internal. Religious intolerance has caused social and cultural distortions in Pakistan. This builds societal pressures on non-Muslim citizens who face violent threats from various hardline Islamic groups and the state is often unable to protect them.

Sectarian violence has increased because religious intolerance denies the pluralist nature of Muslim societies. The activists of different sectarian groups fight gang wars with each other. Denominational differences do not adversely affect the day-to-day interaction among ordinary people who live in mixed neighbourhoods.

Sectarian violence is initiated by hardline religious-sectarian groups and their diehard supporters, who also subscribe to the jihadi culture. There were serious incidents of Shia-Sunni violence in December and February in Karachi. The most unfortunate incident took place on the eve of the birth anniversary of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) when the followers of the Deobandi/Wahabi Islamic tradition clashed with the followers of the Barelvi tradition who had taken out a festive procession on that occasion. It is noteworthy that the students of a madrassa blocked the route of the procession, which resulted in violence. Earlier this month, some religious leaders with known links with a banned sectarian organisation were killed in a daylight assault in Karachi.

The most serious threat to Pakistan’s political stability and economic development is the growing terrorist attacks by the various Taliban groups and other militant Islamic groups that use violence to pursue their narrow-based religious and political agendas.

Pakistani state and society are threatened by reckless violence bred by the Pakistani Taliban, other militant groups based in the tribal areas, and sectarian and jihadi organisations based in Punjab and Sindh. The Taliban launch suicide attacks and bombings in and around government installations and places of public use, including mosques. They also execute their adversaries in public and throw their dead bodies to terrorise people and destroy schools, especially those for girls.

Pakistan’s civilian and military authorities have been taking tough action against them since the last week of April 2009, when they initiated a comprehensive security operation in Swat, followed by a similar operation in South Waziristan in October. Currently, the security forces are engaged in similar operations in other tribal agencies, especially in Orakzai, Kurram, Khyber and Bajaur.

Despite such a massive challenge of religious extremism and terrorism, a large section of politically active people do not fully comprehend the lethality of this threat. The conservative and orthodox Islamic groups and the political rightists are suffering from varying degrees of denial of this threat.

Most of them are not prepared to admit that they have a very simplistic view of the complex security situation in Pakistan. They would condemn terrorism and the killing of innocent people. However, if you ask them to condemn the Taliban or other militant groups, either they do not blame the Taliban and other militant groups or try to sympathise with their cause.

There are religious leaders who argue that the agents of Pakistan’s foreign adversaries and criminals engage in terrorist attacks and that the ‘genuine’ Taliban are not involved in such activities. They argue that the Taliban are true Muslims and friends of Pakistan and that no Muslim can engage in violence. Some openly name India, Israel and the US for sponsoring terrorism in order to destabilise Pakistan.

The ‘foreign devil’ argument is based on the Islamic discourse propagated during and after the years of General Zia’s rule. The Pakistani state socialised young people in regular educational institutions and through the media in Islamic orthodoxy and militancy. Therefore, the minds of a large number of people are receptive to what Islamic hardline leaders and leaders of the jihadi groups argue: that the whole world is determined to destroy the Muslims and Islam. They have a dichotomised view of domestic and global politics: we, the Muslims versus they, the enemies of Islam.

Such a state of mind develops sympathy for the Taliban and other militant Islamic groups, especially those engaged in fighting the Indian troops in Kashmir. The Islamic groups and militants play up the Kashmir issue and anti-India sentiments to sustain their support in society.

The denial problem afflicts the official civilian and military circles where the people at the lower echelons are not fully convinced that the Taliban can be held responsible for Pakistan’s current predicament. A popular theme with the Punjab government is the denial of existence of the Punjabi Taliban, i.e. a conglomerate of jihadi and sectarian groups. Some Urdu newspaper columnists have argued that talk of the Punjabi Taliban is to create a pretext for military action in Punjab. A Lahore-based Urdu newspaper argued in its editorial on March 21, 2010 that the government should stop using the Pakistan Army against the Afghan Taliban, pull back troops from the tribal areas and post them on the troubled India-Pakistan border.

As long as covert support and sympathy for militancy and jihadi culture is present in Punjab, it is going to be an uphill task to get rid of religious extremism and militancy.

[Continuing from the last few paragraphs, here is a short excerpt from Kamran Shafi’s column – BC (PTH)]:

We must never forget Ziaul Haq

By Kamran Shafi  |  Dawn, 30 Mar, 2010
We are told that Ziaul Haq, yes the very same Ziaul Haq at whose door the responsibility of unleashing the demons responsible for most of our present travails can and should be placed, is to be excised from the nation’s history by his name being struck off the list of Pakistani presidents.

One has to immediately ask if this act will also take away the spectre of religious extremism that the man gave birth to and nurtured until it became a scourge that we Pakistanis have to face every moment of our lives; or that the baradari (clan) politics he (re-)introduced will simply go away; or that it will automatically rid the country of his horrendous Hudood Ordinances under which tens of poor women have been horribly violated and hundreds of our minority brothers and sisters have been murdered and tortured and jailed?

No, a thousand times no. Instead of removing his name from the squalid history of our poor country, Ziaul Haq’s name must be kept alive so that succeeding generations are reminded of the tyrant and his doings that so completely destroyed Pakistan and its social fabric.

Statues of the dictator, resplendent in his general’s uniform gongs, ribbons, medals, sashes, toshdans and all, should be raised in all the major cities of Pakistan with his crimes against the people inscribed in large letters on marble plaques at the base of the statues.

Rather than forgetting the man, the government should periodically run paid advertisements in the newspapers and on television stations enumerating his acts that have brought the country to near ruin.

Indeed, these ads could be run immediately after another heartrending bombing carried out by the religious terrorists who can rightly be called ‘Zia’s grandchildren’; bombings that kill and maim and terrorise even women and children. No, friends, we must never forget the dictator and what he did to us.


Filed under Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Army, Democracy, Education, Islamism, Pakistan, Religion, state, Taliban, Terrorism, USA, War On Terror

6 responses to “The Enemy Within

  1. Midfield Dynamo

    Zia wrote to King Khaled on November 25th, 1979. “The devotees of Islam who are once again free to offer worship in the Grand Mosque owe to your majesty a debt of gratitude”. After the supposed end of the siege of Kaaba by armed militants who had brought along with them an alleged Mahdi, Muhammad Abdullah.
    The siege came to an end after a Fatwa by a body of Ulema, which ratified the rule of Saud as Islamic, in return for promise that the rulers will go back to the basic teachings of Wahabism within the Kingdom and also be the forbearer of this message throughout the Muslim world. It was a choice between fundamentalism propagated by a band of militants or the royals of the house of Saud. In Pakistan too there was a similar quandary, Zia at the head of an organized and disciplined military or the riff raffs that constituted its general populace. It is difficult to predict the outcome had the choices been in favor of the alternates, even with the hindsight of thirty years between us. For again there were too many intangibles to grapple with and even the best of General Staffs could only respond to situations on a day to day basis. But gauging from this paltry human intellect which is the best we have at our disposal any man would have voted for the choices that actually survived, after all there is an almighty cajoling the human race along towards a destiny best known to Him, protecting the pious and the innocent from tyranny and disaster.

  2. Taliban are the biggest enemies to Pakistan soil and solidarity. They have completely ruined the state of the country. Energy crisis and industry investment crisis adds to the misery of people. Shops and markets are locked down in fear. Taliban must be punished to the highest level!!

  3. Religious intolerance, Islamic-sectarian violence, militancy are three major problems that are influencing the situation of Pakistan. steps must be taken especially by the civilian society to cater these menacse before it is too late. We have to thrive and in need to do that we must promote a moderate society which gives respect to all.

  4. I coincidently bumped here. I completely sympathise with the people of Pakistan. What is happening in there is really very sad. I met a fellow Pakistani national during my recent visit to Helsinki. He had fled the country fearing for his life. He said he couldn’t be as radical as some of his countrymen. And he also said that lot of people were going the Taliban way because if they didn’t, they’d be killed.

    I’m an Indian. Being a good neighbour, I wish if I could do any thing to prevent the wrong doings and stabilise the life in Pakistan. My wishes and lucks are with you.

  5. Yasir Qadeer

    I think I agree with the notion of “hate the crime not the criminal” given in this article. Rehabilitation process can make a few if not all Taliban productive citizens rather than being mindless warriors.

  6. Ammar

    A very interesting point was highlighted in this article that everyone would condemn the terrorist attacks but only a few will condemn the Taliban, this paradoxical behavior needs to end as for those who sympathize will Taliban should also have the guts to defend their actions rather than pining it over a “secret foreign hand” or a grand conspiracy.