Readers made interesting comments on my earlier article, ‘Militancy or a tribal backlash’ (August 15-16). Some welcomed it as “a sane voice” while others said it was a “naive analysis”. It wasn’t unexpected. However, I felt vindicated, frankly speaking, when General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan, conceded in a recent interview that they were faced with a “Pashtun insurgency” in Afghanistan. The Afghan insurgency cannot and should not be seen in isolation. On either side of the Durand Line, I believe, it’s the same madding insurgency, fuelled by a sense of togetherness, common tribal ethos and clanship.
There’s no denying the fact that religious extremists and jihadists are also cashing in on this anti-government sentiment in the region. The recent surge in US drone strikes in tribal regions resulted in a deadly reprisal: a series of suicide attacks across the country. But one reader commented that suicide blasts hardly looked like tribal tactics.
And to that my question would be why? Why can’t a suicide attack be a tribal tactic as well? Suicide attacks are equated somewhat wrongly with Islamic extremism and militancy. Why? Perhaps because Muslim, not Islamic, militants made much use of this asymmetric warfare tactic in recent years. Or perhaps people believe only Muslims can kill themselves for a purported Islamic cause. They are mistaken and this is a myopic view.
Some western experts claim that “suicide bombers are lured by promises of pleasure in the afterlife, financial stability for their families and eternal martyrdom”. This is a generalisation. Though some hard-line clerics do condone suicide attacks as a war tactic, they are a small minority, on the fringes, with their own contorted view of religion. Islam does not allow suicides under any circumstances. And most mainstream Islamic scholars have no qualms in putting that view across. Even in times of war, Islam forbids harming non-combatants and even trees and crops.
Needless to say Japanese Kamikazes, the architect of suicide attacks, were not Muslims. Nor were the Nazis who had planned ‘selbstopfer’ attacks on high-value enemy targets, albeit the plan never materialised. And also suicide attacks weren’t always used as a war tactic. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Middle East and Gama’a Islamiyya in Egypt used suicide attacks as a political tactic to further their agendas. In all these cases, suicide attacks were used by the weaker party as it could not fight the enemy with comparable military might. Suicide attacks became the ‘weapon’ of choice for insurgent groups the world over because they are inexpensive, simple and make a strong psychological impact. Equating suicide attacks with Islam is plain wrong. It’s a political tactic and not necessarily used for Islam or a purported Islamic cause.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2010.