In a state of war

Published: November 27, 2012
The writer is professor of political science at LUMS

The writer is professor of political science at LUMS

For the past many years, Pakistan has found itself in a state of war against Islamist radicals grouped under the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which represents a broader coalition of splinter groups from militant organisations, criminal gangs and groups supported by outside powers. Since its founding in 2007, the TTP has waged ‘total war’ against Pakistan. It is total in the sense that radical Islamists have attacked every symbol of the Pakistani state and society: sacred places, security forces, children in schools and innocent men and women in marketplaces and even at places of worship — just as they did on November 21 at imambargahs in Rawalpindi and Karachi. There is no geographical or demographic fix on how the TTP chooses its targets: any person and location is fair game as long as the terrorists achieve their evil objective — mass murder and a terrorised population.

The TTP, its affiliates and like-minded groups are children of the violent ideology of al Qaeda and its flawed vision of a global war against the West. Their political conception, birth and growth bear the deep imprint of al Qaeda, which, like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has a grand regional design of establishing an Islamic state — or states — through weakening the two by spreading violent chaos. They have acquired deadly skills to terrorise people and hold them hostage by weakening the presence and writ of the state. Their plan is to change the character of the Pakistani nation and from there, to take their ideology and war to other Muslim countries in the neighbourhood and beyond. Such success is questionable but they had a mini hold in Swat for a while.

How they gradually evicted Swat from the tribal areas and established their power base there is a long story. Although the traditional system of local power had begun to change since the Afghan jihad of the 1980s, as commanders (warlords) and militias with financial muscle, guns and recruits began to assert a new form of authority. However, the real change took place after the 2001 ouster of the Taliban regime next door in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban leaders had used this terrain and local contacts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (Fata) for their war in Afghanistan before. In 2001, the American-led offensive pushed them back into this difficult region where they struck deals with local commanders. During the anti-Soviet war and prior to it, these regions had been on the frontline of wars in and around Afghanistan. This harsh terrain proved to be an ideal sanctuary for the escaping Taliban and al Qaeda.

The Pakistani state faces a multitude of problems in the war against terrorism, which is most likely to be a long war during which it will have to maintain public support at home and a flow of adequate resources from friendly countries like the United States that supports military operations through the Coalition Support Fund. At the same time, it will be important that it sustains the morale of the armed forces in this war. How quickly the country can consolidate its gains against the Taliban militia would depend largely on whether or not the Pakistani political class, known for its incompetence and ineffectiveness, sticks together in reviving the moderate character of the state and society.

Finally, the war against terrorism cannot be won without engaging in yet another long war: the war of ideas against intolerance and extremism. It is necessitated by the fact that major themes of culture and politics in the Muslim world, including Pakistan, continue to oscillate sharply between modernity and radical Islam, between secularism and absolutist religious worldviews, between communitarian identity and individual rights, between abstract, non-territorial conception of the Islamic community and a territorial state based on citizenship.

Let us make our choice: a democratic, modernist Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • shahid
    Nov 27, 2012 - 3:29AM

    Revision of history by carefully selecting facts, quoting them out of context and then using them to produce a superficial analysis in support preconceived ideas.


  • Noor Nabi
    Nov 27, 2012 - 7:09AM

    The “war of ideas” that you wisely recommend led to the ouster of Pervez Hoodbhoy from LUMS. Such high-handedness on the part of the establishment discourages this important debate to go forward. Similar minds have locked the gates of Ijtehad and have buried the key in some unknown bunker. But, you are right, giving up is not an option.Recommend

  • Aviator
    Nov 27, 2012 - 7:20AM

    Lets try to follow the examples of successful progressive Muslim societies, such as Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco, amongst others.

    The current trend of following Saudi Arabia, and support for Taliban will lead us nowhere, except the dark ages.


  • wonderer
    Nov 27, 2012 - 10:01AM

    “Let us make our choice: a democratic, modernist Pakistan.”

    Well said Sir. But will a majority of us make this choice? And, what shall we need to do to ensure succeed?


  • azhar
    Nov 27, 2012 - 12:31PM

    @Noor Nabi:

    Hoodbhoy wasn’t fired on ideological basis, it was an administrative issue but not the ideological. He played politics.


  • ishqerasool
    Nov 27, 2012 - 4:35PM

    “Let us make our choice: a democratic, modernist Pakistan.”

    Our ancestor and Quaid made a choice in 1947 :Islami falahi Riasat and this is what we want .


  • Hammad
    Nov 27, 2012 - 7:10PM

    The islami falahi riasat is the idea of IK and company. Jinnah never mentioned that oxymoron.


  • Nov 27, 2012 - 7:22PM

    “as long as the terrorists achieve
    their evil objective — mass murder and
    a terrorised population.”

    This is total fallacy. The mentality is the ideology can never be faulted. Its the people and people alone. There have been many cults who demand absolute adherence to its doctrines. They were disbanded and rubbished only by questioning their conduct and ideas.

    Taliban and Al Qaeda claim to follow the Quran and Islam. If you cannot defeat them in a debate, you cannot win this war. It means they are right and you are wrong about the ideology. It means complete rejection of the ideology is the only way to go.

    You might blame the TTP on the American war in Afghanistan, but fail to mention SSP, LeJ and LeT, who predated the Taliban even. They were not products of outside influences but a manifestation of the path Pakistan has taken since 1940.


  • Something Clever
    Nov 27, 2012 - 7:36PM

    Funny that you and people like you have to keep restating that when it requires that your stated “we” speak something contradictory to that opinion before you can employ that statement’s use.


  • wonderer
    Nov 27, 2012 - 7:48PM


    Dear Sir, you say,“Jinnah never mentioned that oxymoron.”

    Please tell me, “is there anything Jinnah said that was not oxymoron?”


  • Masood
    Dec 2, 2012 - 1:28PM

    Rais Sahib great article. you are doing Jehad against the dark forces, against the enemy of humanity. Your article is the voice of all liberal who believe huamanity is the first then religion, sects, language or color.Recommend

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