The executive summary of the Nacta draft for a counterterrorism policy seems to gravitate around a singular state narrative — that terrorism in Pakistan is linked with the Afghan war of the 1980s and continues due to foreign intervention. Moreover, the source of all violence is North Waziristan, and by association, Afghanistan. Such a diagnosis creates problems in comprehending the issue in its entirety. Many people erroneously believe in such theses, resulting in the conclusion that the withdrawal of the US will automatically bring peace in the region. Notwithstanding the fact that America’s invasion was a costly blunder, the US withdrawal at this quick pace will not be sufficient to deal with terrorism.
Following are the reasons which establish that the menace of terrorism will not be addressed with the above perspective in mind.
First, such an explanation doesn’t help in taking into account the manner in which sources of terrorism have expanded in the country. The foreign intervention next door may be a driver of terrorism in the tribal areas and the Pashtun-belt in general, but this framework certainly does not explain what is happening in the rest of Pakistan.
Second, an overemphasis on America’s involvement in creating jihadis in South Asia, not taking cognisance of the past or present links of the military with militant organisations, does not help in understanding the penetration of these outfits within the security and law-enforcement establishments, and the government in general. There is no doubt that militancy, as a menace, dates back to the 1980s when the Zia regime willingly allowed radicalisation of society in order to fight the American war against the Soviet troops. However, we cannot deny the fact that our security establishment held on to these jihadis, which were used on other fronts.
Third, such a connection has compelled the military and state in general to turn a blind eye to sectarian violence, which is considered as an unpleasant consequence of the jihadi agenda that is tolerated because of the efficacy of the jihadis in countering the external threat or the internal threat in the form of Baloch and Sindhi nationalism. These groups create political and diplomatic space for the state. Their services will be critical after the foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014.
Fourth, the problem with the Afghanistan-centric narrative is that it is limited to dealing with criminal-cum-ideological gangs like Hakimullah Mehsud’s TTP but not with much larger problems in the form of Punjab-based militant networks. The popular narrative constructed and spread is that every terrorist activity, taking place in Punjab, is controlled from North Waziristan, which tends to take attention away from the expansionist designs and the rabid ideology of the Salafi and Deobandi groups ensconced in the largest province. This is also an excuse to focus on North Waziristan because the level of violence in the rest of the country, especially Punjab and Sindh, is not proportional to the jihadi presence there. The Punjab model of jihadism and extremism is different from that of Fata as these groups carefully engage society to avoid attracting attention. This makes it look like as if the problem has come from somewhere else. But if we begin to look at their literature, we will be able to see that they are much more expansionist and cunning in their tactics than those in the tribal areas, who are exposed due to their violence.
In fact, violence as a measure of extremism is problematic as it fails to capture the extent of radicalisation of the society. Violence can be described as the tip of the iceberg of radicalism that is difficult to measure, especially when people continue to confuse radicalism with conservatism, which, in turn, is owned as part of the local culture. Sectarian violence is one of the examples of how the culture argument is used to downplay this crime. Surely, there were always sectarian differences but not the kind of violence that we see today. Therefore, any problem-solving will have to, on the parallel, deal with countering radicalism. This is, indeed, an issue that is gently broached in the Nacta draft policy. However, this is also a Herculean task, which no one has a clue about how to undertake this at the moment.
Fifth, due to our limited analysis, we are unable to see that the jihadi leadership of the Salafi and Deobandi groups is middle class and thus much more capable of expanding their message and membership. The militant outfits in Punjab and Sindh do not just operate as groups but as a network, which has means to penetrate the society through welfare outfits and madrassas, and also influence policies through political partnerships. For instance, the JUI-F is a formidable umbrella for the expansion of militancy in Sindh. The Deobandi Tableeghi Jamaat must also be reviewed in the role it has played in expanding a particular mindset and ideology. In one particular case of an attack on the Ahmadi community in Lahore, the attackers allegedly stayed at the Tableeghi Jamaat’s centre.
We also fail to see the growing trends of radicalism and radical movements in non-Pashtun Pakistan that takes various shapes and forms. For instance, while the various Deobandi and Salafi networks infiltrate society selectively at the levels of the lower and middle class in general, there are other forms like the Hizbut Tehrir (HuT), which do not necessarily encourage violence but have managed to penetrate the upper-middle class and succeeded in convincing its members to support the establishment of a khilafa and a sharia-based system in the country. This is easier said than done, especially when there are ideological differences within the religious discourse. The risk is that the khilafa formula will create more chaos and violence. More important, all these groups with differing agendas converge at the same point.
This is not to undermine the argument that there may be foreign intervention. However, how can the state tell the difference between local versus foreign-sponsored if it allows jihadism, be it friendly or unfriendly? No security establishment has a master switch with which it can ensure that those who join the friendly militants will not become unfriendly tomorrow.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2013.
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