Banning Terrorist Outfits

Most of the country’s image problems stems from the inability of the governments in power to take timely action. When the Mian Nawaz Sharif regime enacted the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 it acquired enough powers to deal with terrorism per se. Notwithstanding all the laws in our statute books, the political will for serious implementation was non-existent till a few months before 9/11, and that too by a subsequent non-political regime. What is still mind-boggling is that the banned religious entities simply changed their name and carried on business as usual, this obviously cut into the credibility of the country’s commitment to root out militancy in religious organizations.

A week ago, the government banned three sectarian and militant organizations and placed another on the watch list. Islami Tehrik Pakistan had been banned earlier as Tehrik-I-Jafria Pakistan, Millat-e-Islamia Pakistan was formerly Sipah-I-Sahiba and Khaddam-ul-Islam was named Jaish Mohammad. Jamaat-ul-Dawa, the new name of Laskar-I-Tayyaba, has been put on the “watch list”. Offices were sealed throughout the country and raids made to seize militants. While the government is to be commended for reacting when they did, better late than never, who in the world will believe us when militant organizations could carry on their existence by a simple change of name? These facts were well known universally to even the common man in the street let alone the government. Compounding sincerity of intent of the government is the diversion of the resources of the intelligences agencies to political (and in many cases personal) objectives far removed from their original mission. In the past year or so there is better collation of information and coordinated reaction thereof. As far back as 1993 Pakistan escaped being put on the US “terrorist nations” list because of the activities of a few individuals and/or organizations defaming the country. Some who deserve to go to Guantonomo Bay for their irrational actions diverted secret funds for their personal use and till now have got away with it. Freedom fighters in Kashmir cannot be equated with terrorism i.e. unless they get involved in acts against non-combatants making it impossible to condone their actions. If we had a “national security strategy” there would be three options, viz (1) continue in the “adventurism” mode in which world perception has labelled us as being sponsors to terrorism (2) avow “neutrality” on the Bhutan, Maldives, etc pattern, something our national psyche will never be able to live with or (3) pursue “constructive engagement” while preserving our nuclear capability. After 9/11, it became a dire necessity to avoid being pegged with the “adventurism” tag India wanted to label us with. We have fought a losing battle, this world perception has greatly damaged our Kashmir cause, de-legitimizing the sanctity of our claims.

Since militancy and their raison d’etre for existence is born out of their sectarian leanings, what are the fundamental factors that has seen the rapid growth of sectarian terrorism in Pakistan? SSP Amir Zulfikar, presently on the staff of the Punjab CM, in his thesis on “sectarian violence” spelt out external factors, viz (1) the Iranian Revolution which created activism among the Shias all over the world with the Sunni muslims reacting to what they perceived was provocative in Shia activism (2) Iraq, feeling threatened by Imam Khomeini’s talk of exporting revolution and miscalculating that Iran would be relatively weak due to internal turmoil, attacked Iran (3) the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia on Pakistani soil, with the Iranians supporting Shia militants in the country and the Saudis giving moral and material aid to the Sunni extremists (4) the Afghan war in the 80s where the Shia and Sunni elements had combined to fight a “Jihad” against the Soviets, turned on each other after the war was over, both on Afghan soil and in Pakistan (5) the wrong perception of the “fundamentalism” label, the west has been wary of Islam since the time of the crusades. Church-going Nazis in Germany put more than 6 million jews to death during World War 2, now “fundamentalism” has made christians make common cause with jews to counter the “threat of Islam” thereof.

Amir Zulfikar went on to add that the internal factors contributing to sectarian militancy between Shias and Sunnis turning to terrorism are viz (1) the political failings because of (a) lack of people participation in governance during 8 years of martial law from 1977 to 1985 (b) the severe competition for diminishing economic resources (c) institutional collapse of the State in failing to respond to the new demands and (d) the cynical use of sectarian discord by politicians to serve their own narrow political ends (2) the mushroom growth of Madrassahs, from 868 Madrassahs in 1975 to 3874 Madrassahs in 1995 and more than 6000 today, funded by both local and foreign sources. Because of the Afghan war they not only acquired combat experience but arms and equipment and the political skills to manipulate resources. From half a million in 1995 to nearly a million now, 60% of the students only study Nazira Quran, (reading the letters and words of the Holy Quran without understanding them) and 20% commemorate Holy Quran (Hifz) to memory without comprehending it. What is alarming is what happens to the balance 20%, i.e. 800000 students who are at best semi-literate. Dropouts from the regular school system many students probably feel alienated, overwhelmed, or ostracized. Bereft of family values and fed a diet of profligacy and militancy, bigotry and hatred, self-righteousness and holier-than-thou attitude, these boys are readymade for militancy (3) Gen Ziaul Haq’s Islamization process wherein the late dictator tried to bring in a social order based on Nizam-i-Mostafa, Islamic laws based on Zakat and Ushr were rejected by the Shias. With Ziaul Haq introducing Islamic studies as a compulsory subject, Shias demanded a separate syllabus for their community. When Imam Khomeini brought in Shia laws in Iran, this in turn agitated the Sunnis. (4) failure of the State to formalize political participation on a regular basis and expand the political agenda to incorporate all of society (5) the inability of the members of intolerant religious organizations to think and act reasonably (6) the Afghan war sustained proliferation of illicit weapons (7) on campus student politics fanned sectarian conflict (8) socio-cultural and economic problems, particularly unemployment aggravated the situation (9) the print media was careless in printing the news, fanning the perception that the west sees Islam as a mortal enemy, (10) proliferation of Jihadi parties without understanding the basic concept of “Jihad” (11) instead of using loudspeakers to call the faithful to prayers, these have been used for extremist propaganda and (12) lack of coordination between the Provinces in countering sectarian terrorism.

The 180 degree turnaround in our Afghan policy since 9/11 gave us immediate economic dividends, it put the present regime in an untenable position with respect to both credibility and commitment. Since abandoning the Talibaan, Pakistan has been on the forefront of the anti-Al-Qaeda operations, catching more than 550 hard core militants (out of the 750 so far held). However, we are now truly in limbo, hated by the militant religious organizations and not really credible to the west in our anti-terrorist actions on the other. The present government in Afghanistan may hate us but what if the Talibaan come back in some form? India has spared no malice in order to tar and feather our image as a responsible entity in the comity of nations. Banning terrorist outfit may be a first step but, sustained efforts are necessary to root out terrorism, giving our security forces freedom of action to act without any bias, political or religious, while giving no quarter in dealing with militancy in an evenhanded manner.