How long will we ignore the grim truth?
The government and the people of Pakistan celebrated Independence Day in the month of August, expressing their attachment with and love for Pakistan as a nation-state. However, these celebrations look nothing more than “fun-activities” by some people if we take into account several other occurrences in this month pertaining to religious extremism, violent and extremist activism, ethnic and dissident activities and periodic challenges to the primacy of the Pakistani state by various hardline groups. Many people and groups actively express solidarity with the Pakistani state but they also support the groups and ideologies that challenge the Pakistani state.
The major reasons for this contradiction are that these people besieged by the denial and persecution syndromes. The denial syndrome means a repeated refusal to admit that there is something wrong in the society and a self-cultivated belief that a true Muslim or Taliban or Pakistan-based militant group cannot engage in violence and killing of people in Pakistan.
The persecution syndrome implies that the West and especially the United States are against Islam and the Muslims. That Pakistan is being targeted by these powers because it is a Muslim State and possesses nuclear weapons. They argue that terrorism and killings in Pakistan are sponsored by the United States, India and Israel. The “foreign agents” engage in bomb explosions and killings in the garb of the Taliban.
These two themes (Denial and Persecution) are integral to Islamist and political far right narrative of what has been happening in Pakistan since 2001. As the government of Pakistan and the military could not float a narrative of their own, an Islamist narrative is shared by those who may not otherwise identify with Islamist and militant groups. They argue that the US is out to divide and destroy Pakistan. By implications the Taliban and other militant groups that claim to fight the US enjoy their sympathy and support.
These circles engage in persistent campaign against Pakistan’s participation in the global effort to control terrorism. They are specifically opposed to military operations in the tribal areas and want the military to be withdrawn from there. They do not make any appeal to the Taliban and other militant groups to stop killings and accept the primacy of the Pakistani state.
The falseness of the above position is fully exposed if we take into account violence and killings that have taken place in August- the month of Pakistan’s independence.
In August this year, the following incidents related to militancy and sectarianism: (1) Attack on Kamra Aeronautic Complex, August 16. (2) 19 Shias were pulled out of the buses and shot dead in the Mansehra area, August 16. This was followed by violence in Gilgit-Baltistan area as the buses were travelling from Rawalpindi to Gilgit. (3) Passenger buses going from Gilgit to Astor were attacked by masked men. This was described as a sectarian attack, August 16. (4) Shia Hazaras were attacked in Quetta on August 16 (3 killed), August 27 (3 killed) and September 1 (8 killed). (5) Al-Quds rally by Imamia Student Organization in Karachi was targeted with a roadside bomb. Two people were killed, August 17. On the same day the Al-Quds rally in Skardu was pelted with stones, several people were injured. (6) Several activists of Deobandi/Wahhabi groups were killed in Karachi, August 18. (7) Attacks on the ANP activists in Karachi by the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan in the month of August. (8) A clash took place in Chiniot between the Shia activists and the activists of a Sunni hardline group that held a dinner-reception for Malik Ishaq, a former leader of the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, August 15. (9) On August 30, a Shia Additional Sessions Judge was killed in Quetta along with his driver and security guard.
In addition to all this ethnic and crime-related violence has become endemic in Karachi and people get almost killed every day for the last several months. Balochistan is also experiencing ethnic and dissident violence and killings. The Hindu community and the Christians, especially the poor among them, are under pressure from hard line Islamic groups.
With the exception of the PPP, the MQM and the ANP, no mainstream and Islamic political party is willing to come out openly and categorically against sectarian killings or militancy. They may condemn killings of people in principle or declare sectarian violence as un-Islamic but they do not criticize any specific organization even if it takes the responsibility for the incident. As some the known militant groups have roots in the Punjab, the right-wing Islamist political parties do not want to lose votes by taking an unambiguous position on militancy and sectarianism.
If Pakistan political and societal leaders refuse to recognize the degeneration and fragmentation of Pakistani society, all of them are going to lose. The Taliban or hardline armed Islamic organizations are not going to tolerate the political parties like the PML-N, the PTI and the Jamaat-e-Islami that shy away from taking firm position against the armed Islamic group.
Addressing the parade at the Kakul Academy on August 14, 2012, the Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani said: “No state can afford a parallel system or a militant force” and “This fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we are right in fighting it.” These comments reflect realism on the part of the Army. However, given the popular mindset of the Pakistani society, partly nurtured by the Army, many people will not subscribe to this statement.
A good number of retired army officers question Pakistan’s involvement in the global war on terrorism and oppose military action in the tribal areas. This trend must go into the Army as its majority comes from the Punjab where support for religious orthodoxy and militancy is deep rooted.
The civilian government and the military establishment need to examine why after having lost the lives so many military and paramilitary personnel and civilians, there are doubts in the society about the rationale of Pakistan’s efforts to control Islamic militancy? May be the sections in Pakistan’s civilian and military establishment cannot overcome the old habit of selective support to militancy and they periodically associate with the militant groups and their die-hard supporters to make immediate political gains? These issues should be analyzed dispassionately and with a long term perspective for building peace within Pakistan on peace on its borders.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.