The new face of radicalisation in Pakistan


(Or, the radicalisation of the Middle Class)  

The middle class is considered an anchor of stability and precondition of stability in any society because it builds bridge between upper and lower class. Classical theorists Karl Marx and Max Weber classified the middle class on the basis of means of production and on the basis of wealth, prestige and power. States around the globe are working to increase the percentage of middle class as countries with big middle classes are well administered and less prone to factions and dissention.

The middle class in Pakistan has always been important segment of society for policy makers. It is considered the most ambitious class, and also image conscious as well when compared to the upper and lower class. In the last decade there has been unprecedented increase in middle class in Pakistan, which is normally found is different segments of society like industrial capitalist, big farmers, professionals, civil and military bureaucracy.

Since radicalisation has been deep set in Pakistan’s social fabric, academicians and policy makers have always considered that the poor man is more prone to extremism and terrorist activities, because he has been vulnerable to social and economic marginalization. But what has been seen in latest developments in Pakistan is that it is the members of the middle class who are more prone to terrorist activities and in spreading extremism.  Members of middle class are more conscious about their religious identity as compared to upper and lower class. Muslims around the globe have dream of revival of Islam so members of middle class gets more emotional in getting back lost glory of Islam. Middle class can easily be charged up with slogans and are sensitive to Islamic culture and social norms of Muslim states, believing that the answers to all their queries lie in shariah based governess structure

Religious political parties in Pakistan which believe in constitutional democracy promise this shariah governance to their voters. For example Jamat I Islami founded by Syed Abul Ala Maududi, is one of the most conservative religious political party in terms of ideological commitment for adoption of shairah, but its demands are through a constitutional framework. It is a hierarchical Islamic party, which has very high entry barriers.  At the same time Jamiat Ullema e Islam which is led by Maulan Fazal Ur Rehmna is a network Islamic party which is highly autonomous and has independent actors.  This party also keeps harping on about the same theme of shariah but it has a different structure. Both religious parties have influenced two kinds of middle class groups. The first has been supporting these parties, and in return have gotten jobs and strengthened financial positions when these parties are in government. In doing so, they have constructed their own middle class to enhance their constituency (that is how pattern client relationship emerges). The second, is composed of those ideological supporters from the middle class who believe in shairah based order. These are volunteers, and work for bringing religious ideological transformation in society.

Such aspirants of shariah are truly ideologically motivated, and they often get frustrated within the party as they feel that it lacks capability. But one thing such parties give them is strong religious zeal for shairah.  Thus, enthusiastic, motivated and frustrated youth – who also believe in armed jihad – turn themselves to those organizations. Such youths who then become terrorists, are very much part of middle class.

Similarly, there are youths from the middle class who may not be part of religious parties, but believe in a broader call of militant Jihad. They grow to support organisations like Islamic State and Al Qaeda, who in turn give three messages: first we have to fight with West, second, all those Muslims states which are supporters of west, third, the Shiites.

If we look at Safoora Goth massacre in Karachi in May last year in Pakistan – which killed 45 members of minority Ismaili Shiites – it was sponsored by an Indiana university graduate who was vice chancellor of a private university in Karachi. Along with him was former member of Pakistan Airlines, Saad Aziz, a former graduate of Institute of Business Administration (IBA) who belonged to a taxpaying family. IBA is one of the premier institutes of Pakistan. Many other well settled people from middle class were part of this group. This network was later caught by security forces; it was also involved in killing of humans’ rights activist Sabeen Mehmood.

It wasn’t men involved in this massacre – there were women involved too. Females have strong networks which transform religious ideological loyalty, for instance the Mother in law and wife of Saad and wives of other members were involved in this terrorist act used to spread Islamic State’s (IS) message through digital means. Urban women are playing a key role in transforming faiths as it’s easy for them to penetrate into families, and as such influence their husbands and kids. Suitable matrimonial matches were also founded for members of militant outfits to have coordinated comfort zone for group members. Al Huda International, a famous institute that educates women on Islamic teaching and has campuses in developed cities like Karachi and Islamabad, has a huge number of middle class members of society in its Islamic educational classes. Tashfeen Malik, who was involved in killings in San Bernardino, California, also studied from Al Huda.

Pakistan needs to come up with a very clear narrative where all sections of Pakistan’s society must be alarmed about any such activity and its consequences. National Action Plan (NAP) which was chalked out after brutal attack on Army Public School in Peshawar last year needs to be implemented in letter and spirit. Special alerts needs to be given to middle class members of society who are working in government and private sectors and to business community as well.