As a response to recent episodes of terrorism in Pakistan, Pakistan Army launched Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad with the purpose to indiscriminately eliminate the latent threat of religiously motivated terrorism in the country. The attempt aims at intelligence based counter terrorism operations by Rangers in Punjab, continuation of ongoing operations across the country, nationwide de-weaponisation and control of explosive substances.
It has become a trite phenomenon that right after pompous proclamations of our ruling elite in relation to success of counter terrorism measures, the terrorists re-emerge from nowhere and hit us where it hurts the most. This means that there still exists a fundamental flaw in our security policy which needs to be addressed. In order to understand the issue of extremism in Pakistan impartial and rational analysis of historical mis-adventures of the military junta, which have adversely affected internal security of Pakistan, are required. Some are discussed as hereunder:
First, although on August 11 1947 Jinnah said “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State”, however, after his death, the establishment purposely removed liberal speeches of Jinnah from archives and those related to Islamic principles were deliberately misconstrued and misapplied by the military establishment in collusion with the clergy to give a rigidly theocratic structure to the ideology of Pakistan. The same clergy which used to call Jinnah Kafir-e-Azam, started to portray him as a visionary orthodox Mullah who envisioned a primitive version of Sharia for Pakistan. Such an exclusionary approach laid the exclusionary ideological foundations of Pakistan on which the entire structure of extremism stands today.
Second, despite initial mishaps, Pakistan remained very tolerant until the arrival of Zia in 1979. As soon as Zia, the self-proclaimed soldier of Islam, ousted Bhutto, he started sowing the seeds of extremism in Pakistan. The dictator ruthlessly and unwarrantedly used religion in every possible way to provide moral legitimacy to his unconstitutional rule. Zia extended Pakistani influence into Afghanistan by helping the CIA beat its cold war rival USSR; between 1981-1988, the CIA provided Pakistan $640 million per annum. A new phenomenon known as Mullah, Military and CIA nexus came into existence, fierce sermons were made from the pulpits of mosques; the curriculum was reengineered to inculcate Jihad in the minds impressionable pupils. Consequently, Madrassas were transformed into the nurseries of brain washed foot soldiers in the form of Mujahidin ready to execute any mission assigned to them.
Third, Iranian Revolution of 1979 and Saudi’s role to counter its spread in Pakistan developed narratives which further radicalised Pakistani society; the proxies planted by both countries made Pakistan potential sectarian bombshell. During Zia’s era, the State as a policy passed dubious and retrogressive primitive laws based on the ideology of a Sunni (Deobandi) sect. Zia in cahoots with Saudi Arabia openly patronised rigid Deobandis; therefore, they acquired extraordinary clout which led to formation of an extremist Sunni militant organisation called the Sipah-i- Sahaba. As a reaction, Shias formed an extremist group namely Sipah Mohammad which led to the high-profile assassinations, bombing of Imam Barghas and mass murders. This flawed strategy proved fatal and violently polarised the society on sectarian grounds.
Fourth, after 9/11 our own Jihadist turned their guns towards Pakistan. TTP and other militant organisations came into existence with new ambitions and novel narratives full of anti- Pakistan, anti-democratic and anti-constitutional sentiments; and called for global jihad to establish a greater Islamic State in the world. These terrorists have ulterior designs and are politically motivated as they wish a piece of land where they could establish their writ and then further expand territory through Jihad.
If a deep analytical rigor is given to our counter terrorism policy, one can easily discern that the same suffers from a basic problem i.e. the ruling elite is solely focusing on physical warfare and has miserably failed to appreciate the fact that we need to fight extremism on ideological lines i.e. there is a need to counter this malaise by bringing forth a popular counter narrative against extremism. Success of Radd-ul-Fasaad is dependent upon moral support of the masses, which is only possible if their minds are free from extremist contaminations.
Demonic madness of Zia has deteriorated the moral fabric of our society, the horrendous outcomes of his lunatic ideology, which he inculcated in vulnerable minds, can be inferred from the fact that now scores of facilitators, sympathisers and vindicators of Taliban exist in Pakistan. We need to own this war against terrorism and craft a popular narrative to counter extremist propaganda; biggest responsibility of crafting such narrative lies on shoulders of the political leadership, unfortunately, everyone including the ruling party and the opposition and have failed to show the required audacity. My ears have not been able to even hear a slight whisper from Imran Khan and Chaudhry Nisar condemning TTP & LEJ whilst mentioning their name, even when the extremist groups candidly confess about carrying out terrorist attacks. The Ulemas are equally responsible for this mess, they love moral policing but when it comes to condemning TTP, some remain silent and some become apologists, such hypocrisy confuse the masses and compels them to ponder whether TTP is enemy or not.
Whenever a terrorist incident occurs it is followed by hurried proclamation that RAW (India) is behind it. Such hasty decrees divert our attention from root of the problem. It cannot be doubted that RAW, in order to sabotage CPEC and create instability, is pumping huge resources into Pakistan, however, as the maxim goes “It takes two the clap with one hand”, our focus should be more on the fettering the internal hand. Follies of Zia provided an opportunity to RAW to exploit the extremist sentiments; the perpetrators, sympathisers and facilitators exist within our ranks, as after every terrorist incident it is found that both the facilitator and the suicide bomber were Pakistanis (often ex-student of a Madresshah). Thus, making it far easier for foreign agencies to exploit the brain washed minds that, in search for heaven, are readily available for suicidal missions.
For better understanding, one needs to step in the shoes of a suicide bomber, for him, the bomb blast is his ticket to heaven as it will kill, for instance, a Shia (according to him an infidel). Popular counter narratives will effectively tighten the noose against hate preachers, heaven sellers and factories of suicide bombers (unregulated seminaries) as it will kill social acceptability of extremist elements and their apologists. Cutting leaves of the tree will never bring forth effective results unless its roots are digging out and those, who water these roots, are stigmatised and purged. Right now we are hunting crocodiles through various operations in but the swamps are still wet.
Pakistan did realise the threat posed to its internal security from these proscribed organisations as late as in 2013, when chief of The Army Staff, Pervez Ashraf Kiyani declared in his speech delivered on 14th August 2013 in Rawalpindi when he said, “Today we are facing numerous external and internal challenges, the internal challenges need focused attention of all of us, the internal challenge is a serious threat to internal security of Pakistan”.
The youth in the poor and upper middle classes throughout the country tend to view the world through straight jacket approach and has developed radicalised beliefs. Ironically, there seems absence of general consensus in the country about the definition of terrorism and consequently an absence of unifying national counter narrative which resultantly limits Pakistan’s ability to effectively fight terrorism within its borders and creates an adverse effect outside the country. The second narrative these apologists put forward is that ‘Our People cannot do this and Muslims cannot commit such heinous and terrible acts’ and then turn their guns to external enemies especially America and India and weave conspiracy theories to shift the blame from Taliban despite the fact that Taliban openly take the responsibility of terror attacks. The third narrative the apologist propound is that this is ‘not our war’ and by disowning this war, hammer into the minds of public that Pakistan Army is fighting the war of infidels, therefore, the Taliban are righteous lot who is fighting for the right cause.