Pakistan's Islamic Odyssey : dangers ahead
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Issue Vol 25.3 Jul-Sep2010 | Date : 06 Oct , 2010

The religious extremism, manifesting itself in Pakistan today and the increasing chaos in the country, can be described as gifts to the nation by these rulers and their supporting classes, through the impact of their cumulative actions. Rise of fanaticism signals that the power and might of the Mosque now overshadows the power and the might of the armed forces. The preference of the leaders of all hues for Sunni Islam also widened the sectarian divide in Pakistan.

There are many observers of the Pakistani scene who worry that a Jihadi or Islamist take over of Pakistan is not an unrealistic fear.

Afghan war 1 transformed the nature of the Islamic movement in Pakistan. It is worthwhile to understand some of the phenomena responsible for the cataclysmic changes in the psychology of the rulers and the ruled in Pakistan. War against the Soviets was converted into a morally unambiguous Jihadi war of Islam against them. Western powers, notably the US, and Muslim countries from other parts of the world, liberally funded the Jihad and copiously supported it with arms and ammunition. Muslims from all over the world came to join the Jihad. The volunteers became today’s Janissaries who had a played a major role in the in the expansion of the Ottoman Empire of Turkey, which after World War II was broken up into 28 independent countries. The fine distinctions that the scriptures prescribed to distinguish between higher and moral Jihad on one hand and the lower on the other never came into play in the Jihad against the Soviets.

The Pakistani military and intelligence establishments were the lead managers of this Jihad, controlling exclusively the supply of funds, arms, ammunition, training and deployment of the Jihadi warriors. Their actions and approach received widespread support from practically all sections of the polity within the country.

Groups like Harkat-al-Ansar, Hizb-ul-Jihadi-e-Islam, Markaz-e-Dawatul-Irshad, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahiban etc. sprang into existence, recruiting volunteers from the Madrassas and hinterland, for participating in the Jihad in Afghanistan.

All such organisations were the creatures of Pakistani ISI that had also worked out plans to deploy the trained Mujahideen in Kashmir against India after the war in Afghanistan ended.

Not so well noticed immediately was the fact that the Pakistani role in the Jihad was fomenting a Jihadi culture among various sections of the people and within elements in the armed forces and the intelligence organisations. The liberal fringe in Pakistan was horrified by these developments but the growing muscles of the Mullahs and extremist organisations stilled them in to silence.

The liberals failed to remove the confusion over the role of religion in society where a radical mindset was taking shape with a widening acceptance of an arch conservative philosophy. It became evident that a nation, in which a majority had earlier believed in a liberal ethos and had wanted religion to be a personal affair of the individual, was becoming a nation a majority of which wanted Islam to become a dominant influence on the political life of the country. This majority included students, rural elites, labour classes, intelligentsia, teachers, clergy and politicians among others.

The Pakistani military and intelligence establishments were the lead managers of this Jihad, controlling exclusively the supply of funds, arms, ammunition, training and deployment of the Jihadi warriors.

Such an overgrowth was also being fueled by the decadent educational systems Pakistan had introduced in the country. The Madrassa schooling as well as the state controlled curriculum in other schools overdosed students with heavy Islamic bearings which prepared them to accept Jihad as a duty of every Muslim for which they should be ever ready. There was a constant refrain on two themes: Islam remains in perpetual danger and India a permanent enemy. These themes lay a strong foundation of a siege mentality which then regards violence and Jihad as natural and desirable options. Rationalism and prudence get targeted out.

Foreign funding for education coming from Islamic countries promoted the precepts of Wahabi and Salafi doctrinaire Islam from where extreme radical Islam remained just a step away. Most of rural Pakistan and its tribal regions received their education through Madrassas. They have, therefore, become the breeding grounds of Jihad. Even higher educational institutions have not escaped the attention of youth bodies of conservatives and orthodox religious institutions such as Jamait-e-Islami, which force others to fall inline with an intolerant culture about music, art, dress etc. that is sought to be imposed by these in the name of an Islamic way of life.

The education system was intended to create an explosive new thinking, to bind Pakistan together with a new identity.

At the end of the Afghan war I Pakistan succeeded in establishing the Talibans at Kandahar who soon took over the political control of almost the whole of Afghanistan. These Talibans had graduated from the Madrassas of Pakistan and its tribal regions and personified obscurantism, orthodoxy and intolerance. They took no time in showing a culture of fanaticism in Afghanistan which went beyond the Wahabism in which they had been schooled. Their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar turned into an arch fundamentalist and asked all the Muslims the world over to follow his precept and example by styling himself Emir-ul-Momineen, the overlord of all the faithful.

Talibanism now became a new philosophy, a state of mind, which really needed no more ideologues. This was a parallel development to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaida. The Al Qaida can now do without Osamas: it has transcended from a personality cult to a set of ideas, beliefs and convictions which is receiving acceptance in the world wherever Muslims find themselves oppressed or believe that they are oppressed.

Talibanism and Al Qaida are now in tune with each other and while Al Qaida as an ideology is making itself felt in many parts of the world, and Talibanism is not except in Pakistan, the two are synonymous, born of the same parent, the Salafi doctrine. Both have set their eyes on identical geopolitical objectives, establishment of Islamic Caliphates all over the world.

The Al Qaida can now do without Osamas: it has transcended from a personality cult to a set of ideas, beliefs and convictions

Apart from the pull of the fundamentalist ideology other ground realities in Pakistan were factoring in, to conditioning of the Pakistani mindset. The absence of an enlightening education system has already been mentioned. Its harmful effects got compounded by a miserable all round failure of governance in Pakistan which has led to economic deprivation, corruption, inflation, social inequalities and injustice, and an environment of violence, and insecurity.

A majority of citizens live well below the poverty line, deprived of adequate means of subsistence, making them desperate for the emergence of a messiah. Mainstream political parties offered them no succor as they were unable to rise above hypocrisy. The clergy have exploited the people’s misery, claiming absence of piety relegated them to such a fate. All these put together make radical Islam irresistible.

Many recent independent public polls in the country show a disturbing trend towards increasing radicalization. The disturbing part is that members of the elite or upper classes are also getting inclined towards orthodox religion in search of a panacea for their ills.

The drift in the country, therefore, is unmistakably towards fascism. The Pakistani middle classes are no longer immune from its virus.

Once the Soviets were ousted from Afghanistan, the Jihadi fever was not allowed to subside and other targets were located. The Pakistan Establishment saw in this continued Jihad an opportunity to seek Pan Islamic leadership as well as to settle scores with India.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anand K Verma

Former Chief of R&AW and author of Reassessing Pakistan.

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