Friday, December 19, 2008

Terrorism and future of Pakistan

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wajih Abbasi

The United Nations Security Council’s ban on Jamaatud Dawah (JuD) and four other personalities associated with it, including its Amir, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, is a new twist to the events which started after terrorist attacks on Mumbai last month. Even before the UN decision, Pakistan government had started operation against the camps maintained by JuD) and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) in Azad Kashmir during which several people, including operational head of LeT was arrested. The operation was intensified after the UN resolution and was extended to the Punjab and other provinces where bulk of assets of at least JuD are situated.

This is not for the first time that such actions against militant outfits have been taken in response to the international pressure after major terrorist acts in different parts of the world. Similar actions were taken after 9/11 attacks in New York in September 2001 and attacks on the Indian Parliament later in December that year as well as attacks in London and Madrid. Irrespective to the veracity of accusation being pointed towards Pakistan from time to time and after every major terrorist incident in the world, it is unfortunate that the name of Pakistan has been made synonymous with terrorism and militancy turning the country into nearly an international pariah. The accusations have put the security and integrity of the country and well being of its people under constant threat. Every terrorist incident allows the enemies of the country to point their guns towards Pakistan and try to array an international coalition to punish Pakistan.

The danger posed by these accusations needs soul-searching and making strategic decisions about the whole issue of militancy and jihad and its utility to our national security objectives. We have to ask ourselves whether the policies started after the Sour Revolution in Afghanistan in 1978 which were continued to be tolerated after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from that country in 1989 and collapse of the PDPA government in 1992 have anyway helped Pakistan in the attainment of its strategic and security interests or these policies tarnished Pakistan’s image, made it less secure and increasingly isolated it in the comity of nations.

A lot has been written in Pakistan as well as internationally on how the US planned and executed its proxy war against former Soviet Union in Afghanistan and how militants and weapons from across the world were collected in the name of jihad to bleed the Russians in order to avenge the US defeat in Vietnam. Pakistan’s territory and its institutions were used for this purpose. Pakistan, then ruled by short sighted military junta, groping for its own survival needlessly pushed the country into a quagmire which is constantly pulling Pakistan into an abyss despite best efforts of the country to extricate itself.

The chaos that the US financed jihad created in Afghanistan has engulfed the length and breadth of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and NWFP. The menace is threatening the whole country seven years after the US decision to invade Afghanistan under the UN banner to fight the same forces it had created during the heydays of the Cold War. We should look back and ponder whether a modern, liberal and forward looking Afghanistan which the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan wanted to establish would have served Pakistan better than the lawless swath of territory we have today.

The Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent dismemberment of the Soviet Union coupled with collapse of communism in the whole Eastern Europe and North and Central Asia gave a sense of false victory to the Muslim radicals and extremists and their supporters in the country. They soon started to propagate similar type of operations in other parts of the world, including the Central Asia, China and Eastern Europe as well as Kashmir. Their activities estranged Pakistan’s relations with the newly independent states in the Central Asia and deprived the country of the vast potential which the collapse of Soviet empire had created in terms of trade and commerce and as a conduit of petroleum exports from the region. They also created wedge between Pakistan and its times tested friend China besides raising concerns in certain Muslim countries as Egypt and Jordon. The genuine desire of the people of Kashmir for independence or merger with Pakistan has also given a bad name by these organisations allowing India to use unprecedented repression against the Kashmiris in which over 0.1 million people were killed. Last but not the least it tarnished the image of the ISI, an inseparable arm of Pakistan’s defence apparatus, to the point where these organisations are being used by the enemies of Pakistan to pressurise the country.

The militant organisations, militancy, terrorism and extremist generated by these groups have created doubts among the international community about stability of the country. It allows different organisations to dub Pakistan as failing state. The voices become even stronger because of the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear armed country with big arsenal of short and medium range missiles. Recently a report to the US Congress has described Pakistan as a place where weapons of mass destruction and terrorism intersect. The enemies of Pakistan would like to use these voices against Pakistan to deprive the country of its strategic weapons and take other punitive measures to destroy whatever has been built during last 60 years.

Internally, the forces unleashed by Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan war have unleashed the forces of sectarian extremism, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, militancy and lawlessness. Leaders of militant organisations are behaving like warlords, who have established their own zones and consider themselves as above the law of the land and norms of society. During last three decades the country has witnessed the growing menace of not only Shia-Sunni but even intra-Sunni terrorism. Each pronouncing the other infidel and calling for jihad against the same. The weaponry used in Kurram Agency in Shia-Sunni feud recently was not even witnessed in the African civil wars.

In this situation, it is important for us as a nation to rethink our priorities and policies and put our house in order. The action taken against the JuD and LeT should be expanded to other militant organisations and individuals. Nobody should be allowed to keep and raise private armies in the name of ‘lashkars’, Jaish, sipha or whatever. The religious schools throughout the country should be brought under the law. The government should get their accounts audited every year and should have complete data of staff and students as well as the curriculum being taught in these institutions. The madrassas not complying with the government orders should be taken over and converted into schools where students should be imparted the religious education along with the normal education.

Financing of madrassas and religious organisations by some oil rich nations of the Middle East has worsened the situation. In most of the cases such aid has sectarian connotations and helps promote that sect in Pakistan which is dominant in the donor country. On the one hand, it provides undue influence to the donor government in the internal affairs in Pakistan. On the other hand, the aid promotes sectarian strife in the country. It is high time that the Pakistan government take bold stance on the issue to stop direct foreign donations to religious and sectarian organisations.

The writer is a former APP staffer and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad


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