Friday, May 15, 2009

Countering hatred

 Countering hatred

Mayed Ali

Thursday, May 14, 2009
The ongoing militancy has its roots in decades-long preaching of a line of thinking which excludes all those who are perceived as being outside of its sphere of thought and influence. The Soviet invasion gave them a perfect start. There was a legitimate cause for taking up arms, a favourite traditional pastime, against the 'infidels' with the US behind their back. What else could have they asked for? These people were already equipped with the desired `knowledge' and the super power was there to provide arms and funds apart from managing mercenaries and volunteers from across the Islamic world for the noble jehad against the former USSR.

So, as the war raged in Afghanistan in the dying years of the 70s, Pakistan offered its territory, manpower and expertise to train, arm and engage Pushtuns from the NWFP and Balochistan, and, of course, volunteers from Afghanistan for fighting the US war in Afghanistan. As the war prolonged, these holy warriors found new companions from across the Muslim world. Since these warriors had the success in sight in late 80s, their radars started scanning other battlefields in the world, which warranted their immediate response. So, there was no dearth – Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya and Palestine – they had a very busy future schedule. But what they didn't have was a single chain of command.

These jihadis were sectarian terrorists as well and actively targeted the country's Shia population – perhaps as a reaction to Iran's interest in Pakistan. There ranks were strengthened by madressah's students located on both sides of the Durand Line and whose institutions enjoyed massive patronage and funding during General Zia's rule.

After the fall of the Soviet Union however, these jihadis became focused on India. Also, by this time they had become the state's assets. Former President Musharraf also kept these forces under his wings till 9/11. It became hard for the official patrons of these forces to abandon them with the change of heart in the US. Some efforts were made, yet it was impossible to cut the umbilical cord altogether for person-to-person relations just couldn't end despite a U-turn in the official policy. It was this nexus which enabled the Taliban to transmutate into Al Qaeda and while many people may disagree they are one and the same thing – in fact all jihadi outfits of this nature share the same school thought and agenda and include several Islamic sects in their definition of 'kafirs'.

Once the US attacked Afghanistan, and launched drone attacks over Pakistani territory, these fundamentalists felt caged. The previous and present governments' cooperation with the West also added to these forces frustration. From a high moral ground of soldiers of Islam, they were reduced to terrorists, fascists and extremists. The Lal Masjid operation and the subsequent army engagements in Swat and FATA made these militants think that perhaps the establishment was no longer their friend.

However, this did not prevent them from spreading their hatred and intolerance throughout the rest of the country and they have – as recent events show – only upped their anti-state actions. They have actively targeted the security forces, paramilitary troops, police personnel, government officials, ordinary civilians and also members of a sect which they deem as heretics. Lest I be accused of raising a sectarian matter, let me remind readers that such actions – the still-continuing siege of Parachinar in Kurram Agency being a case in point – are well-documented and one is only reiterating them to substantiate one's argument. These people have never been comfortable with the modern Pakistan especially since it thrives on diversity of views and opinions and tolerance for others.

It certainly seems difficult to handle this menace now. However, some strategy will have to be evolved to counter the situation at hand. The government, at all levels, will have to take complete control of medressahs run by religiopolitical parties for ending propagation of hatred. Mere change or regulation of curriculum hasn't worked because this alone couldn't stop the teachers from delivering speeches promoting hatred. Secondly, the government will also have to revamp the identification mechanism. A fresh census is urgently needed wherein the officials should also keep record of each persons DNA. The US can offer assistance in this regard. One wonders what has kept the Government of Pakistan away from constructing a permanent fence along the country's western borders. The west can again be of great help. In addition to this, an institution on the pattern of America's Department of Homeland Security could also help fight this terrorism.

The federal government needs to make inroads to the troubled areas through a comprehensive plan of development. At least, in areas where the government has some sort of writ.

The writer is chief reporter, The News, Lahore. Email:



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