By Azhar Aslam
Waziristan today has come to symbolize the paradigm in which Pakistan finds itself. An epicentre of ‘terrorism’, a symbol of ‘Talibanization’ and now a field for what has been euphemistically called ‘mother of all battles’. Pakistan and Waziristan were not always like this. How we have come to this pass is crucial to analyse, but even more urgent is to assess that are we prepared enough to win this battle?
Is this just a battle or a war? Is the battle confined to South Waziristan? What are the implications beyond Waziristan? What lies beyond the battle? What will happen after South Waziristan has been secured? What are our plans after the area has been secured and captured? How are we going to treat captured combatants? What will be things be like in two, five, ten and twenty years from now?
It is clear that there are no short term measures that can address a problem as complex and deeply embedded as this. The military win will be down to appropriate strategy, superior operational and tactical skills, appropriately trained troops, coordinated intelligence and finally high morale and right motivation. But this battle is about more than just winning in Waziristan. A lot more.
This is a war that has whole of Pakistan as its battlefield. To be more precise it is the ‘hearts and minds’ of all Pakistanis that constitute the battlefield for this battle. This is a battle, as Ayaz Amir put it ‘to reclaim the idea of Pakistan and create space for a better future’. This is about the meaning of who we are. This is about the future of Pakistan and our generations. Therefore we have no other recourse other than to win.
Crucially, we have to accept that this war has been forced upon us, by none other than but by ourselves. Do we as a society and nation even recognize that TTP (Terrorist Tehrik of Pakistan) and the philosophy it purports to represent, is a hydra headed monster that we have helped ourselves to unleash in our midst? How as a society are we going to cope with this? What is our long term national strategy to curtail this terror and kill this monster?
At the risk of repetition, two aspects should be mentioned briefly. First, What do Taliban represent, and second, how it all started? Taliban’s nihilistic interpretation of Islam is amply, though not completely, represented by their social mores. Their law necessitates men to have long beard and unrestricted rights over life and property of the others, mainly weak and oppressed such as women and children and any enemies, which more or less includes everybody not with them. They restrict women to their home, not to go out even for work or education and in some cases even medical treatment. They hate education, sports for women, music, dancing, laughing, hanging pictures in homes and clapping. While they are happy to take advantage of, and accept the latest western weapons and technology, and not to mention the mighty ‘Greenback’; they hate and ban movies, television, videos etc as incarnation of the western devil. Unless of course, they are using the same to show a grisly beheading. This then is their ideology, which is the driving force behind their incessant desire to kill and maim all who disagree with them; and brainwash young and poor ready to be killed in their cause.
It is fundamental to understand their ideology and the phenomenon of Talibanization, since in the long run, the military win is not, and cannot be, the sole measure of success against the terrorism. Victory in this battle should be the start of the bigger task that we face, that of reconstructing the Pakistani society. I almost feel like paraphrasing the Prophet, at the risk of being declared an infidel, when while returning from a ghazawaa, he said that we now go from a lesser jihad to a greater jihad. This brings us to the second aspect. How did this all begin?
Without delving into the details, for which there is neither space nor time here, this can be summed up as Pakistani State’s overarching role and obsessive desire in defining and sponsoring meaning of Islam and Pakistan. While it is generally blamed on Zia, State’s manipulation of religion goes back in its origins to independence. Anti-Ahmedi riots and failure of ‘Ulema’ to agree on a single definition of a Muslim in 1950s and naked use by Ayub khan of Pirs and Barelvis in 1960s for his political purposes, are but just two of the examples that support this thesis. Bhutto’s Islamic socialism and 1973 constitution that declared Pakistan as Islamic Republic, continued in the same vein.
However doubtlessly it was Zia’s dark rule that closed the space for politicians, opening it wide for various sectarian and regional groups. It was he who more than anyone else made the state an active sponsor of religion and religious identities. It was under his rule that skewed interpretation of Islam by various factions was officially and openly encouraged, leaving the social fabric of the nation in tatters. It has been related that at the end of an “Islamic” Conference held during the Zia era, Maghreb prayers was held by each faction separately, refusing to offer the prayers behind the leader of another faction. But Instead of opening the eyes of the rulers to what this may lead to, the abuse and distortion of Islam continued unabated, turning Islam and Pakistan, initially into a laughing stock and finally into ‘ the most dangerous country on the earth’ and failed state.
With no political space and only a very restricted social space available, people sought refuge in narrow ‘ideologies’. The near total disenfranchisement of the average Pakistani, who is poor and illiterate, was combined by the life style of the rich, decadent feudal lords and corrupt civil and military bureaucracy around them. The gap between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ continued to grow. This scheme of things continued under the ‘democratic dispensations’, with militant outfits starting to represent State and its policies, more and more.
This was initially limited to foreign policy. But anyone who had a little vision, should have known that it would be matter of time before these outfits see it ‘fit for themselves’ to take over the other policies including internal and socio-political spheres. Another obvious consequence that should have been foreseen was, that at some point there would be ‘internecine wars,’ which will inevitably damage the social fabric even more. In addition while these private militias were being created to wage wars on the behalf of the State, the clear and certain possibility of criminals creeping in to muddy the waters should have been known and considered. That this will lead to further development of incestuous relationships between such outfits and hardened criminals, should have crossed the minds too.
Increasing religiosity in these decades, turned into religious vigilantism, that stalked the society, demanding conformity and obedience. The room for diversity of opinion and differences was to be no more. Such intolerance bred further resentment and anger in the society, already riven by poverty and injustice, both vertically and horizontally. Crucially it created narrowly defined religious, ethnic and regional identities and the fragmented socio-political infrastructure with vacuous pockets. The militants filled these pockets and were able to develop ‘natural’ affiliations and arrangement in the society. It is using these spaces that they have recently managed to bring the war into ‘the urban areas of Pakistan’.
However one ought to be cautious here. How big and numerous are these spaces in the society though which these terrorists operate? Before painting the whole Pakistani society with the same brush of ‘terrorist supporters and extremists’, we need to ask more questions and seek more answers to define this conflict properly. Before moving forward it is fundamental to define the problem and its scope, more precisely, so as one may find appropriate solutions.
Doubtlessly, the Taliban and the supporters of Talibanization are not present in Waziristan only. The movement has its supporters in all parts of the country with varying degree of commitment. But is the current crisis, a war against ‘religious extremism’ that afflicts the whole society? Is the growing terror and violence an ‘obvious proof’ of the existence of some ‘wide spread support’ for the terrorists? If so who and where are these supporters?
There are three quick and short arguments that can be presented against this. First and foremost, in 2008 general elections, as has happened consistently in all previous elections, religious parties fared badly, proving yet again that people of Pakistan neither see them as Messiahs, nor worthy of their support. Second, and possibly the best proof comes from the recent survey by two different and globally well-regarded sources, both demonstrate that Pakistanis are overwhelmingly against religious extremism, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and all related manifestations of violent expressions of political Islam.
The Pew Global Attitudes Project published its survey of Pakistani public opinion on August 13 and the International Republican Institute (IRI) produced its quarterly public opinion poll on October 1. Both surveys indicate that nine out of ten people are against extremisms, that they are seriously concerned about it and consider Taliban a threat to Pakistan.
The third argument is the recent behaviour and attitudes of people of Pakistan. Back in the beginning of the year, People supported the deals done with Sufi Mohammad in swat. It took only two speeches from Sufi, for people to realise their folly. Swat and Malakand operation was fully supported by the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis, as were the IDPs, who have been mainly repatriated. Within a couple of months another major showdown with the extremists has been launched. And we do not see any significant voices or protests from the public against the operation. These mind you, are the same people who came out in the support of restoration of Judiciary time and again over a period of 18 months.
These arguments conclusively prove that there is no love lost between Pakistanis and the demonic extremists who are killing indiscriminately. The deeper causes that breed recruits for terrorists are still injustice, deprivation, poverty, lack of voice, feeling of helplessness,, hopelessness, lack of meaning in life and lack of economic opportunities. Not some idealised version of Paradise that we Pakistanis are after. As Dr Musharraf Zaidi has put it ‘an irrational national discourse is not the same thing as the ascendancy of extremism’
So if this is not the case what is it? Going by the surveys, after all there are still about ten percent who support, like or have sympathies for Taliban. At about 15 million they are pretty big ‘ten percent’. It is some of those who are so advanced in their affiliations that they provide sanctuaries and spaces for the militants to move and maneuver. But who are they then? It is certainly not the poor of this country who send their children to madressahs for education of a kind, clothing shelter and food. They certainly do not send them with the explicit or implicit aim of becoming suicide bombers or terrorists.
The answer lies in the preceding analysis of where and how it all started. These sympathisers are middle class, mostly educated professionals and many of them work for the state of Pakistan, both in the civil and military bureaucracy. It is to them the terrorists owe their urban successes. And to the utter incompetence and failure of State institutions who seem to have neither will nor capacity to deal with the crisis that they helped unleash.
It is quite clear that the pervasive influence of extremism is limited to three distinct sections of the society: one, a small coterie of Pakistan Army officers, who have been variously influenced by the spirit of ‘Jihad Fi Sibi Lillah’, who have taken part in the creation and training of militants, have used them and see them as comrades. As recently pointed out by Majid Nawaaz in his article in daily Dawn and I quote ‘In the year 2000, I had also personally met Pakistani Army officers in London, who had been training at Sandhurst. HT ( Hizb u Tahrir) had recruited them to its cause, and then sent them back to Pakistan’. Second group albeit to a lesser degree are similarly educated, professional and civil servant, sympathizers who work in state machinery but have affiliations with various religious political parties.
Thirdly there is an ultra conservative class of urban middle class businessmen, merchants and entrepreneurs who for various reasons have come to sympathise with the cause of Islam(ism) and so indirectly almost feel obliged to stay as silent supporters of the terrorists. These all constitute what Kepel has called ‘devout bourgeoisie’, in his book ‘Jihad- the trial of political Islam’. There is a Waziristan in the minds and hearts of these people as a symbol of religious philosophy and ideology. It is this frame of mind in a small minority that has helped this violent extremism to sustain and grow.
However even among these sympathizers, those who will support the outright terrorism, killing, maiming and destruction recently unleashed by TTP are very small in number. And we hope this number is growing smaller by the day. Nevertheless it is to this battle field that the war must be taken, or we may argue that this is the first and the most important battlefield in this war.
However such a focus on extremism and its supporters must not allow the state and its organs to escape the accountability for its consistent blunders and massive failures in providing security and preventing law and order breakdown throughout the country, which has become the hall mark of Pakistan. These failures have allowed episode after episode of successful terrorist attacks against various targets.
There is another crucial question that we must ask at this point. Why is it that the rest of 90 percent of Pakistanis who are against terrorist and extremism are silent? Or are they simply voiceless? As far as we can see the reasons behind this silence and voiceless ness are twofold. Firstly there is no one who can give them clear leadership, vision and voice to their beliefs, ideas and concerns. We do not seem to have anyone out there who can articulate the ideas of non-extremist majority into a coherent and loud voice. Our politicians have time and again failed them and continue to fail them yet again. This is apparent in the current shenanigans of Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif. How can they have feast and dinners and sleep well in night is beyond comprehension and understanding? But that is so.
The second reason why the majority continues to be voiceless is because it has many other extremisms to fight against. The extremism of ethnic strife, feudal lordships, poverty and injustices. They have to cope daily, with the harsh physical realities of a deprived and destitute life. The life for them has become a struggle for mere existence, where they have neither the time, nor the strength left to contribute to filling the socio-political space; thereby leaving the field open to extremist and narrow-minded ideologues.
Finally there are three other related factors that have to be taken into account for a comprehensive solution for this war that we wage. First and foremost is the insurgency in Balochistan and general lawlessness, especially in the southern Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. This is of no less a threat than TTP. In fact one may argue that in an overarching strategy, the same enemy is using TTP to divert attention from Balochistan, vast swathes of which are beyond the control of the state. Punjab as they say is ‘strewn with radicalised individuals whose ranks appear to swell.
Then there is continued US intervention in Pakistan that continues to provide an excuse to their religious parties and their supporters to continue ducking their responsibility of the national fight against poverty, injustice and lack of economic opportunities and meaning of life. Further there is issue of ‘collateral damage’ a term reserved for non-US human beings who get killed and maimed by United States against all human ethics, laws and norms. Continued killing of Pakistani civilians has resulted in a strong anti-American opinion amongst Pakistanis that continues to grow. Consequently a government that is seen as a poodle to United States loses it legitimacy and moral authority.
Going back to the military operations in Waziristan, any indiscriminate bombing and killing will have a very negative impact on young Waziristani men and boys? How many innocent Pakistanis will die and how their families and kinsmen will respond? What are the short term support plans for the IDPs and what are the plans to rehabilitate them? What will happen to those who are captured in this battle? How are we going to treat them? Are there any plans for rehabilitating them and getting them back into the society?
Third and lastly there is long term and fundamental need for fight against the extremism of all sorts that prevail in Pakistani society. Religious, ethnic, tribal, feudal and personal extremisms. This bit of fight is the longest and the hardest. It is against the misogynistic attitudes and patriarchal behaviours that start with the control of children and expand into controlling lives of the others. This fight is against the poverty, injustice, helplessness and hopelessness. This is a struggle to win the war of ideas. It is to win for life against the nihilism that threatens to take over. It is to understand that meaning of Pakistan and Islam is hugely more than what we have reduced it to, in past six decades.
No one can dispute that there is absolute necessity to eliminate terrorism. But it must go much beyond simple physically eliminating the terrorists. The breaded ones have as much right to life and dignity as non bearded ones. To achieve this we have to come up with the comprehensive and sophisticated solutions. As Dr Ziadi has put it that ‘an irrational exuberance for war among Pakistanis today is taking us into an uncertain future’. We must not let that happen.
Analysis above suggest that our solution should have short term goals and long term objectives. For the short term we must win the battle in Waziristan, with minimum of damage and loss, both human and material. The cost of this battle should be minimized as possible. The captured combatants should be brought before the courts of law and punished accordingly. The IDPs should be supported and looked after properly and then rehabilitated in a just and dignified manner. The rule of law and the provision of security though Judiciary and Police must be strengthened and enhanced. The laws against the terrorism offenses, which still seem inadequate, must be expanded in scope and enhanced. The security and peace throughout Pakistan must be re-established and maintained. A dialogue with all those who are upset and waging struggles against what they perceive as hegemony of the state, must be started without preconditions and concluded successfully.
In the long term we must win the war of ideas. We must reclaim the meaning and idea of Pakistan. We must make people believe in Pakistan and themselves again. We must plan to rehabilitate the terrorists and those who have been reformed. And last but not the least we must eradicate poverty, injustice, deprivation and hopelessness, by providing a level playing ground and expanding the economic opportunities and horizons of life. We must provide leadership and vision to the silent majority that is neither extremist nor nihilistic.
It is to these matters, we will turn our attention to, in the second part.