In the wake of another bomb attack in Pakistan, Mohsin Zeb explores the options for a secure future.
Another day, another bomb blast. More innocent victims cut away from this life by the all-consuming hate of the radicals who have wrecked havoc on Pakistan since 2007. That fateful day when Pakistani forces were called in to reaffirm the writ of state in the center of Islamabad was to prove to be a fulcrum in time after which Pakistan would never be the same. Lal Masjid and its extremist’s mullahs were overcome easily enough, but the broader ramification of that action is clear for all of us to see. In the last four years, the insurgency in Pakistan has grown and become more intense, it has for now removed Pakistan from the list of sports hosting countries and indeed scared away many investors.
From 2001 and 2007, Pakistan grew at an average of 7 percent per annum, post Lal Mosque that has fallen dramatically. Yes indeed this has been in part to the global downturn but undoubtedly the declining security situation has caused a substantial flight in capital and a fall in foreign investment.
My intention today is to attempt to shed some light on Pakistan’s precarious security situation. Too many people take an emotional or myopic approach when analyzing Pakistan’s current predicament. The truth is complex, partially a product of Pakistan’s myopic regional policies from Zia Ul Haq and his wretched regime onwards, partially a spill over effect from the ongoing War on Terror in Afghanistan. One core truth has to be admitted; for a decade Pakistan’s military and intelligence services aided and feted Islamist extremists to use to proxies in Afghanistan and against Indian occupation of Kashmir. The former policy was used to achieve strategic depth in Afghanistan and to secure a stable, allied neighbour on Pakistan’s other flank that has always been deemed crucial to ensuring Pakistan’s security.
The use of militias in Kashmir was used to keep the Indian forces bogged down against an insurgency that fed of indigenous discontent. This low cost strategy proved effective in keeping India occupied with resistance in Kashmir which Pakistan happily aided with trained extremists born in the Saudi funded madrassahs that propagate the extremist Wahabbist variant of Islam, a variant that is far removed from Islamic orthodoxy.
That is the dark truth that underpins Pakistan’s Faustian bargain that is undoubtedly part of the cause of its current crisis. In a nutshell, Pakistan lost control of the Frankenstein it created after the War on Terror came to its neighbourhood. This is our starting point, Pakistan must accept that its military and intelligence services have had shady relationships, as all do, but few so blatantly build regional policy on the back of extremist groups paid or coerced to do Islamabad’s bidding.
The second source of this spike in violence is of course spill over. The Durrand line has always been more a faint scratch then an iron wall. Easily transversed and housing tribes linked by blood and culture on either side, it was inevitable that those fighting western forces in Afghanistan would find Pakistan’s FATA an easy safe haven. These wild tribal homelands have been essentially autonomous from the days of the Raj to the present, although some efforts have been made to bring them into the Pakistani political mainstream. Those of us who study International Relations know that in the absence of centralized authority, non-state actors can thrive. Here in FATA, clan rule has been the norm, which has meant Islamabad had little control over who or what crossed that border. Despite military operations in South Waziristan and a degree of control as a result, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas remain rational crossing points for all sorts of undesirables.
So then these two factors came together to give Pakistan its militancy problem. The question is how does Pakistan go about eliminating this threat and restoring peace to the lands of the Indus River? Essentially, there must be a two-prong strategy. A short-term military and paramilitary response which we are witnessing and a long-term ideological approach to reform the elements in society and the state that are a partial cause. There are those who suggest if Pakistan withdraws from the War on Terror, peace will prevail. This is a shortsighted judgement and does little to fix Pakistan’s security problem. In the first instance, yes some groups who oppose only to Islamabad’s flaky alliance and support of Washington may lay down their arms, but there are other groups who would not. The TTP and associated groups have made it clear their aim is to install a Taliban-like regime in Pakistan. They will not stop the violence after a theoretical policy volte-face. Secondly, there is the moral position of having armed radicals dictate Pakistan’s foreign policy. Today they oppose America, tomorrow if they protest Pakistan’s alliance with China and threaten force to get the government to end it, are we to give in again? No, no country can have fear of insurgent violence dictate its policy decisions. Pakistan is no different; we cannot be cowered by those with an agenda far removed from the vast majority of Pakistanis.
Besides, we owe it to ourselves and future generations to wipe out this menace. To let them inherit a Pakistan free from Wahabbist militancy. This means a continued effort to kill these terrorists where we find them, and a concerted effort to eliminate the teaching and spread of this hate filled pseudo-Islam from Pakistani society. Consider that the founder of Wahabbism, Abdul Wahab, has been described by academics as “an extreme literalist in his interpretation of Muslim scriptures, a misogynist, and am admirer and imitator of past militant radicals” (NJ Delong-Bas 2004), consider too that this fool from whom modern extremist gather inspiration had “little formal religious training” (Ibid) and you get a picture of why his followers are the way they are. Perhaps this point has been best made by Timothy Winter, Sheikh Zayed Lecturer in Islamic Studies at Cambridge University, who noted that their “doctrinal extremism can lead to political extremism”. That Zia followed and supported such ideology was the gravest episode in Pakistani history. The tentacles of the beast dug into the fabric of Pakistan and now, it is fighting to get its way. It will fail of course, but the battle has been costly and may continue for sometime.
Why will the Taliban and other radicals fail? Why am I so confident? I know Pakistan, it is in my blood. I am a son of that soil, I visit and talk and see, and I know the people. There is widespread hatred of the extremists. If they had an iota of a chance of gaining power legitimately, they would have attempted to do so. Religious parties do appallingly in Pakistani elections, with the sole exception of 2002 when they scored a record 11 percent. 2008 saw them fall back to 2 percent. It’s their typical result. The people will not vote for them and thus they turn to violence to try and intimidate the people. Yet even here their approach is not viable in the long term.
The TTP has at maximum 35,000 members (this is the highest estimate I have ever come across in all my research). It is facing a force of potentially over 1 million, plus the mass of the people. If Islamist sympathizers out number actual radicals 10:1, there may be 350,000 people who support them. If its 100:1, they may have a touch over 1 million adherents. I am being extremely pessimistic here; the truth is they don’t have 1 million plus cronies. It is important not to assume all those groups who are rioting or using violence are Islamists in nature.
Certainly the Baloch separatists are not, although their movement is dead for all practical purposes. The advantage the radicals have is the element of surprise; they can attack in groups of two or even a single extremist. When they want, where they choose. The state is always playing catch up; it is impossible to stop 100 percent of radical attacks. The police in Islamabad and other cities do a pretty decent job, the sad fact is that stopping every attack is impossible as any intelligence agency or operative will tell you.
So then Islamabad must fight on the one hand and move against extremist institutions and groups on the other. Stop the teaching, preaching or spread of Wahabbist ideology at all costs. Arrest the leaders and eliminate them, level their schools and burn the poison literature they put out. These groups are the problem the world over, tarnishing Islam’s image wherever they go. Only official texts and religious education from approved federal providers should be allowed. All such providers should belong to the global Islamic orthodoxy in thought and opinion. An orthodoxy that has tremendous depth of intellectual opinion and is quite capable of having indigenously tolerant societies. Indeed the academic Rein Taagepera in her thought provoking essay entitled Prospects for democracy in Islamic countries after looking at the development of democratic governance and a range of socio-cultural factors writes “I have to conclude that democracy is possible in Islamic lands too”. Indeed it is, just not where those who follow such backward and radical ideologies such as Wahabbism tread.
So I say to my fellow Pakistanis that perhaps this did not start as our war, but it has become so. The TTP et al have forced us to resist them and their desire to replace the legitimate writ of state. They desire a Pakistan that we cannot acquiesce to, a Pakistan that no one wants to see. We cannot have national policy dictated to us by radicals, indeed we should be wholly independent as an actor and there is room for improvement here. Yet the future is not so gloomy. The IMF predicts that by 2025 Pakistan will have the 19th biggest economy in the world and will be pushing into the $1 trillion economic class. It has a growing middle class and a large pool of skilled labour. Its people have routinely rejected radicalism as the polls and indeed grow to oppose it more each day. Pakistan’s security dilemma is substantial but not impossible to surmount.
We must too hope that our services have learnt their lesson and abandon such a dangerous policy of proxy war. These groups are as likely to sting Pakistan and others, as we now see. We desire good ties with our neighbours and a peace brought on by cooperation across the region. However, we have some house cleaning to do to ensure the swamp that gives rise to radicalism and our core issues is dried out.