Monday, June 13, 2005

The Genesis of Militancy in Pakistan

The Genesis of Militancy in Pakistan

S. Farooq Hasnat, Ph.D.

An unruffled study has to be conducted, with the intension of revealing the real reasons for the “sudden” ascend of militant tendencies, in the Pakistani society. The broader propensity of intolerance is stretched to all layers of the State institutions, (including the military and bureaucracy) and is not confined only to the non-state actors. On the other hand, when it comes to a violent resentment, it is not restricted to the “Islamic militants” or sectarian fanatics, alone – it is rather a part of more comprehensive phenomena. More than one ideological group, are responsible for disturbing the nonviolent traditions of Pakistan. The trend of violence and extremism is reflected at all levels of societal contacts and it became more prominent as the Pakistani society moved towards the end of the last century. Militancy in Pakistan has many facets – ranging from military coups (including attempted) to sectarian killings. Also included are the ethnic related civil war situations. There is no denying in the fact that today’s Pakistan is more known for its religious fanatics than anything else. At the same instance it’s also a reality that this bigotry, originates from a variety of factors – like any other phenomena, it did not emerge by itself.
The society, as a whole has done away with the conflict management mechanisms; which should have been in the fabric of the societal relationships, in laws and in the agendas of the establishment. The social cohesion and community values, which once were a hallmark of the typical Pakistani society, have given way to exclusiveness, status and above all gluttony.
To uncover the truth, a narrow approach, which is intended for political and security purposes, must be broaden to the society in general. We have to look far behind the closed walls of the madrasahs and the syllabus that is being taught at those places. The problem lies in the extended society; the manner in which the State is being governed and the types of relief a citizen is denied, through normal economic, legal and administrative/political methods. This is accompanied by the feeling of deprivation, amongst a large majority of the people. Sponsored and encouraged by the corrupt military and civilian regimes, it has become an accepted norm to look for short cuts, strife for out of turn benefits, and to become wealthy, no matter what it takes. This practice has severely compromised merit and mediocre has replaced excellence and professionalism. All these trends promote militancy as citizens have no customary channels to redress. An understanding of this phenomenon could help us to locate the level and kinds of frustration that is prevalent in the Pakistani society.
On a broader spectrum, it has become a fashion to trace all acts of violent behavior to Islamic community. There is so much rhetoric in this regard that other possible reasons for the rise of militancy in Pakistan, have been set aside. The international media has found a new excitement about the activities of the militant groups and linking them only and only with the Muslim ideology, no matter where they are located. It is being prorated as if the origin and manifestation of extremism and terrorism is only confined to Islam or at least to people who believe in the religion and call themselves Muslims. It is also believed as if the militancy is constituted as part of the Pakistani society. This impression is further reinforced by the Greater Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes, which after 9/11 got the opportunity to strengthen their dictatorial rule, by deliberately misinterpreting the unrest in their respective societies. In this way the state extremism or militarism received its authenticity, from the international community.
After September 11, the dictatorial regimes of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Pakistan rushed to support the United States, facilitating the American onslaught on Afghanistan. The intension behind those gestures was not because of moral reasons or to become an honest partner in a war against the evil of terrorism. It was in fact to protect their regimes against the growing unrest within their societies, originating from the massive financial corruption, brutal control and gross injustice by the dictatorial rulers. In the process, every dissent and every revolt that took place within their respective countries was branded as Islamic militancy and being part of the international terrorist network. Under this pretext, the gross violations of human rights, by the state structures, were justified. These regimes have freely branded their opponents as Islamist militants, with the intension to disguise the grievances of the people. The rulers try to outdo each other, in getting legitimacy for their illegal regimes, as they are not able to get support from their own people. A glaring example is the massacre of nearly 700 people by the Uzbek army, while the world looked the other way. A more regrettable feature is that no distinctions are being drawn between the Islamic groups, having a visible political program and are part of the participatory system and those that are hidden and have an exclusive agenda of destruction.
Until the beginning of 1990s, the Pakistani society was reasonably tolerant. In 1968, a gigantic mass movement against the doctorial rule of Ayub Khan went on for months, in nearly all big cities and towns of Pakistan. There was hardy an instance of sabotage or any other source of violence, from the agitators. In fact this extended mass revolt, in search of tranquility, demanded freedom and democracy and a freely elected Parliament. Another mass movement against the rigging of the 1977 general elections followed the same pattern.
Decades of military rule created a way of life, where the real Pakistani values were undermined, which ultimately eroded for the worse. Oppression, intolerance and disregard for law were practiced by the ruling elite, as an accepted model. Taking advantage of the Afghan situation, in the 1980s, General Zia, further inculcated a culture of violence by his deceitful rule. While the Afghan resistance went on, his inapt military administration silently adjusted to the culture of violence and militancy, within the Pakistani society. Regional secular parties were created to protect the narrow objectives of the junta, which as a result undermined nationally acknowledged political entities. These narrow focused military sponsored political groups were based on hatred and suspicion, which became instrumental in disturbing the peace and balance of the society.
After the Soviet left, the military undertook upon itself an assignment of playing a “role”, in war-torn Afghanistan. The establishment’s interests were based on egoistic and self-defeating multifaceted conviction that they could play a role in the making and maintenance of a regime of their liking in Afghanistan. Their close ties with the Taliban encouraged the militant Islamist organizations, to go ahead unabated, with their agenda of extremism. The Pakistani governments callously allowed the Talibanization of the Pakistani society, inducting culture of hate and bigotry, which ultimately ruined the centuries of societal balance.
The Generals of Pakistan Army and the Taliban had nothing in common, as far as ideology is concerned – in fact they were poles apart. The Army generals have always been secular in their approach, representing in their habits, style and training a true reminisce of the British colonial rule. While, the Taliban advocated a unique interpretation of Islam – rigid and uncompromising by any standards. However, the interests of the two coincided on such secular matters of mutual interests as narcotics money, kick backs and providing arms and support to the Taliban regime, for financial rewards. After the nuclear tests of May 1998, the faulty concept of “strategic depth” was no more relevant, and with that the flawed rationale that had become an excuse to interfere in a neighboring country, could not hold ground. The Pakistan Afghan policy had a certain mind-set which continued even after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, although the events had drastically transformed the regional as well as international security perceptions. There was no possibility that in post 9/11 the Pakistani establishment could have wriggled out of the mess, of which it was equally responsible. Even the swiftness, with which the military took a u-turn, could not save the country from the well entrenched effects of violent behavior in the Pakistani society.
In Pakistan, there is a strong linkage between rising religious bigotry/terrorism and poverty and role of dictatorial rule, based on well defined hierarchal pyramid. James C. Davies gives a psychological explanation of why people revolt by explaining a gap that exists between what people want and what people get. His theory explains that when frustration becomes widespread and intense, society seeks violent means and once the frustration becomes focused on the government, the violence becomes coherent and directional. Decades of military oppression, establishment’s greed, chronic illiteracy, high unemployment and callus attitude of the military/bureaucratic alliance inculcate a feeling of despair and dejection in Pakistan. Under the circumstances, the frustrated youth becomes an easy prey for the recruiters of hate and rejection, postured under the brand of religious extremists.
The genesis of militancy must take into account the alteration of the society, under the extensive dictatorial rule in Pakistan. Concluding, we can say that despair and frustration, arising from the extended military rule, is directly linked to the unjust socio-economic order and the foreign policy issues, where a strong feeling exists amongst the Islamists, secularists and nationalists alike, that the national interests and sovereignty of the country, are being compromised.


Blogger Ahmad Faruqui said...

As they say, adversity makes for strange bedfellows. You correctly point out that the alliance between the Pakistan Army (schooled in the "best" British colonial traditions) and the Taliban was a good example of that.

I also like your broad definition of militancy, which includes state-sponsored coups and gang warfare as well as extremist religious cults.

Pakistan has succummed to warlordism from all sides, including criminal, ethnic, religious and militaristic kinds.

Very few states encompass all dimensions of militancy as potently as the state of Pakistan.

One wonders why?

10:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


4:37 PM  

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