The recent terrorist attack on the airforce base in Kamra reminds me of last Friday’s prayers wherein I strongly realised that the present peace is fragile and violence can revisit us anytime in the days ahead. As luck would have it, I incidentally bumped into a mosque to offer prayers and experienced the unexpected. The mosque, which is just a couple of miles from Pakistan’s military headquarters, was filled with worshippers but the sermon was not delivered by the local imam. Instead a young and fairly well-built man was addressing the people from the pulpit. After listening to him a little I thought that he would make a traditional anti-American diatribe where the United States is roundly criticised for all the evils bedevilling the Muslim world.
But he suddenly took a turn to enliven the last two decades of the previous century of ‘jihadi’ activism. A returnee from the battlefront in Paktia, Afghanistan, he flaunted his heroics of ‘jihad’ against the USA-led Nato forces. Chest-thumping he claimed that he had killed several ‘enemies’ in his two years service, he boasted of several successes against the US forces.
In his words, the Taliban are winning the battle in Afghanistan and the US has been forced to run for its life. This young ‘mujahid’ sent us into a state of déjà vu when he asked the worshippers to spare at least one of their sons for the holy ‘jihad’ as this was the ripe time to inflict maximum destruction on the enemy which is on the run. So they could win the final round. He promised his group had arrangements in place for military training of such aspirant ‘jihadis’. Not quite long ago this was the routine practice in Pakistani mosques.
He cleverly appealed to the collective emotion of the people by bringing in the case of Aafia Siddiqui, an American-educated Pakistani woman who was sentenced to 86 years by the US court for terror charges. He told the audience that ‘mujahedeen’ had taken oath not to rest till she was released from the US prison.
Probably the financial crunch had forced this man to fall back on the old tactics of raising funds during Friday prayers in Pakistani mosques. He made an appeal to the people that the Taliban needed huge financial resources to continue this war as a small operation would require huge financial input. He convincingly asked everyone to contribute as much as they could. Pointing towards his colleagues at the gate, who were combing their long beards with their fingers, the speaker said that they would collect the charity and facilitate the recruitment. At the end of the prayers I noticed people queuing up at the gate to contribute whatever they could for ‘jihad’.
It was a baffling experience for me as I was of the view that radical activism in such a way was a thing of the past, at least in urban centres. The government has taken several steps to dismantle the infrastructure of these groups and open activism is banned. There are also programmes for de-radicalisation of militant youth in order to rehabilitate them and bring them back into mainstream society.
However, it seems that the state has largely failed to stop these groups from routine activities of raising funds and recruiting fresh blood in the name of jihad in Afghanistan. This is just one example and there are surely more but one wonders if the top guns at the policy level know of such development. As this personal experience shows, counterinsurgency efforts have not yet produced the desired results and need close introspection at the top level. Such brazen escapades of ‘jihadism’ in mosques in the centre of the country fly in the face of Pakistan which vehemently rejects any mention of Pakistan being used by terror groups for terror activities in Afghanistan. Straight denial and negligence of such activities will not do it good.
Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, had to face embarrassment recently in a public meeting at Washington when she criticised the coalition forces for not being able to stop Afghan terror groups from intruding into Pakistan’s territory and attacking the army and civilians alike. An American official slapped her with a counter question as to why her country was not doing anything to stop infiltration of terror groups into Afghanistan in the first hand. How could Pakistan expect Afghanistan or the US to do what they have been asking it to do for a very long time?
Although this is not an excuse but the Pakistani state is fast becoming an ineffective state and has failed to establish the rule of law in the country. The government’s ability to police and timely gather intelligence seems flawed as well, and not much has been delivered. These groups know and exploit this weakness and thus take advantage of it.
A comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy should be adopted and seriously implement which should also target mosque committees warning them of consequences if banned outfits are allowed to go about their activities. This is a critical time for Pakistan to put its house in order and eschew any negligence or tolerance of such radical groups.
The writer is Islamabad-based freelance journalist and consultant.