Few other societies have faced the menace of religious extremism in a bloodier fashion than ours. Yet few other societies have seen such a sharp split on this critical issue than ours. What irony!
Over the last decade the human and economic cost of religious militancy has been simply horrendous, with thousands perishing and billions being washed away. Strategic assets and places of worship, mountains and plains, markets and bazaars, campuses and offices – nothing is safe from the onslaught of the militants. Women are being rendered widows, children turned orphans, and parents are being made childless. Businesses have been forced to shut or dislocate, growth and investment has fallen and people made jobless. Hyper-fear and an acute sense of insecurity is what the people have. And yet a large section of society continues to support the militants one way or another. Pity this nation!
There are people and political parties completely in sympathy with the militants for their fighting a holy war, as they call it. Then there are leaders and opinion-makers who deny that the war against terror is ours, maintaining that it is essentially America’s war and that the hell that has been let loose on the people of Pakistan is the result of the country’s role of a frontline ally of the US in the campaign against extremism following the 9/11 incident. These people also call for negotiations with the militants, presumably on the militants’ own terms.
The gist of the pro-militancy narrative is this:
“The world presents a spectacle of incessant struggle between Islam and kufr. The conflict has intensified with the passage of time. Everywhere Muslims are being prosecuted. Anti-Islam forces have always feared the rise of an Islamic state and therefore they are bent upon preventing it. The rulers in Muslim countries know well that the rise of an Islamic state, with its emphasis on justice, equality and equitable distribution of resources, would strike at their privileged position, and therefore they have joined hands with the evil forces.
“The governments in Muslim countries have become puppets of anti-Islam forces and are promoting their masters’ agenda. The anti-Islam forces are out to obliterate Islamic culture and values in the name of freedom of expression, human rights and fundamental liberties. They are using their enormous wealth, as well as those of Muslim countries, their sophisticated technology, immense media power and tremendous military strength against Muslims.
“Therefore, it is the duty of every Muslim to fight the evil forces to frustrate their nefarious designs. The war has to be fought on all fronts: political, economic, cultural, ideological and military. However, that war couldn’t be won unless un-Islamic regimes in Muslim countries are dethroned and Islamic governments installed, because that would allow Muslims to use their enormous resources for the defence and propagation of their religion.
“By the grace of God, Pakistan was chosen to be the centre of Muslim unity. The country is the only ideological state created for the propagation of Islam. However, successive governments in Pakistan also succumbed to western pressures and disregarded the objective of the creation of the country. Instead of being Islamised, the society was westernised, secularised and vulgarised. It became a hotbed of corruption, obscenity, and injustice. Then a great servant of Islam took over the reins of powers and started Islamisation of society. His regime was the golden era of Pakistan. That great ruler also spearheaded the Muslim resistance against the advance of communism and forced the demise of the great evil system. Apprehensive of his unflinching resolve to spread Islam, the anti-Islam forces conspired against him and killed him. After his death, the country returned to the era of obscenity and secularism.
“But God gave Muslims another opportunity with the rise of the Taliban, who in a short time set up an Islamic government in Afghanistan. However, the anti-Islam forces joined hands to topple that government in which the government in Pakistan played a key role. Since then the government in Pakistan has been a stooge of the west in its onslaught on Islam. However, the mujahideen are determined to take the fight to its logical end: the victory of Islam and establishment of an Islamic caliphate to which Muslims everywhere would show allegiance and thus the dream of Muslim unity would come true.
“The key to this victory is the Islamisation of Pakistan, and this is not possible unless the country is purged of western influence. Since the mujahideen are vastly outnumbered and outresourced, they can’t wage and win conventional war. Their most potent weapon is suicide attacks, which would force the government to change its policies and come to terms with them. Suicide attacks are aimed not at ordinary people but at the state apparatus, which is at the service of anti-Islam forces. True, sometimes innocent people also perish in such attacks, but then this is the price society will have to pay for the noble cause. Besides, such people are martyrs and will be rewarded with an everlasting life of perfect bliss and happiness in the Hereafter.”
This, then, in essence is the ideology which lies at the bottom of the religious militancy in Pakistan. It is this ideology that with which impressionable minds in the madressahs are indoctrinated, which makes these seminaries a breeding ground of extremism. Such ideology precludes toleration of any dissent or difference, because that, according to its adherence, would amount to compromising with “anti-Islam” forces. That ideology calls for establishment of a monolithic, retrogressive polity dominated by a particular creed.
Those who claim that the only way to grapple with the militancy is to opt out of the alliance with the US are either too naive or are simply hoodwinking the nation. In the face of a diabolical ideology, a mere change in Pakistan’s foreign policy will bring us nowhere near overcoming of terrorism. By the same token, blaming America for the instability and violence in Pakistan would not solve the problem. Nor should we expect Washington to change its strategy for the sake of Pakistan. No country will do that. The US Afghan policy is dictated by what the United States perceives to be its national interest. At best, we can try and convince the Americans that their tactics, such as raids in the Pakistani territory, will weaken efforts to defeat militancy. But the basic responsibility for defeating the militants remains our own.
In order to root out the militancy we have to defeat its diabolical ideology. Obviously, no government despite best of its efforts can do this unless the society by and large puts its weight behind such efforts. In other words, unless the people themselves are committed to owning and fighting the war on terror, the militancy can’t be stamped out. Regrettably, such commitment is not coming through, with the result that the religious militancy continues to constitute an existential threat to our society and our polity.
The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org