The last 37 years have been a long and convoluted journey. They have taken us from the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, through the proxy warfare in Kashmir in the 1990s, and, finally, to the ongoing horror of the post 9/11 era.
This journey has many dimensions – ideological, sectarian, extremist, terrorist, criminal, you name it. This has impacted our relationships with both other states and non-state actors. The process has reshaped our identity from a generally tolerant to an increasingly bigoted society. From the disastrous Zia era to the present imbroglio we have come a long way from our founding ideals. From the ownership of the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad to the ownership of America’s war on terror, it has indeed been a dizzying ride.
The Afghan mujahideen of the 1990s were projected as a symbol of resistance to the ‘evil empire’ – a force for good, an almost mythical entity fighting the holy war to protect their land and traditions. With the ousting of the Soviets, however, this idealistic force for good began to manifest its human side in an unstable environment that was being exploited by regional states. Selfishness, ambition, lust for power and a wanton disregard for human life and dignity began to tarnish the image of the jihadists.
From then onwards, the linear trajectory has become cyclic and the misused concept of jihad has fathered a range of entities: the Afghan Taliban, Al-Qaeda, the Uzbek, Tajik and Chechen groups, the Kashmir-customised fighters, sectarian outfits and the TTP. And now Daesh is said to be working together with militant groups in the Pak-Afghan region. A bewildering variety of nomenclatures, affiliations, allegiances, shifting alliances, splits and mergers have rendered the phenomenon opaque. A common thread of violence, however, binds them all together to form a blood-soaked, gory mosaic.
Scholarly nitpicking aside, the fact is that, at the end of the day, we are stuck with fasaadis – with criminals thrown in for good measure. And so Raddul Fasaad, the elimination of discord, now complements Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
In the wake of the Sehwan attack, a punitive response is being carried out within and across the western border. Operation Raddul Fasaad is meant to be a nationwide, no-holds-barred operation to uproot terrorism from the hitherto untouchable Punjab. To what extent will such a pledge hold water? A nation that has already heard and seen way too much remains sceptical.
While our leadership describes the operation as the next phase of counterterrorism, it still remains a purely militarist approach. The much-touted National Action Plan has, so far, failed to deliver political goods. In fact, NAP has been criticised for being an event-driven response for public consumption after the APS massacre. It lacks the clarity and rigour that could make it an effective mechanism based on efficient inter-agency coordination, an overhaul of the criminal justice system and reforms for madressahs and Fata. The persistence of the black market undermines the government’s bank-centric approach to choking terror financing. And to scapegoat Pakhtuns for all our ills is not only stupid, it may lead to ‘fasaad’.
Our diplomatic dealings with Kabul need some out-of-the-box thinking. That the militants would flee Operation Zarb-e-Azb towards Afghanistan was a foregone conclusion in 2014. So how come no effort was made to coordinate with Kabul and Nato? Contentious issues should have been resolved to ensure the long-term success of the operation. With no foresight and worthwhile political actions under NAP, more people have been killed. Those responsible for such negligence have shown callous disregard for the lives of civilians and soldiers alike. The Pakistan-US-Afghanistan gridlock over cross-border terrorism therefore needs to be untangled urgently if the two operations are to bear fruit.
Unless the deeper roots of militancy and discord are addressed, the vicious cycle of terrorism will continue to operate. This is where the sorely needed counter-narrative to ‘fasaadi’ ideology comes into play. Fasaad takes root in a society where people are discouraged from thinking freely and questioning authority.
A ‘Raddul Fasaad’ must be launched in the field of education – in both madressahs as well as public and private institutions. The ‘fasaadis’ must be stopped from poisoning the minds of our youth and the future generations. This can only be done by revisiting our approach towards history and religion as well as our strategic mindset. Revising and introducing a standardised curriculum based on human values – such as inclusiveness and diversity – is vital especially in the fields of Islamic Studies and Pakistan Studies.
Fasaad is a reflection of the human lust for power – a push for control over the lives and thoughts of others. A ‘fasaadi’ creates discord by focusing on the external. If people focused on themselves, they would not find the time or the inclination to spread mischief. Introspection – the inner jihad – can take you to unfamiliar, unexpected spaces and keep you so preoccupied with the beauty and ugliness within your own imperfect self that you will not find the time to judge ‘the other’.
The coexistence of the ability to struggle for a higher state of being and the complacency to remain at the ‘animal level’ is something to ponder over. It is good education based on open-minded and inclusive values that gives people the tools they need to make the right choices.
The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies,