Tuesday July 05, 2022

Terrorist sympathisers?

December 15, 2015

“You should not be walking through the lobbies with Jeremy Corbyn and a bunch of terrorist sympathisers”. So spoke British Prime Minister David Cameron on December 2, 2015.

This is the same rhetoric that Bush repeated in 2001: “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”. To Cameron British parliamentarians and the public responded in an enlightened manner. Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond responded: “Would the prime minister apologise for his ‘deeply insulting remarks’?” And another party spokesman said: “He clearly realises he has failed to make a convincing case for military action in Syria and opinion is shifting away from him.”

Just like Britain and the US, the Pakistani state attempts to define its narrative on terrorism in a binary ‘Yes or No’ and ‘with us or against us’ fashion. If you do not support military operations, you are a terrorist sympathiser. If you criticise the National Action Plan, you might be labelled a terrorist yourself. Space for opinion is limited to emotion, and support for the state narrative is presented as the only sane way to move forward. However, a person with even the slightest of intellectual sense would agree that in matters of state policy there can be several possibilities.

The issue of terrorism has become a widely debated topic. The first point that is widely agreed upon is the definition of terrorism –‘non-state Islamist motivated militancy’. Even in the recent California shooting incident, the discussion was focused on whether it was a ‘criminal activity’ or a ‘terrorist activity’.

The second question in this discourse is: ‘What should be the most effective counterterrorism policy?’ To us Pakistanis, this is a vital question because we are directly affected. However, it seems that Pakistan’s ruling circle seem to be mostly confused or unclear. That is why the National Action plan, the most recent endeavour for uprooting the menace of terrorism, faces a series of issues.

The first issue is the scope of NAP. It has been somewhat deliberately mixed with criminal acts and corruption issues. The arrests of MQM workers, PPP workers or other political cases or issues of corruption in KMC or NADRA or land issues or the arrest of the pilot of Shaheen Airlines were wrongfully associated with NAP’s mandate. These acts are some of the several superficial attempts made to generalise terrorism just to give NAP a neutral cover.

The second issue is the effort to curb ‘Islamist’ militancy by targeting even non-militant religious people. NAP attempts to target all those who have a more religious bend of mind but who are not involved in militancy. It is generally assumed by the architects and supporters of NAP that the so-called ‘Islamist’ thought can easily cross the line of political, religious or economic discussion to militant struggle – and therefore all of them need to be targeted.

But upon critical assessment, this policy comes with a dangerous consequence because Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim society and these non-militant religious people are an active component of society. Amongst them are those who are democratic, political, intellectual, revolutionary and preachers of non-militant thought. Seminaries, universities, mosques, doctors, engineers, scientists, educationalists, businessmen etc are religious people.

Such people should not be marginalised as sympathisers. Groups like these have an intellectual/political understanding of things and should be dealt with through discussions and serious debate on ideas regarding military operations or IDPs or drone issues etc. Thoughts and ideas should be countered with better ideas and thoughts. Dealing solely in a military style and spreading fear runs the risk of increasing the depth of the problem.

It would just convince people that since you are not allowed to discuss, or indulge in political activism, and because you get negative media coverage, or have to deal with the cyber crime law etc, the only way to solve the problem is to fight the state. This would only end up escalating grievances, squeezing the space for a different opinion and ultimately justify the militant cause.

The third issue that NAP faces is linked with our historical foreign policy decisions. It was this very state that built madressahs and introduced curriculum for promoting jihad on the pretext of supporting the American project against the Soviets. If we had followed an independent and intelligent policy, we would have been probably in a much better situation right now.

The 94-page policy document titled ‘National Internal Security Policy’ states: “A large number of terrorists, either are, or have been students of madrassas where they were brainwashed to take up arms against the state”. Interestingly, those 22,000 madressahs identified by the policy document – as well as people with similar mindsets – became a large part of society from the 1980s onwards. They were never our problem until we made yet another foreign policy decision after 9/11. We supported the American project in Afghanistan yet again.

Unfortunately, the very people we created to overthrow the Soviets were in the mood to overthrow the US. Thus this militancy – which was a freedom struggle in Afghanistan – moved as terrorism in Pakistan. We had to pay a serious price for the American war on terror. Ironically, we worked for the American project during the 1980s by radicalising our people and we are working for the American project after the 2000s by now de-radicalising them. I must ask here: where is our independent thinking? Why are we not setting policy directions for ourselves as a nation – policies that are better for us? These questions must be answered as we try to take NAP ahead in the correct direction.

To sum it all up, a rational and meaningful attempt should be made to identify the issues of NAP. And criticism on this issue should not be dealt with the way David Cameron did when criticised by the opposition in the UK.

The writer is an electrical engineer from NED and a PhD scholar inComputer Vision from NUST, currently working as an assistant at BahriaUniversity. Twitter: @1Umair7