Trade unions and labour unions are good starting points for re-asserting democratic rights of people. When people are empowered, economically and socially, they can easily be diverted from the extremist tendencies
There are some other persistent problems, which have resulted into religious dogmatism inside Pakistan. Internally, Pakistan is a very dysfunctional state in every sphere of its activity—political, economic and social. The political instability, economic bankruptcy and social anomie have been at the epicenter of this rising spectre of terrorism. Myopic foreign policies are now haunting us like wild ghosts in scary nights. I will focus on the massive social break down of our society and its contribution in the current wave of terrorism, extremism and fundamentalism and the government’s neglect of this significant issue at length. Recently the War on Terror has prompted the people from all the quarters to bring this issue into limelight. Every phenomenon has historical baggage behind; therefore, the spread of terrorist violence too has a heavy baggage of past blunders and current mistakes.
Terrorism is a plague long germinating. Its sources are multiple—sectarian, fundamentalist or extremism. A few are rooted in the Muslim people's fractious history, wounds which good governments did not open and the rotten ones did to the detriment of the 'community of believers'. The latest in the latter line were Mr. Z.A. Bhutto, a worldly politician, who sensed an opportunity of sorts in favourably entertaining sectarian demands to declare the Ahmedis a non-Muslim minority. His successor and tormentor General Mohammed Ziaul Haq went way beyond his patron-and-victim in sectarianizing this hapless country. To begin with, 'Islamization' was an open invitation to sectarianism. It is easy to see why.
The Islamic is an intensely political civilization marked by contestation over power struggles. While the believers share the premises of belief, since early Muslim history they have been divided over the issues of succession and law. When Islam is dragged explicitly into politics, in multi- denominational countries such as Pakistan, it is bound to arouse anxieties especially in the minority sects, enliven old differences and spawn sectarian hatred and violence. This is precisely what ensued following Zia's 'Islamization' agenda. The Tahrike Nifaze Fiqhe Jafariyya lodged its protests and staked its claims. Sunni extremists, enlivened by the promise of theocracy, reacted. Thus a framework for the renewal of sectarian confrontations was created. Unfortunately, both the domestic and external environment was favourable to its growth.
Three primary factors - uneven development in Pakistan, revolution in Iran, and strife in Afghanistan - contributed greatly to this climate of growth. I should mention the first two briefly in order to discuss at some length Pakistan's Afghan predicament. The most discernible change in Pakistan has occurred in its economy, which has grown since 1950 at around 5.5 percent annually. As a result, the system of production has been gradually shifting from rural to urban, agricultural to industrial. This change has been accompanied by the emergence of a working class and a new middle class. A corresponding change in the system of power has not occurred. It remains by and large under the control of the old elite drawn from the landed and urban upper class.
Lack of correspondence between a rapidly changing system of production and a relatively fixed system of power invariably yields social and political conflict and violence by the new classes and individuals seeking access to power. The conflict over resources often takes form of violence when it is provided political or religious context. Since the 1970s and the 1980s, the socio-political climate of Pakistan was steeped in ethnic, religious and authoritarian politics. It was also a period in which state and society were enmeshed in conflictual relationship. The result of that violence was associated with the eventual separation of East Pakistan, insurgency in Balochistan and rise of Ziaul Haq.
Hence, it yielded a harvest of ethnic and religious groupings. All these groups drew their cadres largely from new middle class elements; all were sectarian in outlook, and authoritarian in style and structure, and all viewed violence as a necessary instrument of attaining their objectives without engaging in constructive discourse or non-violent political action.
Iran's Islamic revolution and American and Arab opposition to it brought a bonanza to the religious political groupings. Iran's radicals were keen on promoting Islamic militancy especially among Shi'a the world over. Its opponents - the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq - were out to undermine Iran's influence. Thus began the battle for the Muslim soul, which inevitably became a contest of the body count. For obvious reasons, Pakistan became a primary battleground: it borders on Iran, it has a large Shi'a population and General Zia made it the center piece of U.S. sponsored Islamism, and it became the site of a lively jihad against communism. Naturally, this country became seeped in sectarian hatreds, guns, and drugs. And the very complex Islamic notion of jihad became identified with the cult of violence and its indiscriminate use throughout the state. It was an era of free-trade in Jihadis, guns and drugs.
Socialization of Talibanization has become widespread since Zia. Graduates of Pakistan's madaaris, owing their sponsorship and logistical lifeline to Pakistan, they were, and still, deeply linked to security establishment of Pakistan. In Afghanistan they unleashed hordes of fanatics in the name of Islam. At societal level, they are a state of mind and model of governance. They are a reality mirrored in the horrendous acts of terrorism. The days of visiting idyllic valleys in a hope to escape the sweltering heat of the summer have gone for good. Fear has gripped the whole region. These areas have become the cauldron of terrorism, militancy and, above all, an area to be used as ricocheting board for implementing a distorted and debased version of Islam, which will be emulated in the parts of the state.
The Taliban had appeared to be a good bet in 1994. They were young and raw, anti-Iran and welcome to many Afghans who had been suffering from scarcities and the violence of militias. Hence Washington nodded; American corporations like UNOCAL put in some money and promised bonanzas. Our elite had a Pahlovian reaction to American nods. So our Afghan operators became happy as clam. But the US is a democratic country where sacred cows are routinely de-sanctified, and policies change when mistakes are recognized. Washington did not any more back our Afghan illusions; nor did the Chinese, the British nor the Europeans. We were isolated in our support to them, but we refused to be cowed down and showed unshakable tenacity to remove support for the Talibans.
In recent times, the war on terror has annexed a new dimension to the problem of militancy in the already tattered state of Pakistan. Now there are suicide bombings coupled with the collapse of economy to the very detriment of the state and society. For six consecutive years, the managers of economy boasted that Pakistan had achieved the much-touted modernity and a constant rate of economic growth. It proved to be an economic hoax as economy is in serious trouble now. The conditions which boosted the macro-economic indicators are now dwindling—our support for the WoT. As the economy is in deep recession so is the social stability. It is drifting a large number of youth into the Penelope’s web of extremism. A large number of people are without job, without security of life. They are desperate for change—less political, more economic and social. Unaware of their own power, they are fed by the political rhetoric and electoral exercise twice in a decade or so. This has not worked and will not work in future. The top-to-down democratic model of power hierarchy is an illusion of democracy. It only deceives people to believe in change. Democracy of this model works only for those who keep the resources and modes of production in their own hands—feudal class, businessmen, media tycoons and big business consultants. The result: a polarized society, in the literal sense of the word. The apartheid map of Pakistan is visible: ghettos and slums have surrounded the palatial colonies of parasitic affluent class. English speaking class is out-maneuvering the product of local schools. They out-perform them at every level of competition marginalizing them to constricted and extremist tendencies. It is beyond argument that a polarized society is a hot-bed of multiple forms of vicious tendencies: delinquent culture, criminal syndicates, fundamentalism and terrorism.
This virulent trend, or more appropriately, regression points towards a harsh reality: Pakistan’s real security threats lie in its highly troubled economic model, social disorder, its ailing system of governance and its failed system of education from primary to higher level. These are in need of urgent and systematic attention, and any extra expenditure, which divert from it will decisively harm this country's internal security.
Political activism by the ordinary people can bring democracy from bottom-to-top hierarchy, which can bring democratic ethos in the means of production. Trade unions and labour unions are good starting points for re-asserting democratic rights of people. When people are empowered, economically and socially, they can easily be diverted from the extremist tendencies. This is what, Noam Chomsky called, anarcho-syndicalism. Pakistan has so far not reached that stage of economic development, where people can organize themselves to bring democracy in the means of production. But we are not far from it. As we see in recent years multi-national corporations swarmed inside to maximize profits.
On Islamization, any further dose of 'islamization' and 'Shariah' shall further divide this country, produce paradoxes in the structures and rules of governance, add harmfully to centralization of power, and contribute greatly to the loss of international support, which we need for reasons strategic no less than economic. Throughout the 1980s we remained embedded in using religion for economic gains at the behest of the U.S., but it resulted into economic deficit and social conflict. Reversal of this policy is, indeed, exigent no less than beneficial for our security. Majority in Pakistan think that Taliban, Pakistan army and the U.S. are intertwined for their own benefits. It seems to be bizarre at the moment. What we must know is that U.S. is a business society and war-based economy. It reaps a great deal of profit from war machinery and has, therefore, become the biggest merchant of death. Pakistan cannot afford war as a policy initiative as it will destabilize the whole region. Violence is not an instrument to settle crisis of state and society. Pakistan should learn this lesson from history.
On religious front there is a need to alter the dominant discourse of Islam. The government must try to change discourse of Islam from war to peace, from community to humanity, from exclusion to inclusion, from Jihad to Ijtihad, from destruction to construction, from stagnation to struggle, from radicalization to rationalization, from acrimony to harmony, from ignorance to knowledge, from negation to acceptance, from localism to globalism. It has to develop an attitude more prospective than retrospective, more futuristic than nostalgic.
In this murky situation, there is a need of a firm and well thought out policy to disarm such groups and bring them under control. It is quite mind-boggling that Pakistan’s professional military does not yet seem to have realised the very serious threat that this situation poses to itself as well as to the State and society as a whole. If such policies persist, Pakistan will continue to stagger towards an uncertain future with contradictory state policies.
|Hammad Raza works as Project Report Writer with Center for Research and Innovation UK. He holds a M.Sc degree in International Relation. He has worked as Coordinator to the VC of the University of Gujrat.|