Roots of radicalisation in Pakistan

Weekly Pakistan Media Watch

The political and intellectual consensus against terrorism in Pakistan is getting regular shocks by unabated terrorist attacks on civilians and communities. With 1520 people killed during 5 months of 2015, the “motivated vigor” of civil and military leadership has started sounding shallow despite the successes of military operations in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency. The media has started questioning the very resolve and will of the leadership. The self respect generated by flat refusal to Saudi Arabia and national euphoria engendered by strategic agreements with China have started to be replaced by collective depression.

  • (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)  Junaidrao Tehree-e-Taliban Pakistan announce a 3 month ceasefire in March 2014 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Junaidrao

The optimists find the Pakistani state struggling on the treacherous path of self correction after abandoning the notions of “good” Talibans, ideological “assets” and “strategic depth”. They point out fundamental change in army doctrine, as narrated in the Green Book (January, 2, 2013) that identified “internal threat” as the greatest security risk to Pakistan. The optimists say that it is a profound “paradigm shift” and a hard lesson learnt after losing the writ over 50% of the country and facing attacks on state institutions including GHQ itself. But then, “It is a long term war”.

National Action Plan against terrorism

The 20 point National Action Plan announced after the brutal slaughter of 150 school children of Army Public School (December 16, 2014) was called a “turning point” and a reflection of national consensus; a yardstick for the war to “eliminate all forms of terrorism and extremism, their ideological underpinnings, their sources of funding and their protective sanctuaries” in order to make a “democratic and progressive Pakistan” according to the dreams of the founding father who envisioned a secular country rather than a theocracy. An elaborate implementing mechanism was formed at national, provincial and district levels.

By the end of January 2015, the news started appearing that action against religious seminaries and proscribed sectarian organizations have been “dropped” from NAP. By that time, the national consensus was busy amending constitution for establishing military courts and finishing moratorium on death penalty in order to give “exemplary” punishments. The interior minister proudly declared that military courts shall hang 500 terrorists in coming days. Five months down the road, the National Action Plan is being called “No Action Plan”.

Calling religious seminaries “universities of ignorance promoting the culture of hatred in the society” is labeled blasphemy

Meanwhile, the terrorists killed academics, peace activists and members of Christian and Shia communities across the country. The proscribed terrorist organizations are holding public rallies. The seminary students are beating police officials and leveling “blasphemy” charges on one of the highest dignitaries of government for calling religious seminaries, “universities of ignorance promoting the culture of hatred in the society”. The minister had to apologize on the floor of the Senate.

Commenting on the review meeting by civil and military leadership on NAP, the Dawn editorial on May 29 commented, “The areas in which implementation were found particularly unsatisfactory: foreign funding of seminaries and terrorist groups; proscribed organizations and sectarian groups; hate speech; and madressah reforms. Taken together, those areas amount to the very foundations of the terrorist and extremist complex”.

18,000 to 29,000 seminaries of different Islamic sects are working across the country. Government conducted 46,000 search operations and arrested 49,000 people.

The same day, BBC Urdu reported a briefing by the representative of National Counter Terrorism Authority to the Senate committee of NAP. The NACTA representative accepted that, “no information is available about the correct number of religious seminaries. Approximately, 18,000 to 29,000 seminaries of different Islamic sects are working across the country”. He told that government had conducted 46,000 search operations and arrested 49,000 people. He told that 137 criminals have been hanged.

Writing in Express Tribune on May 18, senior security analyst, Hassan Askari Rizvi wrote, “Most things have returned to the pre-December stage. All militant and sectarian leaders are free to engage in their activities”.

The same day, The Nation editorial mentioned, “The sad fact is that the National Action Plan, agreed upon by all parties after much deliberation, is simply a paper with no implementation. And while the military action may be a good short-term measure, Pakistan cannot curb the menace of terrorism without ideological rehabilitation”.

The editorial further pointed out that, “As many as 56,480 people have been killed since 2005, at an average of nearly 14 a day. Prior to the recent bus attack, 1,520 people have been killed in Pakistan in 2015 alone from terrorism”.

Momentum lost

According to the Pakistan Today editorial on May 17, “considering the present state of NAP, and the government’s reluctance to confront madrassas at any point since Peshawar, it is pretty clear that the momentum is now lost”.

The columnist Abdul Basit wrote in The News on May 19, “the current operation is narrowly focused on administrative level factors like death penalty to militants through military courts, blocking illegal mobile SIMS and banning the use of loudspeakers. These factors are enablers but not producers of terrorist violence”. K. Iqbal of The Nation wrote on May 18, “While one understands the complexity and enormity of the effort to curb terrorist activity, the magnitude of counter terrorism effort is found to be utterly wanting”.

“We need answers, the faces of real criminals unmasked — not conspiracy theories”

Senior analyst Rasool Bux Raees wrote, “Power, political or bureaucratic, comes with responsibility and with a solemn commitment to discharge functions under the Constitution. We see the power groups failing us. We need answers, the faces of real criminals unmasked — not conspiracy theories”.

Prominent Human Righst activist Marvi Sirmed wrote in The Nation on May 19, “The state, it seems, has not yet decided on key questions. Are some of the extremists necessary for our strategic interests? There is no cost-benefit analysis available. Are the sectarian militants necessary to please Saudi friends with their strategic and expansionist interests, or to dismantle Baloch insurgency?”

Famous Urdu weekly Humshehri wrote, “Killing terrorists is not enough. The web of extremism needs to be eliminated that creates terrorists. The mindset should be killed that creates hatred for other points of views. The ideological trainers of Talibans are openly doing their work”.

“Are the sectarian militants necessary to please Saudi friends with their strategic and expansionist interests, or to dismantle Baloch insurgency?”

According to senior journalist, Zahid Hussain, “the National Action Plan is all but dead with no tangible signs of even the watered-down plan being enforced. We have not seen even a single point being put into action. Meanwhile, there is no movement on other critical issues such as reforming the judicial system and enforcement of anti-terrorism laws.”

According to Hussain, “The government has long backed out from acting against radical seminaries and blocking foreign funding for them under pressure from the religious parties. What is most alarming is that almost all banned militant and sectarian outfits continue to operate freely in defiance of the law, publicly inciting violence against religious and sectarian minorities. Radical religious and hate literature are freely distributed and mosques are used for preaching violence. All such places and activities were supposed be banned under the National Action Plan and the Protection of Pakistan Act”.

Radical religious and hate literature are freely distributed and mosques are used for preaching violence

Daily Nawa-e-Waqt reported on May 11 that Punjab government has released 1105 extremists arrested according to the lists provided by army. The newspaper claimed that the bureaucracy had united to fail the National Action Plan and terrorists are also being removed from Fourth Schedule of Anti Terrorism. The paper also claimed that the army Core Headquarters has asked intervention by Chief Minister of Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif. 

The true identity of a terrorist

The identities and confessions of the nabbed terrorist gang that killed 50 Ismaeli Shias on May 13 seem to have put in question the regular image of a bearded terrorists; the product of a religious seminary. According to the media reports, the gang comprised of 20 to 35 highly educated members. The master mind and his close affiliates are degree holders in subjects like engineering from highest educational institutes.

They believed that Shias were infidels liable to death. They confessed attacking academician Ms. Debra Lobo for being an America and killing peace activist, Sabeen Mehmood for her campaign against the Islamabad’s Red mosque cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz for his refusal to denounce Taliban for slaughtering 150 children.

Lethal terrorists coming from educated middle classes of Pakistan is not something new

The prominent security analyst Amir Rana wrote and incisive piece on May 22 reminding that lethal terrorists coming from educated middle classes of Pakistan was not something new.

“Daniel Pearl murderer Omar Saeed Sheikh, Al Qaeda IT expert Naeem Noor Khan, Al Qaeda operative Dr Arshad Waheed, Time Square bombing planner Faisal Shahzad, Danish embassy bombing culprit Hamad Adil, and hijacker of a navy frigate at Karachi dockyard Owais Jakhrani are just few names he mentioned while saying that, “Self-radicalised individuals who are influenced by terrorist ideologies fall in this category. “Though not formally affiliated with any local or international terrorist organization, they are in search of causes that resonate with their radicalized worldview”.

The same day, The Dawn editorial wrote, “Students linked to extremist outfits have in the past been picked up from varsities in Punjab while more recently, a public university in Islamabad was accused of promoting a sectarian doctrine on campus. The general rightward shift of society over the last few decades, as well as the establishment’s overt and covert policy of supporting so-called jihad, is partly to blame”.

According to The News, “Religiously-inspired militant students took over university campuses first in the 1980s when the Gen Zia government supplied them arms and ammunition. Our report also confirms that militant groups using the names ‘Punjabi Taliban’ and ‘Badar Group’ were created by ex-IJT members in 2007”.

The earliest distinction that a student is taught to make is between ‘us’ and the ‘infidels’, ‘patriots’ and ‘traitors’.

According to Express Tribune, “This cancer is not confined to the poor and illiterate only. In fact, it may actually be more prevalent among the educated and the well-to-do as many among them may end up readily accepting this distorted version of their religion because of the mindset they have acquired from the educational institutions they have gone to”.

Columnist Saroop Ijaz wrote on May 24, “The problem, simply put, is that all education is religious education in Pakistan. The earliest distinction that a student is taught to make is between ‘us’ and the ‘infidels’, ‘patriots’ and ‘traitors’. The education system in the country is geared towards teaching a brand of ‘patriotism’ and not to encourage a spirit of inquiry. The education system seeks to produce ‘hyper-patriots’ and maybe that was what the killers considered themselves to be. It is the direction that is the problem and not only the functioning of it.”

The possible emergence of Islamic State (IS) in Pakistan

The pamphlet that was found in the bus carrying Ismaeli Shias was from terrorist organization, Jandullah. The organization had earlier announced allegiance to Islamic State. That reminded many writers that Pakistan especially Karachi is witnessing wall chalking from IS.

On May 25, Pakistani media reported a statement by commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John. F. Campbel saying that Islamic State is recruiting terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan but they are not yet operational. “There’s recruiting going on in Afghanistan, there is recruiting going on in Pakistan. There is money being passed back and forth,” he said.

It is a reality that IS has entered Pakistan. Pakistan is an easy market place for them where they will find recruits and funding.

The Nawa-e-Waqt editorial wrote on May 26, “Apart from the NATO  commander, General John F Campbell, the Aranian commander general of the ground forces, Ahmed Raza Pourdastan has told Iranian parliament that they were seeing IS in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We should act quickly, if there are evidences. When Lal mosque cleric had declared himself as the representative of IS and Jamia Hafsa girls have demanded IS help on a video, then it will be naïve to deny the presence of IS in Pakistan”.

Earlier on May 15, the same newspaper had written, “Apparently, IS is getting stronger in Pakistan. It is said that the Lashkar e Jhangvi Abu Hurraira group lead by Dr. Zubair attacks law enforcing agencies and other communities. This group claims to be a branch of IS. Their members went to Iraq through a neighboring country and took training. It is a reality that IS has entered Pakistan. Pakistan is an easy market place for them where they will find recruits and funding. We should not let IS take roots in Pakistan. A ruthless operation, beyond political interests and compromises, is needed”.

According to another editorial writer on May 26, “considering IS’s rapid advances, local supporters may well be emboldened to emulate these ‘successes’. So while it would be premature to say IS has arrived in Pakistan, it would also be wrong to completely ignore attempts to create a presence in this country”.

The unending hope of a resilient nation

According to the media reports, some 200 religious scholars have issued a decree against suicide attacks and termed them unlawful under Islamic law. The decree issued at a conference of ulema said the philosophy behind the self-styled Islamic State (IS), banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and other so-called jihadi outfits was misleading.

Such groups operated in an un-Islamic manner and their thinking was flawed because it was based on poor knowledge and ignorance. The conference announced the formation of an ulema board to counter the narrative of terrorist organizations like the TTP and IS. A movement called “Eradicate Terrorism and Save Country” would also be launched.

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