Pakistan’s Internal Debate on Extremism

Weekly Pakistan Media

Pakistan is fast losing traditional space to emotional sloganeering, empty rhetoric and fake jubilations in its war against terrorism. Every act of terrorism against an individual or a group with particular intellectual, sectarian or ethnic identity establishes the fact that cosmetics are no longer sufficient to hide the ugly face of reality. With the silencing of the apologists who advocated peace with “estranged brothers”, the opinion makers are emphasizing upon a clear headed and comprehensive policy against extremism and radicalization rather than selectively killing and hanging few terrorists.

  • CC Mike Rastiello (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) “Now, there is widespread outrage and disbelief at the news that eight out of the 10 men allegedly convicted for the attack that shook the country-and moved the world-were never actually convicted and instead were exonerated for lack of evidence.” CC Mike Rastiello (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The opinion pages are dominated by the debate on the historical reasons, evolutionary phases, misconceived policies and “calculated blunders” by the civil and military establishment especially during last three decades. While some writers expressed shock over the fact that the terrorists arrested for killing 50 Ismaeli Shias on 13th of May in Karachi were highly educated from top educational institutes of the country, the others retaliated strongly by saying that the radicalization of middle and upper-middle youth is certainly not a new phenomenon. A section of the media is pointing out the indoctrination by the paranoid security establishment as the basic reason behind sowing the seed of radicalization in Pakistani young generation.

It is repeatedly being said that the terrorists organizations are challenging the writ of the state on the basis of the currency of their ideology that state itself allowed to flourish during the decades of its “jihad project”. “The soft Brelvi Islam practiced by dominant majority of Pakistanis was allowed to be superceded by harsh Islamic ideologies, which apostatized the Shias, hated religious minorities, loathed democratic values and abhorred Sufism”, said one analyst. Finding Pakistan at the crossroad of hope and despair, the Pakistani media is questioning everything from education system to established national ideologies and from lackluster political will to outright denial of visible realities.

Social, Cultural and Psychological aspects of radicalization

A small group of students, activists, scholars and educationists assembled last week in Mechelen, Belgium to listen to a Pakistani psychologist, philosopher and political analyst, Dr. Salima Rehman. She was invited to speak on, “The psychology of radicalization in Pakistan”. She narrated her story as a child that was born in a normal society.

“I saw two Afghan boys walking on the road of Lahore with Kalashnikovs in early 80s when I was 35 years of age. I was shocked. I was born in an educated family and a multi-cultural society that took pride in its creative arts and where Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Bihais and even Jews were living side by side despite huge political upheavals like 1965/1971 wars with India and Dhaka debacle. The cultural heritage of peace and tranquility had successfully absorbed these shocks. Nobody had realized that Zia martial law was a decisive win of theocracy in Pakistan. We were busy mourning over the judicial murder of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The resilient Pakistan was fighting back under the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD).”

“Soon these images became the everyday reality of life. We saw images of war in Afghanistan on the state run television that glorified jihad and Mujahideen at daily basis. The waves of Afghan refugees started changing the socio-cultural landscape of the country. We were told that our faith was not sufficient and we needed vigilantes. Mysterious proliferation of arms and drugs preceded ethnic and sectarian violence. Hadood and Blasphemy laws and separate electorate for minorities were imposed, textbooks were changed and Obective Resolution of 1949 was made operative part of the constitution while removing the word “freely” from the clause guaranteeing minorities right to observe their religion. Meanwhile, Mujahideen became our heroes and mushrooming Masrassahs (religious seminaries) started getting gracious funding by Arab states.”

“The religious seminaries started absorbing young Afghan orphans of uprooted families living in camps. The predominant feature of the first wave of radicalization was total loss of feminine touch. These boys were emotionally shattered, socially segregated, financially broken and psychologically wounded. They were fed in a psycho-theological environment devoid of feminism, which infused in them Basic Trust Deficiency that creates paranoia. These boys were the first products of the monochromatic society.”

Development of jihadi character in Pakistan      

A recent book by leading security analyst, Mohammad Amir Rana titled as, “The Militant: Development of Jihadi Character in Pakistan” attracted many reviews and comments. According to book review by Faizan Hussain in The Sunday Plus, “The book tells that the first generation of Pakistani youth joined jihad at the time of Russian invasion of Afghanistan. These jihadis were adventurers and were largely drawn from lower and lower-middle class families while their parents had no inclinations of jihad. The second generation switched after 9/11 and it had clarity of mind about their aims and objectives. They belonged to poor, middle and upper middle families and also included well educated fellows from reputed educational institutes. This generation was more inclined to crimes to get funds for jihad operations. The third generation of militants is organized and financed by different states.”

Commenting on the book, Waqar Mustafa of News on Sunday quoted, “now the militant landscape is passing through the third phase of transformation….these militants are absorbing the influences of newly emerging militant organizations such as ISIS…..the Islamic State (IS) model showed them the importance of controlling territory to project and establish power on the ground”

According to Mustafa, the book points to the irony of states dependence on militants. “Even when the militants are no more willing to serve as proxies, the state continues to treat them as such.”

Amir Cheema, reviewing the book in The News on April 9 wrote, “These groups have many similarities but important task is to consider where their interests converge and diverge. Equally important is to probe how these groups influence each other and how they broaden their ideological paradigms. Countering terrorism needs an approach that focuses not just on confronting it through coercive apparatus of the state but also through disengagement strategies.”

Writing in Dawn on May 31, the author of the book wrote, “The real challenge is to break the existing perceptions and myths that only poverty, inequality and economic deprivation contribute to extremism. Extremist tendencies are common in all segments of the society. Almost every religious and/or militant organization maintains “wings” with particular focus on women, traders, lawyers, doctors, teachers, among others. Theses wings have a key role in promoting extremism in middle income groups using radical literature, publications, CDs, DVDs and through internet.”

He further said, “Growing alienation from society is the major driver of extremism among the upper middle class and so-called elite of the country. Radical groups brand themselves as agents of change.” 

“Weapons of mass instruction”

¨When a populace is generally kept in the dark about the choices a state makes and is regularly and abundantly provided with heavy doses of religiosity and xenophobic nationalism over the course of decades, it becomes easier – almost effortless – for the state to manufacture a public opinion of its own choice on anything under the sun”, wrote prominent peace activist, Marvi Sirmed in her triology of articles, “Weapons of Mass Instructions” written on mass propagandist value of mosques, seminaries and schools. According to her, “A populace having power of reason and of analytical thought is disastrous for such a state. Media, the pulpit of the mosque, the seat of learning in the seminary, the lecture theatres in colleges and universities, the political alliances created for the sole purpose of ‘the defence of Pakistan’, all become weapons of mass instruction.”

Iqbal Latif, defending Pervez Rashid who was declared blasphemous and “non-muslim” for criticizing religious seminaries, wrote in daily Jang on June 1, “Religious seminaries of Pakistan should promote enlightened thoughts of Abu Sena, Ibn e Rushd, Kundi and Mari instead of promoting apostatizing mentality in their students. We will have to change the curriculum and environment of our religious seminaries and schools”

The same day, Anwar Ghazi wrote, “Kundi considered reason as the source of basic laws of spiritual realities. Razi thought that reason was enough to show path to humans. Misri used to say that holders of reason needed no religion. Farabi founded Islamic neo-Platonism as he could not find anything from Quran and Sunnah for his philosophy. Ibn e Sina did not believe that human beings shall be resurrected on the day of judgement. Ibn e Rushd believed Aristotle was primary teacher, instead of Allah. These are the failed people of our history. Only West glorifies them. We are trying to find the path of our success in their thoughts instead of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jillani, Junaid Baghdadi and Imam Abu Hanifa.”

According to Saeed Qureshi in Pakistan Today on May 31, “One of the decidedly effective strategies to curb religious fanaticism is to nationalize the mosques and residence religious seminaries. From the pulpit the venom of sectarian hatred is injected into the tender minds that willingly die for a cause neither sublime nor Islamic. If Islam is designed to be the state religion then the state or the government should take care and manage it. They are the enemies of innovation, intellectual advancement, equality, liberty, religious tolerance and human rights.”

Prominent security expert, Ayesha Siddiqa Agha wrote in Express Tribune, “One of the issues at this juncture is that our nationalism and radicalism have begun to collate. There is very little resistance to militant outfits and their leadership as they represent themselves as defenders of the state and its religious ideology. The fact that our education system provides greater publicity of and a stepping-stone towards radicalism is a known fact.”

Abbas Mehkari wrote in daily Jang on June 6, “Today’s student is neither a good human being nor a good Muslim. In fact, comprehensive changes are required in our education system. We should strive to build better human beings.” The same day, famous columnist, Ayaz Amir said, “There is no need to register religious seminaries. State should take over them and provide their students free residence and quality education. Young boys don’t become suicide bomber out of their own will; they are the sons of poorest of the society.”

Mysterious acquittal of Malala Shooters

The anti-terrorism court handed life sentences to 10 individuals involved in the attack on Nobel Laureate Malala Yusafzai. The convictions came after their confessions. The entire process was held in secrecy. In fact, the news of conviction in April was first information that a trial was being held against Malala attackers.

On June 6, the story by the British paper, The Daily Mirror was reported in the Pakistani media that 8 out of 10 convicted have been acquitted. Dawn editorial on June 7 wrote, “Now, there is widespread outrage and disbelief at the news that eight out of the 10 men allegedly convicted for the attack that shook the country-and moved the world-were never actually convicted and instead were exonerated for lack of evidence.” The editorial further asked, “Who were the 10 accused? What was the evidence against them? What did the defence argue? Where are the exonerated men now? What of the two men convicted? There are no answer, worst yet, there is still no indication that the answers will be provided, whether now or at all”

Saad Rasool wrote in The Nation on June 7, “This was despite the fact that (reportedly, some of) the accused had confessed to carrying out the assassination attempt on direct orders from the head of TTP. The acquittals in Malala Yusafzai case, keeping aside the ongoing rumors of these being a part of some secretive deal, once again bring to question the effectiveness of our laws, and judicial system, to convict modern day terrorists.”

The same day, The Nation editorial wrote, “The public was willfully and maliciously lied to. The government misrepresented the truth to present a better image of their own endeavors. If they can lie to public in such high-profile cases, what is to stop them from doing so in mundane ones where the scrutiny is laxer? This revelation makes one wonder how any of the “hardcore terrorists” convicted by the government and military courts are actually terrorists. The government and especially the military authorities who so triumphantly declared these arrests, must explain why they lied to the public, and why was this lie sustained?”

The Nawa e Waqt editorial said, “Daily Mirror has reported that the 8 people that were acquitted included the mastermind of the attack. The hearing of the case was done in-camera. It should have not been secretive. It is not understandable why a court verdict, in an internationally known affair, was kept secretive. This created impression that there has been some underhand deal. If this report is correct, then more important question is who ordered the acquittal after the conviction by the special courts. Army spokesperson should clarify this matter.”

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