Pakistan – Extremism: a tool or a problem? – Marvi Sirmed

The Interior Ministry has recently banned some of the Difa-i-Pakistan Council (DPC) leaders from entering Islamabad, but the DPC has responded to the ban by its firm commitment to hold the rally in Aabpara. This is ironic, as the venue of the DPC’s promised rally is also the fountainhead of state power

Last week one’s wisdom got brushed up further with the onset of two reports on extremism, terrorism and violence. One was the Jinnah Institute’s (JI’s) excellent report ‘Extremism Watch’, which maps conflict trends in Pakistan covering the period of September 2010 to September 2011. The other was the annual feature of Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), ‘Pakistan Security Report’, which compiles details of incidents of violence, extremism and terrorism in the country from January to December 2011.

While the latter gives data charts covering different subsets of the variables of violent extremism and terrorism, the former attempts at taking a deeper look at the violent manifestations of extremism and terrorism with historical perspective. The report by PIPS gives a separate chapter for recommending future course, while the JI still leaves room for more discussion and debate on critical issues like defining terrorism, extremism, violent extremism and how these concepts should be treated separately.

Both the reports should make it to the desks of the students of counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation in Pakistan for their overview and canvas of the incidents of violent extremism in Pakistan. There are, however, few points that one needs analyse when it comes to extremism in Pakistan. Despite the origins of this country, people here cannot be described as inherently violent, sectarian or abhorrent to religious diversity. Intolerance has not been a trend; it has been a strategy used by the state to meet very shortsighted objectives — sometimes in what they describe as ‘national interest’, sometimes on the pretext of geo-strategic pressures and most of the time using both the above-mentioned veils to serve personal power pursuit of a group or an institution.

As cited by the second chapter of the JI report, even Justice Munir’s commission of inquiry recognised the complicity of the state, as early as 1954, in pervasive violence in Punjab in the Ahrar-Ahmedi conflict of the 1950s. Later, this conflict became non-Ahrar-Ahmedi conflict as its tentacles overgrew from the Ahrar to the general Muslim community. Justice Munir compiles enough information of that conflict as evidence of how different organs of state and individuals occupying public office used the conflict as a tool. The way Kashmir’s battle of 1947-8 was ‘designed’ by this side of the British dominion is not a secret either. Whereas Islam was made the axis, intolerance was the implement, aggression was the weapon and the tribesmen from FATA were the pawns who delivered aggression. This remains the same ever since. Tribesmen have, one is pushed to think, been intentionally kept aloof from education, moderation, modernisation and enlightenment as a well-thought out strategy. Their attachment to religion had since been used to create the seeds of intolerance and thus aggression and violence. The pattern remains the same with a greater sophistication when it comes to the rural poor and urban lower to the middle class. An outmoded, primitive and antediluvian system and content of education delivered to the non-elite has been producing nothing but more and more combatants for a state-patronised meshwork of violence.

A degree holder in computer sciences from one of Pakistan’s biggest urban centres should be treated as educated as might be an unemployed rural youth with 10 or even 14 years of education when it comes to cognitive development, intellectual maturity, analytical skills, logic and reasoning. In the absence of these important ingredients that shape a useful contributor to human society, one would only expect a herd of unthinking, aggressive and intolerant people.

The two reports mentioned in the beginning do give you a very nice thematic and historical perspective on what happened, alongside careful compilation of the data covering the reported periods. But the text would prove to be pebbles cooked as meals if read without keeping in mind where all this violence emerged from and where it converges. One saw during the last two years Salmaan Taseer, the sitting governor of Punjab, killed by his own guard for supporting a poor woman from the minority Christian community, Dr Mohammad Farooq, the religious scholar from Mardan, brutally killed in broad daylight for his progressive views, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a religious scholar of very enlightened views and tolerant mindset, having to leave this country after receiving threats to life. All of them could safely be termed as ambassadors of inter-faith harmony. Yet the state could not provide them security. The same state cannot act against the intolerant and violent members of the Difa-i-Pakistan Council (DPC) — many of them head the second generation of proscribed organisations or the groups still proscribed by the UN (e.g. see UN Resolution 1267). Calling it the state’s ‘incompetence’ would be the greatest of the euphemisms ever known to humankind.

Both the reports have used excellent data sets of incidents of violence with their trend charts comparing the data for all the regions that make Pakistan. Very useful indeed. But a researcher must benefit from another piece of information, which is how the state of Pakistan has allowed and patronised the perpetrators of this violence. Maulana Masood Azhar is still said to be somewhere in the comforts of state security — something that many of the journalists under threat could never get. Hafiz Saeed and Malik Ishaq, despite claiming some of the most violent attacks, still enjoy the freedom to move, associate, gather and spew venom against the politicians of this country. It is rather refreshing to see that the violent attacks in Balochistan, which get very little or no coverage in the media, are well documented in both the reports. What needs to be read before reading those tables is how the excesses of the security forces go unnoticed with impunity. Yes, I know you would remind me of the excesses of the Baloch nationalists and how they have sold themselves out to the Indians. But with such a heavy presence of security forces in Balochistan, how do Indians or their agents make it to that area? How is someone, other than the security forces of Pakistan deployed in Balochistan, empowered enough to carry out these attacks on not only the security forces and installations but also leave mutilated and bullet-ridden bodies of the Baloch?

Similarly, Malik Ishaq, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) leader who was released from a Lahore prison in 2011, was provided state security at his residence in Rahim Yar Khan. Not only that, he was allowed to rally thousands of people throughout Punjab and spew hate speech against progressive forces as well as against many countries with whom Pakistan is pursuing good relations. He now takes part in DPC rallies. The Interior Ministry has recently banned some of the DPC leaders, including Ishaq, from entering Islamabad, but the DPC has responded to the ban by its firm commitment to hold the rally in Aabpara. This is ironic, as the venue of the DPC’s promised rally is also the fountainhead of state power.

If someone in Pakistan fails to reiterate the role of state institutions in patronising terror and intolerance, it should be understandable in the light of the findings of the Saleem Shahzad Commission. Do read the PIPS and JI reports for they carry very important data indeed. But handle the data with thoughtful care!

The writer is an Islamabad-based commentator on counterterrorism, social and political issues. She tweets at @marvisirmed and can be reached at

Courtesy: Daily Times\20\story_20-2-2012_pg3_2#.T0KGeGB6mRg.twitter

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