by Nadeem F. Paracha
In March 2010 animated conspiracy theorist, TV personality and poster-boy for stylised sofa-warming-jihad, Zaid Hamid finally met his nemesis at the Peshawar University.
Hamid, who till then, had been enjoying a virtual free run on certain TV channels and on privately-owned campuses, was chased away by large sections of the audience that turned up to listen to him speak at the state-owned Peshawar University.
As Hamid’s speech began being booed at, Hamid made a quick exit from the premises only to face another crowd of students outside who shouted slogans against him, and pelted his car with stones.
Suddenly a man who was lovingly being courted by TV channels and student bodies and administration of private educational institutions, was angrily courted out by the students of a state-owned university.
They accused the university administration for allowing a ‘fitna’ (provocateur) and ‘agent of military establishment’ to speak at the university.
Initial inquiry suggested that the main ‘perpetrators’ behind the incident were members of PkSF (the student-wing of the Awami National Party) and the PSF (the student-wing of the Pakistan Peoples Party). What’s more, the protest against Hamid was also joined by the right-wing IJT (the student-wing of the Jamat Islami).
It is interesting to note that IJT that is a traditional and ideological foe of organisations like PkSF and PSF was also present in giving Hamid a hostile send-away.
Further investigations into the matter revealed the narrative that had driven the students to confront Hamid. The narrative (that we will discuss later in the piece) was constructed by a little known organisation called the Aman Tehreek (Peace Movement).
The truth was it was not exactly a small outfit, but an umbrella organisation under which a number of mainstream progressive parties, student organisations and members of the civil society had gathered to protest not only against extremist outfits such as al Qaeda and the Taliban, but also against the way the Pakistani military establishment and media had been engaging with these organisations.
But since the Tehreek’s narratives on religious extremism, terrorism, the military-establishment and the American drone attacks were largely anti-theistic to the ones toed by the largely right-wing mainstream electronic media, its activities were never given much space.
Recently the Tehreek came into focus again when its members vehemently protested in the streets of Peshawar against the Difa-e-Pakistan Council – an umbrella organisation of right-wing Islamic parties, jihadist outfits and pro-establishment politicians.
The Council, that also has in its ranks members of some ‘banned’ sectarian organisations, is accused by detractors for being a front organisation of those sections of the Pakistani intelligence agencies that are suspected of having links and sympathies with some extremist and sectarian organisations.
So what is the Aman Tehreek? It is an umbrella organisation that was formed in 2009 by members of Peshawar’s civil society.
It was conceived to draw out a ‘peace plan’ for the people of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), a province at the centre of a rather enigmatic war being fought between the Pakistan military and Islamist terror outfits.
In December 2009, the Tehreek organised an elaborate seminar in Peshawar in which members of the civil society and NGOs were invited. Also present were delegations from mainstream secular political parties such as the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Paktunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), and the Baloch National Party (NP).
The Aman Tehreek was represented by a number of progressive intellectuals, lawyers, businessmen, doctors, and student and labour leaders.
Various delegates at the seminar presented their reports on the issue of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan. These reports were then critically evaluated and discussed among the delegates. After a hectic round of discussions, it was decided by the participants that a synthesis be constructed from the discussions. This synthesis was then expressed as a joint declaration, called the ‘Peshawar Declaration’ (PD).
Of hooris, ababeels and liars!
The Peshawar Declaration (PD) suggests that currently Pakistan is experiencing one of the most dangerous and complex kinds of terrorism. PD assails the indoctrination techniques of both the terrorists, as well as the military in which both the terrorist and the soldier are promised paradise and hooris for killing people that also include women and children.
PD states two sources of terrorism in Pakistan: (1) Militant Islamist organisations like al Qaeda and the Taliban and (2) the ‘Strategic Depth’ policy of the Pakistani military-establishment.
Interestingly, the Declaration describes the al Qaeda as ‘a caricature of (‘Wahabi/Salafi’) Arab expansionism in the disguise of global Islam.’
The second factor according to the Declaration that is contributing to the growth of extremist of terrorism is the ‘Strategic Depth’ policy of the Pakistan Army. The purpose of this policy is ‘to use Jihadi culture in order to counter India and protect nuclear weapons, and to subjugate Afghanistan by making it Pakistan’s fifth province on the Azad Kashmir model.’
The Declaration also elaborates on the psychological and cultural aspects of the Strategic Depth policy:
‘The Strategic Depth policy of the Pakistan army has a complete background. The ideology of nationhood on the basis of religion serves its foundation. Cantonments were labeled with the slogans of Jihad Fi Sabel-e-La (Jihad in the name of Allah). Big crossings and roundabouts in the cities were furnished with tanks, fighter planes and replicas of the Chaghai hills (where Pakistan first tested its nuclear bombs) to make a war-like environment.’
‘Instead of a welfare state Pakistan was made a security state. The Objective Resolution (1949) gave birth to Mullah-Military Alliance. The same resolution was included, in letter and spirit, in the constitution by General Ziaul Haq … Terrorist organisations like Hizbul Mujahideen, Harkatul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayeeba and Jash-e-Muhamamd were installed in Kashmir. In Paksitan Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangwi and in Fata Lashkar-e-Islam, Ansar-ul-Islam, Amarbil-Maroof, Tahreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi and Tahreek-e-Taliban have been operational … All these organisations are termed as strategic assets (by the military).’
The Declaration informs that the US, China, Arab countries and Europe helped Pakistan in its aggression against Afghanistan (in the 1980s).
Twenty-four billion petro-dollars were spent to establish seminaries (religious schools) that implanted extremist ideas in the minds of young Pakistanis and Afghans. Military aggression was explained as Jihad.
The Declaration also assails the dictatorship of General Parvez Musharraf for allowing the media to give coverage to those people who were supporting jihadist organisations and the military’s Strategic Depth policy, such as retired generals, a few journalists and so-called ‘defense analysts’.
The Declaration laments that as a result those living in other parts of the country (that are outside the war-torn areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) or those who were not directly affected by terrorism ‘were uninterruptedly indoctrinated with ideas for about eight years which further helped terrorism.’
PD then goes on to suggest that those residing within and near the areas that are directly in the grip of extremism and terrorism have their own view of the issue, a view that is quite different than the one being propagated by the military and the media:
‘It was propagated over the media that terrorism is the continuation of Jihad against Soviet Russia. The fact is that almost all those who fought against the Russians are now actually working to bring stability to the democratic process in Afghanistan. They are the foremost opponents of terrorism …. Only two of the anti-Soviet groups are now involved in terrorism i.e. Gulbadin Hikmatyar and Jalal ud Din Haqqani.’
The Declaration also laments the fact that due to the media, the image of the Pushtuns has been distorted and they are now seen as being extremists.
It then continues about how those directly affected by extremist violence have a different view about the issue than those living away from war and terror, and are being fed news and perceptions about the subject by the military and the media:
‘ … the people of the war-affected areas think that the army and Taliban are actually partners. They have been persistently asking the question why the military failed to target the core leadership of the militants in all the 17 military operations in Fata?’
‘These people (residing in war-torn areas) call for a real and targeted military operation … These people do not support any peace deals with the militants but unlike them the rest of Pakistan talks of putting an end to the military operations and resuming the so-called peace deals.’
By observing the above, the Declaration lays bare the anxiety and anger of those sections of the society and political circles who have been criticising the military, the media and some politicians who have been misrepresenting the views and emotions of those Pakistanis stuck in areas dominated by extremist/terrorist organisations.
PD claims that most people in the tribal areas of KP actually call the American drones, Ababeel (the mythical holy swallows [mentioned in the Quran] that were send by Allah to avenge Abraha, the intended conqueror the Kaaba):
‘The issue of (US) drone attacks is the most important one. The people of the war-affected areas are actually satisfied with the drone attacks which they support the most … Even some people in Waziristan compare Drones with Ababeels. A component of the Pakistani media, some retired generals, a few journalists/analysts and pro-Taliban political parties never tire in their baseless propaganda against the drone attacks.’
The Declaration makes the following recommendations: (Edited version)
• The Strategic Depth policy is not only the cause of terrorism but it is an end in itself regarding terrorism … If the terrorists succeeded in Afghanistan their next target would be Pakistan. Therefore, this policy is destructive for Pakistan and should be abolished.
• Sanctuaries of terrorism in Fata, KP and central Punjab should be destroyed. A brief and targeted military operation should be launched against the terrorists. A half-hearted military operation is only spreading and helping the terrorists.
• Nato forces were sent to Afghanistan under UN mandate. However they should offer a clear time frame for the withdrawal of troops. The US has supported some of the terrorists. Americans are blamed for supporting Jandullah. Similarly they are least interested in dealing with the terrorists from Sangkiang.
• Saudi Arab and other Arab countries should stop financing terrorists.
• Some political forces and a component of the media and establishment are supporting terrorists. Such forces should be uprooted.
• Besides uprooting terrorism in Fata, the people of Fata should be compensated for the damage done due to terrorism. A comprehensive developmental package should be planned and the people of Fata should be allowed to choose any administrative system for themselves.
• The so-called banned terrorist organisations are still operative in the country. Merely banning them would not help. These organisations should be practically eliminated.
• Pakistan army and intelligence agencies should not interfere in politics.
• Every democratic government should be allowed to complete its term. Any conspiracy to derail democracy should be defeated.
• All the aid and international assistance in the name of counter terrorism should be spent on Fata, KP and other terror-affected areas.
• Full national autonomy should be granted to KP province.
• The need of education and awareness to combat terrorism should be overemphasised.
• The government of Pakistan should institute and initialise a concentrated media campaign against terrorism.
• The media should play its due role in the fight against terrorism. Pro-terrorism broadcasts should be banned. The political parties, civil personalities and Lashkars who are against terrorism should be given proper media coverage.
• Positive portrayal of terrorists should be discouraged (in the media).
• Budget allocation for education should be increased. Education should be acknowledged as a basic human right. Education till matriculation should be provided free of cost and elementary education up to grade eight should be made compulsory. Female education should be emphasised.
• The syllabus of education should be renewed. The curriculum should be designed on broader humanistic goals. Modern scientific knowledge should be imparted on the basis of research and creativity. Laboratories and libraries should be declared necessary for all institutions. The need to inculcate the qualities of tolerance, peace and democracy should be emphasised and the contributions of people having these qualities should be highlighted to inspire the youth. All the material regarding hate, prejudice and Jihad should be removed from the curriculum.
• Gender equality should be ensured in education and it should be taught to the students.
• Arts Councils should be established in every district.
• Community Centers should be set up in every district.
• All illegal FM channels should be closed.
• All those cultural activates should be banned which are against the basic human rights, especially against the rights of women.