Newspaper Articles

Spurting savagery – by Babar Sattar

One form of such denial produced by a misplaced sense of patriotism is the assertion that perpetrators of such depraved attacks cannot be Pakistanis and the increasing spate of terror attacks has to be the handiwork of our foreign foes. Another form of denial fuelled by our allegiance to our faith and our desire to shield it from slander is the assertion that these terrorists are inspired by political goals and not a defiled brand of religion perceived by them as true Islam.

Spurting savagery

This past week was shockingly violent. The savagery witnessed at the Parade Lane mosque in Rawalpindi was exceptionally appalling. The spectre of militants ruthlessly killing people during Friday prayers in the name of Islam is so fundamentally opposed to our religious and cultural values and our self-perception as Pakistanis that it is tempting to swaddle ourselves in denial about the multifarious causes of violence infesting Pakistan.

One form of such denial produced by a misplaced sense of patriotism is the assertion that perpetrators of such depraved attacks cannot be Pakistanis and the increasing spate of terror attacks has to be the handiwork of our foreign foes. Another form of denial fuelled by our allegiance to our faith and our desire to shield it from slander is the assertion that these terrorists are inspired by political goals and not a defiled brand of religion perceived by them as true Islam.

It is imperative to define one’s identity. Why should a bigoted, obscurantist and intolerant perception of our faith come to define what our religion stands for? Why should we allow the world to perceive us as a nation that breeds, accommodates or tolerates brutes practicing and preaching barbarism? But our desire to preserve our sanity and reduce the gap between Pakistan’s growing perception as a problem place willingly hosting terrorists and our reality as a moderate nation waging a valorous struggle against violence that is hurting us most of all must not be founded in falsehood and self-deceit.

We must acknowledge and remind ourselves that the scourge of part-mercenary-part-religion-inspired merchants of violence that now infests Pakistan is a product of our own ingenuousness. The US and its allies conceived the jihadist project as a bulwark against the Soviets in Afghanistan and we volunteered to act as implementing agents.

Our fatal flaw was not that we viewed failure of the Soviet enterprise in Afghanistan as a vital national- security interest, but that we agreed to assemble the infrastructure required to plan subversive activities within Afghanistan on our territory and enticed our own citizens with considerations of faith, money and power to recruit them to fight the “good jihad.”

The manner in which the national-security policy was defined was aided by the intolerant brand of religion practiced in state-sponsored madrasas that preached individualistic jihad against “infidels.” It was this nexus between our national-security doctrine and an obscurantist form of Islam that continued to rear a brigade of militants who believed they were fighting a righteous war in the name of God, and not Pakistan. Like all clandestine activities, the infrastructure formed to create, sustain and operate the jihadi project could not be subjected to the kind of command and control structures under which an organised army functions.

While our jihadi project delivered in the immediate-term in Afghanistan, its sponsors neither contemplated any means to disassemble the jihadi infrastructure if need be, nor took cognisance of the menacing social and economic costs of having ideologically inspired gun-toting militias running amok in the country.

As an instrument of policy the jihadi project has been flawed since inception. For once put in operation, it acquired a life of its own and was not even in the control of its patrons: its operatives can neither be diffused nor reprogrammed in accordance with the changing national-security doctrine or state policy. The argument that it was the US war in Afghanistan and Musharraf’s willingness to send the army into the tribal area that unleashed the menace of terror in Pakistan is therefore flawed. The US war in Afghanistan and Musharraf’s decision to take a sudden U-turn vis-à-vis our Afghan policy certainly fuelled the fire now raging across Pakistan. But collecting the timber and sprinkling oil over it was our own doing. This war between the jihadi infrastructure and the security agencies would have kicked off in any event whenever the state changed its security or foreign policy in a manner that did not correspond to the jihadist worldview.

The terms on which Musharraf allied Pakistan with the US after 9/11 and his simultaneously two-timing the jihadists and the Americans certainly contributed to our misfortunes. But a conflict between our home-grown jihadists and the state was waiting to happen.

The root cause of our plight today is not that we withdrew our support for the Taliban government in Afghanistan under US pressure or that we decided to exercise control over the tribal areas. But that we formulated an ill-conceived national-security policy built on the premise that exercising direct control over Afghanistan would further our national interest, used jihadists as an instrument to implement this policy in the mistaken belief that we would have the sustained ability to control the genie even when it came out of the bottle, allowed distorted religious doctrines to be used for promotion of a flawed security policy and housed and trained the jihadists within a part of our country where we allowed lawlessness to fester for six decades.

The chickens have now come home to roost. According to one estimate Pakistan has lost almost 8,000 civilians and 2,900 soldiers in terrorism-related violence between 2003 and 2009. The armed forces, the police and the society are under attack on a daily basis. Agonising over our follies of the 80s and 90s or hatching conspiracy theories to blame India or the US for all our strife will not help, for flawed diagnosis will lead to bad prescription and not cure. People always come to fish in troubled waters. Unless we objectively analyse where we went wrong and plug our vulnerabilities, finger-pointing and self-pity alone will not make our problems go away. For now we need to throw all our support behind the security and law enforcing agencies and fight this extremely perilous war against terrorism with unwavering resolve.

While political approaches, sustainable structures of governance and developmental programmes are required to engender and sustain peace in the tribal areas, no number of political concessions will diffuse the human bombs that have already been created and launched.

The talk of finding political compromises to subside the present wave of violence is thus a non-starter. We are presently fighting anarchist groups inspired by an intolerant and violent brand of religion who seek revenge from the state and society for their allegedly turning sacrilegious. The Pakistani Taliban can thus not be compared with the Baloch separatists or similar ethnic groups in other countries primarily seeking political autonomy, economic empowerment or social justice, that turn to violence merely to realise such political goals.

The Afghan Taliban, for example, are more akin to such a force for they seek to end the occupation of their country by the foreign forces and wish to reclaim their government. The Pakistani Taliban have articulated no such political programme. If they have one at all, it is to impose their intolerant brand of religion on the rest of the country and acquire control of this state to wage jihad against the US-led western world. By its very nature, this is an anarchist group not amenable to political compromise.

The Obama plan for Afghanistan – the surge together with the exist strategy – has provided Pakistan with another opening to undo some of its past mistakes in its relationship with our western neighbour. While the Americans might be able to sustain another blunder in Afghanistan, Pakistan cannot change its geography and consequently has no room for error.

Instead of bending backwards to appease the US or itching to slip back into the godfather mindset of the 90s and offering unconditional support to the Taliban, we need to urgently reconfigure our national-security policy that is geared to protecting the internal security of Pakistan and is flexible enough to accommodate all possible outcomes of the US war effort in Afghanistan.

The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
Email: sattar@post.harvard.edu

Saturday, December 12, 2009
Source