Jihad and the state

By Ayesha Siddiqa
Friday, 09 Oct, 2009
Pakistan’s support is critical in reducing the size and subsequently the threat posed by terror networks like Al-Qaeda. –Photo by AP

Pakistan’s support today is central to winning the war on terror. Hence, American aid is meant to encourage the political government and, to a certain extent, the military to cleanse the country of the thousands of jihadis that have been in Pakistan since the 1980s.

The strategy might work to a degree in eliminating some groups. Indeed Pakistan’s support is critical in reducing the size and subsequently the threat posed by terror networks like Al-Qaeda. The current assessment is that the terror outfit has in fact reduced in size and is partly relocating to Africa.

But this is not an indicator that the battle has been completely won. To vanquish the faceless enemy, the US and its allies have to achieve the harder goal of winning hearts and minds without which the war on terror is not winnable. This is because terror networks are difficult to locate, especially when they have society’s support. The problem right now is that while people in Pakistan might be anxious regarding some Taliban groups on a killing spree in the country, neither they nor the state in its entirety have complete faith in America’s war on terror or its presence in the region.

While institutions of the state have problems due to the manner in which the US chooses to fight the war, a common perception is that the Taliban imposed the war on Pakistan due to the US presence. So, to many the Taliban and jihadis essentially represent a struggle against American imperialism in Afghanistan. What, of course, goes hand in hand with such perceptions is the view that 9/11 was an American conspiracy to invade Afghanistan, the key to Central Asia. These are interesting times when the religious right begins to look like the left.

The battle for hearts and minds is essentially a part of the exercise of making the war legitimate. Currently, the argument presented by some in Pakistan, including certain prominent televangelists, is that America’s war essentially represents a clash of civilisations and is being imposed on Pakistan by an illegitimate government on behalf of the US. Notwithstanding the general suspicion regarding the US, there are two issues that need attention when it comes to the debate on what a ‘just war’ is in the Muslim world.

Firstly, what is a just war in Islam? According to some, a just war is one which is fought for the defence of Islam or for extending the religion to other parts of the world. The thinking goes that since the war on terror has been imposed by the US by falsely accusing Al Qaeda for 9/11, the struggle against it is legitimate. It would certainly add to everyone’s knowledge if Pakistani authorities disclosed how Khaled Sheikh Mohammad, who was interrogated by Pakistani forces before being handed over to America, confessed to his involvement in the bombing of the World Trade Centre.

Those that oppose the war on terror create the same categories as those that support the war of the ‘bad’ Taliban versus the ‘good’ Taliban. The latter are those fighting American hegemony in South Asia or other parts of the world. The bad ones are those that attack Pakistan on the behest of the US or Indian intelligence agencies. It becomes imperative for all Muslims to fight the US, which is threatening the survival of the Islamic civilisation, while Pakistan is considered the citadel of Islam.

So, people are caught between their dislike for violence imposed internally and the message coming from certain quarters that this violence is actually caused by the American presence in the region. Consequently, the situation would improve after America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Such perspectives received greater support after Washington’s needless expansion of the war to Iraq.

But then there is no consensus on what a just war is. Over the years, the concept of jihad has been through several interpretations depending on the times. Today, there is no consensus amongst the community of believers regarding the legitimacy of war. One of the important issues pertains to the question of who has the authority to wage a war. Is it the state or the individual’s responsibility? This question is not easy to answer as it is directly connected with another equally complex matter regarding the nature and legitimacy of the state.

The fact is that most religious opinions on war involving the individual citizen pertain to times when scholars had responded to external invasions and considered their own governments to be lacking in legitimacy to represent the people. The current times, unfortunately, don’t appear very different. However, the issue requires further thought even if the US left the region.

This brings me to the second issue of what a legitimate Islamic state is, a matter that has a direct bearing on whether the public would support the war or not. For the US, the battle to win hearts and minds becomes even more problematic considering that people in most countries of the Muslim world are not happy with their governments. This is certainly true in Pakistan where there is a lot of confusion about who has the right to govern.

The rampant corruption of the leadership adds fuel to the fire of the arguments of those who believe and profess that democracy is not suited to an Islamic system of government. Some televangelists in Pakistan, who are gaining popularity amongst the educated middle-class youth, argue that democracy as a system is foreign to Islam and hence must be abolished. Naturally, a state established on what they consider the wrong principles does not have the right to decide on which side of the fence it wants to fight.

These self-appointed preachers present a specific view on the politics of the state as if there is no space for any other perspective. Indeed, there is an ongoing debate on the relationship between politics and religion. While the concept of caliphate was supported historically, modern Muslim scholars such as Al Razik and Abdullah An-Na’im talk about the possibility of the separation of religion and politics which would allow for newer methods of selecting a government.

A debate on the aforementioned issues is no guarantee that the situation would immediately turn around for the US in Afghanistan. But it may save the world from protracted conflict on other fronts. The clash of civilisations is an ugly phenomenon and discussion in Muslim societies will help world peace.

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst. (Dawn)


Tailpiece: 33 jihadi bhaion ki shahadat. May their souls burn in hell.

Bodies of 33 militants found
By Our Correspondent
Friday, 09 Oct, 2009
MINGORA, Oct 8: The bullet-riddled bodies of 33 suspected Taliban were found in different areas of Char Bagh on Thursday and a senior military commander said the militants had been killed in clashes with security forces.

According to reports reaching here, all the bodies were of local militants.

Sources said that troops were carrying out a search operation in Benjot, Taligram, Seir and Munglistan. In Kasona, 13 bodies were found and seven militants surrendered.

Dozens of unidentified bodies have been found since the military launched an operation in Swat and most of them have been buried.

Operation Commander Maj-Gen Ashfaq Nadeem told journalists that the militants had been killed in clashes in Char Bagh area over the past three days. He said that 95 per cent areas of Swat had been cleared of militants.

He said the remaining areas would be cleared soon and troops would start handing over a number of checkpoints to police from Oct 15. He said curfew had been lifted from several areas in Swat.

Maj-Gen Nadeem said that most of the militants in Swat had been killed, adding that troops would fully participate in the reconstruction work. He said the army would build mosques and repair the Ayub bridge in six weeks.

He said a committee would present a report about the use of Rs1 billion funds announced by the army chief.

Agencies add: The bodies of 15 Taliban militants were found on Thursday while 24 insurgents were killed in military operations in Swat.

Officials have previously reported 251 corpses dumped next to roads, beheaded or strung up in Swat since July.

“I can confirm that 15 bodies were found today and our information is that they are militants,” army spokesman Major Mushtaq Khan told AFP. “They might have been the victims of infighting among militant groups or killed by local people.” (Dawn)