The warrior seminaries of Punjab — by Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza

Photo source: Newsline

On more than one occasion the PML-N has demonstrated sympathy, and even outright links, with the forces that are considered to be part of the Pakistani Taliban

It was Dante who said: “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis.”

The attack during Friday prayers in Lahore on two Ahmedi worship places on May 18, which claimed the lives of 100 innocent worshippers, has resurrected questions regarding the nature and ethos of the state of Pakistan. The attack has added the Ahmedi community to the long list of groups that have been targeted by terrorists. It is also a testing time for we Pakistanis to prove to ourselves whether or not we are worthy of being called ‘moral human beings’. Do we have the courage openly and unequivocally to condemn the assault on the Ahmedi community? Or do we again bury our heads in the sand and behave as though nothing has happened?

The emergence of terrorist attacks in the settled parts of Punjab such as the populous city of Lahore are a stark reminder of the uncanny presence of thousands of religious seminaries dotted across the province. According to a government survey, there are around 20,000 such seminaries in Punjab alone and around four million pupils attend such institutions.

Ali K Chishti in his article, ‘Punjab: the new FATA’ (Daily Times, June 7, 2010) gave us an eye-opening breakdown of these religious seminaries. The escalation in the numbers of religious seminaries happened during the military regime of General Ziaul Haq when they were transformed into ‘warrior seminaries’. They were required to manufacture sectarian jihadists — though the term had yet to be invented — to be used as human fuel for the Afghan War.

At these warrior seminaries, pupils are taught the Quran and related Islamic teachings. It is important to point out that not all of them are responsible for the uninterrupted supply of armed sectarian terrorists and suicide bombers that has blighted our country over the past few years, but it has been confirmed that over 25 percent of known terrorists in Pakistan have been seminary undergraduates.

Today, the so-called jihadists have grown out of the control of their creators and have become a universal menace that needs to be dealt with ‘locally’. A nationwide coalition of democratic and secular forces, including — and this is key — the working classes and the downtrodden is the need of the hour.

To address the menace of terrorism in Punjab, we need to, first, consider the removal of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) from power in Punjab. This is because on more than one occasion the PML-N has demonstrated sympathy, and even outright links, with the forces that are considered to be part of the Pakistani Taliban.

The statement issued by Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif a couple of months ago requesting the Taliban to exempt Punjab from attacks because they share the same hatred towards the US presence in the region and his provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah’s act of joining the campaign trail with the Sipah-e-Sahaba, another outfit considered to have close ties with the Taliban. This should be sufficient to allow everyone clearly to delineate the stance the Punjab government has in relation to this matter.

Moreover, the then ISI chief, Hamid Gul in 1988, in order to bring about a right-wing consensus opposition to Benazir Bhutto during the general elections, created the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), of which the PML-N was a part. General Gul has never hidden his sympathies for the Taliban and is one of the living architects of the so-called ‘mujahideen’, the very people who fought against the government of Afghanistan during the 1980s in a conflict that claimed nearly a million lives and caused the complete destruction of Afghanistan.

Unless the PML-N is voted out of power, an effective counterterrorism policy and a workable strategy will always face the danger of sabotage. The only political party that can achieve this transformation of the political landscape in the Land of the Five Rivers is the PPP. It has the resources and numerous other local operations that act as the backbone of the party’s structure.

Yet in order to make them work effectively in Punjab after a 30-year hiatus, first, the PPP will need an effective overhaul of the Punjab party leadership. This politically moribund plutocracy will have to be replaced with a team of loyalists possessed of vigour, vision and long-term commitment to grassroots organising.

Second, the citizens of Punjab have to be politicised. The Taliban phenomenon is an ugly expression of a false hope for a pan-Islamic resurgence that would ultimately culminate in a global caliphate. The ideological basis of the Taliban, who belong to the Wahabi sect originating from Saudi Arabia but also incorporate the more toxic aspects of Deobandism, is as absurd as the notion that the whole of the Punjabi populace has been converted to the ideology of the Taliban. People in the working and peasant classes — the majority of Punjabis — need to see that progressive political activity can result in improvements in basic amenities and other services and in proper education and a brighter future for their children. Introducing and promoting concepts of democracy ‘in action’ would also help larger sections of the Punjabi middle class to be armed intellectually and to see clearly that their interests do not lie with those of people like General Gul.

A communication mechanism has to be developed between the masses and the federal government that is actively pursuing a counterterrorism policy by conducting several ‘clean-up’ operations in the tribal pockets to eliminate Taliban safe havens. As a first step, one might argue that, as well as renewing and energising its own grassroots party architecture, it is — perhaps as a temporary measure — to the NGO sector that the government has to turn its attention in order to conduct a meaningful campaign against the ideological battle waged by the religious right.

NGOs should be facilitated, briefed and empowered with the vision to be able to create a counter-terrorist social milieu. Funds should be made available for NGOs to create projects that would enhance the understanding of modern democracy and strengthen its institutions. In order to eradicate poverty and corruption, sustainable economic and development projects should be planned.

Finally, a parliamentary commission should be set up to look into the workings of the seminaries with the prospect of future nationalisation and bringing them into the fold of the government school network.

Unless the issue of terrorism and its relation to warrior seminaries is addressed, we will not be able to stop the educational and welfare-oriented seminaries of the past continuously being transformed into the warrior seminaries of Punjab, until we as a nation stop betraying the children of Punjab. Until that happens, no one is safe.

Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza is a Lahore based political analyst working in UK. He can be reached on

Source: Daily Times, July 17, 2010



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