Editor’s note: A Pashtun columnist, Akbar Jan Marwat, clearly and boldly highlights the Deobandi and Wahhabi dimension of the US-Saudi-funded takfiri extremism and terrorism in Pakistan. He deserves our full appreciation and salute.
Religious extremism: our biggest challenge
With financial support from both the US and Saudi Arabia, religious desperados of all hues were recruited to come to Pakistan from all over the world to take part in the Afghan jihad
– Akbar Jan Marwat
Today, religious extremism, in its various forms and manifestations, is the biggest threat faced by Pakistan. These forms of religious extremism range from the right-wing views of a great majority of our citizens to the outright militant movement of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who declare their avowed goal to be the overthrow of, what is in their opinion, the ‘un-Islamic’ government of Pakistan. Many of our religious and rightist political parties, and their followers, may disagree with their violent means but are generally sympathetic to the cause of these militant Islamists.
Due to the overt religious policies and propaganda of successive regimes, Pakistan over the years has become a reactionary and intolerant place. This was not always the case. In its earlier years, Pakistan was more liberal and pluralistic, where members of other faiths and minority groups were tolerated. In today’s Pakistan, when most people are riding high on a crest of false religiosity, such tolerance is rare. To fully comprehend the phenomenon of religious extremism, it would be helpful to briefly delve into the history of the Pakistan Movement, and the political and religious orientations of our various governments and state institutions.
Intellectual confusion has been pervasive in our society ever since the conception of Pakistan. Liberal leaders like Jinnah had to use the religious card to get the overwhelming support of Muslims, required for the creation of the new state. This was, however, to be a temporary phase. In view of Jinnah and his associates, a Muslim welfare state, and not an Islamic theocratic state considering itself responsible for the woes of the entire Muslim ummah (community), was the goal. It was only after Jinnah’s death that the narrative of the Islamic state gained ascendency through an alliance between the military, mullahs, right-wing politicians and pro-establishment bureaucrats.
The Objectives Resolution of 1949, for the first time, clearly highlighted the Islamic character of the Pakistani state. This resolution was passed against the opposition of the minority members in the Legislative Assembly at that time. Religious parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which initially opposed the creation of Pakistan, became very close to the army and played an important role in dictating the Islamic agenda. The Jamaat spearheaded the anti-Ahmedi riots of the 1950s and the creation of al Shams and al Badr for the persecution of Bengalis in East Pakistan in 1971. The JI was an important partner of the Zia regime in its initial years also.
These retrogressive religious forces, to make certain decisions thought to be in conformity with Islam, forced even a secular and pro-socialist leader like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to do their bidding. The declaration of Ahmedis as non-Muslims was the most important of these decisions. Pakistan thus became the first and perhaps the only country in the world to declare Ahmedis non-Muslims.
The self-serving and opportunistic Islamic policies of General Zia gave a further nod to overt religiosity, leading to religious extremism. On the external front, Zia shortsightedly involved Pakistan neck deep in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet invasion. Pakistan became a refuge for over three million Afghan refugees. Various Afghan jihadi outfits established their headquarters and training camps in Pakistan. With financial support from both the US and Saudi Arabia, religious desperados of all hues were recruited to come to Pakistan from all over the world to take part in the Afghan jihad. The Arab and Islamic fighters brought their Wahabi and Takfiri ideologies with them, which are haunting Pakistan to this day. Many militant and sectarian organisations like the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi were created with the active support of our government and military intelligence agencies. All these measures led to the religious radicalisation of Pakistani society.
The erroneous concept of ‘strategic depth’ prompted our defence establishment to help and nurture the Afghan Taliban in order to have a friendly government in Kabul. A jihadi culture was thus established in Pakistan from where militants went to fight not only in Afghanistan but Kashmir as well. The saddest part of all this was the total oblivion of our governments and defence establishment to the pernicious long-term effects of this jihadi enterprise, carried out right under the nose of our authorities.
Saudi Arabia has no doubt been a good friend to Pakistan in its time of need but it has played a very dangerous role in radicalising our society and in financing Wahabi and Deobandi projects. Saudi largess was lavishly used to set up rabidly anti-Shia militant outfits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which have been involved in a full-scale genocide of Shias.
Our army and its intelligence agencies were involved in setting up an alliance of right-wing parties — the IJI, against a more secular PPP. The right-wing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) it seems also has a share of its sympathisers in the defence establishment of Pakistan.
The turning point for Pakistan came after 9/11 when Musharraf, under US pressure, had to take a U-turn against the Afghan Taliban. Many of the Afghan Taliban, along with their al Qaeda supporters, took refuge in the Pakistani tribal areas. Very soon after, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was born, turning their guns towards the state of Pakistan. An existential threat to Pakistan from this religious militancy was thus created. The existence of our state, as well as our way of life, came under threat. Our successive governments and even our army did not respond to this threat as earnestly as was required because of the influence of right-wing religious and political forces. Pakistan suffered tremendous human and financial losses due to this delay in a decisive action against the militants.
Even in the present North Waziristan operation it seems the army forced the hand of the PML-N government to agree to a full-fledged operation rather than wasting more time. Many religious parties like the JI and JUI-F are still against the operation. The PTI has very reluctantly and perhaps insincerely supported the operation. The deliberate overplay of the religious card by various governments and state institutions has led our society to become reactionary and intolerant. In the absence of any counter-narrative by our governments, the retrogressive jihadi narrative preached by religious parties and militant outfits holds the field in Pakistan.
In my opinion, we need to go back to the narrative of a modern Muslim nation state. It will not be easy as the theocratic forces are so well entrenched. The combination of jihadi culture and weak state institutions has led to stiff resistance towards modernisation in education and outlook, so essential for survival and progress of a society as complex as ours.