On the one hand, religious outfits preach jihad, and on the other they provide education, health and other social services, which are supposed to be responsibilities of the state. If the state had fulfilled its responsibilities, there would be no space for people like Hafiz Saeed
The proliferation of jihad in Pakistan, particularly in Punjab, is not just induced by Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Rather, rapid socio-economic changes have played a major role in the propagation of jihadi culture. However, the truth gets lost in the media hype because journalists that only seek thrillers occupy intellectual space. News about jihad, Al Qaeda and the Taliban sells in the media market, and therefore no one is ready to talk about the fundamental realities.
We can take solace in make-believe conspiracy theories about the hidden role of the CIA, RAW or Mossad in the recent Mumbai terror attacks. Nonetheless, the fact remains that other than one from Dera Ismail Khan — an overwhelmingly Hinko-Punjabi speaking area — all other nine terrorists belonged to central Punjab. They came from Multan, Okara, Faisalabad and Sialkot — some of the more prosperous areas of Pakistan. But if one looks deeply into the causes behind the creation of jihadis in these areas, it becomes clear that this region is ripe for anti-status quo movements.
The mammoth socio-economic changes and resulting inequalities are the highest in these areas. In addition, the desire and consciousness for a fair society is also part of the mindset of this area. In other words, central Punjab is boiling for change. The movement for the restoration of deposed judiciary was only a prologue to even larger upheavals.
Take Ajmal Amir Kasab, who allegedly comes from a village in Okara, a very prosperous district in central Punjab. Imagine that on Eid, a boy in Okara asks his poor father for new clothes. The father, who has five other children, cannot afford to get him new clothes. The boy, an elementary school dropout, cannot swallow his deprivation given that other kids around him will have new clothes, and runs away from home. He tries to fulfil his dreams through wage labour, then robbery, and somehow ends up at a jihadi training centre. Had he become a professional robber, his end would not have been much different, only that now he will be called a shaheed or a ghazi.
This boy is the victim of a socio-economic system that has changed fundamentally in the entire sub-continent, and more so in Punjab — both Pakistani and Indian. Tractor trolleys have replaced the wooden cart pulled by oxen. In fact, the entire mode of production based on manual labour with oxen-pulled ploughs has disappeared from the landscape.
Villages where a few fortunate had bicycles have been inundated with motorcycles and cars. The villages from where only a few ever ventured outside, and even then to appear in court or make purchases for weddings, now have hourly bus services along with the twenty-four hour availability of rickshaws and taxis. Villages have been transformed into ghettos for cities. As the new generation of artisans and other working class people has brought money from the Middle East, the class arrangements that had prevailed for centuries have been uprooted.
In this new set-up, the individual’s role has been transformed as well. Societal roles have become more fluid: the son of a blacksmith or a butcher is no longer destined to take up us his ancestors’ occupation. However, along with the newly gained freedom, economic security is gone. In the previous social order the offspring of a blacksmith was assured to have certain economic security. Now everyone has to make his or her own living. This is a new crushing insecurity that has seeped into the psyche of the new generation.
Whatever is happening in Punjab is not new. In eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe, similar phenomenon resulted in devastating results. Civil wars became common and ultimately two world wars were fought because of hyper-nationalism. In a sense, the jihadis are also affected by pan-Islam nationalism, which includes liberating Kashmir.
This process is accelerated by the fundamental socio-economic changes that always result from the creation of new wealth and increasing inequality in the initial stages. This universal rule applied to nineteenth century Europe as well as to present day China. Pakistan is going through a rough Darwinian phase where the big fish are swallowing the smaller ones. Concepts of wrong and right are thrown out the window and everyone is out there to grab whatever they can. As a result, a new rich class has emerged along with a new class of subjugated poor.
Amid this loot and plunder, sections of the middle and lower classes have taken refuge in religion and embraced jihad. On the one hand, religious outfits preach jihad, and on the other they provide education, health and other social services, which are supposed to be responsibilities of the state. Take Hafiz Saeed, who comes from the jihad-preaching middle class and also provides many social services in his centres. If the state had fulfilled its responsibilities, there would be no space for people like him.
No wonder in such circumstances, the young son of an impoverished father falls into the jihadi trap. No outsider but the state and the new rich have given birth to these jihadis, who will continue to proliferate unless the state and the ruling classes re-examine and correct their current practices.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Daily Times, 17 Dec 2008)