Societal perspectives on terrorism — by Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

At least one generation has been socialised into a favourable disposition towards Islamic conservatism and militancy. They have a natural sympathy towards the political discourse of the militants even if they do not support their violent methods

The terrorist attacks in Lahore on March 8 and 12 are a reminder of how terrorism continues to threaten internal order and stability in Pakistan. These attacks also show that the terrorists are not only present in the cities but they have also developed strong networking with each other to the detriment of the Pakistani government and the people.

The last major terrorist attack in Lahore was on December 7, 2009, when two bombs exploded in a marketplace, killing at least 70 people. The peace in Lahore over the last three months created the false impression that the worst was over. The latest incidents show that the dislodging of the terrorists from Swat and most of South Waziristan has weakened them but their threat is still formidable.

A combined security operation by the army, the air force and the paramilitary forces was successful in ending the territorial control of the Taliban in Swat/Malakand and most of South Waziristan. Most of the Taliban that survived the attack fled to the mountains, Afghanistan and other tribal agencies. As the security forces initiated operations in Bajaur, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram agencies, some of the Taliban moved to the settled areas of Pakistan, especially the major cities.

The recent Taliban activities have shown two noticeable trends. There are growing linkages between the Pakistani and the Afghan Taliban. They collaborate and cooperate with each other for pursuing their respective agendas against Pakistan and Afghanistan respectively. These linkages were exposed after the TTP leadership lost control of South Waziristan and some of its activists were accommodated by the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. Further, these linkages were also confirmed by the video showing the Jordanian double agent who killed several US intelligence officers in Afghanistan in December with the chief of the TTP, Hakimullah Mehsud.

The more significant linkages are between the TTP and the Punjab based Islamic hardline and sectarian groups, especially their splinter elements. These linkages came into the limelight in 2009 when the TTP engaged in suicide attacks and violent actions in different cities in the Punjab and NWFP. The suicide bombers and other militant activists from the tribal areas parked themselves with the militant and sectarian groups in and around the target city. Some terrorist operations in 2009 were undertaken jointly by the Taliban and the local Punjabi groups. The latter also launched their exclusive operations.

Some militant and sectarian groups were banned in 2001-2002 but these resurfaced under new names towards the end of 2002 or in 2003. Now, these militants are not merely confined to well-known militant and sectarian groups but they have also penetrated all kinds of Islamic groups and movements.

The religious-denominational identities are critical to building support for militancy. Most Deobandi, Wahabbi and Ahle-Hadees elements express varying degrees of support or sympathy for the Taliban and other militants. The other Islamic denominational groups like the Barelvis and the Shias or those subscribing to some Sufi traditions are generally critical of their violent methods but share their notion of an Islamic religious order and the dichotomised worldview characterised by the hostility of the powerful states of the West towards Islam and the Muslims.

The other major source of support to militancy is the political right that overlaps with religious-conservative and orthodox circles. This perspective enjoyed the patronage of the Pakistani state and especially the military and intelligence establishment for years when they used militant and hardline Islamic groups as the instruments of foreign and security policies in Afghanistan and Indian-administered Kashmir. These young individuals were socialised into this perspective through education in state institution and the state-controlled media from the mid-1980s to 2004-2005. At least one generation has been socialised into a favourable disposition towards Islamic conservatism and militancy that is now holding middle level jobs in government (civil and military) and the private sector. Their political discourse is laden with a strongly conservative Islamic worldview that invariably views international and local politics as a function of religion and religion-based conflict in the international system. They have a natural sympathy towards the political discourse of the militants even if they do not support their violent methods.

Though Pakistan’s top civilian and military leadership have come to the unanimous conclusion that the Taliban and other militant elements are a threat to Pakistan’s internal harmony and stability, it is difficult to argue that such unanimity of views exists in the lower echelons of civilian and military institutions. The Islamist and political right perspective is noticeably conspicuous among the personnel in the state institutions.

Pakistan’s political class is ambiguous on dealing with the militants. Most of them condemn religious extremism, suicide attacks and bombings that cause death and chaos. Even a large number of Islamic clerics, including those sharing religious denomination with the Taliban condemn killings of innocent people. However, if you ask them to specifically condemn the Taliban movement, a large number of them would shy away. Some Islamic clerics argue that suicide bombing is justified under some circumstances.

Islamic political parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), all factions of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and most Islamic movements support the Taliban and oppose military action against them. The press periodically reports the derogatory remarks of the JI leaders about the military because in their view it is serving a US agenda rather than Pakistani national interests. Most of these parties and groups view the Taliban as friends of Pakistan and blame violence on the paid agents of the US, India and Israel. An advertisement published by a Lahore-based organisation called “Tanzeem-e-Islami Pakistan” in an Urdu newspaper on March 11 presents a highly skewed Islamic view of what is happening in and around Pakistan. It is highly pro-Taliban and anti-military, asking the rulers of Pakistan to “give up the slavery of the US and adopt the slavery of Allah, otherwise total destruction in this world and thereafter is going to be ‘our fate’”.

The provocative religious discourse is widely shared by the political right whose advocates write columns after columns in Urdu newspapers that regard Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policy as a blunder and think the civil and military rulers of Pakistan have sold out to the US. They often accuse Pakistan’s security forces of killing Muslim citizens of Pakistan. Interestingly, they do not blame the Pakistani Taliban for killing Muslim and non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Source: Daily Times



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