Derailed de-radicalisation

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Zeenia Satti

Just like the Afghan war was allowed to turn into Pakistan’s civil war, similarly, the Mumbai attacks are likely to usher in civil unrest in Punjab. While events in neighbouring countries adversely impact Pakistan’s domestic politics, the same are cited internationally as the manifestations of Pakistan failing as a state. Both Musharraf and Zardari have allowed their country’s political milieu to be defined by outside powers. When a state allows its domestic political relations to be determined by outside powers, it brings upon itself the misfortune of losing control over its polity and becoming thus a failed state. The Pakistani incumbents have hurled their country down this slope lock stock and barrel.

Counter terrorism is an evolutionary process. All over the world, governments try to de-radicalise radical groups through facilitating disengagement from radicalism and promoting involvement with peaceful activities. Political discourse on de-radicalisation and counter terrorism is occupied with developing mechanisms for “disengagement” from radicalism through an “integrated” approach.

It would be to Pakistan’s long term advantage if radical groups could be disengaged from cross border military pursuits and engaged instead in peaceful activities inside Pakistan. The eradication of poverty and hunger, the professionalization of down trodden youth, provision of health care, education, and shelter for the homeless are all fit subjects for jihad in Islam. If a radical organization has already established such activities in Pakistan, the state should lend it hearty support and protection while continuing to monitor its activities.

Demobilization and disengagement, as defined in political science, are the best antidote to terrorism. At present, many countries in the world are strategizing “disengagement from radicalism” at different levels, including Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India, Algeria, Indonesia, Colombia, and Malaysia.

Unfortunately, while governments beset with terrorism elsewhere are painfully striving to set up disengagement programs, the Zardari government has just shut down such a program in Pakistan. The post Mumbai clamp down on JUD and the closure of its schools is a political blunder. The LeT’s transformation into JUD is a model of disengagement countries faced with radical groups dream of achieving. Islamabad could have utilized the Mumbai attacks to demobilize the LeT by standing up for JUD and rendering it open to international scrutiny. It could have used its media to provide extensive coverage to JUD’s civic activities and should have lent it whole hearted praise. This would not only have instilled in the JUD and its followers a heightened sense of patriotism, it would also have helped it purge those elements that are given to violence. To de-radicalise, one has to facilitate cooperative relations and capacity development. Mumbai could have been utilized to promote a change in JUD syllabus.

Mumbai challenged the political world view of jihadi groups that seek a solution to the Kashmir problem through terrorism. The fact that the Mumbai attacks had a severely negative bearing on the Kashmiri struggle should have been the “cognitive opening” used by Pakistan to divide a wedge between the LeT and the JUD, to the detriment of the former so as to completely dehydrate its military life line. Islamabad could then tackle the LeT leadership to New Delhi’s satisfaction but without a negative fall out on itself. Through erudite policy, Islamabad could promote a fundamental change within all its militarized groups’ political understanding of the Kashmir problem, facilitating the abandonment of their cross border ventures.

Ever since the CIA had Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his secular, progressive politics eliminated through Pakistan’s military, Pakistan has been steadily infiltrated with religious groups who are funded by petro dollars and adhere to a reactionary version of Islam espoused by Saudi Arabia. The Islamisation of Pakistan has thus gone on imperceptibly for almost thirty years during which time reactionary groups have dotted the entire landscape of Pakistan. Yet, Pakistanis have never empowered religious parties in any of their general elections. It is now well established that the sole exception of the MMA victory in the 2002 election was a fraud perpetrated by the Musharraf regime.

Militarily, in the past the Islamist groups were never a threat to Pakistan as the focus of their activities remained Indian occupied Kashmir and Soviet Occupied Afghanistan. Since 9/11, both India and the U.S have launched a policy towards Pakistan that has not only intensified the militarization of radical groups within Pakistan but has also cleverly shifted their target to Islamabad. Islamabad is unwittingly abetting this policy.

The Pakistani Islamist groups have come into being over a long period of time and were sustained by regional developments. The same developments can be used to dismantle these groups but Pakistan needs time for this. Those who show no patience in this task are averse to Pakistan’s internal cohesion.

Zardari is providing even more incentive then Musharraf to the radical groups to swell their ranks and shift the target of their militarism to Islamabad. Disillusionment, after much hope has been shattered, makes people turn away from democracy to other means. The longing for a leadership that addresses the emotional grievances of people is making the Pakistani youth vulnerable to extremism. Zardari has refused to fulfil a single hope of the anti Musharraf movement. When such a government launches punitive action against any group, it not only reinforces the group’s clandestine camaraderie but even promotes camaraderie where none already exists. Islamabad could have used the Mumbai attacks to promote de-radicalisation in an erudite manner; instead, it has pursued policies that are more likely to radicalise and destabilise Punjab. (The News)

The writer is a consultant and analyst of energy geopolitics based in Washington DC. Email: