There is much international concern on the massive radicalism and violent extremism in Pakistan and especially in Pakistan’s Punjab. We in India are particularly perturbed because it affects us greatly. Groups in Pakistan-Punjab like the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) think in terms of pan-Islamism and focus on re-jigging religion to suit their political ambition, use all means to impose and spread their version of politicised religion to capture power and use violence and threats on those who oppose their agenda.
The result of this terrorism is that it causes insecurity, leads to massive expenditure on security and surveillance that could be used on development and infrastructure and curbs individual freedom locally, nationally and internationally. We need to seriously look at the roots of this radicalism in order to understand and stop this scourge.
A major researcher in Pakistan, Ayesha Siddiqa, who had earlier exposed the Pakistan military-business linkages, has been studying Pakistan Punjab’s terror groups. She says that: JeM is different from the Taliban because it does not impose its cultural agenda on the local population, but in fact works and intermingles with them. This is because they want to increase their support base and get legitimacy in society.
This kind of tactic can be both an advantage because they get more recruits. But the disadvantage is that if a society believes in secular laws as opposed to ‘ordained’ ones they can resist and report these ideologues/recruiters to state agencies who should have a real interest in rooting them out as a way of curbing terrorism.
To know if a state is serious about curtailing terror is by unearthing the terror groups’ relation with the state. Siddiqa and others, including many Indian analysts, have shown that these terror groups work more outside Pakistan-Punjab, like in India, especially in Kashmir, in Afghanistan and even in Central and West Asia. So in effect, they cooperate and have the protection of the state. But they have also organised attacks within Pakistan. While Pakistan talks of demobilising, disarming and cleaning up these groups, in reality, sections of the Pakistani ‘deep state’, like the Inter services intelligence (ISI) or military ‘high ups’, save them. These groups continue to be seen as strategic assets and are used for foreign policy and geostrategic reasons.
The linkages that States like Pakistan have with terror groups are largely ignored internationally because States need each other in international politics. Rogue States and even liberal ones which are soft on radicalised and violent groups because they use them for political agendas is a dangerous and long-term disrupting phenomenon and needs to be looked at and acted upon in much more critical ways by States, international organisations and analysts.
Another important point to be considered that Siddiqa and others have made is that it is not poverty that is the driving force for spreading radical ideologies. It is driven by middle class level leadership which uses such ideology and religious manipulation to capture power. This is a major point to ponder over. And this connects to schools, educational institutions and religious indoctrination for violent movements. In other words the role played by religious institutions and schooling.
This is the area where the least attention is being paid internationally. It is well established that young boys — victims of the Afghan conflicts — were adopted and schooled in Pakistani madrassas and trained to become the lethal Talibs. Even while they assisted in the removal of Soviet rule, Afghanistan especially, but also other countries and people in the region, paid the price exacted by the ruthless Taliban.
Pakistan obviously has not learnt from this history. An even more lethal force is now at large. No law or court in Pakistan acts against Masood Azhar who propagates that the killing of non-Muslims is ordained and incumbent. He even justifies the killing of women and children in wars. His writings are freely available to schools and colleges since they are allowed to be propagated.
The schools that are nurseries for such violent interpretation, training and action, many researchers, including Siddiqa, show, are not the old-style madrassas, but hybrid modern schools that mix modern skill learning with religious interpretations. The same militant training is being propagated by radical elements in universities as well. Even as the State professes that it would like to curb militancy and violent radicalism, it is unable to do so. Especially since the social base for radicalisation is increasing.
Some forces who oppose radical Islam believe that the best way to counter them is to radicalise their own youth as a militia of religious warriors who can then have religious wars and face-offs. As a consequence, school and university education has become a contested site for such a debate. But the reality is that politicised religion is a step towards radicalisation and militancy which is not confined to any one religion or stream of thought. It works as a double-edged sword for all who use it.
In this context, India, just like other countries, must look into their own schooling and educational system and see what has worked and what has not. India can take and also give some lessons internationally. India has to learn to widen its education base, improve education methods, infrastructure and give access to the millions deprived of it. But what India can show as a model is that the State interventions in education and the government schools and universities have largely maintained a secular and constitution-based model of education. This pattern should be deepened and widened if India wants development, security and international leadership. Any tampering will damage not just education but the country as a whole.
Anuradha Chenoy is professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
The views expressed are personal