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Rogues in the neighbourhood

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri reviews two books on how two jihads have spurred Pakistan on in its descent into darkness since 1947.

books Updated: Apr 10, 2010 00:00 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times

Coming Blowback: How Pakistan is Endangering the World
Wilson John
Rupa Rs 595 pp 296

The Al Qaeda Connection
Imtiaz Gul
Penguin Viking Rs 499 pp 308

There are two jihads in Pakistan. The quiet one is the slow spread of Islamicism within Pakistani society, the primary topic of Wilson John's book. The loud one is being fought along the Afghan-Pakistan border — and is partly dissected in Imtiaz Gul's book.

The first kind of jihad is more insidious. John opens by describing how the student wings of Islamicist parties slowly infuse their ideology into Pakistan's Punjab University through intimidation and recruitment. Shia students are made to offer prayers off campus. Birthday parties are trashed as "foreign" and literature of Urdu writers like Saadat Hasan Manto is suppressed.

Alongside this is the "spread of countless small and big schools, madaris, women and youth organisations, run by radical political groups like the Jamaat e Islami and other extremist organisations similar to the Jamaat ud Dawa [Lashkar-e-Tayyeba's civilian wing], all over the country." Taking over schools is not just about recruitment, it's also about taking over Pakistan. Lashkar co-founder, Zafar Iqbal, publicly says "education and jihad" are equally important for his organisation.

That the Pakistani State, and most notably the military, encourages this development is well-trod territory. What is less clear is "how civil society, at least a significant part of it, either knowingly or otherwise, has encouraged or actively participated in radicalising the country." In this, John probably errs in conflating the Islamicism of conservative movements like the Jamaat with that of radical groups like the Lashkar. They overlap, but differ in their political objectives.

John makes useful distinctions between different varieties of jihadi recruits. There is the poverty-driven 'bulk' terrorist. Some go to fight in Kashmir, but most, John notes, stay to fight for Islam inside Pakistan.

Gul's book is half a detailed account of the battle between the Pakistani Army and the Taliban, especially the 2004 Kaloosha Operation. It is also a Taliban encyclopedia, listing key tribal and militant leaders along with potted biographies.

The Al Qaeda Connection repeats a standard Pakistani narrative: of how the United States "originally sowed the seeds of militant Islam in the region" and is now asking Pakistan to undo the resulting jihad harvest. More insightful bits have to be gleaned from the text: the tribal basis for the split between the Pakistan and Afghan Talibans; the Saudi influence on the anti-Shia terrorist group Sipah e Sahaba, and how most tribals insist the Taliban could not have "a free run" without the okay of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The Pakistani military is accused of being a puppet-master for the militant groups by both authors. Gul points a finger as much at the US however. But neither throws any new light onto the shadowy ties between military and mullah. What they do provide are worm's eye views of two aspects of the violence and angst that wracks Pakistan.

"Pakistan," writes John, "has been at war with itself since it was carved out of the Indian subcontinent."