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The gathering storm

Pakistan is caught in a cycle of isolation-radicalisation with no easy or clear exits. If corrective action is not taken soon, it will slip into irretrievable radicalism. Vikram Sood writes.

india Updated: Jul 19, 2013 01:39 IST
Vikram Sood
Vikram Sood
Hindustan Times

A former colleague remarked the other day that the Abbottabad inquiry report revelations reminded him of the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report that had indicted the Pakistan Army for the 1971 debacle.

Both the reports show the Pakistan Army in a poor light, even decrepit. The important news is not that Osama is dead. The more important aspect is that he felt secure or was made to feel so in Pakistan for nine years.

The important question then would be whether the Pakistan Army with its much-touted reach and ability was complicit in hiding Osama bin Laden for nine years and therefore devious. Or was it oblivious, therefore, incompetent and just did not know that Osama was living a few miles away from its military academy in Kakul.

An army that claims it controls the life of the nation cannot possibly say that there are rogue radicalised elements within it who would have hidden Osama in opposition to instructions. Or maybe they are not really rogue elements. This leaves Pakistan in a dangerous state even if its leaders may not want to see it that way.

When a State nurtures jihadi terrorists as force equalisers in pursuit of national interests, the consequences eventually become unacceptable to the world. Isolation results and creates further radicalisation of society. Intolerance does not start with an epidemic; it begins with small isolated incidents that most people ignore.

When members of the Sunni militia regularly massacre Shias in Pakistan because of their beliefs and the authorities seem unable to prevent it, then we are looking at a gathering storm.

The Lal Masjid episode of 2007 and its aftermath and the assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer in January 2011 were clear markers of radicalisation in Punjabi society. The manner in which the assassin was lionised, the difficulty that the family had in hiring lawyers, the inability of the Punjab Assembly to condemn the assassination, and the fear of the judge who handed over the punishment and had to flee, were indications of what had happened.

Radical and violent sections of society have serious problems being tolerant or acknowledging its history and legacy. There is very little possibility of negotiating with such groups and they have to be militarily defeated. This is not simple as militancy has developed a huge support base in Punjab.

The Lal Masjid raid had been followed by a spurt of successful violent attacks by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan against the army’s establishment, mostly in Punjab. Then suddenly all these stopped and Punjab-based militant outfits have been concentrating in the triangle between Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar up to distant Gilgit-Baltistan.

Some of the most vicious anti-Shia attacks have occurred in areas west of the Indus. Ultimately Punjab became quiet enough for the main political parties to take help from right-wing extremists like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and others in their May election campaign.

The Pakistan Army draws most of its recruits from Punjab, which is also where all the major Pakistani military formations are deployed along with strategic nuclear assets. The province remains the heart of jihadi recruitment and a terrorist haven.

The army with its own tendencies towards radical beliefs cannot escape radicalisation as the recruits come from the same recruiting source and have the same influences.

Pakistan’s military establishment’s consistent policy since the Afghan jihad created, nurtured and strengthened the Taliban till 2001. The duplicity, as they pretended to support the US-led effort against the al-Qaeda and the Taliban was epitomised in the hunting down of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.

This duplicity along with the continued support to India-specific jihadi groups and sectarian militias has created a situation where Pakistan’s leaders today face a radical blowback against themselves.

Punjab always had radical tendencies that are now emerging strongly. A study was conducted in 2010 to assess the attitudes of the youth towards various socio-political issues in elite universities in three cities, including Islamabad. It was found that the world view of these students was not very different from that of madrassa students in smaller towns and villages.

Rawalpindi, the home of the Pakistan Army, is said to be coming under the increasing influence of the LeT and the JuD. Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith groups are gaining in Punjab. Central Punjab is also one of the strongholds of the LeT/JuD network. Some of the electable candidates to National Assembly constituencies have supported either the Deobandi or Ahl-e-Hadith school of thought.

The Punjabi real estate business is linked with militant and radical groups of which the SSP and the LeJ are the favoured ones. Rather than pay tax, they have been willing contributors to jihadi and religious parties. This kind of elite-radical connection is particularly noticeable in smaller cities like Gujrat.

Ansar-ul-Islam, a local militant group in FATA is engaged in a violent tussle with the TTP in the Mohmand Agency, in the company of the LeT. This may be the result of GHQ plans to use their faithful jihadis, the LeT, against the TTP, but ultimately, the Deep State is battling two proponents of the same ideology that believed in spreading influence in neighbouring countries through killings in the name of jihad.

Having trained close to half a million jihadis all these years it would be virtually impossible for their mentors to keep track of all the foot soldiers of jihad (barring the ones with core competence and beliefs) and to know how they remain active or whether they have morphed. The innumerable retail stores of jihad established over the years now sell Rabid Robots at street corners.

Pakistan is today caught in this cycle of isolation-radicalisation with no easy or clear exits. Karachi is the terror capital.

Nuclear weapons, the ultimate symbol of power, are no assurance or guarantees against blowback from religious radicalism. Only when the State decides to put a stop to this and takes a lead against the beliefs and practices of radicalism, will society learn to follow and resist.

Otherwise, people first acquiesce out of fear, then out of habit, and finally, with consent. If the Pakistani State does not take the lead in this soon, it will slip into irretrievable radicalism.

Some say it may already be too late.

Vikram Sood is former secretary, Research & Analysis Wing

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Jul 18, 2013 16:59 IST