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Pakistan is mainstreaming jihad by lionising its protagonists | Opinion

If political parties in Pakistan continue to patronise extremists groups the danger is that there may be a role reversal. No nation becomes strong and powerful through religious fanaticism portrayed as nationalism

opinion Updated: Oct 12, 2017 08:02 IST
Vikram Sood
Vikram Sood
Pakistan,jihad,Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed is the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Milli Muslim League is a political front for LeT/Jamaat-ud-Dawa — the LeT is a UN sanctioned terrorist group

There is no such thing as a born dictator or a born extremist. Circumstances and reactions from the government and society create them. Similarly, by rationalising or championing extremists or terrorists we lionise them; we create more bigots or terrorists masquerading as liberators or protectors of the downtrodden, whereas they are a bunch of violent, vicious people who not only want to overthrow the government but also the very basis of society, as we have known. The recent decisions or intentions in Pakistan are not really about mainstreaming radical extremists, but about lionising them. When you give something an iconic status, only a revolution can produce iconoclasts.

Unknown to many outside Pakistan, there is a different revolution that is taking place – not for democracy but for Islamisation of the country. Radicalisation and intolerance in societies do not happen in bursts of tsunamis; they creep in silently at first, and then brazenly. It began virtually; in 1949, when Pakistan’s leaders decided that the country’s constitution would be based on the Quran and Sunnah. The signs have been there for all those who cared to see.

The mosque gradually took control of the narrative; Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declared that Pakistan would be an Islamic republic and had the Ahmadis declared non-Muslim. General Zia-ul-Haq only followed and regimented the belief further. A decade after the siege of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad and the extreme violence that followed, Maulana Abdul Aziz still roams free without any charges against him. Former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was murdered by Mumtaz Qadri, his bodyguard with his colleagues watching, for his support to a Christian woman accused of blasphemy. Today, Qadri is a cult figure with the extreme Right and has a mausoleum named after him, while the Taseer family keeps a low profile. Sectarian violence largely led by Sunni groups continues – against all minorities.

For the 2012 bypolls in Sialkot, Nawaz Sharif’s PML(N) candidate received the support from the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat. Obviously, there was some agreement between the PML(N), a mainstream political party, and the rabidly Sunni sectarian group.. When the State or its components nurture and patronise jihadi terrorists, the consequences become unacceptable as the nation is caught in the cycle of isolation and radicalisation. Such a compromise provides no clear exits.

The recently-held elections for the NA-120 seat in the Punjab province are a glaring example of the road on which Pakistan may be travelling. NA-120 was a part of the constituency that Bhutto had won with a thumping majority. In the last elections, the PML(N) scraped through with Imran Khan’s PTI the first runners-up. What should be disturbing is that two extreme Right-wing parties polled 11% of the vote between themselves. The PPP was only an also-ran. Of these two, Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan glorifies Qadri and opposes the blasphemy law with the use of violence. The other, Milli Muslim League is a political front for Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa—the LeT is a UN sanctioned terrorist group. The LeT also openly supports ruthless sectarian mafias like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and years ago, they were together in the Difa-e-Pakistan cobbled together by Lt General Hamid Gul, formerly of the ISI. These extremists increasingly draw support from the educated youth of Pakistan, some of whom have claimed linkages with the Islamic State under the banner of Ansarul Sharia Pakistan.

Many experts in Pakistan recommend that terrorism could be eliminated by mainstreaming these groupings. A beginning makes sense only if these groups renounce violence and there is concrete proof that this has been done. Countering ideology would be another long battle. In Pakistan, the numbers of weapons and the number of trained terrorists and extremists is not known; there are only estimates. If political parties continue to patronise these extremists groups, the danger is that there may be a role reversal. Unless the State takes a firm lead, people will first acquiesce out of fear, then out of habit, and finally with consent. The country will have radicalised and the moderates will be marginalised. No nation becomes strong and powerful through religious fanaticism portrayed as nationalism.

Pakistan’s idea of mainstreaming jihad is skewed. In a way, it has been happening already and the elections of 2018 could throw up worrying results.

Vikram Sood is former chief, Research & Analysis Wing

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Oct 11, 2017 13:48 IST