Dr. Hasan Askari
Pakistan is again facing a series of terrorist, ethnic and sectarian violence, launched by the Tehrik-i-Taliban-i-Pakistan and some other extremist groups. Though all politically active circles condemn violence and killing of people but if we go into the details of their reaction, we find that most parties and groups are divided on the terrorism issue. Many political and society groups are not willing to categorically condemn any group, even if some group claims responsibility. They condemn terrorism in principle but are divided on the sources of terrorism and methods for coping with it.
The response of the Pakistani state and society to terrorism is characterized by ambiguity and a tendency to avoid criticism of the Taliban and mainland-based armed religious groups. Only a small number of people criticize and condemn the groups that engage in terrorism and sectarian violence.
The ambiguous and split societal disposition towards religious extremism and terrorism has sapped the will of the government to adopt a unified and clear-cut stand against groups that engage in violence and terrorism. Only three political parties officially take an anti-terrorism stance and view the Taliban and similar extremist and hardline groups as a threat to the state and the society. These political parties are: the PPP, the MQM and the ANP. They are partners in the federal government.
The opposition and other political parties and groups, including the PMLN and the PTI, may express opposition to terrorism and religious extremism as a principle but they do not criticize any specific militant organization for its terrorist or sectarian activities. They blame the federal government of failure to provide security of life and property to the citizens.
The societal disposition towards terrorism is shaped mainly by partisan political affiliations or Islamic denominational affiliations (Islamic Fiqh School) or both. The Right of the Centre to Far-Right and Islamic groups and parties demonstrate varying degrees of sympathy for the Taliban and other militant Islamic groups. It ranges from blaming the government of Pakistan and the military for taking action against them, claiming that those engaging in violence are not genuine Taliban but agents of Pakistan’s foreign enemies.
A more prominent tendency among them is to hold the United States responsible for all the ills of Pakistan. The more a person is Right-wing and Islamist in orientation the more will be the tendency to see things in Islam versus others and that the U.S. is determined to destabilize Islamic Pakistan and grab its nuclear weapons. By implications there will hardly be any criticism of the Taliban and other militant groups.
Many political and religious groups and column-writers accused India, the U.S. and Israel for masterminding the Kamala attacks. Some of them argued that sectarian killings were also arranged by some of these countries and their agents in Pakistan. Some analysts argued that the attacks and killings were the punishment from the God.
Pakistan’s civilian government and the military are unable to convince the people at large that Pakistan’s participation in the U.S. led effort to eliminate terrorism served Pakistan’s national interests. There are few takers of the policy that Pakistan is fighting the war for saving itself from terrorism. This perspective afflicts the government circles as well as the Pakistan military. The retired officers of the army are more vocal on this issue. These people may not publicly support the Taliban but their view of war on terrorism and Pakistan’s role are similar to the Taliban.
The lack of unanimity on terrorism is also caused by four dimensional power struggles in Pakistan, i.e., the PPP-led federal government and the opposition; the federal government and the military; the federal government and the overactive Supreme Court; and the military’s policy to play soft with some militant groups.
The federal government has to spend more energy in saving itself from pressures of the opposition parties, the Supreme Court and the military rather than improve governance. The military wants the civilian government to own the military operations in the tribal areas but it exerts its political clout if and when it feels that the civilian government disregards the military’s sensitivities. The federal government under siege spends more time in surviving the political onslaught. It is unable to mobilize public support for the military’s efforts to control the tribal areas.
The military has often overplayed anti-Americanism and sought the cooperation of pro-Taliban militant and Islamic groups and the Political Right to protect its institutional interests, i.e. the Kerry Lugar bill controversy (2009), the Defa-i-Pakistan conglomerate after the Salala border post incident. By now, anti-American sentiments have become so deep rooted that no rational approach to foreign and security policy can be implemented.
If Pakistan’s security establishment and political forces want to control religious extremism and terrorism they will have to give up the habit of ignoring the activities of some extremist and hardline groups and stop seeking their support for pursuing their political agenda. As long as political convenience stays as the over-riding consideration, Pakistan’s confused and ambiguous policy for controlling terrorism will continue.