Dr. Hasan Askari
An interesting debate is going on in Pakistan in the context of the visit of India’s foreign minister to Pakistan from September 6 to 8 on the source of major threat to Pakistan. Is this threat external, especially from India, or Pakistan faces acute internal challenges?
With induction of nuclear weapons in Pakistan’s security system, the threat of military assault by India has minimized. The two countries are now working for improvement of their relations as there is a realization on both sides that a normal and peaceful relationship serves the best interests of both countries.
However, Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan has become active and Pakistan faces religious extremism and terrorism. This threat is partly domestic, and partly linked with the internal conflict in Afghanistan. Religious extremism and terrorism pursued by radical Islamic groups like the Taliban and others constitute a major threat to Pakistan’s internal stability and political order.
Nuclear weapons are irrelevant in dealing with internal threats from armed Islamic groups that use all kind of violence against the state of Pakistan and its people in order to pursue their religious and political agendas.
Four types of Islamic hardline groups threaten Pakistan’s internal order. First, the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP) which includes several groups and maintains close links with the Afghan Taliban. Second, there are several other groups based in Pakistan’s tribal areas that often fight with each other and challenge the Pakistani state. Third, the mainland based, especially the Punjab-based, militant and sectarian groups. Their membership overlaps. Most of these groups get training for their fighting squads in the North Waziristan. These Punjab-based groups have become more active in the last three-four years. The Kamra attack in August 2012 was undertaken by activists from the Punjab. Fourth, there are break-away factions from these Punjab based hardline Islamic groups. These break-away factions are small entities but they are more violent than their parent organizations. These elements were in the lead in the attack on the Army headquarters, naval base in Karachi and the Air Force base in Kamra.
These militant groups have developed links and networks through mosques, madrassas and religious denominational groups to sustain them in Pakistani society. You find a good number or people, even in the official civilian and military circles, that express varying degrees of sympathy and support for them or refuse to believe that these groups engage in terrorism and killings.
The denial of threats from militant Islamic groups is accompanied by an argument that Pakistan is being targeted by some foreign countries like the United States, India and Israel because it is a Muslim State and possesses nuclear weapons. They argue that terrorism and killings in Pakistan are sponsored by these countries. The “foreign agents” engage in bomb explosions and killings in the garb of the Taliban.
These circles engage in persistent campaign against Pakistan’s participation in the global effort to control terrorism. They are specifically opposed to military operations in the tribal areas and want the military to be withdrawn from there. They do not make any appeal to the Taliban and other militant groups to stop killings and accept the primacy of the Pakistani state.
Pakistan experienced a lot of terrorist activity in August, including repeated sectarian killings of Shias, especially the Hazaras in the Quetta area. The killings also included a Shia District and Sessions Judge posted in Quetta.
In addition to all this ethnic and crime-related violence has become endemic in Karachi and people get almost killed every day for the last several months. Balochistan is also experiencing ethnic and dissident violence and killings. The Hindu community and the Christians, especially the poor among them, are under pressure from hard line Islamic groups.
With the exception of the PPP, the MQM and the ANP, no mainstream and Islamic political party is willing to come out openly and categorically against sectarian killings or militancy. They may condemn killings of people in principle or declare sectarian violence as un-Islamic but they do not criticize any specific organization even if it takes the responsibility for the incident. As some the known militant groups have roots in Punjab, the Right-Wing Islamist political parties do not want to lose votes by taking an unambiguous position on militancy and sectarianism.
If Pakistan political and societal leaders refuse to recognize the degeneration and fragmentation of Pakistani society, all of them are going to lose. The Taliban or hard line armed Islamic organizations are not going to tolerate the political parties like the PMLN, the PTI and the Jamaat-i-Islami that shy away from taking firm position against the armed Islamic group.
Addressing the parade at the Kakul Academy on August 14, 2012, the Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani said: “No state can afford a parallel system or a militant force” and “This fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we are right in fighting it.” These comments reflect realism on the part of the Army. However, given the popular mindset of the Pakistani society, partly nurtured by the Army, many people will not identify with this statement.