The major challenge for the government is to neutralize Islamic conservative orientation of the populace, especially the generation socialized in the 1990s.
The threat of the Taliban establishing a permanent control over Pakistani territory is now reduced but the Taliban-type mindset is going to haunt Pakistan for a long time. This mindset goes well beyond the Taliban. Many political circles share this perspective to varying degrees. A large number of Islamic parties and groups either support the Taliban or share their worldview, although some of them maintain a distance from the Taliban for political reasons.
A large number of people and societal groups sympathize with the Taliban because they have been socialized into religious orthodoxy and militancy. They may not agree with their violent ways but they protect and defend their cause or attempt to neutralize any action by the state and society against militant groups.
Islamic parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami and JUI-F and factions of Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadees openly support the Taliban and oppose military action against them. They either describe Taliban violence as a reaction to U.S. military presence in Afghanistan or drone aircraft attacks on them. At times, they argue that some agents of foreign countries have entered the Taliban movement t o engage in violence to undermine the reputation of the Taliban who are actually friends of Pakistan.
The Jamaat-i-Islami realized soon that its opposition to military action against the Taliban does not evoke positive response at the popular level. It changed its strategy by avoiding direct criticism of military action and focused more on criticizing the U.S. and its policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, accusing Pakistan of killing its people for the sake of the U.S. in return for money and weapons.
Some religious circles oppose the Taliban mainly because of Islamic denominational differences. They also support military action against them. However, they are critical of the U.S. like those religious leaders who support the Taliban. They also support the introduction of an Islamic dominated religious political system in Pakistan.
Now, the civilian leadership and the military have come to the conclusion that stern action has to be taken against the Taliban and other militant groups that challenge the writ of the Pakistani state. Therefore, these elements have become less effective. However, they continue to engage in whispering campaign against the government either with reference to military action in the tribal areas, pro-U.S. policies or alleged corruption and miss-governance of the federal government.
The support for Islamic discourse on national and international issues and militancy is reflected on electronic media and the press, especially the Urdu press. Some of the columnists and TV anchors present an extremely slanted review of politics; and society influenced mainly by strong Islamic orientation, subtle sympathy for the Taliban and strong anti-west, especially the U.S. Pakistan’s internal problems, especially suicide attacks, bombings and killings are attributed to India, the U.S. and Israel. The standard argument is that these countries want to destabilize Pakistan because the U.S. has plans to directly take-over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal or use the UN to take control of nuclear weapons.
The Red Mosque incident (2007) is periodically highlighted by some columnists as a legendary incident of sacrifice by the inmates of the mosque and brutalities by Pakistan’s security forces. Writing in August 2008, an Urdu columnist compared the Red Mosque incident with the incident of Karbala in Islamic history by showing how the forces of “Yazidiat” killed the innocent people in the mosque that resembled the extremely hostile treatment of the family and companion of Imam Hussain. Obviously, by “Yazidiat” the author meant the government of Pakistan and its security forces.
Several factors contributed to the gradual shift of orientation of the Pakistani society and state towards religious orthodoxy and militancy. These included the setting up of Islamic-Afghan resistance in Pakistan to fight Soviet military in Afghanistan, the search for legitimacy and support by the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq, opportunity for Islamic parties and groups to penetrate state institutions, the use of state’s reward and punishment system to strengthen religious orthodoxy and constitutional and legal changes for that purpose, changes in recruitment and promotion policies for government and semi-government jobs, Islamization of the media and imposition of cultural norms reflecting conservative Islamic norms and values, and changes in courses of studies at the junior and high school levels to socialize children into religious conservatism and make them more receptive to Islamic militancy. The government encouraged proliferation of Islamic madrassa not only in NWFP but also elsewhere and state patronage was used to encourage public display of religiousness.
After having gone through pro-Islamic orthodoxy and militancy socialization, the generation that got out of high school and college education from mid-1980s to 2004-05 was bound to lean heavily towards conservative Islamic political and social discourse and militancy.
The major challenge for the government is to neutralize Islamic conservative orientation of the populace, especially the generation socialized in the 1990s. Unless an effort is made to encourage plural notion of society and multiple political and social discourses, the government will continue to face domestic criticism of counter-terrorism policy, pro-U.S. orientations, corruption and mismanagement.
Author: Dr. Hasan Askari