The challenge of religious militancy

An important but not properly debated aspect of GE 2018 is participation of militant/suspected terrorist organisations in the electoral process as a part of the “mainstreaming ” launched by state security agencies. The recent criticism of Nawaz Sharif at not taking the case against accused persons in Mumbai terrorist attack to logical conclusion clearly indicates the split between civilian and military ruling elites on the issue. The split also explains the inability of the state to act decisively against the religious militancy in Pakistan. The National Action Plan ( NAP) approved by an All Parties Conference in December 2014 is history now. It is quite clear by  now that it was more of an exercise in public relations on international level rather than a serious decision to combat religious militancy.

The phenomenon of religious militancy emerged in 1970es after the disintegration of Pakistan. Some religious political parties and their supporters in the armed forces believed that the main cause of the country’s disintegration was the lack of proper “Islamisation” of state and society. They acted quite smartly to build their campaign. On the one hand they convinced Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to become leader of the Islamic world rather than confining himself to Pakistan and on the other hand they encouraged  the opposition political parties to demand the imposition of Islamic system. That was the aim of formation of Pakistan National Alliance ( PNA) in 1977 and Islami Jamhori Itehad ( IJI) in 1989. One of the main reasons for launching a military coup against ZAB by fundamentalist military officers was his failure in the eyes of putschists to adopt Islamisation as nation building and state building strategy. Religious extremism is for this fundamentalist mindset a tool to deconstruct ethnic and cultural diversity that can threaten the country’s unity. The Afghan Jihad, supported by dollars and petro dollars was a golden opportunity for the followers  of religious fundamentalism to promote their cause. Religious seminaries for spreading Wahhabism/Salfism and Jihad became big business under state patronage. Using the so called non state actors to fight wars of attrition in neighbouring countries also became an industry. This is something that Pakistan has failed to jettison so far, the loud pious noises to the contrary not withstanding.

After 9/11 the project of religious militancy underwent some changes as it wasn’t anymore possible to continue it in the old form. So a distinction was created between “good” and “bad” terrorists. Afghan Taliban are for example “good Taliban” like LeT and JeM as they don’t fight inside Pakistan and are ready to be used as foreign policy tool for the country’s military establishment. The so called proscribed organisations are allowed to operate under new names. The latest technique of “ maintaining “ the religious militant organisations by contesting elections is dangerous as it has the potential of opening the floodgates for spreading the religious extremism and militancy. There are certain SOPs for de radicalisation the world over. Former militant organisations have to go through certain procedures like proper disarming and renouncing militant ideologies. But here a mere change in nomenclature is accepted as  a justification for legalising the proscribed organisations.

The reported death of a Taliban Commander Abdullah in a US drone strike in Datta Khel ( north Waziristan) on July 4 is a proof of the presence of Taliban in the former FATA region. It belies the claims of clearing the area from terrorists. Pakistan has gone in once again into grey list by the international watchdog of terror financing and is not far from getting into the black list. The country is facing international isolation on this issue. Traditional and close friends like China feel frustrated over Pakistan’s failure to decisively act against religious militancy which is justly regarded by China as a serious hurdle on the path of Belt & Road Initiative. After launching CPEC and joining Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, it isn’t possible for Pakistan to keep on appeasing religious extremism. Pakistan has already wasted long years in supporting Talibanisation in Afghanistan. The country could have leaped forward on the road of economic development by getting into Central Asian markets. Unfortunately the Jihadist tail has been wagging the dog far too long. It has internally radicalised the state and society and has externally led to the country’s isolation.

The approval of National Action Plan ( NAP) by every political party in 2014 has clearly demonstrated a national consensus on a paradigm shift in regard to combating extremism and terrorism. Non implementation of the said Plan has seriously undermined the country’s transition from geo strategic to geo economic in the post Cold War era. It goes without saying that supremacy of the elected representatives and respect for constitutional system is a pre requisite for such development. But the large scale and blatant political engineering underway in the current electoral process clearly proves that Pakistan has a long way to go for reaching that stage. Democratic forces need to wage a determined struggle for that.


The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.

Afrasiab Khattak is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs

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