We need to identify our enemy. America is not our enemy; it may not be our friend either. American policies are guided by national interest and we should not expect a country to have policies otherwise. Our enemy is the people who would have us believe that Islam provides only for a monolithic society in which different cultures or sub-cultures cannot co-exist; rather they have to be merged with the “Islamic” culture.
By Hussain H Zaidi
WHILE terrorists are on the rampage, society is in disarray and the economy is in a shambles, there is a split in public opinion on whose war we are fighting.
Is the fight against terror being waged in the country’s mountains and plains, in the streets and markets, in mosques and on campuses, essentially America’s war and Islamabad is being used merely as a pawn on the chessboard of Washington’s counter terrorism strategy? Or is it our own war, which we have to wage and win with or without the US involvement.
A section of intelligentsia as well as politicians argues that the war against terror is essentially America’s war — a reaction to the 9/11 attacks — and the hell that let loose on the people of Pakistan is the result of the country’s role of a frontline ally of the US in the campaign against extremism.
Therefore, the argument goes, the only way to rid the country of this menace is to shun the alliance with the US. Once Islamabad plainly tells Washington, the argument continues, that it is no longer going to play the frontline state role, the militants will cease their activities and peace and order will return.
The proponents of the above argument make much of the fact that suicide terrorism began to strike Pakistan only in the wake of the country’s post-9/11 alliance with the US. Hence, the assumption that if there were no such alliance (the cause), there would be no incident of suicide terrorism in Pakistan (the effect).
The argument commits the familiar fallacy of regarding mere succession with causation. No doubt, suicide terrorism has struck Pakistan only in the wake of the country’s post-9/11 alliance with the US, the cause of the malady is much older.
To trace the roots of terrorism, one needs to go back to Pakistan’s involvement in the US-led war against its prime antagonist, the erstwhile USSR precipitated by its invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
The year also saw the advent of the Islamic revolution in Iran, hitherto the key ally of the US in the region. The change in Iran struck at US influence in the region. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was seen by Washington as a move in Moscow’s global strategy — expansion of communism.
Hence, when the USSR sent its troops to Afghanistan, the US reaction was prompt and tough. Washington wanted to secure the support of neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, so that it could launch an effective anti-Moscow campaign. The US could not get the support of India and Iran for different reasons: India was an ally of the USSR, while Washington-Tehran relations were on the ebb. Then Central Asian Republics were at that time constituents of the USSR federation.
However, in Pakistan the US found the ally it needed and it was through the former that the latter found its war against the USSR in Afghanistan. The only way the then military regime of Pakistan, itself looking for legitimacy as well as political and economic support, could justify its involvement in the Afghan war was by giving it religious meaning.
Hence, the Afghan war became a jihad and the Afghanis on the US side mujahideen. The people of Pakistan were made to believe that the communist USSR invasion of Afghanistan had endangered Islam and therefore it was the religious duty of the government and the people to fight in the war on the side of America, which was said to be fighting for Islam.
However, the Americans had no love for Islam and their interest in Afghanistan sprang from their counter-communism strategy. Hence, in the wake of Moscow’s decision to pull out from Afghanistan in the second half of 1980s, the US involvement in the war fizzled out leaving the various Afghan factions to fight among themselves for supremacy.
For Pakistan the impact of the Afghan campaign was disastrous in at least two respects. One, since the Afghan crisis was portrayed as a conflict between Islam and kufr, it gave birth to the breed of zealous religious militants, who knew only one way of living — living by the sword.
Two, it gave wide currency to the notion that Pakistan should be made the citadel of Islam and that it was the duty of Pakistanis to actively support Muslim resistance movements all over the world.
The Soviet humiliation in Afghanistan also made the jihadis believe that they could defeat an adversary however stronger and bigger. Hence, the jihadis made their way into different countries to take part in Muslim resistance movements. In turn, Pakistan received militants from different parts of the world, who found in the country a safe haven.
The 9-11 brought US back to Afghanistan and restored Islamabad’s status of the frontline ally of the US. But ironically the fundamental character of the US adversary had changed from communists to Islamists — the Al Qaeda and its Taliban supporters — the very people it had earlier used to defeat the USSR. For the jihadis, the US invasion of Afghanistan meant that once again Islam was in ‘danger’ not from communists and their ‘stooges’ but from Americans and their ‘puppets’. The 9-11 suicide attacks brought home to the Taliban the effectiveness of that weapon in wreaking havoc. And they have used this diabolical weapon with tremendous success. But who is the victim of this weapon and other activities of the Taliban, such as burning of schools?
They are mostly the poor people and petty but brave officials of security agencies. Just as Laertes in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet was prepared to cut the throat of his enemy in the church if need be, the Taliban would not desist from having young zealous but misguided people kill themselves and others in mosques. Laertes would at least think that if he took a life in the church he would risk damnation.
But our suicide bombers and their mentors believe that their attacks will open for them the gates of the paradise.
Whether the planners and executors of suicide attacks will go to the paradise or condemned to the hell is a question we need not go into. However, they have certainly turned our society into an inferno. While Americans are safe in their home (and there is no reason why they should not be), our people are suffering physically, emotionally, economically. Women are being rendered widows, children turned orphans, and parents are being made childless. Businesses have been forced to shut or dislocate, growth and investment fallen and people made jobless. Hyper fear and an acute sense of insecurity is what the people have thanks to the Taliban’s jihad. Still it is said, it is not our war but America’s!
We as a nation are wont to blaming others for our acts of omission and commission. We are under the delusion that the big powers are conspiring against us for being a potential citadel of Islam and a nuclear power. This makes us look for the source of our problems outside us, while more often than not it is within us.
We need to identify our enemy. America is not our enemy; it may not be our friend either. American policies are guided by national interest and we should not expect a country to have policies otherwise. Our enemy is the people who would have us believe that Islam provides only for a monolithic society in which different cultures or sub-cultures cannot co-exist; rather they have to be merged with the “Islamic” culture. If preaching cannot effect that merger, force can, and must be, used. Such an interpretation of Islam legitimises the use of force to remove cultural diversity breeding mayhem and chaos as jihadis wade through blood to purge society of what they consider to be un-Islamic beliefs and practices.
Such a diabolical ideology, which has manifested itself time and again in both sectarian and non-sectarian bloodbath before and after the 9-11 incidents, would hardly die or even attenuate if Pakistan were to shun its alliance with the US.
The remedy lies in combating the forces which either propagate this ideology, by word or by the barrel of the gun, or become a convenient tool in its hands (such as poverty, unemployment, backwardness and illiteracy).
While the government’s resolve to weed out extremism is commendable, attention should also be given to monitoring the activities and curricula of the madaris — the breeding ground of extremism — as well as addressing the economic factors which abet terrorism. For the latter, generous economic assistance from developed countries is needed.