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Religious Extremism And Terrorism Bane Of Pakistan History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

47. Until the partition of India in 1947, no other state with a predominantly Muslim or Islamic population had been founded as a homeland. Those who fought for Pakistan assumed that Islam would bind together the citizens of new state regardless of their geographic origins. Muslim League promised a state that was to be guided by Islam but the complete concept was vague with no specific blueprint for the future.

48. Shuddhi movement, which was an attempt to reconvert Muslims to Hinduism during late 1920’s and the activities of Christian missionaries to promote their religion prompted Muslims to form several missionary groups of their own. One of them was ‘Tableghi Jamaat’ (TJ) or ‘Society for Spreading Faith’. [1] The emergence of Tableghi Jamaat represented the intensification of individual reformation aspects of the original Deobandi movement. It was also a continuation of the broader trend of Islamic revival in India in the wake of the collapse of Muslim political power and the consolidation of the British rule. The idea of having an organisation that was both a moral beacon and an effective political force, appealed to many Muslims. Maulana Mawdudi was also one of them who lead to the formation of South Asia’s most important Islamist organisation, the Jamait-e-Islami (JI) on August 26, 1941. [2] The Islamist groups played an important role in helping Pakistan recover from the devastation of partition, and this gave them additional organisational skills and help them establish a link to many new Pakistanis – mainly the migrant Muslims from India. The pattern was again repeated 40 years later in 1980s when many Islamist groups worked with millions of Afghan refugees pouring into Pakistan. Islam started being viewed as an acceptable vehicle for nation building.

49. Islamist parties gained prominence to such a level that various Pakistani governments, including those of Ayub, Yahya and Bhutto sought compromise with Islamists. [3] With the failure of Ayub and his successor, General Yahya Khan, who lost half of Pakistan in 1971 war, the ethnic, political and ideological balance of Pakistan changed. Many people in Pakistan attributed the defeat of 1971 to the Bangladeshis being not truly Islamic or Muslims.

50. The idea of an Islamic Pakistan was seized upon by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He also applied Islamic rhetoric to Pakistan’s foreign and strategic policy hosting a major Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting in Lahore in 1974 [4] . He also supported several extremist groups in the opposition to Afghan government.

Zia and Islamism

51. Islamisation acquired legitimacy under Zia ul Haq regime. Zia had a combination of religious zeal and a shrewd political mind. Zia was first Pakistani leader to take Islam seriously. He believed that Islamic principles should be guiding Pakistan and that Islam made a man a better citizen. During his years in power Zia extended and reinforced the Islamisation of Pakistan out of belief that the more devout country would be a better country. Extending the Islamic reforms introduced by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Zia allowed the ‘Tableghi Jamaat’ to operate freely within the army. [5] The abrupt growth in the number of mosques in Pakistan during the Zia and Bhutto regimes is just an indicator of the Islamisation of the country.

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Abrupt growth of Mosques after 1970s

The Ulema Parties

52. Each major Islamic movement in Pakistan gave rise to one or more political groups, mostly referred to as Ulema Parties. These are mostly linked to a particular theological school and often to a specific chain of mosques and madrassas.

53. The Barelvi School has the largest number of followers with a large majority of them being rural Pakistanis. It is influenced by Sufi and folk traditions. The main Barelvi political organisation is the Jamaat Ulema – e -Pakistan (JUP). [6] 

54. The largest group of mosques and madrassas belong to the Deobandi Sect of Islam controlling approximately 65 percent of these institutions. The main Deobandi based party is the Jamait Ulema – Islam (JUI-F), headed by Fazalur Rahman. [7] The Deobandi’s are amongst the most militant of Pakistani Islamic groups and demand that Pakistan state should become truly Islamic. Several Deobandi groups have been linked to sectarian violence in Pakistan.

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Sectarian violence in Pakistan

55. Pakistan’s minority Shia population of about 12 percent have also produced a number of militant organisations, mostly in response to the growth of militant Sunni groups in the 1980s. All these groups have a specific institutional base, the madrassas or Islamic seminary and their growth and effectiveness is directly linked to the rise of these institutions. At the time of partition there were only about 250 religious schools in Pakistan which currently have risen to almost 45,000 of which some 10 to 15 percent preach hatred or provide military training. [8] These institutions expanded during Zia’s government which began to deduct an Islamic religious cut from bank accounts which was used to fund these local institutions. Funding for the government schools was cut simultaneously. Money from the Gulf States especially Saudi Arabia begin to flow into these madrassas, which taught a combination of Wahhabism and Deobandi to make a mixture of conservative theologies.

The Evolution Of Militant Organisations In Pakistan

56. Majority of Pakistan’s militant organisations have been conceived and germinated during the anti-Soviet Jihad but subsequently evolved into lethal sectarian entities. The Harkatul Mujahideen, Lashkar -e- Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad also became heavily involved in the Jihad in Kashmir and also developed a close affinity with the Afghan Taliban.

57. Most of the militant organisations in Pakistan had a smooth going for themselves till the beginning of Global War on Terror which started after the events of 9/11. Some of the militant organisations had traditionally enjoyed the support of Pakistani establishment for the strategic objectives both in Afghanistan and the Indian part of Kashmir. Most of these groups had their roots and regeneration in central Pakistan, in the most populous province of Punjab. Some of the main terror groups are as under:-

Harkatul Mujahideen. Harkatul Mujahideen emerged as Harkatul Ansar in 1980s mostly with a mission to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The organisation strongly believes that the Islamic system must be promulgated in Pakistan and that those who are insincere to Islam must be killed. Its carder received basic training inside Afghanistan and fought alongside the Afghani Mujaheedin against the Russian forces. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the group reorganised its basic cadres and moved them into Kashmir under the patronage of Pakistani backers.

Jaish – e – Mohammad. Jaish – e – Mohammad or the Army of Mohammad was raised as an anti-India force by Maulana Massoud Azhar after he was released from an Indian jail on 31st of December 1999 in exchange for the release of hostages abroad hijacked Indian passenger jet. It is yet another Deobandi Sunni militant organisation created in the name of Jihad. It is one of the 16 organisations united under the umbrella of United Jihad Council (UJC) to battle Indian troops in Kashmir. By the end of year 2000, Massoud Azhar had managed to entrench himself in the NWFP and in Southern Punjab. The SSP or Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan helped Massoud Azhar in the region for two reasons. Both idolised the Afghan Taliban for their ‘commitment to Islam’ and the SSP was focused on Pakistan’s internal politics and essentially thrived on its radical anti-Shia outlook whereas Massoud Azhar dreamed of liberating Kashmir hence there was no conflict of interest. Until it was banned in January 2002, the Jaish – e – Mohammad network had spread over 78 districts in Pakistan. [9] The biggest centre, Karachi, oversaw about 100 subordinate offices. Bhawalpur and Multan centres followed, in size with 55 offices functioning in Bhawalpur and 40 in Multan. Jaish – e – Mohammad also maintained large centres in the NWFP’s Waziristan agency Malakand, Kohut, Bannu and Dera Ismail.

Lashkar – e Taiba. Widely believed by Indian intelligence agencies to be behind the Mumbai attacks of 26 November 2008, Lashkar – e – Taiba is the armed wing of Pakistan-based religious organisation Markaz -al- Daawatul Ershad, a Sunni anti-US missionary organisation formed in 1989. The LeT is one of the four largest and best trained groups fighting in Kashmir besides Jaish -e- Mohammad, Harkatul Mujahideen and Hizbul Mujahideen, and is not connected to a political party. The organisation’s headquarters is in Muridke sub district near Lahore.

Sipah-e-Sabaha Pakistan. Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) came into being in September 1984 in the deeply conservative district of Jhang in Pakistan’s Punjab province. [10] Its founder, Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, had been an active member of Jamait Ulema Islam ( Fazaur Rehman group) before he went his own radical way. Being an anti-Shia organisation it offers membership only to those Muslims who regard Shia Muslims as infidels. It’s anti-Shia campaign has had a terrible impact on Jhang and Faisalabad, a prosperous industrial district in Punjab and adjacent areas. Many sub districts became a battleground for militants of SSP and its Shia counterpart Sipah-e-Mohammad. Their rivalry has turned Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and politically influential province, into a hotbed of sectarian violence, until then President Pervez Musharraf banned the two organisations under his policy to eliminate Islamic extremism in Pakistan. The SSP has presently mellowed down because of increased surveillance by security institutions and checks on their sources of financing.

Lashkar -e- Jhangvi. Lashkar -e- Jhangvi was created in 1996 and started targeting important Shia leaders and government officials. It had a strong and extremely complex organisational network. It’s activists are limited in number as it was mandatory to take a vow until death to complete the organisation’s mission and to break contact with all family and friends. By 2001 Lashkar -e- Jhangvi had been involved in 350 incidents of terrorism. It has received millions of rupees to assassinate Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and the Federal Minister of information, Syed Mushahid Hussein. [11] 

A History of Punjabi Terrorism

58. Terrorism is not a new phenomenon in Punjab. Jihadist organizations and sectarian groups have existed in Punjab for nearly three decades. In the 1980s, Pakistan’s military dictator, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, nurtured radical Sunni militant groups as terrorist proxies against India over the control of Kashmir. Punjabi militants also took an active part in the Afghan jihad against the Soviets and, after 1994, helped the Taliban and al Qaeda establish a puritanical Islamic state in Afghanistan.

Growth of Madrassas in Pakistan [12] 

59. The U.S. military’s support for the Taliban’s ouster in 2001, however, was a setback for Punjabi militants. In 2002, Islamabad succumbed to U.S. pressure and banned five prominent militant organizations: LeT and JeM, SSP, Tehrik-e-Jafaria, and Tehrik-e-Nifaze Shariat Mohammadi.

60. Pakistan army’s offensives over the last few years in Swat and South Waziristan have further strengthened the ties between the Punjabi militants and Pashtun Taliban. Many Punjabi militant groups have officially merged into the Taliban. Their commanders also serve in the TTP’s leadership Shura, the umbrella council of about forty top militant commanders supervising Taliban activities in Pakistan. The fighting is not limited to the FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa anymore. To avenge losses and force the army to halt operations in the FATA, the TTP and Al Qaeda have teamed up with Punjabi militant and sectarian groups to destabilize Punjab. The U.S. embassy in Islamabad was listed as a prime target. Terrorist attacks inside Punjab have increased markedly since the army’s offensive into South Waziristan. Both the TTP and Al Qaeda’s Al-Jihad group in Punjab have claimed responsibility for several terror attacks in the Punjab province. Punjabi militants belonging to LeJ carry out the coordinated suicide bombings in Lahore, but the TTP leadership in Waziristan claims credit for the strikes thereby depicting the kind of coordination between these terror groups. [13] There have been several arrests in residential areas in Lahore of the local residents with links to militants in southern Punjab. These incidents are alarming as they signal not only the militants’ reach in Pakistan’s heartland, but also the growing nexus between the Pashtun Taliban, Al Qaeda network, and Punjabi militant groups.

South Punjab: The New Terrorism Base of Pakistan

61. Rural districts in Southern Punjab have become sanctuaries and training areas for both banned Punjabi terrorist groups and Pashtun and al Qaeda fighters escaping the FATA. Although the militants have yet to assert the same control in Southern Punjab that they did in Swat or Waziristan, there are signs that such a scenario is possible. Grinding poverty, corrupt and ineffective police, extremist religious seminaries, a frustrated population, and provincial leaders’ toleration for and even promotion of terrorist groups provide a recipe for militants’ takeover of the region. The number of people living below the poverty line in Western and Southern Punjab is more than that in the three provinces of Sindh, Baluchistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa combined. [14] In certain Southern Punjabi villages, the extremists openly demand Islamic law, denounce the government authority as incompetent and corrupt, ban video and music shops, and urge the local population to prepare for an Islamic revolution, the same process that preceded the Taliban seizure of Swat. Moreover, in contrast to Northern and Central Punjab, the Pakistani government does not effectively control certain Southern areas. Last year, the Interior Ministry stationed only about sixty thousand of the one hundred sixty thousand police officers in the province in rural areas, leaving border regions almost unguarded from cross border infiltration. The Pakistan Rangers, a paramilitary force guarding Punjab’s Southern borders, are poorly trained and take orders chiefly from local elites. Dera Ghazi Khan-the largest district in Punjab, is host to a uranium processing plant, and gateway between central Punjab and Taliban strongholds in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan-the government’s weak presence has allowed terrorists to find refuge.

62. The Taliban influence is also increasing in the district of Bahawalpur, location of JeM’s headquarters. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, there were already between fifteen and twenty thousand trained militants in the district. Following Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf’s 2002 crackdown, many took cover as charity organizations or created private schools and media outlets as fronts. [15] 

63. Southern Punjab may be the core base for the militants, but they have spread throughout the province. Grinding poverty, corrupt and ineffective police, extremist religious seminaries, a frustrated population, and provincial leaders’ toleration for and even promotion of terrorist groups provide a recipe for militants’ takeover of the region.

64. The Sargodha district, located in central Punjab and host to the Pakistani Air Force’s Central Air Command, is a safe haven and recruiting area for militants. According to Sargodha police chief Usman Anwar, people from the area are recruited locally and then sent to North Waziristan for training. [16] 

A More Serious Threat

65. The Punjabi militants pose a more serious threat to Pakistan’s stability and global security than the Pashtun Taliban. “They are more hard-line, more fundamentalist and more connected to a global agenda,” says Imtiaz Ali, a Pakistani analyst of jihadist groups. . While the army is battling the Taliban in the FATA, it protects militant groups in Punjab for the sake of its own “strategic depth” in the Kashmir conflict, even as these groups hamper peace between Pakistan and India and could spark a war between the two nuclear states. Indian defence minister once alleged that there are forty-two terror camps in Pakistan and all the terrorist camps are active. Pakistan has refused Washington’s demand to take action against LeT until Islamabad’s relations with New Delhi improve and has also turned down Interpol’s request to arrest JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar. Prominent Pakistani journalist Siddiqa alleges that the military indoctrinates low-ranking army officers in extremist ideology and in the belief that terrorism in Punjab is the work of foreign agents, particularly India, the United States, and Israel.

66. Many Pakistani army officers have joined the ranks of the militants. Muhammad Aqeel alias Doctor Usman and ant the one who masterminded the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, was an ethnic Punjabi who formerly served in the Army Medical Corps. Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri, a Punjabi militant leader known as the chief operational commander and strategist of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, was once a Pakistani army commando. One Colonel Shahid Nazir, a senior officer in Pakistan’s Army Engineering Corps and former Pakistani Air Force pilot, faced court martial for leaking secret information to terrorists plotting to attack Pakistan’s Shamsi airbase, used by U.S. Predator drones to strike terrorist groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas. These developments are dangerous as almost 50 percent of the army’s recruitment is from Punjab and the militants and the army recruit from the same Punjabi families.

Latest situation

67. President Asif Ali Zardari has taken a comparatively tough stance against terrorism since taking office in September 2008, which could be under the American pressure or for the want of foreign aid, but Punjab’s civilian government run by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s opposition party has sought reconciliation with the militants. Following the several terrorist attacks in Lahore, Shahbaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif’s brother and the chief minister of Punjab, appealed to the Taliban to “spare Punjab” because PML-N shared the Taliban’s anti-American stance.

A Suggested Way Out

68. The increasing Taliban and Al Qaeda influence in Punjab suggests that the terror fight in Pakistan will not end when terrorists are expelled from their strongholds in the tribal areas. Pakistani leaders must prepare to counter the growing terrorist threat in the Pakistani heartland. Punjab houses over 40 percent of Pakistan’s twenty thousand madrassas, many of which train and harbor terrorists. Unlike the Taliban entrenchment in Waziristan, Punjabi militants are not concentrated in a single region but are scattered across a province larger than many countries.

69. The Pakistani Army’s military operations and U.S. drone attacks employed in the tribal areas are thus unfeasible in Punjab. In addition, the Punjabi-dominated army is unwilling to fight their brethren. A military operation in Punjab could provoke divisions within the army because of predominant provincial and ethnic loyalties. Rather than outright military operations, counterterrorism, intelligence, and police operations are more likely to make inroads. Any such undertaking, however, will require Punjab’s civilian government and the army to reassess their “strategic relationship” with terrorist groups and end their selective and discriminatory approach towards terrorist organizations. It will also require reinforcing and training the Punjabi police, who are ill equipped and untrained for counterterrorism operations.


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