The showdown this past week between the al-Qaida affiliated Islamic militants and the government of General Pervez Musharraf in Red Mosque in Islamabad is a reminder of the potential danger posed by Pakistan’s lethal madrasa system. Though the sepulchral drama may give reason to General Musharaf to bill himself as a macho fighter in war on Islamic terrorism, many political observers remain unimpressed for his past broken promises.
The crucial question is how a major terrorist operation centre could continue to exist two kilometres from President Musharraf’s office, especially after six years of Pakistan’s commitment to the war on terror and his 2002 promise to reform the country’s entire madrasa system. How a cocktail of automatic weapons, big guns, hand grenades, petrol bombs reach the mosque and its adjacent madrasa.
Madrasa and mosque are part of an overlapping schooling complex for Islamic terrorism in Pakistan. Shortly after partition of the Indian sub-continent, there have only been 150 madrasas. But the number mushroomed into 13,000 in the beginning of 2007. In his 11-year reign, when General Zia ul-Haq began to enforce his policy of Islamisation, the state-sponsored madrasa infrastructure has been institutionalised and became part of the country’s political system. Zia armed the mullah who according to the ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, “became the sword of Islamisation.”
Pakistani military developed the top-down strategy of the expansion of the madrasa system for political gain. The prime desire for madrasa infrastructure was to mobilise and use Islamist militancy as the cheapest and most effective political tool for Pakistan’s multiple internal and external policies. With the Western disengagement from Afghanistan at the end of the Cold War, Pakistan’s military intelligence agency (ISI) found a golden opportunity to exploit the madrasa system to the great benefit of Pakistan’s security and geopolitical interests in Afghanistan and India.
The Taliban creed was a cancerous product of Pakistani madrasa incubation. Early 1990s, the success of Taliban in Afghanistan spread the ISI influence to Amu Darya in the north and Heart to the West of Afghanistan. This strategic victory for the Pakistani military was the beginning of annexing Indian Kashmir to Pakistan. Although the al-Qaida attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 rolled back a great deal of this strategy, the ISI still continues to sustain its covert nexus with the Taliban for the same mileage.
At the home front too, the ISI reaped the harvest. Islamic militancy was used to squash indigenous local nationalist and secularist parties for fear of luring separatist tendencies within the country’s Pashtun, Baluchi, and Sindi minorities. In 1971 the ISI desperately attempted to undermine the separatist and secularist struggle of the Bengali intellectuals by the militant mullahs. However, it has miserably failed to crush Bengali secular nationalism that led to the separation of Bangladesh, due to the weakness of the madrasa system at that time.
Ideologically, Pakistani Islamic militancy is a hybrid mix of the ultra-conservative Doebandi version of Islam in the Indian sub-continent, the Saudi desert version of Wahabism, and the Middle-Eastern revolutionary Islamic Brotherhood. Pakistani Maulana Abdul Ala Maududi and Egyptian Sayid Qutub have been the founding fathers of ultra-conservative Islam in Pakistan. Both theoreticians insisted on gender segregation, veiling women from head to toe, and denouncing music and western modernisation. They preached madrasa as an alternative to what they believed to be a “Westoxication of Muslim Societies,” to use Samuel Huntington’s phrase.
Jamiat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan are the Taliban and al-Qaida-linked derivatives of the Maududi and Doebandi schools that now control the provincial governments of Baluchistan and the North-Western Frontier Province by leading a coalition of religious parties called Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). The two powerful religious actors on Pakistan’s political space made it easier for the military elite to make do and mend its relation with the Taliban and other militants.
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The loudspeakers of minarets in these two provinces openly propagate pro-Taliban and pro al-Qaida ideology, trying to promote and justify jihad, and appropriating suicide bombings against Western forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.
In the tribal areas, General Musharraf has never undertaken any serious and decisive operation against the festering madrasas. Last December, Newsweek magazine reported this Pakistani grey area produced “a 12-member group of Westerners at camps in Northern Waziristan to carry out attack in the Western countries”. Moreover, one of the four suicide bombers who attacked London’s transportation system on July 2005, spent time in one of the Pakistani madrasas.
However, the surging skirmishes between General Musharraf and radical Islamists in the most inflammable heartland of the Pashtuns—the nameless province of Pakistan that bears its freak colonial name of North-Western Frontier—come to the sting in the tail of the ISI. It is not yet certain this is a drama within drama staged to entertain the Americans or a real willingness to take the battle to more lethal terrorist centres.
If Pakistan’s history is any guide, the generals would step the familiar path of sustaining the madrasa system for future use. As has happened so often before, General Musharraf will keep lid on some selective hotbeds of militancy without touching the cause of festering Islamic terrorism. In the generals’ thinking, such orthodoxy is seen as a magic formula to guarantee Pakistan’s unity and the survival of the military rule. This is the real source of quandary.
In any case it is far more certain that the growing surge of violent terrorist attacks across Pakistan bring the country’s ruling military the bitter taste of Islamic militancy at home—its own Frankenstein’s monster.
The Red Mosque drama precisely unveiled this. The mosque was run by two brothers with links to al-Qaida and Pakistani agents. One brother, Aunty Maulana, nicknamed after he attempted to flee the besieged mosque in a burqa. The other brother, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was killed this week inside the mosque, was accused by Police of being involved in a Musharraf assassination plot, but later the charge was mysteriously dropped.
The long overdue action against terrorists in the mosque clearly drove a wedge between the generals and the mullahs whose alliance have been hitherto seen as a magic formula for Pakistan’s internal and external policies. This alliance allowed Pakistan to keep the factory and offices of the Islamic militancy within Pakistan and locate its killing field in Afghanistan.
No sooner, the Taliban’s blatant link with the mosque was revealed this past week when they suspended a controversial ceasefire with General Musharraf. The Taliban also replaced Haji Nazir a commander in South Waziristan who was blamed for working for the ISI.
General Musharraf has so far shown scant signs of willingness to stop cross-border violence in Afghanistan from its territory. This, moreover, allowed al-Qaida to regroup and the Taliban to thrive in the safe haven of the tribal areas of the country. So far, it has helped to stymie NATO efforts to wipe out resurgents in Afghanistan. Many relevant analysts believe that unless democracy is restored in Pakistan, it is hard to change the destructive pattern Islamic terrorists have imposed on the region.
“The Pakistani army and the ISI have tolerated and sponsored terrorism for the last two decades, and the nexus between Pakistan and terrorism will not be broken until Pakistani officers are back in their barracks and civilian rule is restored.” Bruce Riedal concluded recently in Foreign Affairs journal.
Despite the official denial, the country still is full of red mosques, nestling thousands of radical Islamists. The situation in the restive border belt is ominously dangerous. The whole area is awashed with heroine laboratories, arm smugglers, and terrorist training camps, has now turned into a quasi Taliban kingdom.
For more than ten months, General Musharraf has arranged a modus vivendi with the al-Qaida affiliated militants which in turn encouraged Islamic terrorists to escalate operations in Afghanistan.
Despite calls from the US’s congress to get tougher on Pakistan, the Bush administration is going easy on Pakistani dictator, seeing in him the merits for stemming the rising tide of Islamic extremism. This argument relies on the assumption that a fair election will bring to power a number of weak political parties that will remain at each others throats, leaving the war on terror intractable. For the past eight years of military rule, all the Pakistani generals have seen from the Bush administration was open arms and deep pockets.
Furthermore, The US think-tank, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently warned that, “Pakistan bears responsibility for the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, the resurgence of the Taliban…and the growth of Jihadi ideology and capabilities internationally”.
There are also chances that Musharraf might exploit the debacle as the reason for declaring a state of emergency, whereby he could extend his term indefinitely. This is the worse thing which could happen for the restoration of democracy in this country. This is what the Islamic militants are hoping for.
As the US relationship with Israel, its relation with Pakistan is also kept under wraps. You will never find out the truth of what Pakistani politicians means when they talk. Conventional wisdom and common sense in conjunction with Derrida’s deconstruction can give an observer a lie-detection machine to track down lies of the Bush administration and its slavish puppets, Pakistani generals.
When Bernard Lewis said Pakistan is “a delinquent nation”, he probably had its generals and mullahs in mind. Indeed Islam for the generals in Islamabad is like the music a snake-charmer plays. Pakistani leading mullahs are no less double-faced than their general alter-egos. They treat Afghan fledgling mullahs as simpletons.
The weeks to come will show which way would Pakistan moves in its present quandary.
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