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Politics of Islam in Pakistan

Politics of Islam in Pakistan

Author: KPS Gill
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: March 2, 2001

(Note from Hindu Vivek Kendra: This article explains how the problems of Islamic fundamentalism that exists in Pakistan is the creation of the country itself. It is, therefore, unrealistic to expect that another country, particularly India (which is also a prime the target of this fundamentalism), can be expected to 'understand' the difficulties face by the leadership in Pakistan. It has also to be noted that the intellectuals in Pakistan, who are asking for the 'understanding', are doing precious little to fight the fundamentalism. Instead they attribute the full blame to India and the Hindu organisations for the problems.)

In Pakistan, the execution of a Sunni fanatic, Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, a Sipah-e-Sahaba activist who murdered an Iranian (Shia) diplomat, Sadiq Ganji, in March 1990, sparked sectarian violence in Hangu in the North West Frontier Province. Gun battles ensued between Shia and Sunni groups soon after that, and at least eight persons were killed.

This was only the most recent skirmish in an unending fratricidal confrontation that, in just the last few months, has seen the assassination of several sectarian leaders. On April 12, 2000 three hand grenades were lobbed at a gathering in a Shia mosque, killing 13 persons, among whom were five members of the family of Syed Sajid Naqvi, chief of the militant Shia organisation, the Tehrik-i-Jafria Pakistan (TJP). The grenade is said to have been thrown from an adjacent Sunni mosque. Shortly thereafter, a TJP leader, Syed Farrukh Barjees was killed at Khanewal near Multan on April 26. On May 15, a prominent Shia lawyer and member of the Voice of Shia Federation was killed; on May 18, a renowned Sunni religious scholar Maulana Mohammad Yousuf Ludhianvi was murdered at Karachi. Then, on November 23 2000, Anwar Ali Akhunzada, the central general secretary of TJP in Peshawar was assassinated by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

I have often noted that Pakistan is condemned by the circumstances of its own creation to bloodshed and an ideology of hate-but that was essentially an Indian perspective. As the "lunatics of Allah" and their unending supply of guns become ubiquitous throughout the country, however, those who follow events and writings in Pakistan will now notice a growing sense of panic among commentators from that country that reflects precisely this realisation. Ahmed Rashid notes that, "over 80,000 Pakistani Islamic militants have trained and fought with the Taliban since 1994 (sic). They form a hardcore of Islamic activists, ever ready to carry out a similar Taliban-style Islamic revolution in Pakistan."

At the heart of the present crisis is the network of increasingly powerful marakiz (centres) and madrassas that has now established itself as the source, not only of international "pan-Islamic" terrorism, but of an overwhelming proportion of internal strife as well. Its roots can be traced back to General Zia-ul-Haq"s vigorous use of Islam as a tool of regime legitimisation, a trend that was first introduced by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1971, and that has been vigorously reinforced by every successive regime. The growth of these madrassas is, indeed, an accurate index of Pakistan's mounting difficulties. In 1947, there were 137 madrassas in the entire country. By 1971, this number had grown to 900. With Zia's policy of generously funding "madrassas of all sectarian persuasions" there were 8,000 registered madrassas and 25,000 unregistered ones, educating over half a million students, by the end of the Zia regime in 1988. These madrassas became the principal source of "education", especially among the poor, as Pakistan's state-run educational system steadily collapsed. By the middle of the year 2000, the number of madrassas had grown to nearly 9,500, and some commentators in Pakistan estimate the current number of unregistered madrassas at between 40,000 and 50,000. The mind-blunting curriculum in most of these entirely neglects all branches of practical and secular instruction, and comprises 16 long years of purely theological education, recitation of the Quran, Fiqah (interpretation of the Sharia), and indoctrination for jihad. The inevitable consequence of such an education has been the chronic "inability to produce reality-based theories of change", extraordinarily narrow and exclusionary perspectives, and deepening sectarian divisions that spill over into increasing violence.

With an estimated 60 per cent of funding emanating from abroad, these schisms are magnified further by the ideological and strategic contests of foreign funding agencies and states. Afzaal Mahmood, notes that, "By allowing Iran and Saudi Arabia to fund, influence and use some sectarian organisations of their liking, we have virtually encouraged Teheran and Riyadh to fight a proxy war on the soil of Pakistan, with serious consequences for sectarian harmony and law and order in the country."

Funds have also come from Libya, Iraq and several other Gulf countries, creating an intricately nuanced web of conflict. Shia and Sunni madrassas have spawned rival terrorist forces that visit gratuitous slaughter on sectarian rivals. There is also a deep schism between Sunni Deobandi and Barelvi madrassas, and a large number of Ahle Hadis madrassas have also emerged recently in Baluchistan, Sindh and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Patterns of international rivalry are also visible in some retaliatory killings. Thus, Sadiq Ganji's assassination had followed the assassination of SSP founder Haq Nawaz Jhangvi in March 1990. Similarly, the 1997 assassination of Jhangvi's successor, Zia-ur-Rehman Farooqi and 26 others in a bomb blast at the Lahore Sessions Court, saw the alleged revenge killing of Iranian diplomat Muhammad Ali Rahimi and six others in an attack on the Iranian Cultural Centre at Multan.

Sectarian violence is, however, a relatively minor consequence of the proliferation of madrassas. Their primary output has been the export of international extremist Islamic terrorism, and this has created enormous internal concentrations of armed, trained and indoctrinated terrorist forces. These groupings no longer acknowledge the power of the government to define their long-term goals and objectives. Their allegiance is commanded by the various "spiritual leaders" who run madrassas that have acquired extraordinary notoriety over the past years, both as hotbeds of terrorism and as the spawning ground of the Afghani Taliban. It is here that a "theology of rage" is taught, and the Talib (student) exhorted to practice a "sacred violence" that is his greatest duty in Islam.

There is now mounting evidence of a loss of control as these autonomous religious groups challenge, not only their Army and ISI handlers, but the Government itself. There has, moreover, been increasing penetration by extremist Islamic elements into Pakistan's Army, and elements of "Islamisation" have been introduced into the Army's training programmes at various levels. In 1992, the then Prime Minister appointed a well-known Tablighi (congregationist), Lieutenant General Javed Nasir, as the Director General of the all-powerful ISI. General Musharraf's military regime clearly lacks the capabilities and support to contain the extremist elements and has, on more than one occasion, been forced to back off on policies and reforms in the face of Islamist opposition. The cumulative impact of nearly two and a half decades of "Islamisation" has now put in doubt the Army's ability or will to suppress extremist Islamist forces in case of a confrontation with the Government. Such a confrontation now appears increasingly probable, if not inevitable. The madrassas and the mujaheedin are entirely committed to the establishment of a "Taliban style" Government for Pakistan, and some of the groups recently put General Pervez Musharraf's military regime on notice to establish "Islamic rule" in the country, or to face the consequences. Maulana Samiul Haq, the chief of his own faction of the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), speaking at the Jamia Ashrafia at Peshawar in January, declared that both democratic and martial law regimes had failed to deliver, and that, consequently, only the Sharia could "solve the problems faced by the masses". Maulana Jalil Jan, provincial leader of the JUI (F) added that, if the Government failed to implement it, "religious students will resort to the use of force".

Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, who headed the ISI through critical periods of its campaign in Afghanistan, shares the vision of the Islamist fundamentalists and argues that "Pakistan will go through its own version of an Islamic revolution." The army is the last hope. If it fails then people will realise they will have to do it themselves. Because all else has failed in Pakistan, Islam will lead the way. Unless current trends are radically reversed, Pakistan will be sucked into the turmoil of Afghanistan-like anarchy.

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