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Drivers of extremism in fata and kp


Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Karachi, Balochistan and Afghanistan have remained in the forefront of violence since 2001. It has at times spilled over into Punjab but violence has remained mainly fixated to the above regions. Violence and conflict can be a result of many factors and studies have shown that it is hardly ever related to a single factor as its main driver. However, one thing is clear that if a nation sits on as many fault lines as we do in Pakistan, it is a question of when, not why, will this violence consume the nation? Some commentators have concluded favorably upon Pakistan’s resilience to the enduring of extreme stress and its ability to survive. My conclusion is that unless we quickly get into the business of re-institutionalizing the state, perhaps with a few design changes, we are headed to dire ends unfortunately.

To make the changes, Pakistan needs to reverse its paradigm of management of being a state first and a nation second and usher in policies that are people centric and focus on recreating the nation. That we have existed so far on the pre-1947 narrative of demanding and then creating a Muslim state in the North West of British India was a novel idea but contained within it were the seeds of future trouble. Using a narrative to mobilize people on religious lines has remained a favorite technique in many lands (Israel followed in 1948); however, such a divisionary identity formation idea has later been replaced by the narratives of nationhood that glued the people of a defined area into one geographic entity. By remaining bound to the statist narrative that has amongst other attributes, a strong core of communalism, made the Pakistani polity brittle and open to severe challenges.

This identity formation baggage was brought to Pakistan at the time of its independence and was imposed on the indigenous cultural landscape composed of Bengalis, Punjabis, Sindhis and Pathans. The small elitist minority that ruled the country from 1947-1970 insisted on forming a new nation based on the pre-Partition mobilization principles. The reason was that they did not belong to the existing cultural landscape that became Pakistan; their roots and culture were left behind in Northern India. Pakistan that had its own amalgam of diverse identities anchored in its diverse population was ramrodded into becoming what it was not. In a sense it made the new country a victim of cultural psychosis.

As a result of these choices the new Pakistani elite annoyed the different ethnicities of the new country and began a process to form a nation based on principles that had become irrelevant. In hindsight that was one huge mistake in nation formation. The pre-Partition narrative has continued to live even today after sixty-five years of our existence. We have unfortunately thus become a people not only at war with ourselves but others too. One very potent negative example of this has been how Pakistan has handled the tribesmen of FATA by introducing Arab and other jihadis since 1978.  The series of maps below show the continuous use of the Pakhtuns of Afghanistan, FATA and KP as cannon fodder by the various states. Is it thus surprising that those who were abused for so long would one day themselves become abusers of the rights of others?

In 1947, the Fata tribesmen were mobilized to fight a jihad in Kashmir in the 1947 war against India. This Islamist approach to international disputes became entrenched in substantial parts of the population and some key institutional policies, like policy towards India, were connected to a narrative based on depiction of Hindus as Pakistan’s arch enemies and bent on its destruction. Some Indian short-sighted actions in our formative years, like the stoppage of irrigation water from the Eastern Rivers in 1948, almost led to a war between the two countries.

India’s intransigence in the resolution of Kashmir dispute and the development of the subsequent USSR-Indian Friendship Treaty in 1971 correctly appeared to a threatened Pakistani political elite as signs of an impending denouncement of the Pakistani state. India almost succeeded in its designs when due to Pakistan’s follies in East Pakistan India was provided with an excuse to invade East Pakistan. India, with Soviet support, thus succeeded to break-up Pakistan in 1971. It was in the end Gen Yahya’s foresight (after a series of strategic failures) in declaring a cease fire in the West that prevented an Indian attack on Pakistan.

Our policy of supporting the Taliban movement since 1992 and permitting the radicalization of Pakistani society through this connection radicalized Pakistan further. The proxy contest between the Saudis and Iranians has culminated in a Sunni-Shia proxy war in Pakistan.  The separatist movement in Balochistan and the ongoing counter-terrorism action in Fata and KP have fragmented Pakistani society further creating a huge threat to the country.

We will now look at some of the main drivers and dynamics of the war in Fata and KP that would lead to unwelcome ends in the context of the present stand-off between Parliament and Judiciary after the April 26th conviction of the Prime Minister of Pakistan by the Supreme Court.

The following are the drivers that encourage radicalization in Pakistan. The failings in governance and maintenance of rule of law and inability to protect basic citizen rights have caused alienation. Large pockets of population suffer dis-enfranchisement, corruption, poverty, under-development, insecurity and lawlessness that have forced many people to look for solutions provided by the radicals. Secondly, the frequent experiments with governance structures for political ends – the dissolution of district administration in 2002 at the start of a global war on terrorism created large spaces for radicals to exploit. A weak and corrupt regulatory environment and absence of enforcement has discouraged investment in the country. Thirdly, the emergence of extreme interpretations of Islam due to unhindered access prevailing in some Muslim countries has led to the creation of a disastrous sectarian war in Pakistan.

The suffering of longstanding economic deprivation, weak human development indicators, and acute disparities with national standards have created an environment in both KP and Fata that encourages the entrance of extremists into communities. Fata and KP along with other areas suffer from a demographic bulge, where more than 60 percent of its 180 million population are within the age group of 15-25 years – such a bulge is the creator of national crisis anywhere. Absence of employment opportunities makes this failing worse. Every year two million additional workers join the labor force. To absorb such numbers in gainful employment needs an annual growth rate of at least 8 percent per year. Our management of the state does not provide any hope that we will marshal the will to provide such economic growth.

The fifth factor ratcheting up extremism in Pakistan is its strategic engagement with US and the latter’s occupation of Afghanistan. The later aspect has lit the fire of jihad in a population that overtime was increasingly becoming Islamic in its attitudes. It has permitted the views of Taliban and Al-Qaeda to enter the Pakistani mindset as a competing narrative. We thus have a bizarre situation where both the Pakistan military’s motto “Jihad Fe Sabil Illah,” (Jihad in the name of Allah) and the policy formulation prouncements by the TTP are the same.  Furthermore, the continuation of drone attacks and the high collateral damage that it causes, has created negativism against the US, Pakistan and its military.

Thus Pakistan’s military operations present a dilemma: on the one hand, the need for military forces to confront the radicals is widely acknowledged; on the other, the impact of operations generates resistance and animosities.  Radicalization of social order has demolished traditional forums and processes and created space for the emergence of new radical leaders and groups.  This is accompanied by an increase in extremist interpretations of religion; the cycle of regression is further strengthened by a weak national narrative confronting the vigor of Salafist Islam propagated and supported by foreign donations.

According to Mai Yamani, “During the 1980’s, Saudi Arabia spent $75 billion for the propagation of Wahabism, funding schools, mosques, and charities throughout the Islamic world, from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Yemen, Algeria, and beyond. The Saudis continued such programs after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, and even after they discovered that “the Call” is uncontrollable, owing to the technologies of globalization.”

This analysis indicates that weak regulation, poor governance and politicization of religion have created a crisis of survival for Pakistan.  Religion is used to maintain control or weaken opposition through secular-religious political alliances and use of religious authorities to advance their interest. The exploitation of religion for political ends, therefore, remains a primary driver of the crisis in Pakistan and it has created nodes in society to replicate this pattern of behavior. It weakens the power of the state. The current political crisis between the parliament and the judiciary will strengthen those forces that will prevent Pakistan from becoming stronger. Clearly, it is time that the country gave up the communal narrative of 1947 and adopted the principles that are acceptable within this fast changing world – this new narrative must be based on respecting diversity and should adopt policies based onpeace, love and brotherhood; an exclusive national identity based on Wahabist interpretation of Islam that is slowly beginning to dominate Pakistani rural and urban areas like Karachi can only bring future pain.

the Article was Published on Pique Magazine.



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