Even after Islamic militants offered no respite to the people and law-enforcement agencies in the holy month of Ramazan, the entire Pakistani nation feels as if it is on the brink of a precipice, and the peace and sanctity of Eid-ul-Fitr might be compromised for a number of reasons.
Terror Strikes Pakistan During Ramazan
In the past week, terrorists have struck different urban targets throughout Pakistan; the procession in Lahore, the al-Quds rally in Quetta, and firing at a procession in Karachi. Normally, the month of Ramazan is solemnly observed by all Muslims, and represents a simmering-down of various ethnic, provincial and other divides between Pakistan’s Muslims. However, in a blatant attempt to incite sectarian violence and to enhance the level of insecurity for the average Pakistani, such religious and political processions have been deliberately targeted, and the existing divisions between the religious minorities (Christians, Hindus, even Ahmadis) and the majority population, as well as within the majority constituents of the population (Shi’as and Sunnis), have been exacerbated.
The month of Ramazan usually brings the virtues of patience, tolerance and sacrifice, but in the state-enforced Ramazan witnessed in Pakistan for the last few years, there are only differences in timings, and a complete ban on public eating and/or drinking – the police feel themselves to be armed with legal ammunition as they stop and question people who are eating, drinking, and even smoking. This, surprisingly, comes to them as an additional duty to the maintenance of security, law and order, and manning of checkposts to ensure that terrorists do not enter populated city areas. However, tempers run low, and everyone rushes towards the mosques and the food stalls as soon as the evening twilight approaches and the Maghrib prayer is sounded. Another day, another Roza. Ramazan has ceased to be an opportunity to be closer to Allah, and to witness the true reality of Islam without degenerations and modifications that we have found throughout history; yet, it has become a ritual, a festival, and procedure, and a cyclical occurrence.
While hunger makes one disoriented, the specter of terrorism makes one nervous and afraid. In Pakistan, the terrorists have successfully highlighted each and every internal quarrel that has (formerly had) the capacity to create bitter divisions throughout a community, or a city, or even the country. Add to that today’s electronic mass media that is concerned only with viewership (even though there is no calculation or framework to credibly ascertain which TV channel gets how many viewers at which time) and we see an increasingly disturbed (if not an increasingly aware) population that either effects negative change, or is effected by negative change.
After these attacks, one wonders whether Eid-ul-Fitr will be a moment of respite and joy, or whether it will come laden with security checks and paranoia, and the coup-de-grace terrorist attack on the holy day? Surely, making the population feel vulnerable in the last days of Ramazan is bound to give credence to such worries. Contextualize this with the possibility that Eid-ul-Fitr might coincide with September 11, 2010 (and the 9/11 attack anniversary) and what you have is a local bomb waiting to explode globally. Discrimination against Muslims in the United States – from opposition to mosques and religious centers to the burning of the Quran – only make moderate Muslims more radical, and make radical Muslims and extremist conservatives believe that their War of Terror against the modern world at large (whether non-Muslim or moderate Muslim; both are wajib-ul-qatl or worthy of death) is justified. In fact, it allows Islamic extremists to pursue a War of Terror in response to America’s War on Terror, and perhaps this aspect should be studied by the top minds of the Pentagon.
Why Now? The Taliban’s Game Plan
So far, the terrorists have not only picked on Pakistan’s religious minorities – they have increased the threat level against state installations and against urban centers generally. It is believed that after Ramazan, the TTP and Al-Qaeda wish to ratchet up the pressure on Pakistan and its Army, especially in terms of consolidating whatever was “spread out” in the midst of the South Waziristan operation. Calculated high-profile strikes against mid-to-high value targets in urban areas is their new modus operandi. This is how a strike in Karachi and Lahore on the same day, followed by one in Quetta on the next day, makes sense. Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, is said to be a special target for the TTP and Al-Qaida, since terrorist operations in Punjab are to be handled by a coterie of former LeJ, LeT and JeM operatives (under the loose umbrella of “Lashkar-e-Jhangvi-al-Alami”). Karachi’s destabilization is a matter for the Pakhtuns and Mohajirs themselves, so Al-Qaeda and its local operators need little to no catalyst for igniting that tinder box. While there is widespread blame of political support and administrative patronage of criminals, miscreants and terrorists in Karachi, these kinds of linkages must be acutely investigated and should be intensified when it comes to religious extremists, radical figures, former Afghan jihad veterans, and anti-state elements.
Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the garrison city and the capital city, are in the crosshairs of the “Ghazi Force”, the offspring of the Lal Masjid’s burqa brigades and bearded brigands. They were also blamed for targeting serving military officers as they were travelling between Islamabad and Rawalpindi; Ghazi Force has a few high-profile assassinations and operations under its belt, like the GHQ siege, and assassinating 3 high-level military officers within a span of two weeks (October 2009).
What is the point of all this exercise? Conspiracy theorists and blind patriots will say “all of Pakistan’s problems come from outside”. But in the case of terrorism, and the New Great Game being played in South Asia, the causes and consequences are clearer once a regional perspective – as opposed to a nation-state perspective – is adopted.
Something’s Cooking in Afghanistan
The US, after dismissing Gen McChrystal and appointing Gen Petraeus, has fulfilled one promise to its people (bringing back troops from Iraq) while it is urgently waiting for the ground situation in Afghanistan to allow an honorable withdrawal from this unconquerable South Asian country as well. However, unlike Iraq, the US will not be able to install a contractor-based private security industry in Afghanistan, as President Karzai said on 16th August 2010 that he would ban private security contractors and offer private Afghan security workers to join the police. While a private-contractor-army twice the size of US troop deployment (at its zenith) in Iraq can maintain a semblance (or a very specific definition) of security, it only ensures that security becomes a commodity that can be bought or sold, and not a right that is to be exercised by everyone. The global hue and cry against Blackwater/Xe Services is essentially about the basic human right of security, and the indignation of an insecure Muslim at the hands of a redneck American who is unfit to serve an institution where laws of war and rules of combat are sacrosanct. Hence, when the US starts pulling out its troops from Afghanistan in July 2011, the Taliban will already have commenced their offensive against US/NATO/ISAF/Karzai.
Experts expect the Taliban to either commence – or announce and commence – their offensive in the winter, when combat operations by guerilla teams becomes more easier for the Afghans, while the technology-laden US/NATO/ISAF troops find it logistically difficult to operate against the Taliban in the harsh tribal winter. This gives the Taliban almost 6 months to ratchet up pressure on the Afghan governing dispensation – as well as their foreign backers – to acknowledge the Taliban as equal partners in the future of Afghanistan. Otherwise, the Taliban movement will continue as an antagonistic, anti-incumbent and even anti-state movement that has no use for modernity or for critical social progress made after the dark ages. The same happened in the midst of the Soviet withdrawal; the mujahedin and their infighting gave way to a more “populist” alternative, since the Afghan people thought “whatever or whoever the Taliban are, they must surely be better than the Afghan warlords who call themselves ‘mujahids’ and rule us like tyrants and despots”. It is true that Mullah Omar led an armed mob from his mosque to a local warlord’s den to exact revenge for the rape and murder of two children; this is how the Taliban rose to power on a platform of social justice.
While Pakistan desperately requires social justice – the kind that deals with corruption while affording governance and due process, the kind that provides and guarantees rights and doesn’t limit or withdraw them – it is exactly the process of Taliban social justice that Pakistan (and its civilian government and armed forces) wish to avoid. The Taliban carefully decapitate civil and military law enforcement agents, and then occupy the role of “lawgivers” themselves; beheading, lashing and fining people as and when they please, as and when they wish to quote religious or theological references or not. This has become a Pakistan where the government has little international credibility even when calling for flood aid, where national heroes and sportsmen are vilified in international settings for cheating, lying and fraud, where people are called corrupt and inhumane after showing little reaction to the continued policies of an inept government and the lynching of two young (and as the inquiry commission has proved, innocent) Pakistani boys by a mob in Sialkot. Now, this is the most worrisome part; one part of common discourse says that we need immediate justice (whether through the Taliban or through any other means) while the other says that Pakistan is already a Talibanized society (one Indian TV channel repeatedly ran clips of the Sialkot mob lynching, calling it “the Taliban face of the Pakistani people”) and that they don’t deserve to be treated as modern citizens of the international community, much less be eligible for aid and support in times of disasters. It is no secret that 76% of Frenchmen polled by the Le Figaro did not show solidarity with ordinary Pakistanis because of the catastrophic floods.
Saving and Rescuing Pakistan
The Taliban have commenced their all-out war against Pakistan as well. This war against Pakistan will not only challenge our existant wounds that have failed to heal and congeal over decades, but will also challenge our peace of mind and our psychological sanity, even remove any and every definition of “security” that we have devised for ourselves – or continue to devise on a daily basis. The Taliban’s war in Pakistan is a prelude, a staging point if you will, for their “War Against the Occupier Infidel” in Afghanistan. While the Taliban want to revisit the glory days of the Soviet withdrawal, they are not only concerned with defeating a superpower this time, but also its regional ally must suffer. If the US withdraws (unexpectedly or in a phased manner) then Pakistan will have the most to deal with, because President Karzai’s Afghan dispensation will be “wrapped up” courtesy the absence of any strategic security institution in Afghanistan. It is even said that President Karzai might even be on one of the planes taking US assets away from Afghanistan, should the time come. Of course, nobody can desire to revisit Mohammad Najibullah’s fate, no matter how deserving one is of it – whether it is President Karzai or President Zardari.
Law and justice are the only two things that can ensure security. A gun only makes you secure as long as you fire the last shot, otherwise the battle becomes a free-for-all. Laws and rules ensure that everyone is aware, if not informed, and justice is a buzzword used ever-so-often without realizing that it is the only mechanism of equating, balancing, rationalizing and resolving differences in rights and human identity. A social compact inspired by the basic principles of law and justice, and conforming to the dynamic social needs of the people (of Pakistan, or of Afghanistan, or of South Asia, or even of the Muslim Ummah) can resolve the issues that lead to “terrorism” in the first place. Pacifying Muslims without alleviating the oppression of Muslims is indubitably difficult, but this is the only way to avoid a mutual confrontation between the Muslim Orient and paranoid Occident.
Concluding note: The extent of Pakistan’s sociopolitical tension – whether due to security, economy, or governance – can be measured by a cryptic SMS that is doing the rounds lately. In the usual mess of English, it read that a baby had been born at Nishtar Hospital in Multan, and being born the baby laughed for an hour, said “watch and see what happens on the 27th of Ramazan” and then died. People have come up with different explanations, and even more multiplicitous reactions, but the religious fervor (and imposition of more tension and scary thoughts in one’s mind) behind such SMSes during the month of Ramazan is surely misguided. One would do better if one would donate money to the flood relief effort by SMS.