Underprivileged class has reached a breaking point

pakistan-extremismBy Asif Haroon Raja

The people have lost trust in their leaders because they have repeatedly betrayed them in the name of democracy. While democracy was sold as the remedy for all their ailments, democracy made the lives of the lower class of society miserable. The elites enriched themselves by using state resources and looting the national wealth but did little to allay the sufferings of the under privileged. Widening gap between the rich and the poor and vast difference in lifestyle of the two distinct classes have created a gulf between the two. Justice system is pro-rich and anti-poor which adds to the wretchedness of the poor. Deprived of justice, they take law in their own hands to kill their tormentors. The police instead of helping the needy fleece them and collude with the criminals. While the rich do not care about the underprivileged, the latter hate the privileged class and have become lawless. To give vent to their frustration and anger, the rebellious youth within the poor class living below poverty easily get easily induced by criminal and terror networks and give in to robberies, criminal acts and terrorism. These adventures are also proving too costly for them. Rudderless and bereft of hope, they have reached the breaking point.

The people of FATA who have blood relations with Afghan Pashtuns joined their war whenever Afghanistan was invaded by foreign forces. They strongly believe that unlike Gen Ziaul Haq who stood up to the Soviet challenge and provided full support to the Mujahideen and won the war, Gen Musharraf buckled under US pressure and betrayed the Muslim neighbor by granting airbases, supply routes and intelligence to US-NATO forces in return for $10 billion and US patronage. They do not forgive him for arresting hundreds of Mujahideen and handing them over to USA to earn head money. They say that the security forces are fighting America’s war and killing their own people in FATA to earn dollars and goodwill of USA.

The banned religious extremist groups who have blood relations with Kashmiris in Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK) and others having religious and cultural ties felt aggrieved when they were prevented from undertaking Jihad in Kashmir since they consider it their religious obligation to help their relatives in distress. For too long the Muslim Kashmiris in IOK have suffered at the hands of Indian security forces. Their life, belongings and honor are unsafe and are leading a wretched life. The Jihadists feel that had they not been reined in from helping the Kashmiri Mujahideen in their just struggle against the Indian occupation forces, by now Kashmir could have been freed. They say that Musharraf stopped them to please India and USA but at the cost of Kashmir cause and aspirations of people of Pakistan.

They nostalgically recall Gen Ziaul Haq’s efforts to link Khalistan movement in India with Kashmiri movement. Thousands of Kashmiris had participated in the Afghan Jihad against Soviet forces and had learned the art of fighting guerrilla war. Afghan, FATA and Kashmiri Mujahideen as well as Mujahideen from other Muslim countries developed deep camaraderie and respect for each other. Mullah Omar wanting to repay the sacrifices rendered by Kashmiris in Afghan war offered to Gen Zia any number of Afghan Mujahideen to help them gain freedom from India.

The grand plan died its death with the death of Gen Zia in a plane crash under mysterious circumstances. Afghans who loved him felt orphaned. Benazir regime not only stepped back from Kashmir and Afghanistan but also provided list of Sikh leaders involved in Khalistan movement to India which helped the latter in crushing the most dangerous movement that had the potential to cut India to size. Nawaz Sharif regime also paid lip service to the Kashmir struggle and got involved in meaningless composite dialogue and then in futile track-2 diplomacy to solve the tangle. These maneuvers helped India in gaining time and in keeping the core issue on the backburner.

Islamic revolution in Iran and successful Afghan Jihad against the Soviets inspired the Kashmiri youth to pick up arms and seek independence from India which had refused to honor Nehru’s pledges and UN resolutions and Pakistan’s overtures for a peaceful settlement of Kashmir dispute. They picked up arms in 1989 as a last option. The armed movement unnerved India and in panic it started to pump in huge numbers of security forces into the small valley of Kashmir. When India’s 700,000 security forces failed to quell the movement and it reached a critical stage, the movement was given a severe blow by Gen Musharraf by changing the Kashmir policy and suggesting out of box solution.

Azad Kashmir that acted as the operational base for the continuation of struggle for right of self-determination of Kashmiris was winded up and Jihadi groups providing assistance to the freedom fighters were banned and their accounts ceased. India was allowed to fence the Line of Control (LoC) and guns deployed along the LoC were silenced. These steps left the Kashmiri Mujahideen in IOK high and dry with no moral or physical support from any quarters. It enabled India to split All Parties Hurriyat Conference thereby weakening the struggle. Geelani group not agreeing to change the original stance based on UN resolutions was dubbed as an extremist and flexible Mirwaiz group as moderate and reconcilable. Indian military started to crow that because of its sustained efforts and stoppage of cross border infiltration insurgency had died down.

Musharraf got inclined to Indo-US suggestion of accepting LoC as the permanent border and allowing free movement and trade between the two Kashmirs but retracted his steps under severe home pressure. Despite such huge constraints the fervor for Azadi never waned in IOK and it once again bounced back in 2008 in the form of massive unarmed protests following Amarnath land case which paralyzed the valley. It was followed up by the teenager’s movement in which boys as small as eight years old took part. Several hundreds died at the hands of Indian security forces.

Unable to enter IOK because of sealing of all exit points by Pak security forces and fully manned electronic fence by Indian forces, the Jihadi forces in Pakistan felt highly pained over the sufferings of Kashmiris in open prison and blamed Gen Musharraf and Pak Army. In retaliation they decided to join al-Qaeda and TTP with whom they had old connections and to fight Pak security forces to give vent to their Jihadi vehemence. As a consequence, all the forces that were focused towards Afghanistan and IOK got on one page and turned their guns inwards. Collectivization of so many well trained and motivated groups has given added muscle to the TTP which acts as the mother hen and made the task of our security forces that much difficult.

Patronization of western liberal secularism by Gen Musharraf regime and then by PPP regime and promotion of obscenity through liberal media was viewed by Islamists as an attempt to undermine Islamic values. Islamists complain that the liberals projecting themselves as progressive, enlightened and moderate are in reality liberal fascists and want to push out Islamists and make Pakistan secular. To give weight to their argument they cite the fascism of liberal parties in Karachi where 8000 innocent people were killed by their target killers in five years. They argue as to why liberals and seculars are so allergic to Maulvis and anything related to Islam when Pakistan is a Muslim state and was created on the basis of Islam for the supremacy of Holy Quran and Sunnah. Rasping attitude of the liberals against Islam and Islamists and their love for Indian and western cultures also resulted in intensification of religious extremism and antagonism against the government perceived as secular, tied to the aprons of USA.

Liberals say that religious extremists and not India pose an existential threat to Pakistan and hence must be fought tooth and nail to the very end. Full support given by liberal political parties and liberal media to the war on terror against TTP and its affiliates has given reason to the militant forces to brand them as American touts. Islamists say that the war had been imposed by USA with a view to pitch Muslims against Muslims to weaken their physical and moral strength and then enslave them. These conflicting perceptions failed to develop a consensus on war, one side saying it is US imposed war and the other saying it is our war.  This incongruity in approaches came in the way of formulating a national counter terrorism policy, which impacted security forces the most.

All these factors helped the extremist forces to build perceptions and play upon the religious sensitivities of the youth among the deprived class that see no future for themselves under prevalent corrupt system. Drone war has further helped TTP leaders to earn the sympathies and goodwill of the people, poison the ears of their followers against the Army and the government and recruit larger numbers of fighters. Without the support of the people no terror network can survive for long. All banned groups have roots in the society and are revered by their followers. Some have re-emerged under different names and some are participating in elections to lend strength to the right wing. Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat is one example.

The case in Balochistan is different where several Baloch nationalist groups under the patronage of foreign powers are pursuing secessionist agenda. BLA and BRA whose leaders are in exile and BLF are sabotaging election campaign of all political parties since elections go against their agenda. Only Akhtar Mengal has returned from exile and is taking part in elections.

Under the gloomy circumstances, political parties led by Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Syed Munawar Hussain and Maulana Fazlur Rahman have opened a window of opportunity and given a ray of light.  They want to end the futile war and have offered dialogue to the TTP. Imran Khan is in the lead and has shown a way out. He says that if brought to power, he will pullback the Army deployed in FATA, shoot down drones, put an end to war on terror and stop the degrading practice of US slavery. He said that he would prefer death over seeking alms from other countries.

Nawaz Sharif has once again emphasized the need to reconsider Pakistan’s support to the US war on terror and has favored negotiations with Taliban. JUI-F chief Fazl has repeatedly censured US interference and suggested termination of war by talking to Taliban. JI chief Syed Munawar Hasan lashed out at the liberal parties that they are reaping what they had sowed and suggested that liberals siding with USA should get themselves registered as minorities. He terms MQM as a terrorist party responsible for the destruction of peace in Karachi. These and suchlike statements touched the right chords of the militants and not only they accepted the offer of dialogue but also decided not to target right wing parties during ongoing election campaign. Dialogue will help in allaying misperceptions and until misgivings are removed the Taliban will not agree to surrender arms.

Although PML-N and PTI being conservative secular parties but leaning towards the right do not fit into strategic framework of TTP, the duo has been spared hoping that Nawaz or Imran would be able to checkmate ultra liberal trends and promote Islamic trends which would pave the way for introducing SHARIAH. The softness however seems temporary; sooner than latter a clash will occur since both Nawaz and Imran firmly believe in constitution and democracy and do not subscribe to extremism and violence.

Apparently two opposing camps have emerged, one led by liberals and other by rightists. The three liberal parties, PPP, MQM and ANP that were spitting venom against each other till the onset of election campaign have got together because of TTP threat out of expediency. Their truce will last up to 11 May only. Centre-right and right wing political and religious parties have failed to forge an alliance and all are contesting elections independently. Likewise, the religious parties like Jamaat-e-Islami, JUI (F), JUI (S) and religious groups are also not on one page. Other than Shia-Sunni conflict, Deobandis, Barelvis and Ahl-e-Hadith remain within their own orbits. The TTP too has cracked up. Armed forces and higher judiciary are the only two institutions that stands united and committed to the national cause.

War on terror and development repel each other. The war must end to put into practice the ambitious manifestos of the competing parties aimed at ameliorating the sufferings of the neglected segment of society and to instill hope among the dejected youth by making Pakistan an Islamic welfare state which shuns violence, promotes peace, tranquility and austerity, ensures equitable distribution of wealth and opportunities and speedy justice to all. War must cease to have secured environment and breathing space to allow the future government to translate its promises into actions. Dialogue with militants will help in listening to each other’s point of views, removing misperceptions and grievances, offering incentive packages and convincing them to spurn violence and come into the mainstream and become useful members of the society by taking up their traditional job of defending the western border.  Dialogue will also help in segregating irreconcilable from reconcilable and eventually identifying and isolating those toeing foreign agenda. If we can offer amnesty to the separatists in Balochistan, why can’t we hold talks with misled tribesmen of FATA?

The writer is a retired Brig, defence analyst, columnist and author of books. Email:asifharoonraja@gmail.com

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