January Issue 2015
Cover Story: Jihad or Murder?
Such is the unfortunate volatility of our state that a blast in Peshawar, on any other day, might have been viewed as just another act of terrorism. Bomb blasts have been ubiquitous in Pakistan in the last several years, and this city has been jarred with catastrophic frequency.
Schools have been regularly targeted. Children have been victimised. And the number 134 wouldn’t have shocked a nation that has witnessed the massacre of over 50,000 compatriots in the past decade or so.
So what exactly was it about last month’s Peshawar attack that wrenched the nation’s collective gut like never before? What was it about the calamity that even the founding fathers of Taliban apologists managed to muster enough courage to conjure up the T-word in their rhetorical condemnation?
Children weren’t the collateral damage this time around. They were the target. We’re accustomed to witnessing bomb blasts that take down hundreds. But it’s completely different when a group of terrorists invade a school with the sole purpose of unleashing bullets upon adolescent chests.
The thought of perfectly recognisable bullet-ridden corpses of schoolchildren returning to their parents was too much to take, even for a nation that has become so blasé about terrorism.
Muhammad Khorasani, the spokesman of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed in the immediate aftermath of the attack that it was revenge for the “innocent people” killed in the ongoing military operation, Zarb-e-Azb. He quoted Islamic scripture, claiming that the Pakistan Army deserved to be excommunicated for fighting “America’s war” and killing the “mujahideen of Islam.”
The offspring of the apostatised army men, thence, were automatically excommunicated, with the Islamic tradition of deeming anyone who’s reached puberty an adult used to rationalise the massacre of schoolchildren who were aged between 10 and 18.
The jihadist ideology was always a bloodthirsty doctrine, used as fuel to motivate the mujahideen into inhuman massacres of ‘infidels.’ But jihadism has metamorphosed to a point where it’s being used to rationalise the killing of schoolchildren that belong to the same faith.
Jihadism was designed to target the Russian communists in the ’80s in Afghanistan, and the Indian Hindus in Kashmir. The proponents of the ideology now use the idea of jihad to declare whoever they want to target as ‘murtad,’ or apostate, to vindicate waging war against them.
The idea of jihad was founded upon the concept of Muslim supremacy that has seeped into the mainstream through unsupervised mosques, madrassas and literature that continues to taint school curricula.
Any state that differentiates between Muslims and non-Muslims on any grounds becomes a breeding ground for jihadism. And when a state’s constitution gives a verdict on who can and cannot call themselves a Muslim, and openly discriminates between religions, it has little logical grounds for an ideological clampdown against ideologues that use that very act of takfir, or excommunication, to nourish violence.
Secularity of jurisprudence is as critical to fighting the menace of Islamist terrorism, as taking down all terrorist groups without any state or establishment-sanctioned partiality.
The establishment’s use of jihadists for proxy wars in Kashmir and Afghanistan is an open secret. This is precisely why the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar seem to have found safe havens in parts of Balochistan. Most damning is their alleged stranglehold in Quetta cantonment – a city that has become the hub for attacks on the Shia community. The Haqqani network, linked to the Afghan Taliban, enjoys similar immunity in the north.
Hafiz Saeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jamaat-ud-Dawa leaders who allegedly masterminded the Mumbai attacks of 2008, continue to openly spread venom vis-à-vis India and Kashmir. Saeed was seen holding forth on terrorism following the Peshawar attack and typically linking it to India. Lakhvi, meanwhile, was granted bail a few days after the attack, with the government ordering his detention only after the backlash from various quarters.
Malik Ishaq, the leader of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), was on the verge of being set free owing to a “lack of evidence.” Ishaq has been one of the most prominent figures behind the massacre of Shias and has been charged in 100 plus cases. Leaders of the LeJ and Sipah-e-Sahaba, with their political wing Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), openly endorse the genocide of the Shias and proudly confess to murders.
LeT, LeJ and the Afghan Taliban adhere to the same jihadist ideology that the TTP endorses. Nourishing the jihadists as warriors to fight the army’s war elsewhere has backfired over the past decade. It would be even more suicidal to pursue the policy now that we have the benefit of hindsight.
The biggest concern that all neighbouring countries seem to have with Pakistan is the prevalence of Islamist militants that have become the region’s biggest security concern. Afghanistan’s concerns with Pakistan shielding the Afghan Taliban and India’s accusations of the establishment feeding militancy in Kashmir are well documented. Now Iran and China are also highlighting similar concerns.
China’s investment in the much touted Energy Corridor has had the asterisk asking Pakistan to ‘do more’ in curtailing jihadists that are allegedly training Uighur militants behind terrorist attacks. Similarly, Iran passed a bill earlier this year designed to review security cooperation with Pakistan following an increase in cross-border terrorism featuring the Al-Qaeda linked group, Jaishul Adl.
While India continues to be peddled as Pakistan’s enemy number one, resulting in the focus of security being on the eastern front, it’s time to revisit that narrative. Pakistan’s biggest security concern – something that it shares with other players in the region – is the Islamist terrorists that the state has groomed itself.
Continuing to shield jihadist organisations to counter imaginary cross-border existential threats not only puts the state’s own security under perilous jeopardy, it alienates Pakistan in the region, with questions being raised over its sense of responsibility and intent to fight all kinds of terrorism.
The cataclysmic Peshawar attack is the culmination of decades of failed foreign and security policies. While scepticism reigns with regards to Pakistan shelving these policies, we have reached a point where uprooting jihadist terrorism is no longer a choice – it’s an existential question.
The jihadist ideology needs to be countered through moderating madrassas, mosques and all institutions that preach religion. Religion’s role in running state matters needs to be rethought, with a moderate ideological narrative and secularity of the constitution becoming the need of the hour.
When religion is used to justify barefaced butchery, all violent forms of ideology need to be shunned.
It is delusional to think that the jihadist can be restricted to targeting cross-border ‘infidels.’ Those that the jihadists dub as ‘nonbelievers’ can be, and are, targeted everywhere. Discriminating between jihadist militants on the basis of their ostensible targets will continue to boomerang until all kinds of terrorists are confronted head-on.
The government and establishment can either wait for more citizens to be victimised by jihadist terrorism to reach the rather obvious conclusion, or it can pay heed to the root causes of the biggest tragedy in Pakistan’s history.
If the Peshawar bloodbath doesn’t compel policymakers to shun the failed policies of the past, it’s hard to imagine what exactly will.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s Annual 2015 issue.
Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a journalist and writer based in Lahore.