Sunday, March 14, 2010

ANALYSIS: Societal perspectives on terrorism -Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

 At least one generation has been socialised into a favourable disposition 
towards Islamic conservatism and militancy. They have a natural sympathy 
towards the political discourse of the militants even if they do not support 
their violent methods

The terrorist attacks in Lahore on March 8 and 12 are a reminder of how 
terrorism continues to threaten internal order and stability in Pakistan. These 
attacks also show that the terrorists are not only present in the cities but 
they have also developed strong networking with each other to the detriment of 
the Pakistani government and the people.

The last major terrorist attack in Lahore was on December 7, 2009, when two 
bombs exploded in a marketplace, killing at least 70 people. The peace in 
Lahore over the last three months created the false impression that the worst 
was over. The latest incidents show that the dislodging of the terrorists from 
Swat and most of South Waziristan has weakened them but their threat is still 

A combined security operation by the army, the air force and the paramilitary 
forces was successful in ending the territorial control of the Taliban in 
Swat/Malakand and most of South Waziristan. Most of the Taliban that survived 
the attack fled to the mountains, Afghanistan and other tribal agencies. As the 
security forces initiated operations in Bajaur, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram 
agencies, some of the Taliban moved to the settled areas of Pakistan, 
especially the major cities.

The recent Taliban activities have shown two noticeable trends. There are 
growing linkages between the Pakistani and the Afghan Taliban. They collaborate 
and cooperate with each other for pursuing their respective agendas against 
Pakistan and Afghanistan respectively. These linkages were exposed after the 
TTP leadership lost control of South Waziristan and some of its activists were 
accommodated by the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. Further, these linkages were 
also confirmed by the video showing the Jordanian double agent who killed 
several US intelligence officers in Afghanistan in December with the chief of 
the TTP, Hakimullah Mehsud.

The more significant linkages are between the TTP and the Punjab based Islamic 
hardline and sectarian groups, especially their splinter elements. These 
linkages came into the limelight in 2009 when the TTP engaged in suicide 
attacks and violent actions in different cities in the Punjab and NWFP. The 
suicide bombers and other militant activists from the tribal areas parked 
themselves with the militant and sectarian groups in and around the target 
city. Some terrorist operations in 2009 were undertaken jointly by the Taliban 
and the local Punjabi groups. The latter also launched their exclusive 

Some militant and sectarian groups were banned in 2001-2002 but these 
resurfaced under new names towards the end of 2002 or in 2003. Now, these 
militants are not merely confined to well-known militant and sectarian groups 
but they have also penetrated all kinds of Islamic groups and movements. 

The religious-denominational identities are critical to building support for 
militancy. Most Deobandi, Wahabbi and Ahle-Hadees elements express varying 
degrees of support or sympathy for the Taliban and other militants. The other 
Islamic denominational groups like the Barelvis and the Shias or those 
subscribing to some Sufi traditions are generally critical of their violent 
methods but share their notion of an Islamic religious order and the 
dichotomised worldview characterised by the hostility of the powerful states of 
the West towards Islam and the Muslims.

The other major source of support to militancy is the political right that 
overlaps with religious-conservative and orthodox circles. This perspective 
enjoyed the patronage of the Pakistani state and especially the military and 
intelligence establishment for years when they used militant and hardline 
Islamic groups as the instruments of foreign and security policies in 
Afghanistan and Indian-administered Kashmir. These young individuals were 
socialised into this perspective through education in state institution and the 
state-controlled media from the mid-1980s to 2004-2005. At least one generation 
has been socialised into a favourable disposition towards Islamic conservatism 
and militancy that is now holding middle level jobs in government (civil and 
military) and the private sector. Their political discourse is laden with a 
strongly conservative Islamic worldview that invariably views international and 
local politics as a function of religion and religion-based conflict in the 
international system. They have a natural sympathy towards the political 
discourse of the militants even if they do not support their violent methods.

Though Pakistan's top civilian and military leadership have come to the 
unanimous conclusion that the Taliban and other militant elements are a threat 
to Pakistan's internal harmony and stability, it is difficult to argue that 
such unanimity of views exists in the lower echelons of civilian and military 
institutions. The Islamist and political right perspective is noticeably 
conspicuous among the personnel in the state institutions.

Pakistan's political class is ambiguous on dealing with the militants. Most of 
them condemn religious extremism, suicide attacks and bombings that cause death 
and chaos. Even a large number of Islamic clerics, including those sharing 
religious denomination with the Taliban condemn killings of innocent people. 
However, if you ask them to specifically condemn the Taliban movement, a large 
number of them would shy away. Some Islamic clerics argue that suicide bombing 
is justified under some circumstances. 

Islamic political parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), all factions of the 
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and most Islamic movements support the Taliban and 
oppose military action against them. The press periodically reports the 
derogatory remarks of the JI leaders about the military because in their view 
it is serving a US agenda rather than Pakistani national interests. Most of 
these parties and groups view the Taliban as friends of Pakistan and blame 
violence on the paid agents of the US, India and Israel. An advertisement 
published by a Lahore-based organisation called "Tanzeem-e-Islami Pakistan" in 
an Urdu newspaper on March 11 presents a highly skewed Islamic view of what is 
happening in and around Pakistan. It is highly pro-Taliban and anti-military, 
asking the rulers of Pakistan to "give up the slavery of the US and adopt the 
slavery of Allah, otherwise total destruction in this world and thereafter is 
going to be 'our fate'".

The provocative religious discourse is widely shared by the political right 
whose advocates write columns after columns in Urdu newspapers that regard 
Pakistan's counter-terrorism policy as a blunder and think the civil and 
military rulers of Pakistan have sold out to the US. They often accuse 
Pakistan's security forces of killing Muslim citizens of Pakistan. 
Interestingly, they do not blame the Pakistani Taliban for killing Muslim and 
non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

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