Our Internal Demons

By Adnan Syed

It has been 30 years since Pakistan took the fateful steps of sponsoring the Jihad on a state level. The fight against the Russian aggression in Afghanistan was probably justified. It was a blatant attack on a sovereign nation by a teetering super power. However when Pakistan went on to label the fight as a state sponsored Jihad, flock of die hard Islamists started congregating in Pakistan to fight the godless communists. This was precisely the turning point in Pakistani history when all the internal confusion of Pakistan’s relationship with Islam translated into a thoughtless action by the state that still haunts us to this day.

We can blame General Zia-ul-Haq or Jamaat-e-Islami, or our dreaded indescribable “establishment” for pointing out the path of state sponsored armed Jihad. General Zia and his protégés have already begun feeling the stiff verdict that history has begun recording in its annals. Yet, the conflict was the physical manifestation of Pakistan’s unresolved relationship with Islam. This confusion was fully exploited by Al-Qaeda, Afghan-Jihad oriented splinter groups, and their affiliates in Pakistan. As an internally bankrupt USSR retreated from Afghanistan, the Jihad slowly turned towards the West, the infidels and the vague alliance of Yahood-o-Hunood (Jews and the Hindus).

As West fought back, and Pakistan realized its massive miscalculations, Pakistan quickly chose its official side. Pakistan turned against the very Frankenstein that it nurtured. Maybe officially Pakistan had no choice. Its northern province and the western neighbour were becoming failed states, ruled by the Jihadis who were training thousands of graduates to go out and wreak havoc across the globe. The destabilization of Pakistani society was also underway as the country started showing wear and tear across the religious fault lines.

The retreat from its state sponsored religious conflict strategy began post September 2001. Yet old habits seldom die quickly. Pakistan was unable to shake off the humiliation and despondency of reversing everything that it worked over the past decade in the name of strategic depth, and a pliant western neighbour. It was not a linear reversal; pockets of Pakistani establishment and its feared intelligence agencies kept in touch with its strategic assets. It was not until the year 2007, when Pakistan went on to firmly tackle the Jihadis that had formed their Islamic Emirate in the lawless tribal regions. 6 years is probably not a long time in a country’s history; but these fateful years ensured that the Jihadis could regroup, rearm and attack the western military machine that had arrived there to dismantle the Jihadi infrastructure.

It remains painfully clear that Pakistan’s role was reactive throughout the last 10 years. Not until its follies were called out and hung in public that Pakistan retreated one by one from the mistaken adventures that it had perpetrated in the name of strategic depth strategy and state sponsored Jihad. Up to the year 2006, President Musharraf kept publicly differentiating between good and bad Taliban. It was not until the overtaking of the Red Mosque that the state finally realized that the goal of Jihadis was not to just fight the infidels. It was the fight between the righteous and the others. And unless Pakistan supported the righteous ones, it was just one of the others.

But can we honestly just blame our government and our short sighted leaders for our mistakes? Up to 2006, more than 60% of us thought Taliban were the good guys. In 2002, Osama Bin Laden was a hero for most of us for standing against the US. The military excursions into the Jihadi lairs were routinely condemned by the mainstream media in the years leading up to 2007. It was only when Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, Swat was overrun and Jihadis started coming down to the plains that Pakistan finally woke up to the nightmare that was brewing in its backyard for at least last 20 years.

It was our failure that led us to become the most dangerous and (probably) one of the most hated nations on earth. But are we really that bad? Are we the evil ones that the world loves to hate? Why is our land infested with Jihadis who plan attacks on Mumbai, Zahedan, Europe or the United States?

We have conjured enough of various boogeymen in our collective psyche to conveniently ignore our own mistakes. When terrorists bring carnage to Mumbai, we blame the Hindus. When suicide pilots slam their planes into the towers, we blame the Jews for that. When Tehrik-eTaliban threatens to bring destruction to our homes, we call them RAW agents.

We have been at it for so many years. We have seen these stories appearing on PTH where our nation’s confused psyche is laid bare. Where an average man on the street sees Islam in danger, and gleefully exhibits his paranoia about India and Israel. Where every single failure of our nation is attributed to “them”. There is no shortage of conspiracy theorists around the globe. Yet why does our nation embrace it so wilfully? Where is an average man’s due diligence when it comes to the daily carnage that was brought to our streets for the last 15 years by the very own co-religionists.

At PTH, we have never shied away from showing our contempt for the blatant mixing of religion and state that many of our weak-kneed rulers perpetrated to prolong their rule, or to cater to their own insecurities. We have talked again and again about the founding father who unequivocally said that no religious theocracy will be allowed in Pakistan. We can blame Jinnah for not forcefully making it clear to his colleagues that ambiguity between a religion and a state is a recipe for disaster down the road. But we hear him clearly in his first address to the constituent assembly, his interviews, his actions and his deeds. He remains our guiding light, a man beyond his era who embraced the equality of man and stood for a state that would ensure this very equality.

Yet within six months of his passing, the Prime Minister was yielding to the right wing religionists on the streets who now wanted to make Pakistan an Islamic state. The same ones who called Jinnah’s Pakistan a devil’s creation or NaPakistan now wanted to overturn the Muslim nationalism cause into an Islamic theocracy.

This is the confusion that has stayed in our psyche for the past 60 years. It was laid bare in the Justice Munir-Kiyani report as religious right talked of the vague concept of an Islamic state, Khilafat and how it would run against the very principle of equal man, regardless of his colour, faith or caste. In the coming week, we will run a series on PTH summarizing the interviews Justice Munir and Kiyani conducted with the religious leaders of the 1950s Pakistan. Many of their protégés still dream of Pakistan to run along the undefined idea of an Islamic state.

We will see that the armed Jihad was an integral part of those plans for an Islamic Pakistan. It was a chilling glimpse into the future as one after another religious leader talked about establishing Pakistan as the land of the faithful that will wage war against the land of the kufr, until the kufr is subdued. Not surprisingly, as soon as the meek dictator of the 1980s propped up Pakistan as a pseudo Islamic state, Pakistan started becoming a hub of every resident Iihadi from all across the globe.

It was no coincidence that Aymen-al-Zawahri invoked the Nazaria-Pakistan six times in his address to the Pakistanis in 2008. For a religious extremist and a mass murderer to blackmail Pakistanis in the name of Islam is not a reflection on Zawahiri’s guile; it is a reflection of a society that is torn from within as it doesn’t know how much valid the Nazaria Pakistan is.

Pakistan has now embarked on a tedious and often painful process of unloading the massive religious baggage that almost destroyed the nation from within. For a country to pass through so much pain and destruction, we have shown a strange trait of bouncing back, reject the obscurantism, implement democracy and allow our society to begin talking more freely about its inherent contradictions.

This process will eventually require that we just don’t embark on shallow introspection. There is no question too great or too sacred to ask. Are we going to keep the thousand pound religious gorilla wandering in our collective psyche, or we discuss it openly and deal with it firmly once and for all. We probably need to begin thinking about letting go of all pretences that the remnant of these Jihadis can any way be amenable to Pakistan developing into a progressive, secular and plural state.

We are probably closer to the end of the armed Jihad that we nurtured two decades back only to attack us with vengeance later. The Jihadi remnants are now assembled in the North Waziristan, and based on the report from the New York Times below; Pakistan is preparing to go after them in their final lair. Yet thousands of our military men and civilians died fighting these zealots for what? The final resolution of this struggle is not based on a military victory. It will be decided when we tackle our internal demons head on, refuse to get blackmailed in the coming decades in the name of Islam, and realize that unless we completely separate the mosque and the state, and establish the complete rule of law mandated by the power of individual vote, the fight will come back to us, in one shape or form.

This struggle in the coming years will decide how Pakistan will be viewed fifty years from now. Nations pass through critical times that either destroy them or bring out their true mettle. And our nation will only decide for itself now where it would stand in the future.


1) The New York Times story about Pakistan pondering upon attack on North Waziristan was published today on PTH at the following link. http://pakteahouse.wordpress.com/2010/04/30/pakistan-weighs-attack-on-militant-lair/

2) The series summarizing the religious leaders interviews with Justice Munir and Kiyani would be published on PTH in the coming week.

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