by Saad Hafiz
Pakistan is a country permanently roiled by political chaos and militant jihadism. On December 16, 2014, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar, leaving 141 dead, including 132 schoolchildren. Unconfirmed reports indicate that children from military families were separated from their peers and shot in the head. The TTP spokesperson announced that the Peshawar attack was in retaliation to Operation Zarb-e-Azb (sharp and cutting strike), the Pakistani army’s move against militants in North Waziristan. The country seems to be inching closer to civil war and a national catastrophe.
The TTP’s jihadi terrorism springs from rigidity and literalism. A crude interpretation of Islamic texts leads them to conclude that murder should be celebrated. They see their actions as logical, righteous and mandatory. They believe in the premise that jihad is the natural state of Islam. Muslims who follow this thinking believe that they have a divine right to kill anyone who disagrees with their straitened view of what constitutes a Muslim. The narrow definition of Islam ensures that nearly everyone falls outside the ‘sacred’ boundaries. Also, that Muslims must always be in conflict with nonbelievers, resorting to peace only in moments of abject weakness. These arguments demonstrate why Islam is so vulnerable to radicalisation. It is a religion that was born in conflict and in its long history it has developed a pool of opinions and precedents that are supposed to govern the behaviour of Muslims towards their enemies.
According to hardcore jihadists, every able-bodied believer is obligated to engage in jihad. The greatest prize goes to the martyr. Anyone who believes otherwise is a heretic and deserves to be slaughtered. Those who contribute money for jihad will be compensated in heaven, but not as much as the person who acts. Because jihad is, above all, a religious exercise, there are divine rewards to be gained. This line of thinking gives jihadists a warrant to murder all who stand in their way. Jihadist recruits are indoctrinated and transformed from normal believers into intransigence killers, making certain that the candle of individual conscience is extinguished. These ideas about jihad are used to justify violence against women and innocent civilians.
Militant jihadists and their sympathisers among Pakistanis in all walks of life openly declare that religious war, not political reform, is their sole mandate. Those who labour in government, the army, police and the courts are enemies, as is anyone who works for peaceful change. The same punishment awaits those who participate in democratic elections. Secular, nationalist democracy opposes religion and doctrine and, in submitting to it, would leave the Quran behind. Jihadists believe that most Muslim countries are ruled by unbelievers who must be forcibly removed in order to bring about an Islamic state. The way to bring an end to the rulers’ unbelief is armed rebellion. Muslims have a duty to wage jihad against such leaders; those who submit to an infidel ruler are themselves infidels and doomed to damnation.
Weaning Pakistan away from murder and violence towards harmony and coexistence is, on the face of it, an impossible task. The government’s inability or unwillingness to rein in militants has been well known. And the entire history of Pakistan is a sorry record of giving in to religious extremism and changing the country more and more into an intolerant Islamic state. The country’s Islamic schools (madrassas), which have supplanted the crumbling public education system, promote ideas of Islamic militancy and martyrdom. The condition of Pakistan’s universities has been described as “intellectual rubble”. It is also a fact that Punjab, the largest province, is both the epicentre of state power and jihadi terrorism. It is both a training site and a safe haven for many national and transnational groups. It is also an ideological hub for groups engaged in sectarian violence. It is home to some of the most dreaded groups like TTP, Sipah-e-Sahaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, groups that have often been patronised by state agencies. It has been easy for the state and society to condone, even start, violence but peace will be much more difficult.
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Formation of military courts, lifting the moratorium on capital punishment for terrorism-related offences, an anti-terrorism council reporting to the prime minister and formation of a special task force to eliminate terrorism appear to be tactical steps at this critical juncture. Can a country that has developed ‘strategic’ jihad as a weapon against its enemies give up its jihadi option? Can citizens who have lived and battled in a world of jihad and allowed it to control their thinking see the difference between right and wrong? Can we dissuade those who continue to propagate their fantasies of theocracy and a caliphate, which have little chance of ever happening? Can militant Islam ever reconcile with the ‘sins’ of modernity, enlightenment, free thinking, acceptance of levelling change and a tolerance of cultural heterogeneity? These questions and more need to be considered together with a plan to address the actual problems facing Pakistanis: illiteracy, joblessness and the desperation that comes from watching the rest of the world pass them by. A serious national introspection may offer the young, who are eager for fresh thinking, a way to escape the dead end of radical Islam.