By Ayesha Siddiqa
“Relevance of the Liberals” by Muhammad Amir Rana is a sad piece. Its issue for me is not that it lambastes the liberals, which are few and far between, but that it rates radical militants as pragmatists. It is historically weak. If pragmatism is to be defined in this peculiar way then JuD (Jamaat-ud-Daawa) was always that – radical and, yes pragmatist. Muhammad Amir Rana forgets that despite all of that LeT (Lashkar-e-Tayyaba) was formed in Kunar, Afghanistan. It made an effort to expand itself ideologically in Pakistan through co-habitation with the state. During the 1980s, the JuD/LeT network did not have enough traction which was bad for business. This was due to the fact that Pakistan was predominantly Barelvi followed by Deobandis. There was little traction for JuD. It filled that gap by aligning itself with the state and taking on its Kashmir project.
The argument does not take into account the fact that ultimately these forces owe their existence to the patronage of the state. Ahmed Ludhiyanvi (Sipah-e-Sahaba – SSP) and others etc. have not changed their rhetoric vis-a-vis Shias but brought their volume down. The LeT/JuD network being comparatively more urban and comprising of educated people, is far more adapt in juggling with the state. The Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) is another one that does so.
The non-pragmatist militants, if this is the category Muhammad Amir Rana would like to create, essentially existed during the period when jihad was free for all. Once the state decided to pull back from those types, it didn’t take long to quiet people like Malik Ishaq and a few others in LeJ. The LeT/JuD network will be packed-up out of existence the day the state so desires.
Meanwhile, if one visits the field it becomes very obvious talking to people who subscribe to Salafi ideology that their ideological bias remains very sharp. It is just that being more disciplined than LeJ/SSP network, the LeT/JuD manage to control radicalism from boiling randomly into violence. It will, whenever it is intended. I have visited scores of villages that are JeM members who say that we hate the Shias but are not ordered to attack as yet. These are then the radical hotbeds which thrive due to pragmatism, which is mentioned by Rana.
As for liberals and liberalism in Pakistan, they are a small group and their influence is limited. While their numbers may not matter, any state, which does not value their voices or totally ignores them does so at great risk to itself.
Read the Article by Muhammad Amir Rana: “Relevance of the Liberals“