As the Pakistani state embraces the Taliban, the chorus of the clerics drowns out liberal voices.
TV talkshow journalist Raza Rumi was attacked and nearly killed in Lahore in the last week of March because a) he was seen as a liberal, or b) working for an Ismaili-owned TV channel, or c) for visiting India and writing a book about shrines in Delhi that the non-state actors of Pakistan don’t like. Meanwhile, Pakistan is talking peace.
As Pakistan smokes the peace pipe with the Taliban after yielding 60,000 civilians and 5,000 troops dead to them, the media is measuring the impact. The clerics who never get votes and therefore don’t contest elections have become empowered and appear scary in their aggressive rhetoric. The TV anchor has become anti-American and anti-NGO and warns about “liberals who get paid by America to oppose Islam”.
The Taliban see the tide turning. And they are outspoken in their preferences and discrimination about a nation they have been massacring without distinction. They say the “secular” Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party (ANP) are their enemies and the rest can be spared. The high-value persons they have kidnapped belong to the PPP and ANP. Out in the street, Islamic practices are in full force; nobody dare stop the illegal use of the loudspeaker blaring the name of Allah. The common man uses speech habits that highlight his faith.
The state is ready to hang Pervez Musharraf, subliminally bending the knee to the Taliban decree of death against him. Little girl Malala, shot in the head by the Taliban, has been rejected now even by girls who perceive insult to the Holy Prophet in her book, which has been banned in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
Listen to the BBC reporting on the Nigerian common man in areas under attack from the Boko Haram, who attack schools and colleges just like the Taliban and behead Nigerian troops together with innocent Muslim civilians. Last month, in one such reportage, pre-teen Nigerian labourers telling how they ended up in the street, peppered their sad account with references to Allah to an extent that Pakistanis don’t yet. People in the Islamic world are preparing themselves for the slaughter that is coming from their own brothers.
The Arab Spring has not led to democracy but to the rise of jihad. Elections threaten to bring Islamists to power, whose ideology is based on a pre-modern hatred of what is going on, like banks, global dress codes, cinema-TV entertainment and culture in general. In Lahore, all rickshaws carry threatening messages against purveyors of entertainment.
Some Arab scholars have suppressed their anti-Westernism to reveal that military dictatorships nursed the jihadists to scare the world into maintaining them in power; some used them to carry out proxy jihad as the regular armies were either too used to peacetimes or too bruised by repeated defeats to fight their wars. Democracy was postponed and people fighting for freedom and representation were brutalised, put in jail or pushed into exile. One analysis says: “The regimes released jihadist leaders and elements from prison, facilitated their activities and sometimes secretly provided them with the necessary financial and media support.” Pakistan nurtured its own jihadis and borrowed some from the Arab world, leveraged with Islamist funds.
The dictators at times used the jihadis to kill their civilian rivals. The Pakistani state is in trouble as more and more researchers and analysts point to assassinations found to have been “devolved” to the Taliban-al-Qaeda combine. If the dictators thought they could use the jihadis and their priestly leaders without getting flecked with their blood-thirsty creed, they were seriously in error. Now, “normal” officers promoted to top ranks in the army have to accept the status quo in which an “inspired” rank-and-file can kill them in the name of Allah.
Nurturing jihadis has led to the rise of sectarianism and states hitherto free of religious infighting are concentrating on decimating their Muslim minority sects. Pakistan had started doing this long ago, putting the world on notice by declaring its minuscule Ahmadi sect non-Muslim. Now this hapless community is labelled apostate, with serious disabilities inside Pakistan. (They become normal Muslims the moment they step out of the country.) Today, Arabs too are enjoying themselves as their Muslim minorities go as lambs to the slaughter. In Pakistan, the Shia and the Barelvi Sunnis are feeling the coming doom in their bones. In some evils, Pakistan has scored a first, but if the entire Muslim grand nation (umma) likes it, so what?
The Arab Islamists, a little this side of the red line of jihadism, won their elections after the dictators left the scene, but soon fell from grace. A scared population forced them to leave the scene, but a stark lesson has been learned: next time, use terror. That is the point where Ayman al-Zawahiri disagreed with the Muslim Brotherhood and quit Egypt, to demonstrate the right way of conquering in the name of Islam in Pakistan.
One way a Muslim state can get ready for jihadism is by embracing extremism. That is what Pakistan has done as the pax of the Taliban looms on the horizon. A splenetic TV intellectual in Lahore has written a long column justifying the taking of enemy women as sex-slaves after killing their husbands. Instead of tempering this rather unreasonable Islamic practice allowed by great Islamic thinkers like Maududi, he argued that a slave thus taken will have to be married with morganatic rights, as opposed to what the World War II armies did to women in enemy lands. Tragically, he ignored the international law in the 21st century that criminalises this practice. Muslim extremism lays down indefensible laws no sane person can live under.
Some Arab optimists say the “Islamist phenomenon is in a chronic crisis and at a dead end because of the failure of their project in Afghanistan and its inability to be a desirable example or model for a state that can apply the true Islam and save Muslims from their current situation”. Soon, in Afghanistan, all this will be proved wrong. Last time, the Americans had responded to 9/11 and driven the Taliban into exile; this time, the Americans will be driven out. Pakistan, already prostrate in body and mind, will gift to the religious killers a Caliphate and an “Army of Khorasan” complete with territory, money and manpower. And possibly nuclear weapons.
Writing in Dawn on April 2, Zahid Hussain mused: “What is most disturbing, however, is that the government’s policy of appeasement has divided the country on provincial, ethnic and sectarian lines. The much-touted consensus among the political parties on talks with the Taliban is all but broken…
“The militants have cleverly exploited this divide and selectively target only those political parties that are actively resisting them. The TTP has refused to release the sons of late governor Salmaan Taseer and former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani because the PPP government in Sindh is cracking down on the group.
“Legitimising the TTP has, in fact, increased the sense of insecurity not only among the minority sects, but is also of concern to the majority Sunni Muslims who believe in a more tolerant Islam. Any deal on the TTP’s terms will plunge the country into civil strife destroying its social fabric.”
The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’