Peace, progress and private armies

IssueJune - August 2002
Feature by Naeem Sadiq

In October 2001, after taking over parts of the Swat, Dir and Korakoram highway in northern Pakistan, Sufi Mohammad led his 5000-strong army of Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-I-Mohammadi [one of five extremist religious groups currently banned in Pakistan] to attack the US forces operating in Afghanistan, with weapons ranging from World War One antiques to mortars used by modern-day armies.

But the fact is that most of these illiterate and misguided soldiers lost their lives to unfriendly daisy cutters. And Sufi, who had never even seen either an American nor an aeroplane, deserted the battle field, ran for his life, and ended up in a Pakistani jail, receiving a cosmetic three-year sentence, perhaps for not possessing valid travel documents.

In December 2000, Maulana Akram Awan [of the outlawed group Tanzeemul Akhwan] marched with his private army of ten thousand misguided zealots, camped at Chakwal in the Punjab province of Pakistan, and threatened to capture Islamabad, the capital of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, unless the laws considered Islamic in the medieval mind of Maulana were promulgated throughout the country.

The government was so unnerved that it sent a delegation consisting of the Home Secretary, the Inspector General of the police and the minister for religious affairs to please, pamper and compensate Maulana and to convince him to return with his army to wherever he came from. Having never met an official beyond the rank of Station House Officer, Maulana was so moved at the top officials of the nuclear state obsequiously falling to his feet, that he withdrew without a battle, and declared that he would return next year to implement his promised mission.

Promoting hatred

For ten long years the JUI madrassahs [the extremist political party Jamiat Ulema-e Islams mosque schools] of Balochistan retained the dubious distinction of operating as the worlds largest nursery for producing teenage soldiers who had only two missions in life: to secure an entry into paradise by their rhythmic pendulum-like recantations of memorised portions from the Holy Book; and to participate in a global jihad with ignorance and Klashnikovs as their only two assets.

In the last ten years anything between 10 and 20 thousand of these innocent children were killed in the proxy war that ultimately reduced Afghanistan to rubble, and Pakistan to an embarrassing but much needed volte face.

Until recently, when travelling between Lahore and Peshawar by road, one could see dozens of signs offering short cuts to paradise for those who sought recruitment into one of the many private armies operating under names such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Tayuba or Harkat ul Majahideen.

The proliferation of religious fervour by these private armies has resulted in the creation of sectarian militant organisations downstream, whose strong sense of loyalty to their own brand of ideology requires the killing of every one else who does not subscribe to their particular point of view.

The private armies rule freely and, until recently, even collected bhatta (compulsory donations) in the land of the pure, making a mockery of the writ of the state. This phenomenon, often generically referred to as “Talibanisation” of society, remained unchecked until its excessive export drew an angry response from the world at large as well as from the already fed-up neighbours.

Frozen in time?

Pakistan's primary think tanks remain pathologically addicted to a frozen world-view based on a dogmatic and bigoted understanding of religion, emphasis on rituals instead of spirit, hatred instead of tolerance, ideological slogans instead of service to people, state agencies instead of participative institutions, abhorrence of science and technology, deep disinclination to reason and rationality, obsession with female behaviour and dress, and the megalomaniac self image as the flag bearer and champion of the cause of Ummah [Islamic community].

It is around these irrelevancies that the state has coined its signature for the past fifty years. While the large majority of Pakistanis are as moderate, tenacious, vibrant and enterprising as people of any other country, their rightful place amongst the developed and civilised nations of the world has been a hostage to the tribal traditions, private armies and religious fanatics who forcibly dictate the social order of the country.

The events of 11 September provide, in many ways, a miraculous opportunity and impetus for Pakistan to re-evaluate its direction and make a conscious decision to make a departure from the past. It can choose to follow the path that has enabled other nations to pursue progress, prosperity and enlightenment. Alternately it can remain glued to its ancient and obsolete mindset, and gradually acquire the status of an irrelevant and failed state.

Taking the first steps

There can be no sanity, peace or progress in Pakistan, as long as it retains a multitude of fully armed private armies, each in pursuit of its own brand of intolerance and bigotry.

The first step towards peace and progress must therefore begin by firmly disbanding and disarming all militant religious, political and tribal organisations in Pakistan. This needs to be done as a national challenge and not like the lame, half hearted, incompetently managed and half way aborted earlier de-weaponisation campaign.