By P. K. Upadhyay
Pakistan’s seemingly uncontrollable slide into a sectarian nightmare appears to have gained further momentum. The militant Deobandi Islamists have now launched a clear campaign to cow down sections of the media that have so far been standing up to them, and such other sources of potent social and political resistance as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). What is very worrying is that in this phase of Deobandi onslaught the Army is clearly abandoning its earlier pretense of readiness to take the Islamic zealots head on and sections of the establishment seem more willing now to be just silent accomplices.
A number of leading Pakistani journalists have come out openly with complaints of being threatened by the Deobandi oriented Tehriq-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and, more sinisterly, of the Pakistani establishment doing nothing to protect them against the onslaught from the former. Journalists Hamid Mir, Javed Chaudhary, Mohammad Maalik, Iftikhar Alam, and others have openly alleged to have been threatened by TTP through calls on their land-lines and cell phones as well as through e-mails. To their despair, the government agencies have chosen not to take any action on their complaints despite their having provided call/mail details to them. Hamid Mir even alleges that in this latest attempt to intimidate the media into silence or submission, the TTP and the official agencies (an euphemism for ISI) seem to be acting in tandem. Hamid Mir further contends that on October 5, the Crisis Management Cell of the Ministry of Interior itself had informed various federal and provincial security agencies that Hakimullah Mehsud has sent instructions to TTP units in the rest of the country to stop operations against the Pakistan Army and, instead, start targeting the media. TTP spokesman Ehshamullah Ehsan and the TTP’s spokesman in Swat Sirajuddin have clearly told targeted journalists that anybody who supports the government would be treated as opposing the Taliban and would be liquidated. In this regard any support or sympathy for the 14-year old victim of Taliban cruelty, Malala Yusufzai, has been taken as an anti-religion conspiracy and threatened with dire consequences.
It is not just the journalists who are the targets of the latest Talibani onslaught. Socio-political groups like the MQM are also sought to be targeted, since MQM and its leader Altaf Hussein have taken a strong and active stand against Islamic radicals of the TTP variety over the Malala incident. The MQM had earlier announced its plans to hold a referendum across Pakistan to let the people choose between a Pakistan as per Jinnah’s vision or a Talibanised Pakistan. Though the proposed referendum was postponed ostensibly because of the IDEAS 2012 Defence Exhibition in Karachi, MQM cadres did take to streets after the shooting of Malala Yusufzai to protest against religious extremism.
The Taliban did not take it lying down and their spokesman in Karachi, Umar Farooq, a former Jamaat-e-Islami functionary, declared “We are a group of Islamic warriors fighting against infidels” and that “Karachi is our base and we will target anyone our leader Hakimullah Mehsud tells us to”. TTP’s surrogate body of madrassas in Karachi, Wifaqul Madaris, has on its part warned MQM, whose cadres are predominantly Barelvi, to desist from prying into the functioning and affairs of its affiliates. Many MQM cadres had been alleging that an overwhelming number of inmates of these madrassas were Pashtun and Afghans and some of them were being trained in the handling IEDs of inside the seminaries.
Karachi is an ethnic tinderbox and sectarianism makes it even more explosive. Perhaps, a pointer to things to come in Karachi is the bombing of the Rangers Headquarters by a truck-bomb on November 7. Such attacks have been the hallmark of Taliban attacks in Islamabad and Kabul in the past and, therefore, it was hardly any surprise that Mullah Fazalullah’s faction of the TTP eventually claimed responsibility for the attack. The Taliban threat in Karachi cannot be minimized. According to Sindh Police and CID, the Taliban have been involved in 131 bank robberies out of a total of 134 in Karachi since 2008. The Police claims to have arrested 721 Taliban cadres in the city and busted 143 gangs. The Taliban have retaliated by bombing and attacking policemen who are leading operations against them. Right now the Taliban seem to be concentrating in uprooting the Awami National Party from the Pashtun areas of Karachi and have targeted many local ANP leaders and cadres.
The Islamic radicals not only want to assert their supremacy in the strong pockets of remaining anti-Deobandi radical sentiments in the country (Taliban and their Deobandi cohorts already dominate FATA, north Baluchistan and parts of Punjab), but they also seek to cow-down the inconvenient media and further push their influence in the rest of the country by espousing such emotive Islamist causes as anti-Americanism, the West’s perceived assault on Islamic culture and education. According to knowledgeable Pakistani journalist Khaled Ahmed, in the post-Osama bin-Laden period, the Al-Qaeda/Taliban want to exploit the clerical consensus that already exists in Pakistan on the issue of education, particularly that of girls. The Taliban though contend that they are not against girls’ education, but to secular education in general, and that Malala was punished for eulogizing secular education and she and her father were in contact with US diplomats as also Jewish film makers (a clear allusion to the makers of the Innocence of Muslims).
The Pakistani state, particularly the Army, is either incapable of, or more likely unwilling to, confront the Taliban over this latest upsurge in their activities. No less a person than President Asif Ali Zardari has been reduced to merely wringing his hands in despair in public over the weakness of the state to go after the attackers of Malala Yusufzai. He admitted to a delegation of the South Asia Free Media Association (October 21) that he could do nothing to avenge the near fatal attack on Malala as Pakistan was not ready for the extremist blow-back if North Waziristan were attacked. He indicated that there were three reasons for this: Pakistani political parties were not united over the implications of the attack on Malala; the extremists ready to join hands with Al-Qaeda/Taliban were too strong and widespread to risk challenging by going after North Waziri Taliban; and Pakistan was in a different situation today than in 2009 at the time of the launch of the Swat operations.
While Zardari appeared to be at pains in putting the direct blame for the state’s inaction on politicians and the lack of political consensus, others were quick to underline the Army’s reluctance to intensify its conflict with Islamic radicals due to an unholy nexus that seems to exist between the two. Hamid Mir alleged that some Generals had entered into secret deals with Taliban factions to either secure the release of captured Pakistani servicemen or for preventing Army units from being targeted. Apparently, these deals have been cemented by transferring large amounts of money to Taliban commanders. In other instances, the spirit of camaraderie between the two sides emerges under the influence of GHQ’s propensity to treat Taliban factions –the Good Taliban” – as its ‘strategic assets’. Apparently, it is Hamid Gul who controls the GHQ’s mind-set, even though Kayani is the commander in uniform. The assassination of Major General Faisal Alvi of the SSG in Islamabad (November 2008) is once again reverberating in the Pakistani press, as he was killed after he had written to Kayani against two of his senior generals for their complicity with the Taliban and their conspiracy to have him sacked for his refusal to play along. Many Pakistani observers had pointed out that the weapons used in Alvi’s assassination and the clinical manner of the attack suggested it to be an inside job by sections of the Army rather than a terrorist attack by Taliban or their local supporters. It is worth noting that soon after Zardari’s statement to journalists, in separate statements Jamiat-ul Ulema-e-Islam’s Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman and Jamaat-e-Islami’s Munawwar Hassan warned the Army against going after the Taliban in North Waziristan.
The Pakistan Army is the only national institution that is still intact and retains its cohesiveness and, therefore, it was expected to protect Pakistan from internal and external threats. Any hopes of Pakistan pulling out of the present sectarian crisis required the Army to not only keep the Islamic zealots under check, but also to support and protect the winds of moderation. However, the Pakistan Army is neither willing to play this role any more, nor seems to have any faith left in its own capabilities. It appears to be readying itself into throwing the towel down. It also does not seem to have the nation behind it as in the past. It is not only President Zardari who is implicitly criticizing the Army, but the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary is also emphasizing the judiciary’s constitutional predominance over all other institutions, including the Army. This attack has forced Kayani to advise all and sundry, including the judiciary, that assuming more than one’s own due role would set “us back”. This open polemics between the various pillars of the Pakistani state, including the Army, is a new phenomenon in Pakistan and does not augur well for the country’s fight against Islamic sectarianism and radicalism and for upholding moderation.
This has implications for India as well. While it may not be possible to hold back on contacts with Pakistan’s establishment of the day, India needs to wait and watch how far the Taliban’s Deobandi/Wahabi/Salafi influence would grow and if, at all, when and to what extant the Pakistani establishment is going to strike back.
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/TheCurrentTalibaniAssaultonthePakistaniNation_PKUpadhyaya_121112
About the author: IDSA
The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) is a non-partisan, autonomous body dedicated to objective research and policy relevant studies on all aspects of defence and security. Its mission is to promote national and international security through the generation and dissemination of knowledge on defence and security-related issues. IDSA has been consistently ranked over the last few years as one of the top think tanks in Asia.