Terrorist attacks carried out by the Punjabi and Pashtun Taliban in daylight means that radicalisation has fully influenced the minds and souls of common citizens. They receive psychological stisfaction from the killing of a non-Muslim or members of a rival sect.
By Musa Khan Jalalzai
Radicalisation and the sectarian divide in Pakistan and Afghanistan have become hot topics of debate in the intellectual circles of Europe and South Asia. Unfortunately, violent extremism and radicalisation have taken deep roots in Pakistan due to a mistaken set of views about the true message of Islam. Poverty and lack of freedom of expression are the factors responsible for the growing number of radicals. Politicisation of religion, the influence of Arab religious culture in society, and the institutionalisation of sectarianism, which causes unrest, have developed into a new form of terrorism. Pakistan has entered the wrong process of socio-political transformation.
Radicalisation of Pakistani students in universities, colleges and religious schools has become a big challenge for state security. Pakistan’s educational system causes youth radicalisation. The education system and the socio-economic situation in southern Punjab and FATA has compelled poor parents to send their children to sectarian religious schools. This extremist infrastructure, widespread terror networks of the militant groups, and poor governance in the country has created a climate of fear and harassment.
Foreign and domestic investment has stopped. Investors are on the run and industrial firms are shifting to Bangladesh gradually. Pakistan’s Punjab province, according to a recent report of the Crisis Management Cell of the interior ministry, is home to 400 extremist groups. In southern Punjab, extremist forces have gained a foothold in all the major cities. They support the promotion of unjust socio-economic developments, social attitudes and behaviour. The issue of the Punjabi Taliban still needs to be placed for open debate in parliament. The federal government accepts the existence of such a network of groups while the Punjab government has categorically denied it. What is the real story and how this network operates is not known.
Terrorist attacks carried out by the Punjabi and Pashtun Taliban in daylight means that radicalisation has fully influenced the minds and souls of common citizens. They receive psychological satisfaction from the killing of a non-Muslim or members of a rival sect. This way of practicing religion has raised many questions in Pakistan’s society. The process of illegal and unauthorised fatwas on sectarian and political basis in both Afghanistan and Pakistan has put in danger the lives of writers, men of letters, and political and religious leaders.
By presenting mainstream Islamic teachings on these issues clearly, aberrant views can be corrected and the motivation of radicalisation and extremism can be undermined. But, unfortunately, in a failed and wrongly functioning state like Afghanistan, there are distinctive political, social, economic and geographic factors. Among these are limited political institutionalisation, strong ethnic, linguistic and sectarian divisions and the slow process of state and national reconstruction. Prior to the Taliban years, the political, economic and physical infrastructure of Afghanistan was undermined by the so-called mujahideen militias.
Warlords have tightened their control over the regional criminal market. The state is no longer fully functional while the poor and unemployed citizens of the country live without critical infrastructure facilities. The nexus of terrorism and drug trafficking in Afghanistan is another issue widely discussed in the international press. As the region’s core state, how it builds a strong political and security framework by eliminating safe havens for terrorists and narco-traffickers is critical for regional stability. The US has so for not been able to undermine drug trafficking and the criminal economic network in the country. Insurgent groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan are playing a major role in many aspects of the drug problem, from the protection of opium cultivation and heroin production to the creation and protection of trafficking routes.
The involvement of police and army officers in drug trafficking and the promotion of illegal trade have crippled the traditional trade and economy of the country. The use of narco-dollars for a military build up and the purchase of modern technology are considered to be another threat. Terrorist groups carrying out attacks from safe havens within Afghanistan and Pakistan kill innocent people and recruit vulnerable young children. Thousands of orphans and jobless children in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have become easy targets of insurgent groups. Waziristan, FATA and parts of Afghanistan are the centre of terror training. Both the countries are again under siege, almost eight years after the fall of the Taliban regime.
The security situation is getting worse every year. People are not safe from killing, kidnapping, rape, and the production of narcotics has increased. Governors and ministers are being killed by terrorists in both the states. In Afghanistan, inter-ethnic rivalries and land grabbing and the recent Kuchi invasion of Behsood district and Ghazni province indicate that the country is once again being dragged into a civil war. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Punjabi Taliban surfaced as strong insurgent groups in Pakistan. Members of these sectarian groups are known to be Pashtun, Arab, Tajik, Chechen, Uzbek, Hazara, Farsiwan and Punjabi militants. They are fighting against the security forces of Pakistan and Afghanistan across the border.
Secular Pakistan is in retreat today on all fronts as militant Islam makes unprecedented gains. An extremist bodyguard of the Punjab governor, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, killed him in Islamabad because he saw Taseer as a blasphemer for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. In another incident, in Islamabad, terrorists killed Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities, calling him a ‘blasphemer’. Mr Shahbaz Bhatti was a man of good repute. Bhatti had already expressed concern over the threats he had received from a Taliban commander. By carrying out suicide attacks against the Punjab government and military installations, the TTP and Punjab-based banned sectarian terrorist groups have succeeded in creating an ethnic divide within society. Intelligence sources estimate that around 2,000 extremists from southern and northern Punjab had moved to South Waziristan in 2005, while some 8,000 newly recruited young members of the Punjabi Taliban recently returned to the province.
In view of this alarming situation, Pakistan and Afghanistan need to reconsider their own counter-terrorism strategies. As a failed, corrupt and divided state, people in northern Afghanistan have started a new debate about the partition of the country on ethnic and linguistic lines. Journalist Hassan Khan thinks that two crucial issues of Afghanistan are the deteriorating security situation and President Karzai’s weak and corrupt administration. In Kabul, Khan sees an atmosphere of gloom prevailing. Every Afghan in his view, whether from north or south, is equally sceptical about the system. In the last couple of years, ethnic issues appear to have taken yet another turn. During the Taliban rule, people from the south were forced to settle in the north. Non-Pashtuns were disallowed free movement while many were detained on the basis of their ethnicity. In July 1998, for example, hundreds of Persian-speaking Afghans fleeing to Pakistan were stopped on the Pak-Afghan border by the Taliban guards. In the 1990s, Pashtun settlers were forced to evacuate the houses of non-Pashtuns in the north. In addition to the killing of Hazara Muslims, Taliban commanders resorted to burning more than 300 homes in the Bamiyan province. This three-decade long brutal war has crippled the whole population of the country.
The writer is the author of Britain’s National Security Challenges and Punjabi Taliban. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org