ANALYSIS: Re-socialising Pakistan
By Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi
Pakistan has lost over a generation to Islamic orthodoxy and militancy. By now this generation has reached middle-level positions in the government, security services and private sector
The Swat operation has effectively countered arguments that the civilian government and the military lacked the will and capability to check the Taliban’s assault on the Pakistani state and society. Security forces seem to have dislodged the Taliban from most of the Swat valley and the major thrust of the operation is expected to be over before the end of June. Although some military presence will have to be maintained in the area for the coming six months to a year for the civil administration to take control of the situation and the displaced people to return their homes safely.
The success in Swat will give greater confidence to security personnel and discourage new recruits from joining the Taliban. In the past, people joined various militant groups, especially the Taliban, because of organisational support and the promise of power and territory.
Now, for the first time, there is a considerable cost attached to joining the militancy. Recruits could get killed or arrested by the army and other security agencies. It was not surprising then that a good number of Taliban loyalists had their beards shaved to escape security forces. People will now be discouraged from joining the Taliban.
The public response to counter-insurgency in the Swat area reflects the usual political divide between the people and groups with strong Islamic orientation and others, the former being a vocal minority. However, sympathy (not necessarily support) for the Islamist perspective runs deep in our society and in official civilian and military circles.
The major criticism of the Swat operation comes from elements that have a strong Islamist orientation with leanings towards or involvement with Islamic militancy. This includes Islamist political parties, the madrassa-related religious establishment, orthodox and fundamentalist religious leaders not directly connected with any political party, and the Islamist-political right.
Some factors moderate their disposition. There is a noticeable divide among religious leaders along Islamic denominational lines. Most followers of the Barelvi tradition support the Swat operation, while those identifying with the Deobandi/Wahhabi and Ahle Hadees traditions support or sympathise with the Taliban.
Some support to Islamic militancy, including the Taliban, is also directly linked to strong anti-US sentiments. The Taliban are viewed as fighting American military presence in Afghanistan and thus enjoy support among rightwing political and Islamist circles.
Opposition to American policies in the region is either ideological or issue-based. In the case of ideological opposition, no matter what the Americans do, their policies will be condemned. Most Islamist parties and orthodox and conservative Islamic groups fall in this category.
Issue-based opposition to American policy includes those who may not necessarily be religious in orientation. As the focus is on specific policy measures (i.e. US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq; the Palestine issue), these people are capable of appreciating positive signals in American policy. They may also extend cautious support to the Swat operation.
Islamist political circles have to be distinguished from mainstream and regional political parties that support the Swat operation and efforts to check extremism and militancy, although some individuals among these parties may express reservations on counter-insurgency. A large number of societal groups based in urban centres also fall in this category. The same can be said about people with liberal and moderate political orientations. The political parties that support military operation against the Taliban include the PPP, the PMLN, the MQM, the ANP and, with some reservations, the PMLQ.
This divide is comparable to the political divergence that cropped up after the US launched air-attacks on Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. Islamist parties and groups opposed the American attack, staging street demonstration, mainly in the NWFP.
Initially these groups established the Afghanistan Defence Council, and later the Pakistan-Afghanistan Defence Council. The remnants of these elements later established the MMA to contest the 2002 general elections. The MMA government in the NWFP (2002-2007) maintained a supportive profile towards the Taliban and allowed them to extend their influence from the tribal areas into adjoining districts.
As the mainstream and regional parties did not join the 2002 Islamist street protest against American military action in Afghanistan, the protests fizzled out in four to five weeks. The same can be said about the current Islamist opposition to the Swat operation.
As the PPP and the PMLN agree on dealing effectively with the Taliban in Swat, the opposition by Islamist parties and groups does not adversely affect the operation. However, there is one significant difference between the two situations. The media has expanded since 2002, giving ample opportunity to Islamists and others to present their perspective to a wider audience.
Grassroots support for the Taliban can be traced back to the re-orientation of Pakistani society towards Islamic orthodoxy and militancy from the days of General Zia-ul Haq’s military rule to well into General Pervez Musharraf’s reign. The relevant years are 1983-84 to 2005. General Zia’s military government used the state apparatus, the media and the state education system to socialise young people into Islamic orthodoxy and militancy. The civilian governments that ruled during 1988-1999 could not reform the state education system to moderate its Islamist militancy tilt.
Regular state-owned educational institutions de-emphasised the notion of Pakistan as a nation-state, citizenship of a territory-based state and religious and cultural pluralism. Instead the emphasis was on Islamic universalism, militancy, and Islam versus the Other.
Young people were socialised into a skewed monolithic worldview derived mainly from Islamic orthodoxy. Domestic and international politics as well as societal issues were articulated in purely religious idiom. Such Islamic indoctrination emphasised that political and social developments are shaped primarily by the conflict-based interaction between Islam and other religions, especially Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity. The indoctrination along these lines was stronger in Punjab than in the other provinces because the Jama’at-e Islami’s student wing was able to entrench itself in major educational institutions.
Islamic discourse in state education was supplemented by Islamic seminaries, which proliferated in the 1980s as a follow-up of General Zia’s policy of strengthening Islamic elements to meet the global imperatives of the Afghan-Islamic resistance to Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan.
Consequently, Pakistan has lost over a generation to Islamic orthodoxy and militancy. By now this generation has reached mid-level positions in government, the military and the private sector. They are more receptive to the political discourse that emphasises that international and domestic politics is determined by religious agendas and interaction among different religions.
The long-term solution to religious extremism and militancy would require massive changes in the fundamental agents of socialisation of the polity. Some changes have been made in state education since 2004-05 and also more Pakistani students are now going abroad for higher education, which will expose them to multiple political and social discourses. The key question is how far will the new generation will differ from the one lost to orthodoxy and militancy.
Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst
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