Muslim religious holidays are usually as non-eventful as can be. Terrorists seem to also take a break from their routines and stay at home with their families (at least, I would hope so). However, that’s the time of the year when America actively promotes its terrorist activities counter-terrorism efforts on Pakistani soil. Come this Eid, America again sent its wishes to Pakistan with yet another drone strike. Now I don’t know if these drones strikes really kill terrorists but I am sure the collateral has so far only worsened.
In the run up to Eid, the festival at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a lot happened in Pakistan. In a single day, terrorists attacked an air force base in Kamra and some other goof-heads lined up travelling Shiites out of a bus and shot them in the middle of the road. “Fundamentalism” and “religious extremism” has reached to a point where it becomes even easier to identify and classify such inhumane persona.
Would the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up
I remember the late afternoon on 11 September 2001 while flicking between Pakistani music channels and Indian Bollywood films on television, I came across a news footage that seemed at first to be a part of a massive summertime Hollywood blockbuster; but, I realised soon enough it was morbidly real enough. The whole world was saddened; people more so in Pakistan.
In the days that followed, former US president George W Bush (in the usual manner of any actor portraying the leader of the free country in a Hollywood flick) addressed people around the globe, adamant at creating a fury over what happened on American soil and trying his best to make his country the centre of the world. Putting aside the fact that the tragedy was immense, the US government just made a farcical mess of the whole issue.
Bush declared any country not helping America in their so-called “War against Terror” a terrorist state (or someone that was against the US). This was the point in time, when the US finally hammered the last nail in Pakistan’s coffin. Pakistan had been gradually moving towards a more liberal and prosperous society leading up the 9/11 attacks – media was provided the necessary freedom of speech through an act recently approved in the senate.
Since US dollars were so vital to empower this young nation’s economy to take root, Pakistan’s president General Pervez Musharraf reluctantly agreed to help the United States. That simple “yes”, helped to bring the necessary dollars into the country enabling it to further its economy. And since the US intelligence agencies knew now that the masterminds behind 9/11 were somewhere in Afghanistan, Pakistan was in an ideal location to support America by pledging its land and military bases for the cause. It was an amazing deal where Pakistan only had to present the Americans with its bases while the Americans kept terrorism at bay from their borders. Sadly, only the opposite happened as the Americans only managed to push terrorism into Pakistan (and away from Afghanistan).
I can’t even begin to fathom how cruel, insensitive and stupid the al-Qaeda movement really is. Taking on a much more powerful nation is stupidity enough, but planning such an operation while situated in a land-locked country is downright lunatic. What the people in the United States fail to realise is that al-Qaeda would never have existed if it hadn’t been for their tax monies.
Back in the days of the Cold War when America and the Soviet Union were busy slapping each other around, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used up American taxes to facilitate its programme called Operation Cyclone that channelled this tax money through a newly-formed branch of Pakistan’s military, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). ISI was asked by the CIA to then use the money to fund the fundamentalist factions in Afghanistan (the Mujahideen) against the Soviet and Afghan Marxist forces.
Linked to the Saudi royals and the petro-billionaires, Osama bin Laden also funded the Mujahideen efforts in Afghanistan and soon became quite relevant to the Mujahideen efforts. It was around this time in the late 80s that Osama himself came to the cause through a double agent working for the CIA and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement. The recruitment centres spread across the Middle East and Asia soon evolved into a singular organisation, al-Qaeda (or “the Base” in Arabic). In simpler terms, American taxpayer’s money channelled through illicit CIA money-laundering operations and the petro-dollars from the Saudi Arabia helped create the al-Qaeda as we know it today.
America unknowingly had just given birth to a future terrorist organisation. They left them to their own accord after the Soviet invasion was curtailed in Afghanistan. Without a cause, the Islamic fundamentalist ideology used against the Soviets in the war turned on its own self – the liberal and free-thinking Afghans were the enemies now. Beards and burqas became the latest trends in Afghanistan following the Soviet wars.
While al-Qaeda were a strictly militaristic organisation, they needed to ensure that Afghanistan was managed by a political government and under the strict Shariah laws in Islam. They wanted nothing to do with governing Afghanistan and left for other nations soon afterwards leaving the mantle to a pseudo government in Afghanistan. The Saudi government (also reverent followers of the Shariah laws) became the first nation to grant this pseudo government in Afghanistan a diplomatic status – this government became known as the Taliban. The United Arab Emirates and Pakistan soon followed. While Osama bin Laden led al-Qaeda, the Taliban government was led by Mullah Omar.
This was the point in time when America got it all horribly wrong. America had largely neglected this development in Afghanistan and had always thought that things were as they left them back in the Cold War era. They thought the Mujahideen and the al-Qaeda still ruled over Afghanistan and that it was the al-Qaeda (and a popular political party called the Taliban) that truly ruled over Afghanistan. In their negligence – no, that’s just putting it mildly – in their ignorance, America started confusing the two organisations as one. To them, Taliban and al-Qaeda were both the same organisation. Around this time, Osama bin Laden was in Sudan and had already successfully coordinated a car-bombing attempt at the World Trade Centre in New York in 1993.
The Sudanese government were well aware of Osama’s involvement in the bombings and offered the Clinton administration numerous opportunities to arrest the man but they were constantly overruled. Wouldn’t it have been easy if America had only caught Osama back then and there? Either the Americans were lazy or they were held back. Some analysts suggest that Saudi assistance for Osama bin Laden may have been the cause and the American government feared they would lose on their petro-dollars coming from the Saudi Gulf if they targeted this Saudi freedom fighter.
It was only after the al-Qaeda attacked the US embassies in Dar es Salam, Tanzania and Naroibi, Kenya that America started taking Osama bin Laden seriously. Bin Laden was promoted to the top of the FBI’s list of most-wanted criminals. The Clinton administration in its later years became obsessed with Osama. Perhaps only because they wanted to spin a new narrative to instil patriotism back into the nation and getting them to vote them to office yet again.
The Pakistani Taliban
The al-Qaeda and the Taliban, in all honesty, had nothing to do with Pakistan. They were an isolated bunch of knobheads limited only to the land-locked Afghanistan. Although they were primarily supported by the ISI, the current administration in the US seems to relate them also instantly with Pakistan. But if one is to consider the fact that they had been funded through the ISI, should they not also consider the American tax dollars that were funding them. Does that make them American too?
The worst of the Taliban migrated to Pakistan in 2002 when war escalated to the porous mountain regions of Tora Bora on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the allied forces bombed the tops off these mountains, Taliban fighters moved into Pakistan through tunnelling catacombs and established ranks in the country under the banner of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP; the Movement for the Pakistani Taliban). Osama was also believed to be among those that migrated. Pakistan has only seen decline since then.
In 2008, the Pakistani Taliban decided to get politically involved in national politics by extending their influence to the picturesque region of Swat in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. At first, the government of Pakistan initiated a deal with the TTP to commit to a political agenda as long as they keep away from their malice in the country.
Taliban influence in the region only led to worsen their image and appeal – videos of TTP militants publicly flogging women and punishing men suspected of indulging in “un-Islamic” activities – they became public enemy number one in Pakistan and rightly so.
With public discontent piling up against the Taliban, a vast majority of the Pakistani people condemned any involvement the TTP had in provincial politics. Pakistan’s military establishment took note of these growing concerns and staged a full-fledged operation against the militants in 2009.
The Rightist Mullahs
Talibanisation in the north western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa continued to grow in influence even after a military operation that displaced a vast number of people in the province. The religio-political elite in the province, particularly those in the far right however chose to walk the fine line in siding with the TTP. They would regularly attribute the recent Talibanisation attempts in the province to be a result of Pakistan’s involvement in America’s war against terror.
This idea of Pakistan fighting someone else’s war wasn’t just limited to the right wing political parties, mainstream political parties such as Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) also took it on-board and shaped their campaigns around it. Khan received a new political moniker of “Taliban Khan” in trying to bring home such ideas.
Not only have such ideas portrayed Pakistan’s image as a “terrorist sympathiser” state but has also attracted noticeable concern from the international media as to what extent Pakistanis truly support the eradication of these vile menaces. If the direct toll of life in Pakistan as a result of the America’s vengeance on 9/11 is anything to go by, then America is to blame for this blight as much as the terrorists themselves.
The Centrist Puritans and the Muslim Apologists
The political centre in Pakistan, such as Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) however stayed away from meddling into such matters of concern. The parties that occupy the centre today were formerly carved out of a religious niche themselves, however they lean toward a more progressive leftist ideology (for most things, that is).
Their social concerns are nevertheless a bit bleak and conservative. Their campaigns usually entail a certain amount of religio-centric and a rather fundamentalist babble. They would appear to talk the talk of the left wingers but show signs of a rightist attitude in their policies. And with much of the country’s crucial industries, like the steel and the sugar mills, these parties have considerable influence.
In some instances these parties would rally up to support the Pakistan army while in others it would try to apologetically blame the spread of terrorist dogmas to be the work of powers beyond just religious indifferences. India was, and is, their concern. If you ask them, India is involved not just in propagating nationalist sentiments within the province of Baluchistan but have also been targeting Pakistan by mingling with the neighbouring Afghan government. And if it’s not India, it’s the Jews.
The Liberal Jihadis
A few of the fringe centrist elements have taken up certain liberal views in my opinoin, e.g., Imran Khan’s PTI is spreading its influence across the board, dismantling the traditional notions of a left-right political system. Even when Khan appears to be immensely vocal about American atrocities and unwarranted drone strikes, he also upholds a rather liberal view of how things need to be fixed in Pakistan. Imran is less conservative than his contemporaries and is more of a “liberal jihadi” as I see it.
The other liberal parties in Pakistan include the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which perhaps is the only party in the country with a full-fledged internal democratic system. However, allegations of their involvement in the various incidents of terrorism and extortion in Karachi has led many to view this party as having its own extremist agendas. Where MQM really did use might against the oppression it faced from the Sindhi nationalists in the 80s and 90s, it now faces considerable threat from another rivalling liberal party taking root in Karachi and the southern reaches of the Sindh province.
The American war against terror displaced quite a lot of people (in the hundreds of thousands) who migrated far and across Pakistan. Sindh was more welcoming than any other province and these displaced migrants found opportunities in Karachi, the nation’s economic capital. With the migrating Pakhtuns came the influence of the Awami National Party (ANP) that ruled in the Khyber Paktunkhwa province. Since their arrival in Karachi, MQM and the ANP have had been at loggerheads with each other, giving rise to this rather new kind of liberal extremism in the country – one that revolves around nationalist and idealist notions of identity.
The Leftist Kleptocrats
Although ANP assumes a liberal façade, its policies push it further left. Its nationalist ideals strongly peg to a corner in the left. Nevertheless, it seems that political left always finds success in Pakistani politics and has ruled over the country for most of its democratic tenure. The current government particularly the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have always been liberal with a hint of a Marxist attitude. The current government is largely a mishmash of parties largely from the left of the political spectrum.
However, based on their poor performance and vehement kleptocracy, people have started to confuse the ideals of liberalism and nationalism into those of distrust and hypocrisy. To the people of Pakistan, the liberal governments have only managed to destroy the country’s economy by filling their own pockets with the people’s taxes and monies; and once these wells dry up, the government seems to extend its coffers in front of America. American aid and help then binds the Pakistani government into accepting whatever America wants done on the land.
Arif Rafiq at National Interest says it as is. In explaining how Egypt may also disintegrate into a failed state like Pakistan he relives the moments before the 2008 elections. “Since [then],” he writes. “[with elections bringing] in a democratic government, the country has gone from being one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies to the continent’s sick man. Economic growth is stifled by poor governance: the state-owned airlines and railways are bleeding billions of dollars a year, and electricity blackouts often exceed twelve hours a day. Ninety-two percent of Pakistanis feel their country is going in the wrong direction, with inflation their primary concern.”