Crises that loom beyond the military action

Refugees line up for water at an IDP camp
Refugees line up for water at an IDP camp

The fragile colonial construct named Pakistan is risking its own long term survival through its myopic policy in Malakand. The difficulties faced by the refugees from Swat are well known. But according to Rahimullah Yusufzai the reugees are now also the victims of ugly ethnic chauvinism. The far-right Sindhi nationalist Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) and the Muhajir Qaumi Movement (which has renamed itself Muttahida Qaumi Movement in order to mask its narrow factional interests) have organized two major strikes against their migration into Sindh in search of sanctuary. The violence that accompanied the strikes saw Pakhtun property being torched by Sindhi-Muhajir mobs, and one 50 year old woman being burnt alive. The MQM is part of the ruling coalition (led by the fuedal Sindhi dominated PPP of Bhutto/Zardari) and according to Yusufzai the actions have more than the tacit support of the government since the PPP-led provincial government has been sending back many refugees from the border town of Kashmore. Poignantly, Yusufzai adds:

The ruling PPP cannot absolve itself of the blame for blocking the trucks and buses bringing the IDPs to Sindh at the border town of Kashmore and for insisting that they go back to their native NWFP or stay in not-yet-ready tented camps there in the middle of nowhere. It was an insensitive act that added insult to injury and contributed to the pain suffered by the IDPs and felt by all Pakhtuns. More pain was inflicted on the Pakhtun psyche by certain PPP leaders, including its blundering spokesperson Fauzia Wahab, when the IDPs were equated to the Afghan refugees. If this isn’t a slip of tongue, then it obviously means that many politicians and also other likeminded people from different walks of life in Punjab and Sindh have come to believe that the Afghan refugees too are primarily Pakhtuns and all of them need to be kept out of Pakistan’s two biggest provinces to avoid harm…The PML-N despite its praiseworthy relief work in support of the IDPs also damaged its growing reputation as a party sympathetic to the cause of smaller provinces by hesitating to allow setting up of IDPs camps in Punjab…The apathy of some of the Sindh- and Punjab-based political forces to the woes of the IDPs looks all the more glaring when one compares it to the unparalleled generosity shown by the common people all over the country.

Yusufzai contrasts this with the generosity shown the refugees in Mardan and Swabi, and ask why the refugees — 80 percent of whom are actually living with families and well-wishers — should be ‘a matter of concern for NWFP and the Pakhtuns only. ‘If that is the case, then one should be worried about the damage this attitude is causing to the concept of nationhood in the federation of Pakistan.’

That is not the end of the follies, however. The Pakistani government and its Western backers are so eager for any sign of immediate success that they are willing to overlook potentially dangerous long-term consequences. Western media reported with some glee last week that ‘moderate’ Muslim clerics have spoken out against the Taliban. The Good Muslim, Bad Muslim approach is nothing new, but since they ‘good’ in this instance are equated exclusively with the Barelvi tradition, without even a token representation of any other, the purveryors of this nonsense are laying the foundations of of unending sectarian strife.

Here finally is Dr. Shireen Mazari on the ‘Crises that loom beyond the military action’.

Despite the very effective censorship on the media regarding the military operation in Swat, tales of despair are coming through – especially of those who have lost their families in the artillery and aerial bombardments and of those over two million still trapped in the war zone. Then there are the images of wheat crop lying unharvested and interviews that do manage to find their way into the electronic media of IDPs in schools receiving absolutely no official aid despite having registered themselves. Perhaps the most lamentable fallout has been the reaction of the Sindh government to the IDPs alongside the PPP spokespersons like Fauzia Wahab who brazenly displayed her ignorance by comparing the IDPs to the Afghan refugees. Is she truly not aware that Swat has been a part of Pakistan for many decades and the IDPs are Pakistani citizens with the right to move freely (without registration) throughout Pakistan? Clearly the Sindh government is trying to push through a policy of racial profiling on one pretext or the other.

Such shameful treatment of our own people by the state shows the sharp contrast between the nation and its massive support for the IDPs and the state with its “ifs and buts”. At this rate we will be confronting a mass of IDPs growing more frustrated and angry with each passing day – so they will present ideal breeding grounds for the extremists who prey on the dispossessed and marginalised segments of our society. But the rulers never learn and the operation has been expanded to FATA, so more IDPS will continue to flow without any provisions having been made properly for their accommodation by the state. That is one major reason why the military action will have a socially and politically negative fallout in the long run. The question is whenever the military action ends in Swat and the FATA region, what then? Will the Taliban have been finished off? What is the political strategy that the government has formulated to takeover where the military action ends? Somehow there seems to be no visible clarity on any of these counts, which again undermines the viability of the military action especially in a political vacuum.

Meanwhile, with all attention focused on the ongoing military operation, Balochistan seems to have been pushed onto the back burner which will cost us dearly. We do not have the luxury of time in dealing with Balochistan and the sense of deprivation amongst the Baloch people. The solutions for Balochistan are political and are more a matter of political will than money resources – although the latter will be required if locally-centred development is to be pushed. But it is the political will at the Centre that is lacking and sending the negative signals.

Coming back to the issue of religious extremism, one fallout of the military operation is going to be a dangerous coalescing of this brand of extremism with the political and economically marginalised segments of our society – the numbers now growing because of the manner in which the IDPs are being treated by the state and its various entities. Unless there is a qualitative change in the state’s approach to this issue of violent extremism, we are not going to rid ourselves of militancy – whatever label it is given. The military action does not resolve the issue of good governance and justice. Nor does it solve the issue of the marginalised population with its youth seeing no life for itself beyond the madressah – which offers them no gainful employment. A few weeks ago, I gave details of the madressahs and their students in just one district of southern Punjab – D G Khan. And I stated that the numbers and details for Rahim Yar Khan and Rajanpur districts were on a similar fashion. That is why, in order to deal with the issue of bringing in these marginalised youth into the mainstream, the private sector would have to be involved through an “adopt a madressah” scheme. Or must we wait till the situation reaches crisis proportions and the state simply throws up its hands and sends in the military – which is no solution in the long term?

My contention is that it is not so much that all the madressahs are “jehadi” – they are not – but that the student population in most of the madressahs in these outlying areas is the poorest of the poor with no hope of a future at all. So they can be exploited as they are being already to come into the militant fold willy nilly. In a television discussion one of the leaders of the Wafaq ul Madaris was simply not prepared to accept that madressah students were ready fodder for extremists, especially in terms of suicide bombers. However, the little data that I have managed to collate from official sources, shows that it is exactly these poor, marginalised youth often from ordinary non-jehadi madressahs who are taken and brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers.

For example, the profile of Mohammed Siddique of the Karachi Nishtar Park bombing of 11 April 2006 shows that he was 21 years old, with no formal education, but having been in a madressah could read and write Urdu, and read the Quran in Arabic without understanding it (Nazra Quran). He lived in Karachi and worked as a helper in a bookstore near Binori Town Mosque while his family cultivated five kanals of lands in Mansehra. While most of his family lived in Mansehra, one of his brothers worked as a labourer in Rawalpindi. Simple-minded, far from home and family, he was vulnerable and poor and thereby an easy prey for brainwashing. The case of Sana Ullah, resident of Akora Khattak, Nowshera, who carried out the suicide attack on Ameer Muqam on 9 November 2007, is similar. His brothers were labourers in Peshawar and Taxila and his formal education was till 4th grade in the government primary school in Kati Maina, Nowshera. Then he left school to become a Hifz-e-Quran at the Madressah Tahfeez-ul-Quran in the same village but in 2004 he moved on to Madressah Dar-ul-Uloom Rehmania in Swabi and then in 2006 he went on to Turangzai Madressah in Charsadda and finally left even his madressah studies and returned home temporarily. He returned to Swabi and was part of the planned suicide attack on Ameer Muqam. Once in Swabi where he met up with “friends”, he told his father he had found employment in Bannu.

More information is always collated by the authorities from suicide bombers who are caught before they can carry out their attacks. One such bomber was Sohail Zeb from Khano Kal’e, Tehsil Sarokai, Tank. Born in 1979, he was one of the few bombers who was college-educated (FA) and was associated with Sipah-i-Sahaba and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi along with his Mehsud friends. He went through their organisational structures and was motivated to join the Taliban by Abid a resident of South Waziristan and went through formal training at the Kiza Phange camp in South Waziristan where the Pesh Imam was an Uzbek. From all accounts the camp was formally organised with proper martial arts and weapons trainers. Again, as in the other two instances, the potential bomber was cut off totally from his family and familiar surroundings.

Then there was the only bomber who left a simple video behind – an exception to the Pakistani pattern of young brainwashed suicide bombers. This was Abdul Kareem, 20 years old, involved in the Allama Hasan Turabi case. He was enrolled in Hanfia Madressah, Moosa Colony Karachi but left in the middle. His family had migrated from Bangladesh and was extremely poor – father was a pushcart vendor – and wanted him to become a Hafiz-e-Quran. The guilt built in him and in his video he declared that since he had failed his family on this count, he had decided to blow himself up and kill “infidels” so he could go to heaven.

These are just four case studies but there is a pattern – madressah-educated, poor families and, apart from the last case, away from families and familiar surroundings. All these add to the vulnerability; but what is the state doing? Will the state simply wait for things to reach a crisis point and then send in the army? Can such action actually rid us of the menace of extremism? No. There has to be a more rational approach to winning back our lost people, especially the youth.

The writer is a defence analyst. Email: callstr@hotmail.com

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

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