Why did Al-Baghdadi proclaim Caliphate and not Bin-Laden or Taliban?

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On June 29, 2014 at the beginning of the Holy month of Ramzan (Ramadan), a group called the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) (also known as ISIS), declared the establishment of an Islamic ‘Caliphate’ in the areas controlled  by it in Iraq and Syria. The Caliphate was subsequently rechristened ‘Islamic State (IS)’ and their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed ‘Caliph’. Questions are being asked as to why it was the ISIS which proclaimed the Caliphate and not Taliban or Osama-bin-Laden? This is more intriguing considering the fact that the avowed goal of the Al-Qaeda (reading its literature) is the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the Muslim lands.

Here is my take on the issue.

Timing of the proclamation of Caliphate

As to the question of timing of the proclamation of Caliphate by Al-Baghdadi, I would like to draw the attention of the readers to the writings of the Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein. He spent time with Al-Zarqawi (the mentor of Al-Baghdadi) in prison and soon gained access to the Al-Qaeda inner circle of which Al-Zarqawi was a part then. Al-Zarqawi paid nominal allegiance to the Al-Qaeda, though the relationship was difficult from the outset. He was later disowned by the Al-Qaeda for his ruthless ways. Fouad Hussein brought out a remarkable book in Arabic called “Al Zarqawi- Al Qaeda’s Second Generation.” (This unfortunately has not been translated into English). Loretta Napoleoni in her book “Insurgent Iraq- Al Zarqawi and the New Generation” has made references to Fouad Hussein’s work.

Based on Fouad Hussein’s book Yassin Musharbash, writing in the German newspaper SPIEGEL Online (The Future of Terrorism, 12 August 2005) states that the ‘insurgent network hopes to establish the Islamic Caliphate’ in seven steps;

  • The first phase from 2000 to 2003 was characterised as the “Awakening Phase”. The aim in this phase was to provoke USA into declaring war on the Islamic world, thereby awakening the Muslims. 9/11 was a part of this strategy.
  • The second phase from 2003 to 2006 was defined by Hussein as the “Opening Eyes,” whereby Muslims of the world would be made aware of the western conspiracy against them. The insurgents believed that their organisation would develop into a movement in this period.
  • The third phase from 2007 to 2010 was described as the “Arising and Standing up” phase. During this period there was to be increased focus on Syria and attacks on Israel.
  • The fourth phase from 2010 to 2013 was when the insurgents would aim to bring about the collapse of the hated Arabic governments. The power vacuum so created would strengthen the hands of the insurgents.
  • The fifth phase from 2013 to 2016 was the point when “Islamic Caliphate would be declared”. They believed that by this time the Western influence on the Islamic world would have reduced and no resistance would be feared.
  • The sixth phase from 2016 will be a period of “Total Confrontation.” With the declaration of the caliphate the “Islamic army” will instigate a “fight between believers and non-believers.”
  • The seventh or the final phase will be completed by 2020 and will lead to “Definitive Victory” and the success of the Caliphate. The rest of the world would be beaten down by “one and a half billion Muslims.”

Going strictly by the seven phases described above the proclamation of the Caliphate coincides with the time period as provided by Al-Zarqawi and his followers. Al-Baghdadi who proclaimed himself the Caliph was a close confidant and follower of Al-Zarqawi.

Al-Qaeda led by Osama Bin Laden and Al-Zawahriri instead believed that the caliphate could only be declared only when certain criteria are met, the most notable of them being the liberation of all Muslim lands. In its latest newsletter Al Nafir, Al Qaeda details the occupied Muslim lands to be liberated before the caliphate can be declared. These include Palestine, Chechnya and the Caucuses, Kashmir, Spain, East Turkestan, Afghanistan, Arab World, Pakistan and Afghanistan. So the capture of some rump territory cannot be the basis for the proclamation of the caliphate in the eyes of Al-Qaeda.

Modalities of the choosing the Caliph

Al-Qaeda believes that post the liberation of the Muslim lands, the Caliph would be chosen by a ‘Shura’ or thru a consultative decision making process. This process of consultative decision making process has been prescribed in the Quran and has been practiced by the Prophet (PBUH) himself. Upon the Caliphs selection by the ‘Shura’, the Muslims would proclaim their allegiance (bay’a) to him, thus making him the legitimate Caliph. In the eyes of Al-Qaida, Al-Baghdadi is a pretender for he was not elected by a ‘Shura’, instead he self-proclaimed himself as Caliph. In his sermon at Mosul Al-Baghdadi said, “I have been appointed caliph over you, even if I am not the best or the most morally excellent amongst you.” This goes against the grain of not only of how Caliphs were selected but the hallmarks of the rightly guided Caliph’s i.e. their high standards of humility, wisdom and morality.

In 1996, his followers did proclaim their allegiance (bay’a) to the Taliban leader Mullah Omar after he donned the cloak of the Prophet (PBUH), but he took upon himself the title of Amir-ul-Mu’minin (Commander of the faithful) and not the Caliph. The reason in my view was that his vision was limited to the establishment of an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan and the Taliban had no global jihadist ambitions. It is worthwhile to mention here that Taliban rule in Afghanistan was based not only on the Islamic Sharia but also on the Pashtun code of conduct called ‘Pashtunwali,’ a unique tradition prevailing only in Afghanistan.

Further, the first four caliphs called rightly guided caliphs all claimed descent from the Quraysh tribe. Neither Bin Laden nor Mullah Omar could either claim kinship to the Prophet (PBUH) or the Quraysh tribe. It is no surprise then that to reinforce his claim as the Caliph, Al-Baghdadi has assumed the title of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Al-Husseini Al-Qurashi, reiterating his descent from the Quraysh tribe.

Establishment of a proto-state

The establishment of the Caliphate in Iraq in my view is not only a religious exercise but also a political enterprise. The ISIS, which subsequently renamed itself as the IS and proclaimed itself as the Caliphate seeks to establish a proto state in the western and northern Iraqi areas captured by it. By proclaiming itself as the Islamic State it seeks to establish legitimacy in the eyes of the Sunni Muslims around the world. This also helps in establishing its identity as distinct from other Muslim ‘movements’ like the Al-Qaeda and hopes that groups proclaiming allegiance to them would switch loyalties to the IS. In The Hindu (Battling for the Islamic Space, Imagination, 9 July 2014), Talmiz Ahmad wrote “As of now, ISIS enjoys several advantages over al-Qaeda: while the al-Qaeda leadership is located in the remote inaccessible areas of Afghanistan, ISIS has placed itself at the heart of the Arab world.”

Reports from the areas controlled by it indicate that the IS is a pragmatic exercise. Mushreq Abbas wrote in Al-Monitor (Why Al-Qaeda is no Islamic Clone, 23 July 2014) that the IS is “striking alliances with Baathist groups and tribal factions. Some former Baathist figures have been appointed also to managing posts in the city. The invasion of Mosul and most of the other Sunni cities entails economic and managerial plans, including the provision of fuel, food supplies, distribution of land and the search for funding resources from oil wells — the newly exploited and operating ones and those that remain under geologic studies.”

Many disparate groups like the ex-Baathists, Salafists, Naqshabadis, ex-Iraqi army of Saddam Hussain came into a coalition of convenience against the sectarian policies of Noori al Maliki and joined hands with ISIS to create the IS. They have different ideological orientation and affiliations. Also it should be noted that Iraqi nationalism is pretty fragile. Unlike Afghanistan where despite ethnic differences, there is a general consensus amongst all ethnic groups be it Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks or the Hazaras that Afghan state should remain united, Iraqi territorial nationalism (created by Sykes Picot agreement) has been under challenge from various ethnic groups like the Kurds and now the Sunnis. In my opinion Al Baghdadi probably believes that the proclamation of a Sunni caliphate is the glue that would hold these groups together. Mullah Omar faced no such challenges in dealing with Afghan nationalism.

I would conclude by saying that while scholars may argue about as to why Al Qaeda and the Taliban did not declare the Caliphate early and why did the IS declare it now, the need of the hour is to see the clear and present danger that these organisations pose to both the Muslim and non-Muslim world. The videos of IS brutalities are blood curdling and destruction of Shia holy sites has the potential to fan a wave of sectarianism around the world. IS provides safe havens for terrorists with dangerous ramifications for global peace and security. The need of the hour is a unified response by the global community to meet the challenges posed by these forces.

 

Proclamation of Caliphate by ISIS: Challenges for India

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“The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the khalifah’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas”- Abu Muhammad al-Adnani

On June 29, 2014 at the beginning of the Holy month of Ramzan (Ramadan), a group called the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) (also known as ISIS), declared the establishment of an Islamic ‘Caliphate’ in the areas controlled  by it in Iraq and Syria. The Caliphate was subsequently rechristened ‘Islamic State (IS)’ and their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed ‘Caliph’.  The group’s spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said in a statement, ‘He is the Imam and Khalifah (Caliph) for the Muslims everywhere,’ and asked all Muslim groups around the world to pay allegiance to him.  ‘It is incumbent upon all Muslims to pledge allegiance to (him) and support him…The legality of all emirates, groups, states, and organizations, becomes null by the expansion of the Khalifah’s authority and arrival of its troops to their areas,’ the statement added. Earlier in June, in a lightening advance, ISIS had captured areas in western and northern Iraq and amalgamated them with areas of northern and eastern Syria that had been under their control for nearly two years.

Charles Lister, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Centre, considers the announcement of the restoration of the caliphate as the most significant development in international jihadism since 9/11. The rise of ISIS and the proclamation has raised serious concerns not only in the Middle East but also around the globe.

How do these events affect India? Do we need to be concerned? In this blog post I try to address these questions.

Nostalgia of caliphate and international jihad

The idea of caliphate evokes a deep nostalgia for Islam’s glory and power in the minds of Muslims around the world, Indian Muslims being no exception. This coupled with the present state of the Muslim Ummah characterised by political instability, economic and technological backwardness and perceived domination of  Muslim regimes by the west, fuel a desire to ‘revert’  to the ‘golden’ age of the caliphate amongst many Muslims. Many Salafist theoreticians, prominent amongst them being Maulana Maududi and Syed Qutb in their writings have proclaimed the establishment of the caliphate as divinely ordained. They also lay down the ‘divine’ plan for the establishment of the caliphate. These Salafists divide history into two parts, the period of ‘jahiliyyah’ (ignorance) and the period of ‘Islam’. The present world is the world of ‘jahiliyyah’ which will be followed by the world of Islam. To achieve the world of Islam, ‘jihad’ has to be carried out in three stages, the first being the strengthening of one’s faith (adherence to Salafist Islam), the second ‘hijrat’ (moving from ‘infidel’ communities to ‘faithful’ communities) and third ‘jihad’.  It is not surprising then that the ISIS has been using social media and YouTube as propaganda tools that show Muslims from around the world congregating in the areas controlled by it, burning their passports (hijrat), pledging allegiance to the caliphate (IS), and eulogizing jihad. The video posted shows these jihadis from foreign countries threatening their country of origin with jihad once they return.

The virus of international jihad has not affected Indian Muslims much to the chagrin of international jihadist organizations like the Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda has generally failed to win recruits in India; so much so that an Urdu video posted on As-Shabab (media wing of Al-Qaeda) featuring the militant cleric Maulana Aasim Umar, in June 2013 asked the Indian Muslims in frustration, ‘Why is there no storm in your ocean?’ As per a newspaper report (‘Al- Qaeda’s Indian dilemma’, Tufail Ahmed, 27 June 2013, New Indian Express), ‘in the years after 9/11 only three Indians reportedly got entangled in international jihadi networks: Kafeel Ahmed, a Bangalore-born Muslim who was raised in Saudi Arabia, died carrying out a car bombing at the Glasgow airport; Dhiren Barot aka Abu Musa al-Hindi, a Vadodara-born Hindu who got radicalized in Britain, converted to Islam and is imprisoned over his role in jihad; Mohammad Niaz, who was arrested in Paris and is believed to have ties to the Students Islamic Movement of India. These cases of jihadi radicalization occurred abroad (not in India).’ However, the situation may have changed recently with some Indian nationals having joined the Al-Qaeda. Indians have been seen training with other Al-Qaeda terrorists in the propaganda videos released by As-Shabab.  Following the arrest of alleged Indian Mujahideen operative Yasin Bhatkal last August, investigators found evidence of two youths from Azamgarh in UP having gone to Afghanistan to join al-Qaeda and ‘fighting in Afghanistan-Pakistan border’.

The aim of the IS caliphate is to establish Islamic world domination of which India forms a part. The map released by the IS shows India under the ‘Islamic State of Khorasan’ which comprises areas of Iran, the Central Asian republics, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It would be worthwhile to mention here that the region of ‘Khorasan’ holds a very important place in the idea of Jihad and is rooted in ‘faith’. It is said that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) prophesized that ancient Khorasan would be the initial theatre of war for the ‘End of Times’ battles. This initial battle ground also incorporates ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind’, or the battle of India. Syed Saleem Shahzad in his book ‘Inside the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban’ argues that it is because of this belief that Al-Qaeda, despite being an Arab organization chose South Asia and Afghanistan as the areas to start its  jihadist struggle. He writes, ‘It is part of Islamic faith that the Prophet’s predictions will come to pass, and once the Muslim armies have won the battle of Khorasan and India, they will march to the Middle East to join forces with the promised Mahdi (the ultimate reformer), and do battle against the Antichrist and its Western allies for the liberation of Palestine.’

Radicalization of Muslim youth

The establishment of IS has raised genuine concerns in the Indian security establishment about the radicalization of Indian Muslim youth. The New Indian Express (Intelligence fears Iraq conflict tremors in India, 6 July 2014), quoting intelligence sources reported that ‘Indian agencies have also warned of Al-Qaeda al-Hind (AQAH) penetration and alleged tie up with SIMI and Indian Mujahadeen (IM) to carry out terror activities in India. An offshoot of Al-Qaeda, AQAH is said to be involved in recruiting terror cells in IM’s fertile ground in Bihar, UP and Rajasthan to carry out Jihad in Syria and Iraq.’

There have been reports of Indian nationals fighting with the ISIS in Syria and Iraq. A Tamil Nadu born Singapore resident,Haji Fakkurudin Usman Ali was reported to be fighting for the ISIS in Syria. Ali is believed to have been radicalised by another man from Tamil Nadu called Gul Mohammad Maraikar, who was deported to India recently. The Times of India (June 9, 2014) reported that Indian agencies were monitoring the activities of 18 Indian youth currently based in Iraq and Syria over their suspected involvement in sectarian violence in these countries. Similarly Indian Express (July 14, 2014), reported that four youths from Mumbai had joined the IS to wage jihad. Though the figures may not be large the government is wary that these youths, on their return may unleash violence in India.

As an on and off reader of Urdu newspapers, I find the attitude of the Urdu press to the IS generally ambivalent if not ‘favourable’. They have generally projected the IS in a favourable light. The comment by one of the nurses who returned to India wherein she said that they were treated well by their captors was given prominent front page coverage. However, reportage on the excesses of the IS, like killings of the Shias, destruction of their mosques and atrocities committed on minorities were generally muted and found limited news space. Such articles and op-eds may end up giving further legitimacy to the IS in the eyes of the Indian Muslims especially of the majority Sunni sect.

Jihad in Kashmir and cross border terrorism

The rise of IS may give a fillip to the jihadi forces in Kashmir and cross border terrorism. There are historical linkages between ISIS and Pakistani terrorist organisations. ISIS traces its origins to Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (JTJ) and later Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), founded by Abu Musab-al Zarqawi.  Zarqawi is said to have moved to Pakistan at the age of 23 to participate in the Afghan Jihad and lived in Hayatabad area of Peshawar. He was hosted by Lashkar-e-Janghvi (LeJ) and is said to have trained their cadres in his training camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. It was in Pakistan that he came in touch with Al-Qaeda leaders and also adopted the fundamentalist Salafist Islam. Later he developed differences with the top Al Qaeda leadership of Zawahiri and Bin Laden. They disowned him for the indiscriminate killings of Muslims in Iraq. During his stay in Pakistan (till 1999), is said to have deeply influenced the cadres of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Lashkar-e-Janghvi (LeJ). No wonder on his death by drone strike (7 June 2006), Jamat-ud-Dawa (renamed LeT) held a funeral meeting for him in absentia. (10 June 2007). The current leader if IS, Abu-Bakr al Baghdadi, is a disciple of Al-Zarqawi.

A study of the social media feeds of radical Sunni organisations like the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Janghvi of Pakistan reveal that they are supportive of the IS. A splinter group of Taliban, Tehrik-e-Khilafat of Pakistan has already pledged allegiance to the IS and has promised to raise the Islamic flag in South Asia and Khorasan. The Chairman of the United Jihad Council (UJC), Syed Salahuddin has sought help from Al- Qaeda and other transnational jihadi organisations in their struggle to liberate Kashmir. ‘If Al-Qaeda, Taliban or any other organisation extends a helping hand to the Kashmiris, we will welcome it’, he said, accusing the Indian army of running a ‘reign of terror’ in Kashmir. Though the IS was not overtly mentioned, reading between the lines and the timing of the statement makes it clear that the exhortation was as much to the Al Qaeda/Taliban as to the IS.

Sectarianism and Shia Sunni conflict

The ISIS is a rabidly sectarian Sunni organisation. Post the takeover of major towns in western and northern Iraq, ISIS spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani pledged to transform Iraq into a living hell for ‘the Shia and other heretics’ and called upon the destruction of Shia holy sites of Najaf and Karbala. In response Ayatollah Sistani; Iraq’s highest ranking Shia cleric gave a call to arms to all able bodied Shias to protect these holy sites. This qualifies as his most radical fatwa to date. Ayatollah Sistani had urged restraint to his followers even during the US occupation of Iraq, his commitment unwavering even during the attack on Al-Asqari mosque in the Shia holy city of Samara.

Intelligence agencies fear that the ripples of this sectarian conflict may soon be felt in India. On June 19, 2014, Shia and Sunni youths clashed in the Sadatgunj and Talkatora areas of Old Lucknow over the activities of ISIS in Iraq.  Uttar Pradesh Local Intelligence Unit (LIU) reported that Shia organisations in several districts in UP were trying to persuade young boys to fight in Iraq by offering them monetary benefits. Times of India reported (June 26, 2014) that ‘an organization called Anjuman-e-Haideri has started recruiting volunteers pledging to protect Shia holy shrines in Iraq. Hasan Haider, an executive member of the group claims that more than 20,000 people have registered so far from all over India and, if granted visas, will go and serve in Iraq.’ Such sectarian conflicts do not augur well for peace in India.

Impact on Indian economy

Middle East is extremely important for India geo strategically; its stability in India’s core national interest.  India depends on the Middle East for much of its energy requirements and any increase in global oil prices may put a severe strain on India’s current account deficit and lead to inflationary pressure. India also has a large diaspora in the Middle East which remits nearly 30 billion dollars.  Any instability in this region does not augur well for India. So far, much to the relief of Indian policymakers the conflict remains confined to the Iraqi theatre. However the situation could change.  There are disturbing reports of ISIS participating in the current Israeli Palestinian conflict in Gaza. If the theatre of conflict expands and other countries drawn into conflict, Indian economy may be impacted negatively.

In conclusion it can thus be said that the rise of the IS poses major challenge to India’s internal security and economic interests. Indian security agencies need to adopt a proactive approach in responding to these security challenges. To check radicalization of the Musim youth, authorities have to initiate a dialogue with every sections/sects of the Muslim society. The Ulemas and elders of the Muslim community have a responsibility to check the growth of these radical tendencies. Thankfully, none of the Muslim leadership /Ulemas in India has supported the announcement of Caliphate by IS. India also needs to diversify its crude basket and remain engaged with the governments of the Middle East so that its energy supplies are not disrupted and the Indian diaspora remains safe.

 

 

 

Sectarian violence in Pakistan

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“Yeh jo dehsatgardi hai, iske peeche wardi hai”: Slogan by Shia Hazara protestors against killings in Kohistan.

In another case of unending sectarian killings in Pakistan on 9 June 2014 nearly 30 people were killed and many more injured in a suicide attack on Al Murtaza hotel hosting Shia pilgrims in Taftan, a district bordering Iran. A suicide bomber purportedly belonging to the banned Sunni sectarian outfit Jaish-ul-Islam entered the hotel and detonated the explosives strapped to his body among the Shia pilgrims returning from their pilgrimage to their sacred shrine in Iran. Newspaper reports (Express Tribune) suggested that intelligence agencies had warned of possible attacks on pilgrims one month ago, but the authorities had failed to put in place adequate security to thwart Sunday’s attack. While threats to Pakistan’s security from terrorism unleashed by organizations like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Al-Qaeda etc make regular headlines across the globe and bring expressions of concern, the rising tide of sectarianism in Pakistan poses no less a threat to the stability to that beleaguered nation.

The rise of sectarianism in Pakistan had both an internal as well as external dimension. Internally, sectarian differences in Pakistan were set in motion by General Zia’s controversial Islamization programme launched in 1979. Shias resisted General Zia’s policy of introducing Islamic Sharia laws based on a radical brand of Sunni Hanafi system of jurisprudence. When Zia’s regime sought to implement Sunni laws of inheritance and Zakat (the obligatory alms tax) in 1980, it was vehemently opposed by the Shias. An important Shia cleric, Mufti Zaafar Hussain argued that if Pakistan was to have Islamic laws, Shias should be allowed to follow their own jurisprudence (Jaafariya fiqh). On 5 July 1980, Shias openly defied martial law and congregated in Islamabad, virtually shutting down the government. Faced with strong Shia protest Zia capitulated, granting Shias exemption from all Islamization rules which contravened Shia law. This ‘defeat’ though, was not taken kindly by the military and the ruling regime. The formation of the Shia outfit Tehrik-e-Jafaria Pakistan (TJP), it’s militant student wing the Ithna Ash’ariya Students Organisation and the rise of charismatic ‘Khomeini-like’ leaders amongst the Shia’s- notably Allamah Arif Hussaini also made the military regime uncomfortable. In 1983 much to the discomfiture of the regime TJP joined Benazir Bhutto’s Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD). Externally, the success of the Islamic revolution in Iran (1979) had filled the Shias of Pakistan with a new self confidence and ‘set in motion, first, a power struggle between the Pakistani State and its Shia community, and later a broader competition for power between Shias and Sunnis’ (Vali Nasr).

To check this Shia assertiveness the military regime of Zia began investing in strengthening various Sunni institutions and organizations. It poured money into the existing Sunni madrasas (seminaries) and set up new ones. Madrasas were strengthened in those areas where the threat was perceived to be the greatest i.e. in the areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Baluchistan bordering Iran. Military governors of Punjab, KP and Baluchistan assisted the elite intelligence agency ISI, in creating and organizing Sunni sectarian outfits to tackle the so called ‘Shia problem’. With state support radical Sunni organizations like the Sawad e Azam Ahle Sunni, Anjuman e Sipah e Sahaba, Sunni Tehrik, Tehrik Nifaz Shriat-e-Muhammadi, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba etc were created and allowed to flourish. The founder of Sawad e Azam Ahle Sunni, Maulana Salemullah Khan in 1980 demanded that Pakistan be declared Sunni state and that Shias be declared non-Muslims. This demand was later reiterated by Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhanghvi of Anjuman e Sipah e Sahaba. Concerned with the growing influence of Iran in the region and seeking to limit its politico-religious influence in Pakistan these Sunni sectarian outfits were supported externally by Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The Afghan Jihad being waged by Pakistan in the 1980’s also resulted in the free flow of arms, money and training for Sunni Islamists. Pakistan soon emerged as the battleground for the proxy war of influence between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. These groups acquired further legitimacy and power when they and their off shoots became the instruments of the Pakistani state in its proxy war with India in Kashmir.

As these sectarian groups gained ascendancy since the 1980s Pakistan began witnessing the scourge of sectarian violence which targeted various ethnic groups, minorities, professionals and even women and children. Sectarian violence involved groups on both sides; however, anti-Shia violence has now become more prominent. Other minority groups like the Hindus, Christians, Ahmediyas and Sufis have also been at the receiving end of the Sunni extremist outfits. Muhammad Amir Rana, Director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) was quoted in the Washington Post (January 15, 2014) as saying, “We are on a very dangerous trend where sectarian violence is increasing, and it is starting to take the shape of structural violence. We are now seeing sectarian tensions triggered not only by terrorism incidents, but average clashes within the sectarian communities.” As per the report of PIPS, 687 people were killed in sectarian violence in the country in 2013, which represented an increase of 22 per cent over 2012. Similarly, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which monitors violence in the region, Pakistan’s death toll from sectarian violence last year was the highest since the organization began tracking the statistic in 1989, when 18 people were killed.

The question then arises is why does the Pakistani state allow these groups to survive or even flourish when all round instability is being created by them in the country? Several reasons can be attributed to this. First is the nature of the Pakistani state and its nationalism. These groups draw legitimacy from the ‘ideology’ of the Pakistani state which legitimizes faith and sect based discrimination.  The Objective Resolution of 1949, the Second Amendment act of 1974 (which declared Ahemdis as non-Muslims) and anti-minority laws like the blasphemy laws (Article 295 of the Pakistani Penal Code) institutionalize these discriminations.  The latest US State department report on religious freedom states that Pakistan’s minority Ahmadi sect has become the target of rising sectarian violence, with its burial grounds, mosques and homes coming under assault. According to Islamabad based Centre Research and Security Studies (CRSS), since 1990 at least 60 people have been killed outside the Pakistani justice system in cases related to blasphemy.  During the period 1977 to 2012, 327 blasphemy cases were registered and 19 people are serving life sentences.

The official school text books promote intolerance containing blatantly anti-religious minority, anti western material. “Such textbooks try to create and define Pakistani nationalism in a very narrow sense. It tries to define it in term of an Islamic identity,” says Abdul Hameed Nayyar, a well-known historian, activist, and former physicist. When these text books were partially revised in KP under the government of Awami National Party (ANP), the newly elected government of Pakistan Tehriq-e-Insaf (PTI) and its coalition partner Jaamat-e-Islami (JI) decided to restore violent Jihadist contents in school text books.  In a press conference on August 21, 2013, Shah Farman, KP’s minister for information and culture said that the government would rectify the holes and mistakes in the existing text books published by the previous secular ANP government. “What kind of sovereignty, freedom, and Islamic values is this when Islamic teachings, jihad, and national heroes are removed from textbooks?” he reportedly asked. Is it then any surprise then that radicalization and sectarianism have taken deep roots in Pakistani society and Pakistani public opinion demonstrates considerable support for the world view of radical Islamic and sectarian organizations?

Secondly, sectarian groups (especially Sunni) have been receiving active patronage by institutions of the state like the army and political parties. The Pakistani military has been using these groups as an arm of the state to wage proxy wars against Afghanistan and India. In 1988 the Federal government allowed the Sunni activists to raid the town of Gilgit, the only Shia majority province of Pakistan in reaction to their uncooperative attitude in the Afghan Jihad. Nearly 150 Shias were killed, their houses burnt and shops looted. Sunnification of the Northern areas was also a part of the military’s strategy to use Sunni Secterianism in Kashmir war. Groups like Harkat ul Ansar (later renamed as Harkat ul Mujahideen), who fought the proxy war in Kashmir were the offshoots of the Sipah a Sahaba. The Hizb ul Mujahadeen formed in 1989 was the armed wing of the Jamat i Islami of not only Jammu and Kashmir but also of Pakistan. Maulana Masood Azhar’s Jaish e Mohammad and Harkat ul Jihad ul Islami drew members from various Deobandi sectarian groups. Shia (Hizbul Momineen) and Salafi (Tehrik ul Mujahideen) sectarian groups were also drawn into the proxy war in Kashmir by the Pakistani army. The influence that these sectarian groups now wield can be gauged from reports that when GHQ of the Pakistan Army at Rawalpindi was attacked in December 2009 by Tehrik e Taliban, Pakistan (TTP), Maliq Mohammad Ishaq, one of the founder members of the LeJ, Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the chief of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalil, the ameer of Harkat ul Mujahideen, and Mufti Abdul Rauf, the younger brother of Maulana Masood Azhar who is also the acting ameer of Jaish-e-Mohammadwere specially flown on chartered planes to negotiate with the members of the TTP who were holding some military officials hostage.

Besides the military both the mainstream political parties of Pakistan i.e. the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) have from time to time courted and taken support from these sectarian outfits to further their political interests. PPP tied up with the Sipah e Sahaba, Pakistan (1993-96) in the province of Punjab giving them ministerial positions to get their support. In 1994, it formed a tacit alliance with Sipah e Mohammad, the radical Shia group to check its earlier alliance partner TJP with whom it fell out after the local elections in the Northern Areas in which the latter got more seats than PPP and demanded to lead the coalition. In the by-polls held in Jhang district of Punjab in 2010, the then law minister of PML (N) government in Punjab, Rana Sanaullah was openly seen campaigning with Maliq Ishaq of the SSP and LeJ. In its budget of 2013-14, Punjab government of the PML (N) provided funds of 61 million rupees to the Jamat ud Dawa, the front organisation of the Lashkar e Toiba.

Thirdly, the capacity constraints of the law enforcement agency, archaic anti terrorism laws and sympathetic judiciary have all contributed to the strengthening of these organisations. Members of these groups maintain active links with the intelligence agencies and there have been reports of interventions for their release by these agencies when they are apprehended by the law enforcement agencies. The criminal justice system in Pakistan fares poorly when dealing with these secterain groups and their members are often acquitted by the courts for the lack of evidence. In May 2014, Maliq Ishaq who was named a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ by the U.S. State Department was acquitted by an anti-terror court in Pakistan for the lack of evidence despite his open admission to journalists that he had killed over hundred Shias.  A report published in Dawn (13 October 2013) quoting an official government report revealed that since 2007, 1,964 alleged terrorists have been released by courts of which 722 had rejoined terrorist groups and 1,197 were active in anti state activities. The virus of radicalization has also pervaded the judiciary  as can be seen in the photographs published in several newspapers where Justice Sauqat Aziz Siddiqi, recently appointed as the judge to Islamabad High court, in his earlier avatar as a lawyer was seen kissing the murderer of Salman Tasser (the then Governor of Punjab), Mumtaz Qadri.

It can thus be seen that the virus of sectarianism and radicalization has pervaded the entire body politic of Pakistan, infecting both its society and organs of the state. This virus can only be cured with a complete reorientation of the ‘ideology’ and ‘nationalism’ of Pakistan which is based on radical Islam and institutionalized discrimination of minority groups and the ‘other’. Unless that happens Pakistan would continue to be plagued by sectarian violence and terrorism.  The spread of sectarianism in Pakistan not only threatens the stability of Pakistan but has the potential to spill over to its neighbors, destabilizing the entire region. This is so because many of these sectarian groups have developed linkages with pan-Islamic terrorist organizations like the Al-Qaeda and subscribe to its ideology. Pakistan’s neighbors like Afghanistan, Iran and India need to watch out.

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