Khadim Hussain Rizvi and the rise of Barelvi extremism in Pakistan

The massive crowd that gathered at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore at the funeral of the firebrand, radical Ameer of the political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Khadim Hussain Rizvi shocked many observers of Pakistan who considered his sect, the Barelvis, quietist and peaceful. Seen as adhering to Sufi Islam and revering saints and the Prophet, many believed they represented the moderate face of Islam providing an antidote to radical Islam.

The Barelvi movement was founded by Ahmed Raza Khan of Bareilly in the late 19th century as a reaction against the reformist Deoband, Ahl-e-Hadith and Ahmadi sects of Islam. Unlike the latter who emphasize upon the ‘humanness’ of the Prophet, the Barelvis consider the Prophet as God’s light (Noor), ever present (hazir-o-nazir), and having knowledge of the unseen (ilm-e-ghaib). They are the lover of the Prophet (Ashiq-e-Rasool) and for them the protection of his sanctity and veneration for him are non-negotiable. The Barelvis have a long history of supporting murder and violence when they believe that the Prophet has been insulted. In British India (1929), they eulogized Ilm-ud-Din as a holy warrior (ghazi) when he murdered the Hindu publisher of the book ‘Rangeela Rasool’ which was considered libelous towards the Prophet. They were most vocal in their condemnation when caricatures of the Prophet were published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2006. In 2008 they hailed Amir Cheema, the Pakistani immigrant to Germany, as a hero when he attempted to assassinate the German publisher of these caricatures. The Barelvi ulemas condemned Governor Salman Taseer when he argued for amending the blasphemy law in Pakistan. When Taseer was murdered by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri, not only did they defend Qadri but also pleaded for his release. Fatwas were issued against offering funeral prayers for Taseer based on which the Imam of Badshahi mosque refused to lead the ritual prayers for Taseer. The violent sit-in in Faizabad led by TLP this month, demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan was in protest against the re-publication of cartoons of the Prophet in France.

The TLP led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi has its genesis in ‘Tahreek-e-Rihai-Mumtaz Qadri’, a movement launched to secure the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the earlier mentioned murderer of Governor Salman Taseer. Building his politics around the twin emotive issues of the finality of the Prophet-hood of Mohammad (khatam-e-nabobat) and strengthening of blasphemy law (tauheen-e-risalat), this charismatic leader established instant connect with his followers through his demagoguery, easy accessibility and smart use of social media platforms. After Mumtaz Qadri was hanged in 2016, the movement was renamed ‘Tahreek-e-Labbaik-ya-Rasulallah’ (TLYRA) which finally converted itself into a political party, TLP. It contested the 2018 elections and surprised many by bagging 2.2 million votes, emerging as Pakistan’s fifth largest political party and the third largest in Punjab. It also won two seats in the Sindh provincial assembly. This political performance was creditable considering that the Barelvi religious political parties like Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) had remained fringe players in the space occupied by religious political parties which was dominated by Deobandi parties like Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). The partisanship that the ‘deep’ state of Pakistan showed towards the radical Deobandi groups at the cost of the Barelvis, further aggravated their marginalization. This emboldened the Deobandi extremist groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba (SS) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), who considered the Barelvis to be heretics to attack Barelvi shrines (Abdullah Shah Ghazi, Data Durbar, Sakhi Sarwar, Shahbaz Lal Qalandar) and murder their religious and political leaders. The LeJ practically wiped out the entire leadership of the Barelvi Sunni Tehreek in 2006 in the Nistar Park attack in Karachi, where nearly 50 Barelvi leaders were killed. Saleem Qadri, the Chief of Sunni Tehreek (ST) was killed in 2001 and Allama Sarfaraz Naeemi in 2009.

After he burst onto the political scene in 2011, Rizvi organized several violent rallies, sit-ins and blockades against the perceived dilution of the twin laws of blasphemy and finality of Prophet-hood. Most of his rallies and sit-ins ended with the government conceding to his demands, which showed their weakness and further emboldened him. When the Election Bill, 2017, proposed changing the wording of the oath from ‘I swear’ to ‘I declare’, Rizvi and his followers held a sit-in at Faizabad arguing that this diluted the finality of Prophet-hood of Muhammad. The then PML (N) government sought the help of the army to disperse the protestors, but they declined showing their tacit support for the sit-in. The beleaguered government capitulated, accepting all demands of Rizvi. Not only was the proposed amendment reversed, the Law Minister, Zahid Hamid who had piloted the amendment resigned and all cases against the protestors were dropped.  The ‘deep’ state’s support to the sit-in was further confirmed when Director General (DG), Rangers Punjab, Major General Azhar Navid Hayat was seen handing over cash filled envelopes to protestors. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, taking suo-moto cognizance of the Faizabad sit-in, castigated the armed forces and its agencies for acting in a partisan manner during the protest. A couple of days before his death, Rizvi had again been leading a protest movement against the re-publication of the cartoons of the Prophet in France. Reports state that the government, in an agreement with the TLP had conceded to all their demands.

The question which many ask now is about the future of TLP and the issues championed by Rizvi. Ironically, while Rizvi riled against the dynastic character of the mainstream political parties in Pakistan, much like them his elder son Saad Rizvi has been named the new ‘Amir’ (Chief) of the party. How far he can keep the party united remains to be seen. The TLP witnessed factionalism in 2017 when Asif Ashraf Jalali broke ranks with Rizvi after Rizvi unilaterally called off the Faizabad sit-in. As for the issues championed by TLP i.e blasphemy laws and finality of Muhammad’s Prophet-hood, both these issues enjoy widespread support in Pakistan. Minorities and Ahmedis are regular targets of these laws. The crisis of governance, declining credibility of mainstream political parties, a failing economy, rising urbanization, unemployed and underemployed young population and above all support of the ‘deep’ state to radical groups will ensure that parties like TLP will sooner than later convert their street power into substantial electoral victories. This does not portent well either for Pakistan or for the region.  

Book review: The nine lives of Pakistan by Declan Walsh

I had been reading some pretty heavy but interesting stuff (one which demands note making if you really want to retain stuff that you have read) these days, “Mohajir and the Nation”, “Defending Muhammad in Modernity”, “Fateful Triangle” and “Muslims and the Media Images”. Meanwhile purchased this book…

I have been a regular reader of Declan Walsh’s articles from Pakistan and was also intrigued when he was declared a persona non grata and asked to leave Pakistan in 2013 by the Government Of Pakistan (read agencies). The logic failed me, for his stories were mostly sympathetic to Pakistan. In this book he provides the answer as to why he was asked to leave Pakistan; for reporting on Baluchistan. An old ISI hand who was tasked with trailing him during his visit to Quetta on his reporting assignment but who subsequently left the organisation, and was now seeking an asylum in Europe, finally sought him out and told him the reason of his expulsion in 2019. Personally, apart from this chapter, if you are a Pakistan watcher, there is hardly anything new that this book tells you. Walsh tries to explain the contradictions that is Pakistan (but if you ask me objectively, which country on earth is not?), where opposites like westernization and philistinism exists with traditionalism and medievalism, votaries of liberal and secular values challenge state narratives and fissiparous tendencies coexist with Pakistani nationalism.

The biographies of personalities like Jinnah, Anwar Kamal Marwat Khan, Asma Jahangir, Salman Taseer, Col Imam, Chaudhary Aslam Khan, Nawab Akbar Bughti provides the palimpsest on which are written the stories of Pakistani contradictions (and for me it’s resilience). Now if you are a Pakistan watcher, these are pretty well known figures and so are their stories. Declan’s journalistic take on these personalities and their stories had nothing new to add for me personally. So this made it a pretty easy read for me…a break from the heavy stuff I was reading which demanded making notes…(सो बिस्तर पे लेट के नहीं पढ़ सकते आप)…The book finished in a day…! But let me add, if you are not an avid Pakistani follower, then this book should be on your ‘to read’ list. It will help you understand the country better.

Book Review: Pakistan, A Kaleidoscope of Islam by Mariam Abou Zahab

At the outset, I must confess that I have always enjoyed reading Mariam Abou Zahab’s writings, though I might not agree with everything she writes. Here was a scholar who was not only an armchair theorist but also an activist. The book begins with an interesting anecdote with Mariam conversing with Abdullah Anas (of the book ‘To the Mountains: My life in Jihad from Algeria to Afghanistan’ fame) wherein Mariam tells him that she was in Afghanistan in the 1980s. When Anas asks her if she was working there as a journalist or an aid worker, she laughed. On further probing, he was quite surprised when she said, “Jihad”.

Born Marrie-Piere Walquemanne in France, she converted to Shia Islam and became Mariam Abou Zahab. She first took up arms in 1983, in support of Yaseer Arafat’s PLO, and then moved to Afghanistan where she was affectionately called Mariam Jan by Afghans. In one of her articles I had read, she narrates the number of marriage proposals she received from the Afghan commanders during her days in Afghanistan. 🙂 Despite her Jihadi background, it cannot be denied that she was a scholar and her scholarly writings on sectarianism, tribalism and Islamism in Pakistan have greatly enriched my understanding of these phenomenon in Pakistan. She died recently and am happy that a collection of some of her writings have now been compiled into a book.

My main takeaways from the book in brief;

1. Sectarianism: Mariam analyses the phenomenon of sectarianism in Pakistan from a sociological perspective (She enumerated this her in ‘Jhang paradigm – Jhang district can be classified as the home of radical Sunni organisations’). While many hold Zia’s Islamization policy and international factors like the Iranian revolution responsible for the rise of sectarianism in Pakistan (which is also true to a great extent), but as Mariam argues, we also need to look at the socio economic factors underlying this phenomenon. For her the roots of sectarianism lie in the social relations of domination and exclusion in South Punjab. While it is true that the State did support radical Sunni radical groups like SSP to further their domestic and foreign policy agenda, these groups could not have sustained themselves for as long as they did (do) without commanding the general support of the society in Jhang. The the support base to these radical organizations was (is) provided by the Madrasas in the area (which proliferated because the landlords of the area did not allow schools to be opened there, thereby making these Madrasas the only source of education for the poor), the fault line between the politically dominant Shia landlords and the Sunni urban middle class which mostly comprises of East Punjab refugees who resent the domination of the former (interestingly, it was only after reading Mariam’s writing did I realize that this dominant narrative, of only the Urdu speaking Karachi Muhajirs still maintaining their distinct identity from the Sindhis, while the East Pakistani refugees having fully integrated with Pakistani Punjabis, was not fully true), as well as the help provided to the sectarian groups by political parties and dominant groups in the area.

2. Islamism and Jihadism: While acknowledging the role that Pakistan Army and international actors like Saudi Arabia played in furthering Islamisation and Jihadism in Pakistan, she analyses Islamism as a social issue attempting to understand the motivations of the Jihadists. She adopts a biographical approach touching upon the life and itinerary of several Jihadis to answer this question. She has an interesting take on the rise of Taliban in FATA. She argues that Talibanization in FATA is a product of local dynamics, a fight between the ‘kashars’ – the young, poor and powerless of the tribes and ‘mashars’ – the dominant tribal elders. To challenge the latter, the former have adopted an alternative ideology, the ideology of Islamism. Having participated in the anti Soviet Jihad, many of these ‘kashars’ have now become fighters and heroes, wanting power for themselves for which they need to remove the dominant ruling group from power. Islamism then becomes the instrument through which the dominant tribal codes (which sustained the power of the ‘mashars’) is sought to be challenged.

The book also provides important insights into the recruitment drives of the LeT, which was of great interest to me as an Indian. Of course if you want to know more, then Dr. Christine Fair’s seminal book on LeT is the book you should read.

3. Merging of Jihadi and Sunni groups: The last part of the book deals with the convergence between the Sunni militants and the Jihadis, a process which she argues gained momentum after the crackdown on the Lal Masjid in 2007. Growing Talibanization has led to rising sectarianism in the Tribal Agencies and also in the settled areas of Pakistan. Large scale attacks on the Shias and other minorities have now become the norm in these areas, especially in Khurram agency where Shias constitute nearly 40 percent of the population. There is also a socio economic dimension to this conflict as Shias are relatively more prosperous in this area and this is resented by the Sunnis.

A book rich in detail, slightly dense but without doubt an excellent read. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

India supporting and sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan? Pakistani lies exposed!

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Sartaj Aziz with the Pakistani dossiers 

So the truth is finally out. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on foreign affairs, Mr. Sartaj Aziz confessed that the dossier on the so called Indian involvement in promoting terrorism in Pakistan given to the United Nations and the United States did not contain any ‘material evidence’ but instead contained ‘patterns and narratives’ of Indian involvement. This was stated in response to the demands of the members of the committee that the dossier and the evidence of Indian involvement be shared with them. Sartaj Aziz refused to share with them the dossier and stated that ‘The dossiers have been meticulously prepared, but material evidence cannot be shared for the sake of protecting the sources’.

The so called dossier was initially prepared by Pakistan for handing over to the Indian National Security Advisor (NSA), Mr. Ajit Doval during the meeting of the National Security Advisors (NSAs) of India and Pakistan (as was agreed to in the meeting between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference in Ufa, Russia).  It was reported (Economic Times, July 14, 2015; Pakistan PM’s NSA Sartaj Aziz says to hand over dossier on alleged Indian ‘interference’) that the Pakistani Establishment had told ET that this dossier had ‘solid evidence’ and had already been shared with some countries. Since the meeting was subsequently cancelled, the so called dossier was later presented to the UN Secretary General by Ms. Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations and by PM Nawaz Sharif to John Kerry, US Secretary of State. This dossier was never shared with any Pakistani journalist or analyst and this is what a pro-establishment anchor Dr. Shahid Masood had to say about the dossier. Have a look:

 

 

Even the United States refused to acknowledge the dossier or the charges mentioned therein. Spokesman for the United States Department of State, John Kirby stated that he was not aware of the receipt of any such dossier. John Kerry (who is generally considered to be a Pakistan sympathizer), upon his meeting with the Pakistani PM, made no mention of the dossier and tweeted that he and PM Sharif discussed ‘security, regional and global issues’.  America further snubbed Pakistan and asked it to put in ‘additional effort to target all terrorists in its territory.’

 

Pakistani Accusations:

Of late the Pakistani establishment has been crying hoarse over Indian involvement in supporting terrorism in Pakistan. It accused India of funding the Pakistani political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) led by Mr. Altaf Hussain, supporting and funding the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), Pakistan and the Baloch Nationalists. The so called dossier was said to have been prepared as conclusive evidence of these involvements. The Pakistani establishment picked up the story of India having funded the MQM with a view to promote terror in Karachi from a report about the confessional statement of MQM leader Tariq Mir who was stated to have confessed before the London Metropolitan Police of having been provided funds by Indian agencies. The existence of any such confessional statement (as shown in the Pakistani media) was denied by Alan Crockford, the spokesman of the London Metropolitan Police who stated that ‘no such document is part of the record’. Interestingly, initially the story of Indian funding to MQM was broken in a BBC report by Owen Bennet-Jones. This story by Mr. Bennet-Jones remains in my eyes one of the shoddiest and most one sided works done by BBC and undermines its credibility and reputation. Here is how the (so called) expose begins, ‘Officials in Pakistan’s MQM party have told the UK authorities they received Indian government funds, the BBC learnt from an authoritative Pakistani source.’ So the entire expose rests on an ‘unnamed’ Pakistani authoritative source and the source from MQM. No cross verification of facts needed from the London Metropolitan Police! Since the latter denied it, the whole expose falls flat. You can have a look at the report and judge for yourself:

 

 

Pakistan has for long accused India of supporting Baluch nationalists who are waging a war for independence from Pakistan. It has accused the Indian consulates in Afghanistan of being conduits to support this war. To any student of international politics, it would appear preposterous that the Iranians would allow the Indian consulate in Zahedan to be used to foster an independence movement in Pakistani Baluchistan for this would invariably have a collateral impact on their restive Sistan Baluchistan province. Much hue and cry was made in 2009 over a statement by Dr. Christine Fair as proof of Indian support to Baloch terrorism wherein she had said (in the Foreign Policy roundtable), ‘Having visited the Indian Mission in Zahedan, Iran, I can assure you they are not issuing visas as their main activity.’ Masters as they are in the art of distorting facts, Pakistanis picked upon this statement as proof that India was supporting terrorism in Balochistan through Iran. In an interview to Outlook magazine subsequently, Dr. Fair categorically denied that India was supporting terrorism in Balochistan. She said, ‘I never said there was active support for terrorism, that is something that the Pakistanis attributed to me.’

Similarly, during the sidelines of the Non Aligned meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in 2009 when the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his then Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistani media went on overdrive reporting that a Pakistani PM had provided a dossier to Manmohan Singh on the Indian involvement in Baluchistan. It was reported that it was this dossier and the proof provided therein, that had forced the Indian PM to acknowledge the Indian involvement. It was because of this that Balochistan had found a reference in the joint declaration issued after the meeting. This joint declaration was much criticized in India. Later on though it was acknowledged by none other than the then Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, that no such dossier had ever been given to the Indian PM. In an interview to the Outlook magazine he stated, ‘No we didn’t (hand over a dossier). Actually, we flagged the issue of Balochistan. We asked for a positive attitude and asked for non-interference inside Balochistan.’

It is worthwhile to note that Baloch separatist leaders like Hyrbyair Marri have repeatedly and categorically stated that Baloch people are not in favour of seeking Indian help for Baloch independence (Dawn, October 10, 2015; ‘Will never seek help from India: Hyrbyair Marri). He stated “I have never sought help from them, nor will I in the future.” Interestingly while Pakistan was preparing the so called dossier (in August), Brahmdagh Bugti, the Chief of Baloch Republican Army (BRA), announced his decision to open a dialogue with the Pakistani government. He stated that he was ready to negotiate with the Pakistani establishment and was ready to coexist with Pakistan. Here is what he said in his BBC Urdu interview:

 

 

If India was controlling these Baloch nationalists, how could it allow Brahamdagh Bugti to negotiate with Pakistan with a view to bring peace to Balochistan, especially when the relationship between the two countries is at the moment close to its lowest? Is it any secret as to what Pakistani agencies end up doing to Hurriyat moderates who show flexibility and willingness to negotiate with India? What happened to Abdul Majid Dar and Abdul Gani Lone?

The most preposterous claim made by the Pakistani establishment is that India supports the Tehrik e Taliban (TTP), Pakistan. Post the tragic attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, General Asif Bajwa, the Chief Military Spokesman accused India of funding the TTP. That the Taliban had been created and supported by Pakistan has been acknowledged by the then President of Pakistan, Parvez Musharraf and is now on record. In an interview to the Guardian (13 February 2015, Musharraf: Pakistan and India’s backing of ‘proxies’ in Afghanistan must end), he stated that Pakistan supported the Taliban to undermine President Karzai. That the TTP is rabidly anti India has been stated time and again by the spokesmen and chiefs of Taliban themselves. In an interview to The News, (December 23, 2008), the Chief of TTP, Baitullah Mehsud had committed that ‘thousands of our militants are ready to fight alongside the army if war is imposed on Pakistan (by India)’. Hassan Abbas, the former Pakistani security officer in his book, The Taliban Revival writes that in November 2008, post Mumbai attacks, fearing surgical strikes from India, Pakistani intelligence had declared Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah, both senior commanders of TTP as ‘patriotic’ at a special confidential media briefing. He writes that leading Pakistani journalists were told by the Pakistani intelligence, ‘We have no big issues with the militants in FATA. We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah Mehsud and Fazlullah. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue.’

Similarly, after an attack on the Pakistani side on the Wagah border (November 2014), TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan tweeted that India was as much a target for them as Pakistan and threatened to attack PM Modi.  See here:

 

 

Why the Pakistani insinuations?

Why is it that the Pakistanis have now suddenly ratcheted up the insinuation that Indians are involved in terrorism in Pakistan without any conclusive evidence? In the eyes of this author, there is method to this madness. Here are the reasons:

First, is the issue of ‘equivalence’. Pakistan seeks equality with ‘Hindu’ India in all spheres. As India has, much to the chagrin of Pakistan, successfully managed to convince the international community of being a victim of Pakistani sponsored terrorism, Pakistan wants to paint itself as a ‘victim’ of Indian sponsored terrorism so as to develop a false moral equivalence between the two countries. Unfortunately for Pakistan, there are not many takers of this argument and it is still seen by the international community as principally a ‘sponsor’ rather than a ‘victim’ of terrorism.

Second, Pakistan remains deeply concerned about the developing strategic relations between India and the United States. Pak PM Nawaz Sharif expressed concern during his US visit (September 2105) that American support to India was affecting the strategic balance in South Asia and requested the United States to side with Pakistan against India and to pressurize the latter to negotiate on Kashmir.

Pakistan’s ambivalent attitude towards terrorism and its selective targeting of terrorists has gradually changed the narrative in the United States which now has started to look at Pakistan more as a part of the problem than the solution. Mention should be made here of the candid admission by Sartaj Aziz that Pakistan should not target those militants who do not threaten its security. ‘Why should America’s enemies unnecessarily become our enemies?’ he asked in an interview to BBC Urdu in November 2014. ‘Some of them are dangerous for us and some aren’t, so why should we make enemies of them all?’ he asked while speaking of the Haqqani network.  Though the US establishment is still to get over its old habit of seeking to ‘buy’ off better behavior from the Pakistani establishment, more and more voices of the futility of this approach are now being heard. A corollary to this is that India receives a more sympathetic hearing to its narrative of Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism. USA has been pressurizing Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack and also against the D Company.

Third, the Pakistanis believe that since the mid of this year, the geo-strategic and geo-political situation/ dynamics had gradually and irretrievably turned in their favour. Their all-weather friend China had recently announced an investment of 46 billion dollars in Pakistan and President Ghani of Afghanistan had gone out on a limb to repair the relationship with Pakistan reversing many of his predecessor’s so called pro-India policies. President Ghani had not only decided to put on hold Karzai’s request for Indian weapons to fight the Taliban, but had also sent six Afghan army cadets to Pakistan for training, visited the Pakistan army HQ (November 2014) and signed an agreement with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to combat terrorism. In return it was expected that Pakistan would use its influence to reign in the Taliban and bring them to the negotiating table. The United States and China too were supportive of Pakistan in the belief that it could help in a negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio by bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. All this helped create a mistaken sense of bravado and arrogance in the Pakistani establishment that they were indispensable to the achievement of the geo-strategic objectives of major powers and so could adopt a more belligerent attitude towards India. (That the subsequent events like the failure of the Murree talks and the Kunduz attack by the Taliban made Ghani realize the futility of his outreach to Pakistan and the limitations of Pakistani influence on the Taliban itself is another story.)

Fourth, is the oft repeated Pakistani establishment’s strategy of ‘externalizing’ its internal problems. Since the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, incidents of terrorism have gone down in the country but there still have been some spectacular terrorist attacks by the TTP like the unfortunate attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar (December 2014) in which 132 innocent children were killed and the attack on the Air Force Base in Badaber (September 2015) in which 29 people were killed. Dr. C. Christine Fair in her book ‘Fighting to the End: Pakistan Army’s Way of War’ mentions that in the face of internal threats and challenges, the Pakistani Army seeks to externalize (mostly successfully) these threats to the enemies (India) who are held responsible for creating and aggravating these threats. This in turn not only brings the focus back to India but also buttresses the Pakistan army’s role as the premium institution in meeting these threats. As mentioned earlier, it is not for nothing that the DG, ISPR Gen. Bajwa was quick to blame India after these attacks.

Fifth, is the personality of the present Army Chief of Pakistan General Raheel Sharif. He is a hawk on India. He hails from a family of ‘martyrs’ and his brother Rana Shabbir Sharif was killed in the 1971 war with India and is the only recipient of both the Sitara-e-Jurrat and the Nishan-e-Haider. In fact, on his elevation to the post of COAS many analysts argued that he got the position only because of his family legacy. He was not in a command position as Lt. General but was serving as Inspector General, Training and Evaluation (DG, T&E). He was also not the senior most but third in the list of Generals to be considered for the position after Lt. General Haroon Aslam and Lt. General Mehmood. Taking a firm anti-India line always helps consolidate one’s position amongst skeptics in Pakistan. Further, like Nawaz Sharif, he too is a Kashmiri. So any one in India having any illusion that the General will be accommodating towards India is in my opinion day dreaming.

Sixth, the change in government in New Delhi and the new hardline but pragmatic policy of the present government has disoriented the Pakistani establishment. Used to the old ways of the earlier governments, Pakistan finds the belligerent statements of the present NSA and ministers disconcerting. It does un-nerve the Pakistani establishment when India’s defense minister goes on record to state ‘kaante se kaanta nikana’ (use a thorn to take out thorns) and that ‘we will neutralize terrorists through terrorists only’. Pakistan understands that India does have the ability to respond to Pakistani terrorism in kind (but has as a policy refrained so far from doing so) as was demonstrated during the days of the Punjab insurgency when RAW (India’s spy agency) had created a Covert Intelligence Team X (CIT-X) and a Covert Intelligence Team J (CIT-J) to target Pakistan and Khalistani terrorists.  For some unknown reasons and in the mistaken belief that it will earn Pakistani goodwill, these covert teams were closed down under the orders of the then PM, Mr. I. K Gujaral. Pakistan believes that if it raises sufficient hue and cry about Indian involvement in terrorism in Pakistan (even without any evidence), it could pressurize India to refrain from such covert activities/operations.

Seventh, with the international pressure it was subjected to after its state sponsoring of the Mumbai attack, Pakistan was forced to reign in some of its proxies created with the express aim to give effect to its doctrine of ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts.’ Further, under domestic pressure post the attack on school children on Peshawar, it started taking action against anti-Pakistan militant organizations like the TTP and some sectarian organizations. While some terrorist organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are pro-Pakistan to the hilt and would in no circumstances countenance an attack on the Pakistani state, other terrorist groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Al-Badr, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi etc. share an ideological affinity with the militant Islam professed by groups like the Taliban. Recently, there were reports that bodies of 71 Al-Badr militants killed in a drone attack in Afghanistan were returned to Pakistan, pointing to the ideological affinity and relationship between these militant organizations. The Pakistan establishment fears that these militants may soon declare the Pakistani state and army as apostate and may turn against them by aligning with anti-Pakistani militant groups. A belligerent stance against India not only helps in shoring up Pakistani reputation in the eyes of these militant groups (for as mentioned earlier, these groups remain firmly anti-India) but also helps to keep public opinion firmly in its favor.

Last but not the least, the narrative that India is supporting and funding groups like the TTP helps remove any skepticism from the minds of the Pakistani troops and officers in the justness of their fight against these groups, who claim to fight for Islam and the Sharia. It is no secret that the Pakistani society and the Armed forces have become deeply Islamic post Zia’s Islamization programme. During the Afghan Jihad, many in the Pakistani armed forces developed close contacts and life-long associations with the Mujahadeen. Brig. Sultan Amir (Colonel Imam) has been a legendary figure in the Pak army and a supporter of the Taliban till his assassination ironically by the latter. Khalid Mehmood, a technician with the Pakistan Air Force was convicted and hanged in an assassination attempt on Parvez Musharraf. Similarly, the attacks on PNS Mehran Naval Base in 2011 and Karma Airbase in 2014 were attributed to insiders. With such divided loyalties amongst the armed forces, the official narrative that TTP is funded by and so is a stooge of ‘Hindu’ India is a convenient psy-op devised to foster unity amongst the armed forces and to remove all skepticism from their minds of the righteousness of the cause of taking up arms against these groups.

It can thus be seen that while the establishment of Pakistan does realize that it does not have any substantive proof of Indian involvement of terrorism in Pakistan, it is convenient and useful for them to keep carping about it. I conclude by quoting Cyril Almeida, a well-known Pakistani columnist on the dossier (Dawn, October 4, 2015, ‘One country, Three policies’); ‘Some familiar with the contents thought it lucky the Indians weren’t willing to receive the dossiers…Because, had the Indians been embarrassed into receiving them, they may have gleefully splashed the contents around the world — so shoddy being either the work of the dossiers’ compilers or, worryingly, of the intelligence-gatherers themselves.’ So can we say that the drama of the cancellation of NSA talks was enacted not by Pakistan because India insisted on discussing only terrorism, but because they were too afraid and embarrassed to hand over these so called dossiers with proofs to the Indians?

 

 

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.

Book Review: Fighting to the End, The Pakistani Army’s Way of War

Fighting to the end

 “Pakistan is international migraine” – Madeline Albright

It is a popular saying that while other countries have armies, in Pakistan the army has a country. Dr. Christine Fair, in this scholarly and well researched masterpiece of Pakistan’s defense literature brings out the strategic culture of the Pakistan army. Since the Pakistan army is the most organized and powerful institution in Pakistan, this strategic culture is the dominant strategic culture in Pakistan.  The book organized into eleven chapters deals with every aspect of this strategic culture; its genesis and evolution, ideological underpinnings, instrumentalities of operationalization, its regional and international ramifications as well as the foreign policy rhetoric and choices pursued by the state.

Dr Fair begins by describing Pakistan as an insecure state which views India as ‘its eternal foe that not only seeks to dominate Pakistan but to destroy it’. The genesis and the evolution of this strategic culture can be traced to the partition of the Indian subcontinent and the subsequent events that followed. For Pakistan the process of partition was unfair with a ‘moth eaten’ Pakistan created in 1947. Territories like Junagarh, Hyderabad and Kashmir were denied to Pakistan by Indian perfidy and British conspiracy. Constant references are made to the award of seven Muslim majority tehsils in Punjab by Radcliff (insistence of Mountbatten influenced by Nehru), especially of Gurdaspur which allowed India land route to Kashmir thereby facilitating its ‘occupation’.

Dr. Fair argues that Pakistan’s fear of India though couched in terms of security are not so. It is ideological. Pakistani army sees itself as the defender of Pakistan’s ideological frontier i.e. the two nation theory and its Islamic identity vis-à-vis ‘Hindu’ India. It believes that Pakistan is equal to India and seeks parity with the latter despite being much smaller geographically, demographically and economically. The conflict with India is defined in ideolological and civilizational terms making it incumbent upon the Pakistani army to resist what it perceives as Indian hegemony in the region and also India’s global rise. Interestingly, because of this victory and defeat at the hands of Indians is seen differently by the Pakistani army. Even after an outright defeat as in 1971, Pakistani army considered itself victorious because it survived to fight/challenge India another day. Defeat for the Pakistan army would thus be the day it accepts the status quo and Indian supremacy. It is this belief which propels Pakistan to take calculated risks for changing the status quo periodically but regularly. Apart from initiating three regular wars with India and the Kargil misadventure, Pakistan has constantly supported insurgencies in India (Naga, Mizo, Sikh) and waged proxy war in Kashmir. Interestingly while the American’s were training Pakistanis in guerrilla warfare to suppress and defeat insurgencies in the 1950’s, the then Pakistani defense literature was glorifying Vietnamese resistance and also ‘interested in understanding how Pakistan could wage one’. Operation Gibraltar in 1965 and Kargil intrusion in 1999 bear testimony to this thinking.

Pakistan has pursued a policy of strategic depth to limit Indian and Russian (also erstwhile Soviet) influence in Afghanistan.  Unlike the generally held view that the concept of strategic depth was enunciated by General Aslam Beg, Dr. Fair posits that this idea of strategic depth in Afghanistan is a colonial legacy which was carried forward by the successor state of Pakistan, even though it did not possess the resources of the Raj. To facilitate covert operations against the Doud government of Afghanistan, training camps were established by Bhutto to train Afghan Mujahedeen as early as 1973. This also explodes another oft repeated myth by the Pakistanis that the Mujahedeen were created by the US to further its own geo-political interests in Afghanistan.

The instruments used by Pakistan to seek strategic parity with India and to resist its rise has been to seek alliances and court international benefactors like United States, China and Saudi Arabia, nurture non-state actors and use terror as an instrument of state policy. Though the USA has been the largest largess provider for the Pakistani state, in Pakistani defense literature USA is portrayed as a perfidious ally. Pakistan constantly harps on the USA failure to overtly support Pakistan despite being an ally in the 1965 and the 1971 war with India, the sanctions imposed under Pressler Amendments (incidentally the passing of this amendment was hailed as a victory for Pakistani diplomacy) and turning its back on Pakistan after Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. No reference however is made of the differing geo-political objectives of the two nations. While Pakistan purportedly became an ally of the US to challenge communism, its goals remained purely India centric. Failure to get active US support in its conflicts with India has been a constant sore point with the Pakistanis. In contrast to the USA, China is projected as an all weather friend. Chinese failures to support Pakistan’s objectives and goals are generally glossed over.

With the overt nuclearization of the subcontinent, Pakistan has pursued a policy of Jihad under the nuclear umbrella against its adversaries. It has supported terrorism against India from its soil and sought to undermine US strategic interests in the region. The possession on nuclear weapons has facilitated nuclear risk taking by Pakistan. By keeping its nuclear doctrine ambiguous and not defining its nuclear threshold it has achieved its twin objectives of deterring India from escalating the conflict as well as drawn international actors like the USA into limiting the conflict. It also rightly believes that being a nuclear power restrains USA from completely abandoning Pakistan.

The question then remains is can the strategic culture of the Pakistani army be changed? Scholars have argued that with the strengthening of democratic institutions in Pakistan, this narrative would be challenged. Some (Ahmed Rashid, Raphel) have argued that a grand bargain with India through the resolution of the Kashmir dispute (to Pakistan’s satisfaction) may facilitate such a change. Dr Fair appears to take a pessimistic view and does not foresee any change happening in the near or distant future.  Dismissing the grand bargain theory she describes Pakistan as a ‘purely greedy state’ which is defined by Charles Glaser as a state ‘fundamentally unsatisfied with the status quo, desiring additional territory even when it is not desired for security.’ Any appeasement of this ‘greedy state’ might aggravate the problem rather than solving it. She further argues that even if Pakistan undergoes a permanent democratic transition it does not obviously follow that ‘civilians will abandon the persistent revisionism with respect to India. This is because of the deep presence of army’s strategic culture, based on the ideology of Islam and two nation theory, within Pakistan’s civil society, political culture and bureaucracies’. A case in point is the Abbotabad attack by USA, which provided the civilians an opportunity to assert some control over the army, instead they chose to rally around the latter. Some scholars argue that the India centric doctrine of the Pakistani army has now changed and it has acknowledged internal threats as the main challenge. While Pakistani army may at times acknowledge internal threats but it successfully ‘externalizes’ those threats to the enemies (India) of Pakistan, who are held responsible for creating and aggravating these threats. This in turn brings the conventional focus back to India for the army and also buttresses its role as the premium institution in the country which can manage these threats.

One interesting and novel fact brought out by Dr. Fair is the changing recruitment pattern of the army. Her research shows that in 1972 the army officers came from only few districts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), but by 2005 practically all districts of Pakistan were producing officers. Her field work suggests that many of these officers do not share the ‘core values’ of the Punjabi dominated strategic culture of the Pakistani army with the same intensity. How this changes the nature of the discourse of this strategic culture in future remains to be seen.

The book provides important policy prescriptions for both India and United States. She argues that USA should stop ‘attempting to transform the Pakistani army or Pakistan for that matter. It is unlikely that the United States can offer Pakistan any incentive that would be so valuable to Pakistan and its security interests that the army would abandon the varied tools it has developed to manage its security competition with India, much less consider a durable rapprochement.’ The realities for India are starker. ‘The Pakistan army will continue to weaken India by any means possible, even though such means are inherently risky. In the army’s eye, any other course will spell true defeat.’ It is time that the Indian policy planners stop being wooly eyed about Pakistan and face facts.

This book is a must read for all policy planners in India and the United States. This would help them shed many of their illusions and accept realities howsoever uncomfortable.

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