July 2001 News

Jihadi monster a threat to the entire region

9 July 2001
The Statesman
SANKAR SEN

New Delhi: GENERAL Pervez Musharraf’s admonition to Islamic clerics as well as the militant outfits operating in Pakistan for making irresponsible statements and aggravating tension between India and Pakistan highlights the problem that Pakistan is facing in dealing with these groups. The militant groups, who are called “freedom fighters” in Pakistan, operating in Kashmir and engaged in acts of terrorist violence have kept a big chunk of the Indian army and paramilitary forces tied down there. For Pakistan this is a cost-effective proxy war. Unable to mount a serious conventional military challenge, it has looked on terrorism as an alternative strategy. According to one estimate, about 3,000 to 4,000 mujahideens operating in Kashmir at any given time have kept more than 300,000 Indian security personnel engaged. This keeps India off balance and Pakistan rulers had hoped that through this “surrogate warfare”, it would be able to liberate Kashmir and also dismember India. MONEY AND ARMS These Islamic militant jihadi groups not only fight against the Indian Army but also indulge in murder, rape and other acts of terrorism in complete violation of international norms. Their activities damage Pakistan’s fragile international reputation and confirm the growing international perception that it has become a terrorist state. Again many of these mujahideens are also getting involved in bitter sectarian conflicts raging inside Pakistan. However, prospects of Pakistan successfully reining in these militant groups are not very bright. Pakistan trained and financed these irregulars with a view to keeping India off balance but, in the process, it has now created a Frankenstein monster that threatens to devour Pakistan’s society. Due to a number of reasons, these groups are growing in size and strength and developing a vested interest in prolonging the jihad against India. First, many of these militant groups have acquired vast funds. The view that terror is a poor man’s method of waging war is no longer valid. These groups receive huge donations from Gulf countries and members of the Pakistani diaspora. It is reported that Lashkar-e- Toiba (Army of the Pure) and its parent organisation, “Markaz ad Dawa- Irshad”, have raised so much money that they are planning to open their own bank. Top leaders of the militant groups live well and receive good salaries as well as many other facilities. In a poor country like Pakistan joining the militant groups is not an unattractive proposition. Thus as the so-called jihad movement has acquired its financial momentum, it will be increasingly difficult for the Pakistani authorities to close the show and crack down on these groups. Second, many fundamentalist groups have become addicted to jihad. Perhaps even if the Kashmir problem is solved, fundamentalist groups will not keep quiet. They will create problems in Pakistan and seek to set up some kind of Taliban-style regime. Third, it is becoming increasingly difficult to exercise control over the criminals and lumpen elements who have swelled the ranks of the militants. Initially, they were hired by the terrorist groups to do their dirty work. They are criminals and not crusaders. Fourth, many of these groups are in possession of enormous arms and explosives. De- weaponisation programmes of the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan have achieved little success. The obvious hard nuts to crack will be the tribal areas which serve as the originating points of the illegal arms and from where dealers obtain deliveries for clients in the cities. Darra Adam Khel, located in the tribal area south of Peshawar has become the largest centre for manufacture of arms in Pakistan. Here factories were developed during the Afghan War against Soviet Russia, but though the war came to an end in 1989, the facilities have since doubled and the business continues to flourish. The success of Musharraf’s de-weaponisation programme to reduce the availability of guns to the sectarian gangs and criminals remains doubtful. PROXY WAR Further, fundamentalism is sustained by innumerable madrasas that have now proliferated in Pakistan. They preach a narrow and violent version of Islam. Pakistan’s military ruler, Gen Zia-ul-Haq, during his tenure promoted these madrasas to enlist the support of religious parties for his rule and also recruit volunteers in Pakistan for the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. In Zia’s time many madrasas were financed by the state, giving the government some measure of control over these institutions. Different Pakistani governments have tried to exercise control over the madrasas without much success. Recently, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Moinuddin Haider announced a reform plan that would require the madrasas to register with the government, disclose their financial resources, obtain permission before admitting foreign students and stop sending students to militant training camps. This plan of reform, however, has met with little success. The madrasas have stubbornly refused to be regulated by the government. It is learnt that only 4,350 of the estimated 50,000 madrasas in Pakistan have registered with the government. Chancellors of many of the madrasas have refused to expand or alter their curricula as suggested by the government, stating that these madrasas were older than Pakistan “having been designed 1200 years ago in Iraq”. The madrasas which only impart theological instruction and ignore secular subjects make the students unfit for suitable employment in a modern society and make them ready recruits for the holy war. They go to swell the ranks of the militants. The madrasas are also offering training to students from Burma, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Kuwait. Operations of the militant groups are also aggravating law and order problems inside Pakistan. They have inflamed the old sectarian war between the Sunnis and the Shias. Their running battle has now become deadly and taken a heavy toll of lives. Iran is reportedly helping and funding the Shia groups who feel discriminated against. It helped the formation of “Tehrik e Jafariya e Pakistan” (TJP) to protect the interests of Pakistan’s Shia Muslims. The Shia- Sunni conflict has now taken the form of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia on Pakistan’s soil with a disastrous impact on law and order and social cohesion in Pakistan. VIOLENT CULTURE It is possible that General Musharraf really wants to exercise tighter control over the jihadi groups, but the capacity of the military government to do so is becoming increasingly circumscribed. Some time ago, Pakistan’s Interior Minister announced the government’s resolve to put an end to fund-raising and public display of weapons in the name of jihad. He had to buckle under the combined onslaughts of the militant outfits and was forced to say in a meeting in Islamabad on 23 February 2001, that the government considers Kashmir to be “an unfinished agenda” and would not backtrack on that issue. America has also scolded Pakistan and asked it to crack down on the militant groups and close the madrasas and threatened to cut off international aid if positive steps are not taken in this regard. But it is doubtful if the Pakistani government will succeed in controlling these groups, or if everybody in the government is really interested in doing so. A culture of violence has also taken deep root. However, on the eve of Musharraf’s visit, India has to keep in mind the stark fact that army rule in Pakistan has become a reality. There were times for India to make common cause with democratic forces in Pakistan against the authoritarianism of the army. Now perhaps India should try to make common cause with the army against the terrorism of the jihadi groups. Pakistan’s military ruler also understands the mischief potential of these groups and the long-term threats they pose not only to India and Pakistan, but to the entire region. One only hopes that Vajpayee-Musharraf summit will successfully explore the ways of gradually neutralising these militant outfits.

 

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