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The high cost of jihad

October 28, 2000


I HAVE before me a pamphlet issued by a leading jihadi organization; on the last page is an appeal for donations to finance the struggle in Kashmir. The price of a Kalashnikov is given as Rs 20,000; a bullet is Rs 35; and a "Kenwood wireless" is listed at Rs 28,000. The total "launching fee" for a mujahid, inclusive of training, arms and transportation is a cool Rs 140,000.

On the other end of the scale is the much larger but un-quantifiable figure of what we as a nation are being penalized for our support of such activities. Across the world, we have been branded an exporter of fundamentalism and terrorism. Pakistanis are known to have taken part in large numbers on the side of the Taliban in battles in Afghanistan. The Russian government has accused us of sending fighters to Chechnya and there are reports of Pakistanis fighting as far away as in Bosnia. At the very least, this and previous governments have turned a blind eye to these private initiatives.

Recently, Shah Ahmad Noorani of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Pakistan has praised General Pervez Musharraf for drawing a clear distinction between terrorism and jihad. The problem is that the rest of the world is not buying such sophistry. While it is a truism to say that one man's jihad is another's terrorism, we need to distinguish between random violence against innocent civilians aimed solely at creating terror, and battling armed and trained forces for a just cause. Far too often, this line is crossed and the negative publicity generated by the killing of unarmed bystanders outweighs any possible advantage gained through terrorizing the civilian population.

This has happened far too often in Kashmir where foreign tourists and non-Muslims have been deliberately targeted by various jihadi groups. In much of the world, these actions are seen as terrorism pure and simple. While the perpetrators of such crimes lose any sympathy and support. Pakistan is seen as supporting the militants who committed these acts, and is therefore considered an exporter of terrorism. As a result, our ties with traditionally friendly countries in the Arab world as well as with Iran and China have suffered.

Of late, there has been much talk of boosting tourism. But people from General Musharraf to the officials of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation overlook the fact that the rhetoric emanating from our proliferating jihadi outfits does not exactly encourage foreigners to visit a country where talk of enforcing an alien way of life by force is rife. Many tourist destinations in our picturesque northern areas have become centres of religious fundamentalism: witness this government's surrender to demands that cable TV should be banned in Peshawar.

Investors, too, are wary of putting in any funds in a country which is seen abroad as intolerant, aggressive and retrogressive. There was a letter to the editor of this newspaper recently complaining that a local restaurant refused to serve a foreigner who was wearing shorts. Similarly attired men are barred from entering public parks. All these absurdly obscurantist steps are signs of the creeping Talibanization that has been going on for some time now. As a society, we are paying an intolerable price for our mindless support of the most reactionary elements in the country.

Indeed, perhaps the highest price of bigotry is the divisive effect it has had on society. Already, Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus have been declared beyond the pale. Many Sunni groups (most notably the Sipah-i-Sahaba) have been demanding that Shias be declared non-Muslims. Various sects are at each other's throats. Armed attacks, often in mosques, on Shias are common. Iranian citizens have been deliberately targeted. No nation can sustain this level of violence and religious intolerance indefinitely, and given the number and sophistication of arms possessed (and often openly displayed) by jihadi groups, it does not appear likely that the killing will stop any time soon.

We had all hoped that the army, being the only national institution with the power to take on the jihadi elements, would tackle them when it took over last year. But by making a distinction between jihad and terrorism, General Musharraf has given these elements the green light. Both in Kashmir and Afghanistan (and beyond), the army's strategy seems to be to support the jihadis to further perceived national interests. Unfortunately, these interests have never been openly debated before being made the basis of our flawed foreign policy.

Basically, the focus of our worldview has shrunk to Kashmir, and everything else has become subordinate to this one-point agenda. Since there has been no progress on the diplomatic front, and the balance of power between Pakistan and India is steadily tilting in our neighbour's favour, the establishment sees no alternative to supporting jihadi elements as a means to drawing international attention and putting pressure on India. But ten years of this policy have yielded no positive results. If anything, the Kargil fiasco has given India an excuse to harden its position as well as make a massive investment in modernizing its armed forces. And the bomb blasts in our major cities is an unpleasant reminder that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Given the army's rigid mindset, it is difficult to change the course of a policy, even if it has clearly failed. Our support for jihad may not have any electoral support and the bulk of our population may be indifferent to the unending Kashmir issue, but the policy nevertheless is sustained by significant figures and powerful institutions. Politicians, wary of antagonizing the fearsome defence establishment and the intelligence apparatus as well as the small but vocal fundamentalist lobby, fall into line and make the usual pro-jihad noises. Right-wing journalists and publications are generally gung-ho on the issue. So given this nexus of interests, it is difficult to see how the jihad juggernaut can be halted.

The only force that can concentrate these closed minds is the steady deterioration in the economy that can be linked directly to our disastrous foreign policy and its accompanying defence posture. And at the heart of these policies lies the concept of jihad as a solution to our external and internal problems. In other words, we will continue on our present course until we can no longer afford to pay the high cost of jihad.