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How to tackle the spectre of IS

October 10, 2015


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THE army chief’s statement in London earlier this month that there were elements in Islamabad who wanted to show allegiance to Daesh or the self-styled Islamic State was an acknowledgement of the dangers that continued radicalisation is posing to not just his own country but to the entire world.

The fight against Daesh and the group’s evolution is a story that cannot be told simply in a column as it is far too complicated. It needs to be seen as part of the enormous jigsaw puzzle of global power politics and the battle for satellite states and pockets of influence involving world and regional players.

Self-preservation warrants nonetheless that we, in Pakistan, take a long hard look at the phenomenon, otherwise the recent gains against the militants will amount to no more than a tiny respite from all the murder and mayhem perpetrated in the name of faith.

The danger signs are, and frankly have been, visible for a long, long time. But we chose to ignore those, probably in the hope that if bad news isn’t recognised as such for a period of time it might go away. Well, it hasn’t and is staring us in the face harder than before.

There is no doubt the battle has to be fought in each street in the country. Madressahs have been the obvious and easy target whenever blame is being apportioned for radicalisation of the youth but the truth is far graver than that.

The fight against the self-styled Islamic State needs to be seen as part of the enormous jigsaw puzzle of global power politics.

Recently, it emerged that among those arrested for the mass murder of Ismailis who were shot after their commuter bus was intercepted by killers in a Karachi suburb (near Safoora Goth) were educated young men.

Some of these young men, including a graduate of the city’s premier Institute of Business Adminis­tration, had probably not even seen the inside of a madressah. They had been indoctrinated right under our noses in a DHA mosque and not in distant Waziristan which bears the cross for most such evil these days.

A dear friend of mine, himself a devout Muslim who never misses Friday prayers, told me of his horror at the sermon of the maulvi at a mosque not far from the Gizri police station in DHA, Karachi a week ago. “Can you believe, the maulvi was spewing inflammatory and divisive poison? Among those present inside the mosque were the area SP and SHO.”

A conscientious citizen, he was appalled enough to drive straight from the prayers to the DHA Vigilance office. He says the retired major who was in the office took notes and dutifully promised to report it to the law-enforcement authorities. “I did warn this official that he’d have to act if he didn’t want a Waziristan-like explosive situation in DHA.”

Be honest and tell me how many of us have acted with the responsibility my friend did. I may have written about it but am ashamed to say I have never gone and reported such hate speech to the authorities. Have you? Well, we have been smug long enough and will all need to do our bit if this tidal wave is to be braved.

When the army chief referred to the Daesh phenomenon, he didn’t name Maulana Abdul Aziz of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad who has openly said he supported IS and the objectives of the group. In saying so Aziz seems to have endorsed the terrorism perpetrated by IS in the areas it controls and the little tolerance for diversity and dissent it practises.

When the state acted against the terrorists who had fortified themselves inside the Lal Masjid and the attached madressah in the summer of 2007 and were threatening to destabilise the capital, it came out on the losing side. It may have regained control of the mosque after a bloody fight but it lost the narrative.

We all know the consequences. Hardly anyone’s been spared the pain that followed. It took some seven years and so many thousands of deaths for Pakistan to sit up and look at itself, to assess where it had drifted to.

But it still needed a full-scale militant assault on Karachi airport and the utterly tragic Army Public School massacre in Peshawar and the sacrifice of far too many of our children to eventually provide the trigger for action.

The gains against militant strongholds were rapid, given the soldiers on the frontlines were willing to put their lives on the line and fight with incredible valour. However, the longer-term battle has to see each one of us involved if the victory is to be sustained.

It is easy for the civilian government to devolve all authority to the armed forces to fight this evil. The difficult part would be to deliver on the parts of the National Action Plan it is itself responsible for. There was talk of outlawing ‘takfir’ whereby one Muslim declares another ‘infidel’. Whatever happened to that legislation?

The provincial governments have been proudly claiming to have ‘geo-tagged’ each madressah as part of the strategy to battle extremism but what kind of mindset has been conveyed to, for example, the police force where there are instances of even senior officers walking away after attending prayers and sitting through divisive, takfiri sermons.

The onus is not merely on the civilian authorities. The military too needs to unambiguously signal it is distancing itself from every single militant group and not just those that threaten its authority. It has to as it only need count the number of its so-called assets that have now become toxic.

Having suffered at the hands of rampant terrorism, Pakistan ought to know better than to try and cherry-pick among terror groups. They are all bad. Eventually they’ll be on the same side no matter which side of what border they currently prosecute their murderous campaigns.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, October 10th , 2015

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