‘Extremist groups being legitimised to change social mindset’

Published January 5, 2016
Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, author and political commentator, speaks at a dialogue on ‘Religious extremism and Sindh’ organised by the Strengthening Participatory Organisation here on Monday.—INP
Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, author and political commentator, speaks at a dialogue on ‘Religious extremism and Sindh’ organised by the Strengthening Participatory Organisation here on Monday.—INP

HYDERABAD: Perturbed at the exceptional growth of madressahs on an identical pattern along major roads in Sindh, Dr Ayesha Siddiqa highlighted the need for building a strong narrative to counter extremist mindset and said the notion about religious extremist groups being mainstreamed under madressah reforms was weak.

“I am told they [outfits] are being mainstreamed but I say the fact is that they are ‘mainstreaming you’, as they are being legitimised to change social mindset,” she argued, while delivering a lecture on “Religious extremism and Sindh” on Monday.

The programme was organised by Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Special Task Force.

According to her, action against hate speech is part of the National Action Plan but it is seen that largely Ahmedi literature is seized, while other ‘shops’ are allowed to sell their products. Referring to the presence of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and outfits representing the Ahle Hadith school of thought in Sindh following the floods in recent years, she said their presence indicated that the government didn’t take action against them. She asserted that Jamaat-ud-Dawa was working under Falah-i-Insaniyat Foun­dation umbrella and expanding its network across Sindh. “They are changing narrative about themselves on their own. You can find people on social media who question if you discuss their [JuD] actual background. Hafiz Saeed is projected as Santa Claus as if he was doing good deeds, nothing else,” she said.


JuD expanding network across Sindh, says Dr Siddiqa


Author of Military Inc, Dr Siddiqa said: “The business that started in 1979 has not come to an end, leading to the emergence of Taliban and ‘jihadis’. There are reports that people from Thatta left for Syria or 600 to 800 had gone from Faisalabad, too, while three to eight bodies have been received.”

Following the Army Public School tragedy, some groups were disciplined, she said, adding that Malik Ishaq was eliminated because he could have possibly joined hands with the militant Islamic State group.

About the identical pattern on which the seminaries are built, she said many of them were located off highways. “If it comes to blocking roads it can be done in a jiffy anywhere,” she said, while explaining one of the utilities of their location.

She said that political governments lacked plan to do something as “politicians are equally connected with the issue like state institutions”. Foreign policy was same except some minor restructuring, she opined, adding that it was yet to be seen what kind of changes pro-China policy would bring about.

‘Smart martial law’

About civil-military relations imbalance, she said she believed that a ‘smart martial law’ existed in Pakistan and the military did not need to directly control governance. Military institutions are intelligent and have found multiple ways for a diverse partnership. “They don’t need to come marching. They control strategic policy.

“Simultaneously it is not only military inc but media is equally incorporated,” she asserted. Unless there was a ticker on TV people didn’t get news, she said. “We are losing knowledge base and even recent history is being erased, thanks to dependence on TV channels and talk shows that shape history through commentary,” she said.

Currently, she said, narrative management is seen so future generation should say that India had produced Taliban. “Even liberal brains argue that if India behaves like this, then we need Laskhar-e-Taiba and JuD,” she said.

She said that people claimed Sindh was a land of Sufis but these extremist forces would make their presence felt. In fact, she said, a ‘single identity’ was quite crucial for a state that didn’t understand that different identities made a person and society. “They think such argument weakens state and religious narrative strengthens that ‘single identity’ and ethnic divide is abhorred,” she said.

Dr Siddiqa said Sindh’s intellectuals were responsible for giving a strong narrative to counter extremist mindset. She said shrines would remain legitimate community centres but a strong narrative was the need of hour to attract society. The emerging middle class was looking for power centres to challenge feudalism, she said, adding that overemphasising culture would not serve purpose. “You need a better product to attract people as challenges have increased manifold,” she said.

She said Pakistan lacked successful political movement that was not seen without establishment’s backing. “Z.A. Bhutto, too, was a GHQ’s product just like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. Bhutto didn’t challenge the military establishment unless he fell prey to it,” she argued. However, she emphasised that people must understand a Punjabi could challenge the establishment as it would not let a non-Punjabi to lay his hands on it.

Regretting that political process, too, has become dependent on external funding, she said: “We are not ready to work voluntarily and look for external funding.” Political class in Sindh had weakened over the years, but there was no demand for its revamp, she said, adding that Imran Khan had symbolised alternative and society, too, would have to find alternatives. “If Pakistaniyat is a better bargain then we should buy it,” she said.

Terming the PPP a disaster, she said: “I told a PPP leader that Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari must look beyond two deaths and come up with a plan even without details.” She said Sindh’s conditions were more serious than all other parts of Pakistan. “There is corruption in Punjab but in Sindh it is entirely different,” she remarked.

She disputed the point of view that poverty leads to extremism. She said if that was true, the 38 per cent people living below the power line in Pakistan would have become militants. “Actually terrorism and extremism is a project of middle class,” she said. It was not very unusual if Safoora Goth and Sabeen Mahmood case culprits had educated backgrounds, she said, recalling that it had been going on since the Afghan war.

SPO’s Mustafa Baloch also discussed the growing influence of extremism in northern Sindh.

Earlier, HRCP’s Dr Ashothama welcomed Dr Siddiqa.

Dr Mahtab Ali Shah concluded the session.

Published in Dawn, January 5th, 2016

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