OVER the past four decades — particularly from the Zia era onwards — this country has seen a wide variety of charismatic jihadi and sectarian leaders that have created movements and lashkars that have challenged the writ of the state and imperilled its security. Amongst these ‘stars’ of the jihadi firmament was Sufi Mohammad, a cleric and militant who passed away in Peshawar on Thursday. Founder of the Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi, Sufi Mohammad campaigned for decades for enforcement of his version of Sharia in the country, violently confronting the state in pursuance of this objective on several occasions. Amongst his grimmer exploits was the caravan of zealous fighters he led to Afghanistan to take on the Americans and support the Afghan Taliban following the US invasion of that country in 2001. Hundreds of his fighters reportedly died in the massacre that followed this expedition. Moreover, his son-in-law Mullah Fazlullah led the TTP, one of the deadliest terrorist groups in this country’s history. While this is not a history to be proud of, there are lessons that the state can learn from the life of Sufi Mohammad, especially his quest to violently take over and enforce ‘Sharia’ in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The reason Sufi Mohammad and later Fazlullah were successful in creating havoc in the Malakand region was arguably due to the absence of the state in the area, particularly its civilian arm. Because the area’s residents were deprived of the full benefits of citizenship due to the state’s lack of presence, charismatic rabble-rousers were able to fill the void. And while the military was able to restore order in the area through security operations, the civilian authorities are still found to be lacking where service delivery is concerned. The lesson from Malakand, and indeed all other areas affected by militancy in Pakistan, is that if the state fails to do its job, other actors will step in, and there is no guarantee that they would be benign elements, working within the confines of the Constitution. To prevent the emergence of militant groups with extremist agendas, both the civilian and military arms of the state must prevent vacuums from being created. While the security establishment must maintain peace, it is the civil administration that has to work to ensure that citizens, even in the remotest and most underdeveloped parts of the country, are assured of their fundamental rights.
Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2019