TO augment antiterrorism efforts on the battlefield, the religious argument is now being used — with apparent backing from the state — to take the wind out of the militants’ sails. In this regard, 16 scholars representing religious institutions in KP issued a fatwa on Monday declaring that only the head of an Islamic country had the right to call for jihad, while also urging the faithful to follow the leadership and the Constitution. While the fatwa’s signatories represent all major Muslim denominations, most of them seem to be from the Deobandi and Ahle Hadith schools, including some of the most influential seminaries in KP. Undoubtedly a scholarly and religious argument is needed to counter the inflammatory rhetoric of violent extremists. But two major questions emerge: firstly, does this represent an indirect admission of the past mistake of arming and training Afghan mujahideen and other religious groups, and secondly, will the militants listen to the voice of reason?
Of course, religiously-inspired militancy has been around in the country for over four decades, taking its most prominent shape during the Afghan jihad. That project, supported by our establishment and co-sponsored by the Americans and Saudis, may have driven the Red Army out of Afghanistan, but it planted the seeds of radicalisation in Pakistan. The jihadi ideology, nurtured on perhaps what was the last battlefield of the Cold War, was later used by the state as a cost-effective method to sponsor groups to fight the ‘good fight’ in held Kashmir as well. However, as subsequent events proved, many of these proxies mutated into monsters that sought to devour the state itself, and the TTP are very much the children of this questionable ideology. Therefore, if the state has sought to forever close the doors on religious militancy, it would be a welcome sign. Yet, as stated above, will violent extremist outfits listen to scholars and lay down their arms? There are slim chances of this happening. After all, in the past several attempts have been made both in Pakistan and abroad involving ulema to delegitimise terrorism. But hardened fighters have shunned these as efforts by state-backed clerics to prevent the spread of ‘jihad’. The latest fatwa may prevent further radicalisation, but it will do little to dissuade hard-core ideological fighters from abandoning their violent ways. The state made the mistake of itself promoting radicalism and misusing faith to forward geopolitical aims. It will take time and effort to counter these narratives.
Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2023