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Uniting against militant ideology

May 03, 2009

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DESPITE the ongoing talks between the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat Mohammadi and the NWFP government and even if the absurdities uttered by TNSM chief Sufi Mohammad, such as declaring the country's superior courts un-Islamic or saying that there's no room for democracy in Islam, are ignored, there is still sufficient evidence suggesting that the Swat deal is in the doldrums.

Defending the peace deal, the ANP-led NWFP government has insisted that the implementation of the accord will contain the Taliban within Swat. Maulana Sufi Mohammad had also assured the government that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan would eventually disarm. The reality is that the Taliban have refused to disarm; they have extended their presence to the adjoining Shangla and Buner districts; operations like the Charsadda suicide bombings are reported to have been planned in Malakand. More recently, military offensives were launched in Dir and Buner.

Such feeble and disjointed campaigns to counter terrorism by the state have allowed the militant movement to gain support throughout the country. Terrorists proclaim their criminal acts as an Islamic jihad against the imperialistic West. Whereas these acts have been roundly condemned, a massive civil society movement like the one that resulted in the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has yet to emerge. Despite the overarching need for a well-coordinated public response against terrorism, concern has been expressed by some over military action in response to extremist violence.

Amongst the few who did have the courage to speak out against the Taliban's acts of terrorism was Maulana Hassan Jan. As a respected religious scholar he is said to have taught the likes of Maulana Fazlur Rahman and many of the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan who seem to have imbibed little of his wisdom. His popularity as a politician and leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam was demonstrated when he defeated none other than Khan Abdul Wali Khan for a seat in the National Assembly in 1990. Maulana Hassan Jan's decree condemning the Taliban suicide attacks as un-Islamic eventually resulted in his assassination in September 2007.

His violent death generated fear among likeminded religious scholars and clerics who preferred to remain silent rather than denounce the Taliban and consequently face their wrath. However, Maulana Hassan Jan's decree did not go unheeded.

In Mach 2008, an edict was circulated in Darra Adamkhel on behalf of Mufti Zainul Aabideen. Through this one-page document, many prominent Muslim sects denounced the extremist acts perpetrated by the Taliban as being “out of Islam”. The edict exposed the contradiction between Taliban atrocities, “in particular the slaughtering and beheading of innocent people”, under the pretence of defending Islam and the tenets of peace and tolerance that the religion actually preaches.

This bold initiative should have been used as a driving force to encourage similar edicts nationwide from religious personalities who are trusted and respected by the masses. It could have provided the impetus needed to launch an effective counter-extremist campaign alongside a similar movement in India around that time, whereby 20,000 Deobandis collectively declared terrorism as un-Islamic. Such parallel efforts on the part of enlightened ulema in Pakistan and India would have generated grass-roots support against extremist violence and reinforced the war against terror being pursued by the government.

This was followed by a more recent meeting in Hyderabad (India) which was attended by approximately 6,000 Muslim scholars and clerics. Their edict separated jihad from terrorist acts. It read, “Jihad is basically a constructive phenomenon. Terrorism is based on destruction alone. Jihad is permitted only for restoring peace and is a fundamental right of a human being.”

The Deobandi movement in India against militancy in the guise of religion was inspired by Sheykh Waheeduddin Khan, a prominent scholar, who stated that Dajjal, a concept that some theologians equate with the Islamic antichrist, is not a person, but is a manifestation of violence and terrorism.

As the Taliban in Pakistan are mostly Deobandi, the impact of such a movement, if efficiently exploited, would have far-reaching consequences in broadening the rifts that already exist in their ranks. An example of this is that Commander Qari Zainuddin Mehsud, chief of the Abdullah Mehsud group, has parted ways with Baitullah Mehsud, head of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The former has accused the TTP chief of misusing Islam to further his own agenda of continuing the reign of terror. He has distributed pamphlets to this effect advising clerics to speak out against Baitullah as his activities are nothing more than pure militancy.

The opportunities are abundant, yet the fervour and unity that emanated from the citizens of Pakistan to reinstate the judges is lacking in the fight against terrorism. The nation has to, once again, unify, mobilise its forces and synchronise its efforts and resources to eradicate terrorism from Pakistan once and for all.

The writer is editor-in-chief of Criterion Quarterly.

mushfiq.murshed@gmail.com