Current policy fuels the fire of radical violence

By Sheharyar Khan (for Safe Democracy)

Sheharyar Khan looks at the rise in violent attacks in Pakistan and analyzes the diverse factors leading to the recent chaos. He notes that Pakistan‘s foreign relations and the policies of its military government have not only failed to abate extremism, but have added to the current violence and unrest.

PLUS: Political Instability and Pakistan’s Military Regime, by Sohail Mahmood

Sheharyar Khan is a researcher in the Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad. His areas of research are Pakistan Affairs, issues of the Frontier province and Tribal Areas, Human Rights.

SOME MAY APPRECIATE GENERAL MUSHARRAF FOR TAKING a daring step to rein in extremism in Pakistan and promote enlightened moderation as the edifice of his strategy to put the country on the path to progress as well as to woo the West. But to their utmost disappointment, Pakistan is plunging into the grips of religious extremists due to Musharraf’s flawed policies which are mainly aiming at strengthening and prolonging his dictatorial rule.

Today, suicide bombing –unheard of in Pakistan– is a commonplace thing. Religious fanaticism, political violence, attacks on media, disappearances, insurgencies in Waziristan and Baluchistan, all indicate that General Musharraf is no longer on the helm of affairs in the country and his policies have backfired.

On May 21, a blast destroyed a music shop in Charsadda, 150 km west of capital Islamabad; a similar kind of bomb had destroyed several CD shops in Charsadda and Mardan another town near Charsadda, in recent days. In the heart of Islamabad, religious students of Jamia Hafsa and Lal Masjid have taken hostage personnel of law enforcement agencies, and their power has grown.

In Swat, 250 km northwest of Islamabad, the government is helpless in arresting Maulvi Fazlullah, the son-in-law of the jailed leader of Tehrik- Nifazi Shariat. Fazlullah runs an illegal FM radio station for the last two years that has been radicalizing the local population. He is famous for his anti-West sentiments. He also opposes girls’ education and a polio vaccination program. He has also warned a march on Islamabad if the government takes action against Jamia Hafsa.

The radicals are moving eastward to Pakistan from the border areas of Afghanistan after the government struck a deal with local Taliban of Waziristan in September last year. Additionally, a series of suicide bombings has continued unabated.

The government so far has failed to check the growth of extremism. The center of extremism is the semi-autonomous tribal areas adjacent to the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the province ruled by Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), a conglomerate of six religious parties. In tribal areas, the government sustained huge losses of over 700 soldiers before finally signing a peace deal with extremists. The government could not subdue militants in the vast, treacherous terrain and nor could it effectively seal the 2,500 km long border with Afghanistan.

In NWFP, the MMA is sympathetic to radical groups and no action is taken against their activities. Radicals run FM radio channels and utilize all media to propagate their objectives. The mantra of anti-Americanism for the radicals is in chord with that of MMA which helped the latter to achieve a landslide victory in provincial elections. Even in Islamabad, the government has expressed its inability to use force against the radical clerics.

After the six years of ouster of the Taliban regime, the US and its allies are still struggling to control the Taliban resistance. The resistance has witness an upsurge. The Afghan government has failed to deliver any relief to its people and the civilian deaths in US bombings have enraged not only the Afghan population but also their religious brethren in Pakistan. The sympathy and support of their counterparts in Afghanistan has helped the extremists to further radicalize the masses. And the Musharraf support of this war is openly criticized and condemned.

In addition to Afghanistan, the successful resistance in Iraq and the survival of Hezbollah during its conflict with Israel has heartened them. The US role in Iraq and its support for Israel even during the conflict with Hizbullah are the points the extremists bank on to win local support.

Moreover, the radicals now say that peaceful political solutions never work and that violence is the best option. The failure of the US to control the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq has given credence to their policy of violence.

To perpetuate his rule, Musharraf has used every step to weaken the political opposition. He marginalized his opponents by sending the leaders of two main political parties in exile: Ex-prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, leader of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), who was in exile before his coup and kept there by Musharraf, and ex-premier Nawaz Sharif, leader of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), whose government Musharraf toppled in 1999.

Musharraf also broke off members of PML-N and formed a Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and later named it Pakistan Muslim League (PML) thus hijacking the party which was the party of the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He also worked to unite the other factions of PML.

Musharraf went on to form two new parties from the core PPP: Pakistan Peoples Party Patriots (PPPP) and Pakistan Peoples Party- Sherpao. He also played on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement to join hands with him in government. All these parties support military rule. Thus real political leadership has been absent from Pakistan.

He not only manipulated elections in 2002 but also the elections of local governments in 2005 where he picked and chose people.

In NWFP, the center has always come in way of legislation and MMA could never pass the Hisba bill it had promised to the people.

The country is also gripped by a judicial crisis after Musharraf sacked the Chief Justice (CJ), of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary for fear he might create problems for him when he reelects himself from the current assembly and extends his rule while in uniform.

Chaudhary has challenged Musharraf’s reference in the Supreme Court and the entire political opposition has jumped on the bandwagon. The huge welcome to Chaudhary in Lahore, the killing of his supporter in Karachi and the assassination of an important witness in his case, Hamad Raza, have put Musharraf in a cornered position.

General Musharraf’s crusade on religious extremism will bear no fruits as he has not left room for a political process to develop and deliver on the problems. His attempts to derail the democratic and political path have given the extremists more weight.

In such a scenario where rights parties are being marginalized, mainstream political parties are either broken or marginalized and elections are rigged, the military dictator rules only by power. He alienates his people who have no platform to express themselves. This has caused the religious elements in society to deem the political process inutile and they have started believing in violence and resorting to armed resistance.

International politics also plays a role. Hamas won in Palestine but its government was not allowed to function. Pakistani religious wings believe only secular democracy is promoted by America for it has double standards. Also, the resistance the militants are posing to the US in Iraq and Afghanistan gives them heart to choose the path of violence.