Fighting terrorism sans fighting its ideology

At the cost of repeating myself, I have to say that ideologies do not stop at the defence forces barriers. Most of the armed forces personnel are as good Muslims as their civilian brethren and bring with them religious ethos of their families and the society they live in. Like any other conservative Muslim of Pakistan they are equally susceptible to the Islamic extremism narrative.

Most media analysts, who are close to Rawalpindi, claim that they that the establishment is not so naïve that they do not know this simple fact. If the embedded analysts’ observation is right, then why the establishment has no counter Islamism narrative?

Time and again in the last many years armed forces installations and personnel have been attacked by the terrorists, with active or indirect support of the people from within. Just take the example of the recent attack at the Naval Dockyard, which was foiled by the Navy guards fighting valiantly against the Jihadists. This time around the government is more transparent and admitted that it was an inside job before the media started commenting on the attack. But when Jihadists attacked the PNS Mehran in May 2011 the infiltration of these terrorist groups in the security forces was hushed up. Journalist Saleem Shahzad had to pay with his life for speaking up. It is only now from Amir Mir’s report in The News that we find that some senior officials were court martialled in the Mehran base case. Good work by the intelligence investigators .

Now this brings us to the basic question why militant Islamic organistions are finding it easy to influence even educated civilian and military people? First we should just look at some main factors which make Pakistan an easy hunting ground for the militant predators. Right from school we are indoctrinated with a conservative Islamic ideology and history where each Muslim invader is glorified and a narcissist interpretation of history is drilled in our mind. Critical thinking is discouraged in our schools which is a prequisite for any enlightened society. Saleem Ali in his seminal book on ‘Islam and Education’ has underlined “It is important, however, to remember the distinction between formal education and regimented education. The ability to have critical thinking skills is central to a constructive formal education.” The Madrassahs’ curriculum is even more outdated and exclusivist according to the sect it belongs to. Jihadis, who lay down their lives in operations in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, are projected as heroes and romanticised.

A good number of mosques are also used to propagate that the entire world is conspiring against Islam. Conspiracy theories are easy to sell in weak nations as there is a tendency to pass on the blame and discourage introspection. Such theories are amplified with messages in support of waging Islamic Jihad by the Urdu media. TV channels and newspapers are intimidated by these militant groups to give them positive coverage. The jihadi organisations have over 50 publications which attract the youth to the various shades of Islamic ‘Khilafat’ and Al Qaeda doctrine.

We continue to dangerously mix religion with politics and our security policy. The Pakistani establishment also started using Jihadi organisations to destablise India and Afghanistan. A major mistake because it was bound to boomerang sooner than later. It is bound to influence the handlers of the Jihadi organisations first, because they are in touch with them. It is no wonder that Islamism has penetrated the forces. As our officers and jawans are trained with the narrative that they are defenders of a country which is a fortress of Islam and is destined to lead the Islamic world they are more susceptible to Jihadi ideologies.

So what is to be done? The security establishment should shun the Jihadi ideology and support to such groups; closely monitor that in the name of preaching Islam no hate mongering is indoctrinated to its rank and file; and purge the supporters of these organisations. The politicians should take the ideological challenge and develop a communication strategy scientifically to convince people that the terrorists have declared war against Pakistanis using religion and that we have to stand united for building a modern democratic secular Pakistan. It is not war against terrorism; it is defending Pakistanis from terrorism. Nothing short of that will work now.

There are many blind spots and the largest is that we cannot see that our security forces need spring cleaning. The security forces should realize that their slogan “Jihad fe sabil Allah” (Jihad in the name of God) is the slogan of the Jihadi organisations also.

Now with the rise in Islamic extremism in the country and the organised propaganda promoting grand Islamic Jihad by various Al Qaeda and Islamic State franchisees intrusion of the ideology of Jihad and establishing “Islamic Emirates of Pakistan” or an “Islamic Khilafat” in Pakistan cannot be stopped by any operational security measures. The model for this Islamic ‘Emirates’ or a ‘Khilafat’ is that of Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan and more recently the brutal IS.

What is not recognised at the civil-military policy making level is that while the military is selectively fighting the terrorist organisations and thousands of our security personnel have been martyred, they have not challenged the ideology of Jihad. Thousands of mosques, madaris and religious organisations are preaching Jihad against the West and its allied governments in the Muslim countries. Aren’t we blind to this glaring fact?

The writer is author of What’s Wrong With Pakistan? (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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