Extremism and Fundamentalism
Fundamentalism is not a new phenomenon and is common to many religions. Today’s dilemma is to comprehend how fundamentalism got linked to extremism and terrorism. The fact is that all terrorists may not be fundamentalist, but given the need and opportunity, fundamentalists and extremists will opt for terrorism, if they think it will help them in achieving their ultimate objective. What most likely links fundamentalism and extremism to terrorism is their pursuit for power and control. Fundamentalism and tolerance for decent and dissidents do not mix well. When extremist and fundamentalists are in power (Islamic or not) they will kill opponents without any regard to international laws and norms, and thus push spectators and potential dissidents into silent acquiescence. When they are in pursuit of power or clout, they will use violence against government establishments and the public to instill fear and show the incompetency of those in power. Islamic extremism and allied terrorist activities are linked to this particular trajectory of fundamentalism.
A cursory look at the groups labeled as extremists clearly shows that they are those who could not win support from the West for their legitimate political struggle and were fighting governments supported by the West. Yet one thing is common amongst them, that almost all of these groups take pride in their Islamic identity—hence the term modifies as “Islamic Extremism”. Islamic actors are active participants in seven of the world’s eleven wars in progress. Thus the religious face of the struggle is always more prominent, in fact the political dimension becomes secondary to it. This allows analysts and observers of the conflict to focus on the religious dimension and link it to terrorism completely ignoring or neglecting issues of political, economic and social deprivation that have to be addressed to curtail this menace. There may be a lot of Islamist movements but all of them are not violent, the religion is broad and diverse. The Islamists groups do advocate basing government and society on Islamic laws, they also have a political face and some work through charities for example in Jordan Islamic parties won the largest seats in parliament without violence. The infamous nineties also saw the rise of Islamic parties in a fiercely secular state of Turkey and a former Islamist leader has been prime minister since 2003. In several Muslim countries Islamists reject western oriented secular states in favor of governments that have Islamic orientation and this is basically a reflection of long standing anti western sentiment against their colonizers who were Christians. Their nationalism is expressed through religious channels. In the Middle Eastern countries under authoritarian regimes the religious institutions and movements are the only viable avenue for political opposition therefore religion emerges as a venue for opposing the power of status quo in both politics and culture.
Zeroing in on Pakistan religious extremism has emerged as the biggest challenge to Pakistan’s internal security and perhaps even to its survival. Pakistan has a chequered political history, where security has always been a misunderstood and misused concept. Those at the helm of affairs have always followed short term policy objectives of Survival and legitimacy and not sustainable developments led security models. Political governments always had issues of survival whereby military regimes seek legitimacy. General Ziaul Haq and General Musharraf were both seeking international recognition when they decided to fight America’s war in Afghanistan.
A parallel factor has been an Indian centric foreign policy. The threat perception that emanated from living next to a large aggressive neighbor who wanted to remove Pakistan from the map of the world has been a part of Pakistan’s existential reality. This motivated the policy makers of Pakistan to pursue policies like Strategic depth and Bleed India. Both these policies have the non-state actor as the main protagonist and proxy wars on each other’s land a main tool. This also contributed to promoting extremist tendencies in Pakistan. The non-state actors were recruited in the name of Jihad and Islam. It is true that the United States also used it against the Soviet Union but it is also true that Pakistan was not ready to let go of this new found strength and wanted to use it against its own enemies. All of this led to human security and development being neglected to a point that it also becomes a contributing factor in promoting extremism in Pakistan. The entire Madrassah culture (Religious Seminaries), Jihadi Mindset, Literalist approach to religion and rejection of progress and modernity are its offshoots. Overall peoples’ faith in the state institutions dwindled. The obvious manifestation of it was the rise of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lal Masjid’s Ghazi Force, Waziristan’s Baitullah Mehsud’s Tribe and the list goes on. They gained popular support because they filled the vacuum of welfare, justice, sense of order, equality and promised a wonderful life in the hereafter. The state of Pakistan chose to ignore their rising power viewing it as an asset rather than a liability till came a point that these forces started challenging the writ of Pakistani state anywhere and everywhere. Things have deteriorated to such a proportion, that the terrorists carry out suicide bombing in the federal capital or anywhere in the country.
The central problem lies in the Pakistan army’s threat perception with respect to India. It is well known that the Pakistan army has a large stake in the state’s affairs including foreign policy and economy. The Pakistan army looks towards radical Islamist groups to further its regional objectives. Throughout the war on terror it has continued its policy of supporting the Taliban and prosecuting the Al-Qaeda. The recent onslaughts against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Swat and South Waziristan were mainly focused on the Mehsud and other enemy tribes. The Haqqani network remains untouched as the Pakistan army seeks to broker a deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government. This however begs the question of who are the Haqqanis. Is Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, (the organization Haqqanis are associated with) a peace loving organization? Jalaluddin Haqqani and Sirajuddin Haqqani have a proven record of association with the terrorist organizations working inside and outside Pakistan. Moreover they are also associated with the banned sectarian outfits in Pakistan such as The Sipah-e-Sahiba Pakistan (SSP), Lashkar-e-Jangwi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM). This relationship between the Pakistan army and certain sections of Taliban raises concerns about Islamization within the ranks of Pakistan’s premier institution.
Conclusion and suggestions
Overall, Pakistan is a moderate and accommodating society which rejects extremism. They do not like extremism among their ranks and files. The present day consensus among the ruling and thinking elite of Pakistan is that the real threat to the country does not come from outside but rather it is imminent from inside; however at the same time they do not want anyone thrusting their philosophy of freedom upon them. For a long time their march towards progress and prosperity had been impeded by the vested interests of the super powers. To remedy the situation, a mix of political and social reform process is needed. The present crisis of confidence of the sitting government is a major issue. The government has shown commitment and ownership of the war on terror but its overall performance is dismal. The issue of societal security remains neglected. The government continues to suffer from the crisis of performance and crisis of survival. The lack of trust between the political bureaucracy and military establishment of Pakistan is also an impediment. The way forward is a complete understanding at all levels in Pakistan that investing in the politics of proxy wars and non-state actors has not paid off. Pakistan has to revert to being a developmental state. The shift from a developmental state to a security state has made Pakistan more insecure and most importantly the thinking circles of Pakistan must think about separation of State and Religion.