By Ayesha Siddiqa
September 11, 2014
It was the first time on Monday morning that I breathed a sigh of relief that the PTI and the PAT Dharna is there and continues to attract attention. Just imagine if the media was not focusing on them they might have taken the trouble of sniffing out the drama which was unfolding in Karachi on September 6. A Chinese manufactured F-22P frigate of the Pakistan Navy, PNS Zulfiqar, came under attack by the Taliban. It is not confirmed as yet if the ship was at sea or docked at the naval dockyard. The story was kept under wraps for two days and disclosed on September 8. It was not that people were not warning others. A friend from abroad had even inquired on Saturday about what was happening in Karachi to which I had no answer as nothing was being reported on television except the Imran/Qadri road show. But I am still happy no one reported the story because the last time someone tried to dig out facts about infiltration of militants and ideologues inside the navy it ended in tragedy.
Gladly, the brave sailors and officers saved the day. However, the attack on PNS Zulfiqar, for which the Taliban took the responsibility, proved yet again the vulnerability of the country’s security. What we are always scared to talk about is the support from inside as had happened in the attack on PNS Mehran, PAC, Kamra and other places. Given the fact that little is known about militant penetration, it is difficult to ascertain the threat. This is about men caught by the demon of disbelief of their state and society. Glance through the literature on state making and you can find how monopoly over violence and making sure it stays that way is one of the many characteristics of a viable and efficient state. However, here is the issue of men, who join a profession to guard the state then turning away, because they suddenly suspect the state is not legitimate. The whole concept of jihad or Takfīr is not a simple issue of people becoming devil-like but erosion of their faith in legitimacy of the state. They begin to desire a perfect Islamic state which can only be brought about by fighting the existing system. Penetrating an armed force becomes an attractive option since achieving such objective tantamount to a force multiplier. A well-trained and oiled war machine can take you places.
Just imagine a situation where militants would try to rebel and take control of a vessel while at sea. Notwithstanding many of the earlier claims that all three services were cleaned during the Musharraf regime, these attacks suggest otherwise. Various religious groups have always had access to men in uniform under one pretext or the other. If it is not the militants then it is Deobandi or Salafi reformation movements such as the Tablighi Jamaat or Al Huda that are allowed to access military personnel and their families. Reportedly, the households of one of the two smaller services were opened up for Al Huda by the senior leadership. The problem here is not with increased interest in religion but the fact that after a while these families and their men begin to get totally confused about where does duty to religion end and to the state begin. Not that they want to kill innocent colleagues and other people but they are blinded by their understanding of dogma to believe that they have to bring suffering in order to improve the world as ordained by God.
The PNS Zulfiqar attack is yet another reminder that things are getting serious. We need to look at this development in the backdrop of the expansion of militancy and extremism in the form of IS and the al-Qaeda’s Qaedat ul Jihad in Indian Subcontinent (QJIS). While many analysts tend to see IS and QJIS from the lens of internal competition amongst militants, especially Zawahiri’s need to build up his strength, some observers argue that the two forces may have different tactics and partners but similar strategic objective. They both want to consolidate and establish a caliphate. In this regard, other existing organisations like the Hizb-ut-Tahrir also have the same desire.
Ayesha Siddiqa is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc.