Militants: The Good and the Bad
By Kamila Hyat
November 06, 2014
While we continue to talk about corruption and allegations of poll rigging, the two things that have floated their way to the top of our national agenda, the fact is we do not talk often enough about the most serious threat we face.
The militancy that has haunted us now for decades could literally tear us apart. It has already determined much about our lifestyles and fed fear into the environment everywhere, hanging over communities like a cloud that refuses to blow away with the wind. The most recent attack, on people leaving the daily parade at the Wagah border after the flag lowering ceremony on Sunday is the latest reminder of this.
Some communities are of course constantly more fearful than others. We rarely think about them, about what life would be like as a Hazara, or a member of another minority group who have faced more and more risks in the country whose founder said belonged as much to them as to the majority Muslim community. Yet, even when we stand at this point, we continue to talk about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militants.
There are too many who argue that certain groups engaged in violence of various kinds are essentially important to us or serve a useful purpose. This is in some cases because they also engage in large-scale charitable work and conduct this with enormous efficiency and zeal, or because the argument goes that certain forces are necessary to keep India at bay and prevent aggression from that side of the border. For years, Pakistan has used jihadi groups as one of the tools it believes could help it combat the Indian threat. But by doing so it has created a monster that is potentially far more likely to destroy us than anything India could do, even under the aggressive, hard-line Modi.
The fact is that militants of all kinds spread a specific message in society and promote violence within it. Groups such as the Jamaat ud Dawa definitely perform miraculous work when it comes to handing out food, offering flood relief services or performing emergency services in times of national calamity. They deserve applause for this.
But the fact also is that the group, already identified as a terrorist organisation by the UN, is also closely linked to the militant cause and puts forwards an ideology borrowed from the Arab world which has an impact on creating intolerance and a certain mindset in our society. It in fact disseminates information that creates this mindset with the same zeal and efficiency that it uses to assist flood or earthquake victims. We need to understand the role played by such groups and determine where the balance lies: in the scale of the good, the scale of the bad or somewhere right in between them.
Ideas, beliefs and thoughts cannot of course be weighed. But what exists on the ground can. We can survive only if we can learn to live together, regardless of ethnicity or belief. Many of the groups that do ‘good work’ also act to spread intolerance and promote hatred. They have been active in staging protests against ostracised groups in the country, making their situation even more precarious. It is also worth remembering the reasons why they so often reach zones of crisis first is because they run training camps in many areas, notably those in the north.
Even seemingly benign groups act as recruitment entry points into militancy. They need, therefore, to be assessed from different angles. We must, when doing so, consider quite how much damage has been inflicted on our country by hatred and the growing inability to live together, to accept the beauty that lies in diversity and to embrace it with pride, rather than attempting to smother it or destroy it through the use of force. To keep things simple, any organisation violating the law needs to be acted against, and the laws we have in existence bar the creation of private militias as well as the spread of hatred. These need to be implemented.
Let us try to keep things as simple as possible. Militancy is not desirable; nor is the promotion of doctrines that act to snatch away liberties from specific groups. Women and girls are often the target. So are minority groups. Violence has already left a weal dripping red with blood across the face of our nation. We need this scarring to stop. It is promoted each time we have another attack on people anywhere, another assault on minority rights or other action that creates further tensions. We cannot go on living like this.
State policies, used now and in the past, have encouraged certain groups to set up base in our midst. The purpose may have been to combat an external enemy, but the tool we set up to do this has turned in on us. In Punjab, where there has been no real effort at all to go after militant groups, they prey frequently on the most vulnerable, drawing unemployed young men into their cause. The madrasas they run may not teach terrorism, but they do set the base by passing on to their pupils a specific ideology. It is one that portrays non-Muslims as inferior, certain sects as unacceptable, women as being less capable than men and India as an arch enemy.
Such indoctrination makes it harder to build the internal, and the regional peace, that we urgently need. India, especially at the present moment, may not be an easy neighbour to live with, but we have to find a way to do so. There is no other option other than building peace. Intervention through militant elements means retaliation, and an unending cycle of unrest. We after all have situations that can be exploited in our own country. Balochistan is possibly the prime one, and there is every reason to believe that India, and other neighbours, have some hand in stirring up trouble there. This of course weakens us greatly, all the more so since we have been unable to effectively address the problems of that province which began in the 1950s. A period of over five decades should have been enough to sort them out.
By our failure to act and by promoting the narrowed thought we see everywhere, we have put ourselves in real danger. The road has been left open for forces such as the Islamic State to walk in. Some suggest the group, neither Islamic, nor a state, but backed by the same powers that have promoted hard-line sects in our country before, is already here. Whether or not this is accurate, the risk that they will make inroads, aligning themselves with groups already active here, is enormous.
We have stripped ourselves of the ability to combat them, not only because we have allowed militant groups to thrive, but also because we have built in people’s minds the idea that certain brands of militancy are acceptable, even beneficial to us. This leaves us in an impossible situation. We need to understand the extent of the damage inflicted on us by extremism and accept that if we are to save ourselves we have to stand united against it in whichever form it comes.
Kamila Hyat is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.