By Khaled Ahmed
The Sunni-Sunni war reached a peak in 2006 at Nishtar Park, the year the ISI allowed Sipah-e-Sahaba to stage its show of power in Islamabad, senior journalist and Editor Khaled Ahmed responds to some questions by Viewpoint on the post-Data Darbar attack scenario in Lahore and the menace of sectarian strife in Pakistan.
Viewpoint: Attack on Data Darbar was bloody, but shrines like Bari Imam and many more in Pakhtunkhwa have been attacked in last few years. We have seen attack on Sunni Tehrik in Karachi besides Deobandi-Barelvi riots in Khyber agency. It seems Shia-Sunni strife is now becoming Sunni vs Sunni clash. What do you say?
Khaled Ahmed: Barri Imam was attacked by backers of Lal Masjid through an anti-Shia personality of Kohat known as al-Qaeda Lawyer who was brought as arbiter by our agencies together with others like Fazlur Rehman Khaleel of Harkatul Mujahideen fighting Pakistan's proxy wars during the Lal Masjid faceoff in July 2009. The Sunni-Sunni war was much earlier and it reached a peak in 2006 at Nishtar Park, the year the ISI allowed Sipah-e-Sahaba to stage its show of power in Islamabad. Why should we start dubbing the old war as new war? And why should we leave the state out of it? It is not ‘now becoming', it is ‘continuing' because the state has not decided that it must stop its protégés from killing Pakistanis. Questions should be correctly posed. The Sunni-Sunni strife is old. Ask Mufti Munib and he will put you right and clear your mind of indoctrination. Data Darbar had to be destroyed because of Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328) who figures now in the al-Qaeda pantheon.
Viewpoint: Zia regime is blamed for sectarian trouble in Pakistan. But we have seen that even PPP and PML-N governments are trying to appease these forces. PPP built election coalition with TNFJ while accommodating an SSP minister in its Punjab cabinet back in 1990s. PML-N's appeasement policy has also been highlighted recently. Your comment.
Khaled Ahmed: The state of Pakistan has deployed its non-state actor terrorists in Punjab. Because of the unclear charter of power of the state agencies linked to the army, parts of Punjab are succumbing to the power of the terrorists. South Punjab is vulnerable to three terrorist organisations. The Punjab government is now paying crores of rupees supporting ‘charities' of one of them that it has ‘nationalised'. A new perspective of the Seraiki Movement is gradually coming to the fore, reflecting the political dominance of Sipah-e-Sahaba and its offshoot, the Jaish. No one from among the backers of the Movement – known traditionally to be secular – is willing to even speak of the presence of the jihadi-terrorist organisations. One reason is that most of them want to lean on them to win the elections; the other may be the simple fact of intimidation and the subliminal acknowledgement of state patronage to the terrorists. A Seraiki Province in the coming days will be exclusively the domain of Sipah-e-Sahaba and its friends. It will be for the first time that terrorists posing as Islamic warriors against India and against the Shias of Pakistan will possess an entire province and its resources under the new constitutional dispensation of real autonomy.
Viewpoint: What about the role of Iran and Saudi Arabia?
Khaled Ahmed: Official Saudi Arabia hates al-Qaeda but Saudi civil society plus the civil society of UAE and Kuwait are spending big money in the region so that Shias and Sunnis should be killed in Pakistan because of the ‘jahiliya' act on the part of Pakistan to be an ally of America. Iran is out of the competition after getting a bloody nose in the shape of mass Ashura slaughters in Pakistan.
Viewpoint: What do you say about the curriculum of hate taught at madrassas stoking sectarian fire?
Khaled Ahmed: Textbooks at the madrassas are OK. The courses are culpable only so far as they take the acolyte away from the world outside the madrassa. The isolation of the acolyte and his total enslavement to the handlers is what should bother us. Everyone who does terrorism has been to the madrassas, starting from Sipah leader Azam Tariq, to Harkatul Mujahideen Fazlur Rehman Khalil, Qari Saifullah Akhtar and Mullah Umar. Banuria has the distinction of getting most of its leaders like Yusuf Ludihanvi and Shamzai killed after they sanctioned violence on targeted communities. The Madrassa network is not only sectarian; it also disagrees with the state of Pakistan as it is. But this is not a strict law. Suicide-bombers are also picked up from mosques. All strictly religious people are vulnerable, as shown by Faisal Shahzad and his helpers.
Viewpoint: Media, in bid to maintain sectarian harmony, almost never mentions the sect perpetrating acts of terror. Even victimized sect is not mentioned. Does this self-censorship help? Also, how would you evaluate the role of media with regard to sectarian tensions in the country?
Khaled Ahmed: Media has to be protected. If it is not, it is vulnerable to threats. Mangal Bagh picked up a reporter from Peshawar and made the offending newspaper apologise and swear that it will not print anything against him. Media also is Urdu-dominated and those who speak and write well in Urdu are from the same background as the terrorists. But the dimension of widespread extremism has to be added, otherwise people like Javed Ghamidi too would be terrorists.
Viewpoint: ‘No Muslim can do it' is a mantra we often hear from different circles. What do you say about this exercise that many call self-denial?
Khaled Ahmed: This is pure Muslim doublespeak and it is universal, so one can call it collective insanity. Muslims no longer do ‘amal'; they simply do ‘radd-e-amal' and end up killing themselves. And ‘amal' is all from America. This gives rise to the absurd ‘radd-e-amal' of killing Muslims in Pakistan because America is supporting Israel in its enterprise of killing Muslims. The term self-denial is wrongly applied. It is simply denial. The non-Muslim world must remain strong against this lethal trend; otherwise it will succumb to the suicidal dogma and lose its freedom. Meanwhile, non-Muslims and apostatised and ‘apostatisable' Muslims like Shias and Ismailis living in Pakistan are under direct threat because the state is too weak and too involved in its own extremist transformation to protect them.
Viewpoint: Do you see any parallels in attacks on shrines and Barelvis in Pakistan with attacks on shrines and Shia population in Iraq as in both cases a majority sect is under attack?
Khaled Ahmed: There is no comparison. In Iraq, the Shia majority is being attacked by Sunnis, some of whom like al-Qaeda cross the border into Iraq. But the Shia, unlike the Pakistani Shia, have counterforce. In Pakistan, it is Sunni killing Sunni. There is no comparison. The common factor is al-Qaeda and its slave organisations brought into existence by Pakistan to fight India.
Viewpoint: How dangerous is this sectarianism for civil society bodies particularly political parties, trade unions and professional bodies. Also, what civil society needs to do to counter this growing menace?
Khaled Ahmed: Civil society is ipso facto not a virtuous community. In the Islamic world, civil society is dangerously bigoted while the rulers are liberal, as in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt. Civil society as a counterforce to the state is a Western construct. If civil society is more intolerant than the state then it cannot be called civil society. (Maulana Fazlur Rehman is right when he says there is no such thing in Pakistan.) The madrassa is a civil society product and will conquer the state if it can. Democracy is vulnerable to extremism for this reason. If we produce a dictator like Musharraf or Hosni Mubarak we can survive for some time; if we produce General Zia then we are sunk. Another problem is that after a ‘liberal' dictator leaves there is a reaction in civil society in favour of bigotry and extremism. If Egypt goes collectively terrorist, with stoning to death (mostly women) and cutting of hands taking place in its streets under the Ikhwan, Hosni Mubarak will be blamed.