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Islamism within Pakistan's Army and the Nuclear Bomb

By Maajid Nawaz

19 Aug. 2011

Army officers have been arrested for membership, orange stickers calling for an uprising are being pasted in the cities, and trendy young activists with disarming sincerity are recruiting from Pakistan's English-medium campuses; who are Hizbut Tahrir (HT) and what do they want? Having been a member for 13 years, being on the leadership of the groups UK chapter, having helped to co-found the group in Pakistan and Denmark, and having served a 5 year prison sentence in Egypt for my membership to the group, kindly allow me to explain.

I no longer subscribe to the group, in fact I see their activities as one of the biggest obstacles to the progress of Pakistan, and I now challenge not just them but their entire ideology openly. But back in 1999, while I was still prepared to move mountains for the group, we British-Pakistani members received a request from the then global leader, Abdul Qadeem Zalloom. Pakistan had tested its atom bomb, and HTs leader had decided to expand operations to this country. The idea was that if we could establish their notion of an Islamist State in Pakistan, the groups "Jihad" policy of spreading its borders would go nuclear. And so Pakistan's atomic bomb was frankly the main reason we began laying the ground work for much of the group's activities here today.

The group believes that all Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan, Mecca and Madina, are lands of Kufr (apostasy) because they are ruled by man-mad systems. They seek to gain power by infiltrating the armies of these lands, and by inciting military coups against the ruling establishment. They are bent upon eroding all forms of national identity and state that anyone believing in Democracy is an apostate. Theirs is a very 19th century ideological experiment inspired by the 'Communist Internationale'. But I was fully on board. Having left my studies and moved to Lahore, I was involved in recruiting from Punjab University and other cities. I even met some of our army cadets who were sent to the UK's Sandhurst military academy and successfully recruited by us in the year 2000. General Musharraf's army purge of 2003 unearthed this cell, but the recent arrests of a Brigadier and four other officers suggest that the group has been working daily ever since to regain its position inside Pakistan's army.

However, the real danger to Pakistan's stability is not this group per se but the ideology used by this group and shared by many other such organisations, Islamism. Islamism is not Islam. Islam is a noble faith, Islamism is the desire to impose just one interpretation of Islam as state law. Complete with xenophobia, paranoia and fear, HT are merely at the vanguard of this larger phenomenon called Islamism that is slowly hijacking the intellectual life of Pakistan. HT just so happen to be the educated face of this form of extremism, and that is what makes them particularly problematic. I have met many educated Pakistanis, who should know better, and have time and again been asked the same question, if HT are not violent what is wrong with them? Really? So in Europe when the French government bans the Hijab, the Swiss ban mosque minarets and the Dutch ban Halal meat - all non-violent actions - these are then OK too? The truth is, as these examples demonstrate, the real danger lies not in the short-term noise created by terrorists - of the Bin Laden or Breivik variety - but in the long-term and 'acceptable' process of non-violent ideological extremism that alters the very fabric of societies. The beginnings of this process can be seen in Europe, but it has been going on in Pakistan for many decades now. At least Europe has a government policy, both at a national level and EU-wide, to challenge the threat being posed by the rising tide of extremism, whether Far-right or Islamist. At least Far-right extremism in European society remains a recognised threat. In Pakistan, on the other hand, we find it increasingly difficult to differentiate between Islam and Islamism, while more and more of us are living out irreligious lives yet spewing a brand of politicised Islam as our political and ideological narrative.

Unless we wish to live in a Pakistan where apostates are decided by the state and executed, where women are forced to dress in a certain way rather than be left to choose, and where one unelected man (for he must be male) decides how we live our lives, a serious effort must be made to reclaim Islam and Pakistan from the grips of this vanguard. Only by popularising a counter-narrative and making it trendy once more to be a democrat will we have any chance of succeeding. We have made a start through our movement Khudi, but just as Islamists work together, we cannot do this alone.

The author is the co-founder and executive director of the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, and the co-founder of Khudi. Follow him on twitter @maajidnawaz

Source:The Friday Times, Pakistan