By Salman Tarik Kureshi
February 13, 2016
In an act of particularly vile barbarism, the Taliban achieved a cowardly low last month with their attack on the students and staff of Bacha Khan University in Charsadda. Of course, cold-blooded crime of an especially despicable kind has long been a hallmark of these violent savages and their fellow travellers. The APS massacre, the Safoora bus atrocity, the murder of Sabeen Mahmud, the attempted murder of Malala Yousafzai, the unending toll of foul atrocities during the Taliban occupation of Swat and the Mumbai massacres, these are only a few examples of how low these violent primitives are prepared to go. But, of course, they are not alone in their propensity to kill people in cold blood.
For the present, driven out of their final redoubts in North Waziristan, they regrouped somewhere or the other – in Afghanistan, we are told – only to re-enter Pakistan undetected through the very public Khyber Pass-Jamrud route in order to conduct the Charsadda carnage. Here, in Karachi, we have suffered another kind of violence. The gangs, which had for too long turned the streets and alleys of the city into killing fields, seem for the present to have gone home to their families. Forcefully put down by the Rangers, the shooters, electric-drillers, and body-baggers have skulked back into the darkness. But for how long? They will re-emerge; of this we can be sure.
The point is that there is one kind of organised, cold-blooded violence stalking Karachi and this has been erupting endlessly since the 1980s. This is distinct from the murderous violence that came boiling out of FATA, also since the 1980s. Still another, perhaps potentially deadlier kind, has been brewing among the Jaishes and Lashkars in Punjab. Connect these dots. It is not difficult to identify the single cause responsible for all the violence across the country. This infection, this ‘Pakistan disease’, resulted from the massive infusion of heavy weaponry into the hands of organised non-state actors. What connected the secular street warriors of Karachi to the sectarian extremists of Punjab and the Jihadi insurgents of FATA was, simply, the gun. How, when and why did these toxic entities acquire all this massive weaponry? What is the vector for this infection? The answer is simple: the state itself. The story of this is clear and brief and very, very sad. It began on July 5, 1977.
Let us understand that the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) movement of that year, which brought General Zia into power, was heavily backed and funded by the wealthier and more powerful classes of this country, those who were most negatively affected by the pseudo-socialist rhetoric and vindictive anti-business policies of the Bhutto era. Therefore, Zia clearly saw at least part of his mission as being the elimination of “Godless socialism” from the Islamic Republic. This kind of outlook paralleled the US worldview of the time.
The first stables to be cleansed were the campuses where left-wing student organisations could easily have become the phalanxes of a PPP revival. Thus, those student bodies connected with Islamist organisations were encouraged, promoted and armed. The hostel and campus battles of those days where the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) fought it out with other student organisations are the stuff of vivid memory for many now in their middle years. The All Pakistan Muhajir Students Organisation (APMSO), the forerunner of the MQM, was in fact perceived by its founders as an antibody to IJT domination. From its founding in 1979, it also armed itself accordingly. But where did the arms for the Karachi Street, the sectarian murderers and the tribal insurgents come from?
Militant Islamist bands, the Mujahideen, had been sent into Afghanistan periodically for three or four years, with the scarcely concealed support of the Pakistani establishment, to destabilise the Pakhtun irredentist regime of Daoud Khan. In April 1978, a putsch by leftist military officers overthrew Daoud Khan and a series of misconceived attempts to radically reform Afghanistan began. These reforms were forcefully resisted by traditionalist tribal chieftains and the Ulema (clergy) on the one hand, and, on the other, by the Mujahideen guerrillas operating out of Pakistan.
By July 1979, a full-scale insurrection was in progress in Afghanistan, funded openly by Saudi Arabia and covertly by the US, and fully supported by the Pakistani dictator and his military. Advanced weaponry was procured in the world’s armament bazaars and funnelled to the insurrectionists. Thus began the war that is still in progress today. On December 24, 1979, the USSR entered Afghanistan. The war now assumed a heightened character. The Mujahideen were given regular logistical support by the Pakistan army and continuous training by the CIA-Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) combined (some add the name of the Israeli Mossad to these two). Pipelines for still more massive supplies of weaponry, including the famous Stinger missiles, were established. Naturally, given Asiatic chicanery, these weapons pipelines ‘leaked’ massively. Significant portions of these arms were siphoned off into our own illegal markets or were given to favourites. The massive series of blasts at the Ojhri Camp munitions dump in April 1988 was allegedly related to this kind of ‘leakage’.
Thus, we see that the ambitions of Zia, the Pakistani military and US Cold War strategy came together to foster the projection of armed force into Afghanistan and precipitate the longest-running armed conflict in the world since the 14th century. This projection became still stronger with the misguided ‘strategic defiance’ notions of Zia’s successor, General Aslam Beg. Still, a higher level was attained with the injection into Afghanistan of the barbarous Taliban – an entity manufactured in the madrasas (seminaries) of Pakistan under the direct supervision of our establishment and innocent of any US guidance. The subsequent multiplication of further unintended consequences has led to Pakistan becoming a central peril to the entire region...and, most of all, to itself.
The inevitable blowback into Pakistan began in the early 1980s and has grown exponentially since in vivid proof of the hypothesis that, if a state is to remain a state and not fail, it is the organs of the state — the military, paramilitaries and police — that must assert monopolistic control over serious weaponry. Gun power, if let loose and released from control by the state, is a power for the anarchic destruction of the state that has unleashed it. Gun power was unleashed here by our own state establishment to cold-blooded killers. It spread like the bubonic plague through the length and breadth of the country.
Today, our authorities have finally, and with substantial success, fought back against the deadly forces that were unleashed. But, and this is the point, the success of this fight – and our national survival – are predicated, first and foremost, on cleaning up the arms that have multiplied across the land and blocking further supplies thereof. Sadly, as with other necessary sets of measures, such as developing a new national narrative, absorbing FATA into the state, reforming madrasas and mosques, cleansing toxic content from textbooks and syllabi, and putting in place a robust counter-terrorism mechanism, our authorities have failed to even talk about policies for cleansing the land of deadly weaponry.
Salman Tarik Kureshi is a marketing consultant based in Karachi. He is also a poet