New Age Islam
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Radical Islamism and Jihad ( 14 Apr 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Militant Islam: The Nemesis of Pakistan



The biggest irony of Pakistan’s history is that Islam, which was supposedly the raison d’être of Pakistan, not only failed to hold the country together, but also became the biggest source of its identity crisis. It is in the name of Islam that the country has suffered some of its worst internal conflicts in the last 10 years. And it is in the name of Islam that the country has created an image of being the most potent source of religious terrorism, which poses a threat to peace and stability in large parts of the world.

              The founders of Pakistan had set out to create a separate nation for all the Muslims of the subcontinent. But the number of Muslims who chose to stay back in India was more than the Muslims who opted to join Pakistan. Among those who joined Pakistan, 55 percent decided to quit in 1971 to form a separate state. In 1974, under the prime ministership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, an influential section of Pakistani Muslims called ‘Ahmediyas’ was declared as non-Muslims, mainly on doctrinal grounds, i.e., differences on who constitutes a real Muslim. The last 20 years have witnessed accentuation of conflict between different Muslim sects, i.e. between Sunnis and Shias on one hand, and on the other between Sunnis themselves.

               These political conflicts were manifestations of a deeper philosophical confusion as to what constitutes an Islamic state is structured. There is no uniformity even among the so-called Islamic states. Within Pakistan, the debate as to how the Islamic state of Pakistan should be structured, or what the role of Islam should be in this state, goes back to the days of its birth. While the ulema and the religious community in general were always keen that Islam should play a dominant role in Pakistan, they were never clear about what the role should be. Against this view, the modernists, i.e., the Western-educated political leaders, intellectuals, civil servants, and even the army officers in the first three decades wanted the Pakistani state to be run on Western parliamentary lines, with Islam playing a role only in the personal lives of the people.

               Vigorous attempts at Islamicisation were made from the mid 1970s onwards, but all such attempts only sharpened the internal conflicts and contradictions in Pakistan, and did not make the people any happier. In the words of John Esposito, an astute scholar on the Islamic world, “Islamization in Pakistan has travelled a rocky road. . .  . Greeted with scepticism by some and with enthusiasm by many, the process thus far has led to frustration, disillusionment and opposition. . . . Pakistanis have found it easier to rally under the umbrella of Islam in opposition movements, e.g., against the British and Hindu rule or, more recently, against the Bhutto regime, than to agree upon what Islam and an Islamic state are. ‘1



In view of the fact that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, it became imperative for the Pakistani leadership to lend some specific Islamic character to the Constitution of Pakistan. But this ran contrary to the requirement of making Pakistan a modern democratic state, the thinking in which the same Pakistani leadership had been brought up. Pakistan’s constitutional history, therefore, has been one of struggle to make Pakistan a liberal democratic state on one hand, and to make it conform as much as possible to Islamic orthodoxy on the other. In theory, the system that evolved by virtue of the 1973 Constitution provides enough scope for a liberal democracy to take root. In practice, however, civilian and military rulers with dictatorial tendencies used Islam as their tool. The result was that Islamist elements over the years acquired extra-constitutional power and influence disproportionate to their support among the electorate. This extra-constitutional power has become a major source of instability and disruption in Pakistan, and a threat to peace in the region.

                 The 1956 Constitution incorporated many elements of a modern parliamentary democracy (popular sovereignty, a party system, equality of all citizens) to which several Islamic clauses were added to respond to the demands of religious leaders. Among the principal Islamic provisions were: the state was to be called the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’; it was to be a democratic state based on Islamic principles; the head of state must be a Muslim; an Islamic research centre was to be established to assist in the ‘reconstruction of Muslim society on a truly Islamic basis’; and there was a ‘repugnancy clause’ which stipulated that no law contrary to the Quran and Sunna could be enacted.

                 The 1956 Constitution was a compromise. The modernists got a document whose few Islamic provisions caused a minimum of inconvenience. The religious leaders wanted an Islamic state based on full implementation of the Shariah. They settled for a system in which no law could be repugnant to Islam. The relationship of modern constitutional concepts to Islamic principles was asserted but not delineated.

                 The rule of Field Marshal Ayub Khan (1958-69) provides another example of the failure to achieve a national consensus on the meaning, character, and implementation of Pakistan’s Islamic ideology. Ayub Khan wanted to introduce modern, reformist Islam. He held the religious establishment chiefly responsible for the stagnant state of Islam, and therefore, tended to ignore or minimize the role of the religious elite. Ayub Khan’s Constitution of 1962 and the reforms embodied by him in the Muslim Family Laws ordinance of 1961 did not find favour with the religious leaders who saw in these steps a direct challenge to the traditional role of the ulema as the guardians of Islam, and advisers to the Muslim governments.

                 The 1962 Constitution generally adopted the Islamic provisions of the 1956 Constitution. There were however, some significant changes. The new document initially omitted ‘Islamic’ from the official name of the republic, and the divine sovereignty phrase which limited the power of the state ‘within the limits prescribed by Him’. Under strong pressure from orthodox sections, these Islamic provisions were restored by the First Amendment Bill of 1963. The issue of Muslim Family Law reform became a major point of contention between Ayub Khan and the religious establishment. In 1963, an attempt to repeal the new law was defeated in the National Assembly after some 20 hours of debate. Thus, during the first two decades of Pakistan’s existence, the modernist elite succeeded in establishing a functioning state, but failed to evolve a consensus on what was needed to make Pakistan an Islamic state.

                 Ironically, it was the secularist Prime Minister Zulfekar Ali Bhutto, committed to the socialist goal of ‘roti, kapda aur makan’ (‘food, clothing and shelter’), who provided the maximum veneer of Islamicisation to Pakistani politics. Bhutto was compelled to do so because of a severe identity crisis faced by Pakistan after the secession of the eastern wing in 1971. Islam so far had failed to provide national cohesion. The effort was how to get the maximum out of it in future, particularly because strong ethnic sentiments were likely to assert themselves in residual Pakistan.

                 In a bid to establish a common identity with the Muslim world and draw closer to the Arab oil-producing countries for aid, Bhutto hosted an Islamic summit in Lahore in 1974. On this occasion, Col. Gaddafi addressed throngs of Pakistanis in Lahore, and President Sadat mediated between Pakistan and Bangladesh, leading to the latter’s diplomatic recognition by Pakistan in the name of Islam.

                At home, Bhutto introduced socialist measures like nationalization of basic industries and land reforms and equated them with Islamic social justice. Phrases like Musawat-i-Muhammadi and Islamic Musawat became part of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) rhetoric. In addition, in 1974, Bhutto yielded to the decades-long campaign of religious leaders to have the Ahmediyas declared as a non-Muslim minority. When Bhutto came under further pressure of a combine of Islamist parties called the people’s National Alliance(PNA), which had declared his socialism as un-Islamic, Bhutto promised in his revised manifesto for the 1977 elections that he would have community life more firmly based on the Quran, and replace Sunday with Friday as the weekly holiday. Despite these strenuously Islamic endeavours of Bhutto, it was tragic that the downfall of this first directly elected government was brought about by the PNA, in collaboration with the military. This was the beginning of Islam acting as an ally of military dictatorship, and pitted against democracy. The future was to see much more of this alliance.



Gen. Zia-ul-Haq set out to legitimize his military dictatorship in the name of Islam, and therefore cultivated and strengthened Islamist elements most vigorously. Claiming that he was going to establish Nizam-i-Mustafa (‘the system of the Prophet’). Or Nizam-i-Islam (‘the system of Islam’), he took a number of steps. In a reconstituted Council of Islamic Ideology in 1977, he made provision for appointment of six ulema out of a total membership of 17. Three areas of immediate concern were picked up for Islamicisation of polity and economy, namely, the imposition of Islamic taxes, i.e., zakat (alms-giving) and ushr (agricultural tax); an economy free of riba (interest); and an Islamic penal code. In December 1978, Zia announced the creation of Shariah Benches, courts to determine whether or not existing laws were repugnant to Islam. In February 1979, as chief martial law administrator, Zia formally announced the creation of Nizam-i-Islam, and from then onwards imposed a series of Islamic measures affecting politics, laws, the courts, economics, education, culture, worship and women.

               Paradoxically, however, the steps taken by Zia, despite the support of the Islamist elements, ended up in creating a series of conflicts and contradictions in Pakistani society and politics. Gen. Zia had postponed the promised elections in 1977 and 1979 on the ground that Pakistan’s political system was not Islamic. These actions produced opposition not only from the supporters of Bhutto but also from PNA members who had supported Gen. Zia in toppling Bhutto. The constitution of Shariah courts came in for strong criticism from the legal profession as well as from women. The constitution of the Majlis-e-Shoora of 350 members in 1982 to serve as a federal advisory council until an elected national assembly was formed led to the consolidation of all democratic opposition under the name of the ‘Movement for Restoration of Democracy’ (MRD).
             Zia’s introduction of Islamic measures like zakat, ushr, and hudood punishments accentuated sectarian tension between the Sunnis and Shias. The Shias, who constitute nearly 25 percent of the population, claim that their school of traditional legal thought, namely, Jafari fiqh, is different in its prescription from the Hanafi-based Sunni fiqh. Shia demonstrations in 1980 against zakat had led to violence and bloodshed. Islamic resurgence under Zia brought to the surface the differences among various Sunni sects too, e.g., Deobandi, Barelvi, Wahabi, Ahle Hadith, and so forth.

            Post-Zia analysts have held Zia-ul-Haq responsible for changing the nature and course of Pakistan’s politics along dictatorial and fundamentalist-militant lines. According to a very perceptive analysis done by M. Ilyas Khan and Zaigham Khan, there were three elements in Zia’s attitude towards politics.² First, he rendered politics unworkable in Pakistan by blurring the distinction between politics and terrorism. By raising the bogey of Al-Zulfikar and conducting a massive propaganda campaign against terrorism, he hanged, flogged, and imprisoned pro-democracy political activists. Human rights organizations were branded agents of the West and hounded both by state functionaries and state-sponsored fundamentalists. Political parties were outlawed and local-body elections, the only ones permitted under Zia, were held on a non-party basis. At the same time, sectarian and other parties were reared in the provinces to fragment the polity, making it impossible for mainstream political parties to operate as effectively as they once did. Zia introduced institutionalised corruption by creating a non-party house (parliament) and dishing out hard cash to parliaments in the name of ‘development funds’. The benefits from these funds never managed to trickle down to the constituents. This proved to be the single most important deathblow to politics, as the masses were increasingly convinced that, for most of their leaders, politics was just a wise investment.

               Second, Gen. Zia proceeded to offer an alternative focus to the public in the shape of religion. A peculiar brand of Islam was created and packed specially for the purpose. Even Amir-ul-Azim, a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a beneficiary of power during Zia’s regime, feels that ‘terms like accountability, simplicity, clean government and Islamization were exploited by Zia’.³

              In the words of Ilyas Khan and Zaigham Khan, ‘In the new order (created by Zia), anything that was democratic was branded as un-Islamic which in effect meant that all political parties agitating for democracy found themselves battling a holy warrior instead of a military dictator.’4 Student wings of religious parties were assigned the task of hounding out all leftist and pro-democracy elements from educational institutions. New laws such as the Hudood Ordinance were brought in to create an impression that Pakistan was being turned into a truly Islamic state. Salaat committees were raised for door-to-door campaigning for namaz. Eating in public was strictly prohibited during ramzan [the month of fasting]. Religious programmes were allocated a disproportionate amount of time on the state-controlled Pakistan TV, and even textbooks were changed for more emphasis on religion.

Third, Gen. Zia altered the entire system of government, apparently to ensure that even if politics did make a comeback, it would find no foothold in the new society. From a parliamentary democracy headed by an elected prime minister, he changed the system to an arrangement that later came to be known as ‘the troika’. In this troika, the prime minister was only one of the three key decision makers, and often not the most powerful one. As Ilyas Khan and Zaighan khan put it. ‘The message was clear: any politician, even if he was elected to office, was not to be trusted and that there must exist mechanism to keep him in check.’5

                    The use of Islam by Zia to justify and sustain his unconstitutional and dictatorial rule has been widely commented upon by writers and journalists in Pakistan. It has been pointed out that Zia-ul-Haq seized power under circumstances very different from those of Ayub Khan. At the time of Ayub Khan’s coup, the people of Pakistan had not yet experienced a sustained period of democratic government. Therefore, ‘developmentalism’ sustained as a tool of legitimacy for Ayub’s regime. But Zia’s coup followed a stint of elected government, the first ever in Pakistan’s history. Therefore, Zia needed a new tool to legitimize the withdrawal of civil liberties by him. He chose Islam.

             Zia employed Islam in affecting legislation as well as altering the character of state institutions such as the judiciary and the executive. For instance, the nominated Majlis-e-Shoora was given the semblance of a law-making body with wide-ranging powers. Since religion was made the point of reference for law-making, the stakes in sectarian interpretation of law increased. This caused the intensification of sectarian consciousness and deepening of sectarian cleavages. Islamicisation also precipitated further deterioration of the position of minorities. The minorities were already feeling insecure under the 1973 Constitution (Article 227) dividing the citizenry and its rights according to particular sects. Bhutto had already alienated the Ahmediyas by declaring them as non-Muslims through an amendment in 1974. Zia compounded the folly by declaring the profession and practice of the Ahmedi faith as ‘criminal’. The addition of the blasphemy law to the penal code and the imposition of separate electorate system intensified the division between Muslims and non-Muslims.

              Thus, Zia’s laws and policies resulted in making vast sections of the population extremely vulnerable to Islamic militancy. The pursuit of power through militant action by Islamic ideologues and their fundamentalist followers was encouraged by legislating in favour of such groups, and by the character of Zia’s invocation of Islam. Hina Jilani, an eminent Pakistani commentator, has analysed the situation thus:

              The question here is not one of interpretation of Islam, but of the motive and the context in which it was enforced: Zia did not employ Islam with the intention of inculcating positive values, such as peace and honesty, imbibed by Islam. His use of religion was limited to aggregating power with an authoritarian state through the police, army, and bureaucracy; exercising arbitrary control; and the denial of human rights to the Pakistani citizenry. Islam was enforced to deny women the right of being equal witnesses and to stifle freedom of expression, association, and even religion. A survey of laws and policies instituted by Zia reveals that Islam was invariably employed where rights were to be cur-tailed, and not for the expansion thereof.6

                      Zia-ul-Haq used Islam to promote his dictatorial rule left behind a legacy of division, disruption, contradiction, and conflicts. It may be useful in this connection to recall here the views of one of the best Pakistani minds who also happens to be an important political leader of the opposition in the Senate, Mr Aitzaz Ahzan of the PPP. Answering a question on the future of Zia’s legacy, he said:

              Personally, I see very bad times ahead. Within a matter of months, there will be a complete breakdown of civil society in Pakistan. The ethnic and nationalist forces in Sindh are confronting the state head on. The Punjab is becoming completely isolated be-cause of the policies of Nawaz Sharif. There is going to be a reaction to the unfettered Punjabi dominance. The nationalist and ethnic groups will join together and the madrasas will erupt. The mujahideen returning from Kargil may add to the very uncertain and militarized situation. There will be a great civil conflict in the Punjab and the Frontier. The militants may not be able to take over the state apparatus, but civil society as we know it will be destroyed by fundamentalist and sectarian groups fighting each other.7



               Pakistan used Islam as a conjunct of its foreign policy ever since its existence. This took the form of cultivating special relations with Muslim countries, receiving economic aid from them, establishing technological and military relationships with them, joining multilateral Islamic organizations and using their platforms to promote is foreign-policy goals, specially vis-à-vis India. In the last 20 years, however, Pakistan fell prey to the temptation of nurturing militancy in the name of Islam, and thought this to be an easy option as a means of promoting its strategic goals in the region, particularly in Afghanistan and India. Pakistan called it ‘jihad’, which means ‘holy war’. Obviously, the intention was to mobilize and motivate the Pakistan Army and irregular armed forces of all kinds in the name of Islam.

              Pakistan first employed this strategy against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan from 1979 onwards. Pakistan should have been able to wage its war against the Soviet Union without invoking Islam. But by making it an Islamic cause, Pakistan found it easier to receive financial support from Saudi Arabia and volunteers from various Muslim Countries like the United States and China, which supported Pakistan’s ‘Islamic’ strategy merely because it was directed against the Soviet Union, are now reaping its bitter consequences. However, Pakistan thought that anti-Soviet jihad had served it well, and after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989, started adapting the same strategy to suit its requirements against India, in Jammu & Kashmir. Over the years, Pakistan and Afghanistan have become breeding grounds of jihadi forces which are being exported with the full backing of resource-rich Muslim countries to conflict zones like Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Dagestan, and to undertake specific terrorist missions against countries like the United States and India.

             The story of Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet forces is well known and extensively written about. Pakistan has no reason to deny this involvement. Also, it was the single largest beneficiary of it, in financial and political terms. But Pakistan chooses to be ambiguous about its involvement in post-Soviet Afghanistan, which has been afflicted with civil war ever since the Soviet withdrawal. Pakistan cast its lot with the Taliban, a force which grew out of Afghan refugee students who got their religious and military training in Pakistani madrasas and started making their impact on the battlefield from 1994 onwards.

              Various accounts would tend to suggest that Pakistan was directly responsible not only for the creation of the Taliban as a force, but also for their ideological and political motivation and their military training. Pakistan’s objective could be to bring Afghanistan under the control of a friendly Pushtun –dominated regime so that it could acquire strategic depth vis-à-vis India, have a safe transit route for Central Asian oil and gas pipelines, and get direct access to Central Asian Muslim republics for its long-term political, economic, and cultural goals.

              Over the years, the western region of Pakistan and the southern region of Afghanistan became a vast network of training camps for highly motivated militant youth to perform assigned tasks in Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the world. Some of these camps, in the Khost region in southern Afghanistan, acquired publicity when the United States launched missile attacks on them in August 1998 in retaliation for Islamic terrorist attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania earlier in the year.

              A vivid account of the nature of these camps is available from the following investigative report of a Pakistani journalist: Militant and extremist Muslim groups from the Arab states, Pakistan, and Azad Kashmir, fighting against what they believe are the ‘Westernized’ regimes in their respective countries, and the Indian occupation of Kashmiri, have found not just sanctuary in war ruined Afghanistan, but moral and material help as well. The presence of Arab and Pakistani nationals affiliated with different religious political parties and organizations on Afghan soil dates back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. They were joined by Kashmiri freedom fighters in late 1980s.

               At the inception of the Afghan war, Arabs hailing from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Algeria, Yemen, and other Muslim states, most of whom were members or sympathisers of the Egyptian-based Muslim Botherhood (Akhwan-ul-Musalmeen), arrived in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets along-side the mujahideen led by former Afghan prime minister and chief of the Hizbe-Islami, Afghanistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. A sizeable number of these Arabs, many of whom later joined ranks with other mujahiddin factions, such as those led by the deposed Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, Porf. Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, and the chief of the Jamaat-ul-Dawa, late Maulvi Jamil-ur-Rehman, have now rallied under the banner of Osama Bin Laden.9

             To understand the participation of Pakistani Islamic parties in these training activities and the deep links between them, the following part of the same report may be noted:

Among the Pakistani and Kashmiri groups receiving training in Afghanistan to fight Indian troops in held Kashmir, are volunteers from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, an organization which was carved out of the Harkat-ul-Ansar, a militant outfit declared a terrorist organization by the United States. Harkat-ul-Ansar took over charge of the Salman Farsi training camp in the Jawar area after volunteers of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, a military wing of the Jamat-i-Islami, Pakistan, were evicted from Khost by the Tal-iban in 1996. The camps were then rechristened the Amir Muhawiyya camp. The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen is led by Fazl-ur-Rehman Khalil of the Dera Ismail Khan district of the NWFP, and is apparently an independent organization. Similar to this organization is the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen headed by Mufti Bashir, a splinter group of the Harkat-ul-Ansar based in Muzaf-farabad, Azad Kashmir. Despite differences between them, both these groups shared the training facilities available at the Amir Muawiya camp. Another group that operates in the same area is the Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami, whose chief, Qari Saiful Islam Akhtar, was originally an activist of the Harkat-ul-Ansar but later parted ways with the organization and formed his own group. Fighters affiliated with Akhtar’s organization have taken part in combat against Afghan opposition forces near Kabul. Interestingly, Qari Saiful Islam Akhtar is alleged to be one of the key characters in the conspiracy to overthrow [the] Benazir Bhutto government in 1995, and assassinate the top brass of the armed forces with an aim of bringing about an Islamic revolution in Pakistan. The two army officials involved in this coup attempt, Brigadier Mustansar Billah and Major Zaheer-ul-Islam Abbasi, were court martialed, but the chief of the Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami managed to escape justice by fleeing to Afghanistan.


    A sizeable number of activists from the two factions of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Maulana Sami-ul-Haq repectively, have since 1994 also joined Taliban Ranks. Reports also suggest that hundreds of volunteers of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) from the Malakand Division have been sent to Afghanistan to strengthen Taliban ranks and receive military training. The participation of Jamaat-i-Islam workers in the Afghan jehad, especially the activist of its student’s wing, the Islami Jamiat-e-Taliba, is no secret. A number of them were killed in the battle between Gulbaddin Hikmatyar and Burhanuddin Rabbani for the control of Kabul. This pan-Islamic band of holy crusaders has not restricted its activities to Afghanistan and Kashmir. Volunteers from assorted Arab groups, Pakistanis, and Kashmiris are reportedly also fighting alongside the Muslims in Chechnya, Bosnia, and recently Kosovo. 10

There is no dearth of evidence to suggest that Pakistan considers the Taliban as virtually an extension of its own military apparatus to jointly achieve the objectives of first capturing the whole of Afghanistan, then Kashmir, and then carry forward their jihad into the rest of India, and later beyond South Asia into Central Asia. A recent report in the Far Eastern Economic Review has the following to say:

Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban is complex and fraught with severe repercussions for Islamabad. Mainstream Pakistani Islamic parties jostle for strategic alliances with the Taliban. Between 3,000 and 5,000 Pakistanis belonging to a dozen different Islamic fundamentalist parties are in Kabul with Islamabad’s blessing for the Taliban summer offensive against the Northern Alliance.

Their leaders have set up receiving centres and offices in the central district of Kabul, which now resembles a Pakistani suburb. Their presence has worrying implications for India-Pakistan relations. Some of these Pakistanis are war veterans from earlier Taliban campaigns and from recent fighting in Kashmir against Indian forces, while others are on summer holiday break from madrasas or Islamic schools.


Also in Afghanistan, however, are the leaders of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, or the SSP, and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi—extremist Sunni groups accused of killing hundreds of Pakistani Shias and attempting to assassinate Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif . . .


The Taliban have also given sanctuary to fighters from Pakistan’s Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, who have been linked to bin Laden and whom Washington declared a terrorist group last year for attacks on civilians in Bosnia, Chechnya, Indian-held Kashmir and Tajikistan.11



Imposition of Islam within the country and employment of jihad as a foreign-policy tool by Zia-ul-Haq led to strongly contradictory trends in Pakistani society. On one hand, the political appeal of Islamic parties declined sharply, as reflected in the decrease in the number of seats and percentage of votes won by them in successive elections. On the other, armed violence on account of sectarian conflicts increased many times; the number of religious, fundamentalist, and militant organizations, institutes, and madrasas went up dramatically; and more and more people, particularly belonging to the middle and upper-middle classes, were attracted towards the adoption of the ‘pir-mazar’ culture, characterized by regular attendance at weekly meetings of organizations like the Tablighi-Jamaat.

             The political appeal of religious parties started declining in the post-Bhutto period. From 20 percent of total votes cast in 1970, their share decreased to only 5.6 percent in the 1993 election.12  All religious parties put together held 18 seats in the National Assembly in 1970. The number came down to nine in the 1993 election.13 The Jamaat-e-Islami won eight seats in the party-less polls of 1985. In 1993, this party could have only three of it members elected.14

            There are many factors which are said to have been responsible for the decline in the political appeal of religious parties. First, the slogan of Islamicisation failed to attract public support because the Islamic identity of the country was never disputed. While religion was important to people, few of them wanted to see the country transformed into a theocratic state. Second, unlike in other Muslim countries such as Algeria and Egypt, Pakistan’s Islamist groups remained allies of the military establishment. Their support for autocratic military rule caused serious damage to their political bases. Third, political support for Islamic parties deteriorated further when they became a part of the Islamic Jamhoori Ittehad. Another factor which affected the Islamic forces adversely was the emergence of militant sectarian groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba and Tehrik-e-Jafaria, Pakistan. These organizations divided the Islamic political forces and fuelled extremism.15

                The rise of sectarianism is a phenomenon which is usually attributed to Zia-ul-Haq. But keen political observers in Pakistan believe that no ruler of Pakistan can be absolved of responsibility in this regard. According to I.A. Rehman, the sectarian virus ‘was embedded in the religious trappings of the political demand for statehood in the form of Pakistan’.16  Soon after Independence, the majority sect, the Sunnis, began to focus on the religious credentials of individuals enjoying authority in the political and administrative spheres. The presence of Shias in high positions was considered by the majority sect as an encroachment on power and privileges that it considered to be its exclusive preserve. Further, any manifestation of strength during the minority sect’s rituals, such a muharram ceremonies and processions, drew an adverse reaction from the majority sect.

                The Shia community was further antagonized—and protested vehemently—when the government tried to introduce religious courses in educational institutions. With the exception of Ayub Khan, every Pakistani ruler made concessions to theocracy, thereby fuelling sectarianism.17 More than anything else, what acted as a catalyst to sectarian conflict was the raising of a large Sunni military force to capture Afghanistan from more indigenous claimants to power. The phenomenon of sectarianism could not be summed up more crisply than in the following words of I. A. Rehman: ‘They (the Pakistani rulers) have paid no attention to the verdict of history that whenever and wherever politics has been made subservient to belief, a battle of sects has been unavoidable. All theocratic politics must inexorably degenerate into tyranny of the dominant sect.’18

               Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a few weeks before his removal in the military coup of 12 October 1999, gave an unequivocal warning to the Taliban government of Afghanistan about providing sanctuary to Pakistani sectarian terrorists, following a fresh cycle of sectarian violence. This warning was an acknowledgement of the fact that the decades-long investment by Pakistan’s secret agencies in Afghanistan had backfired, and skills gained by militants in the use of explosives and light and heavy weapons were now being applied against its own people.

         Pakistan can blame no one else for the backlash of its Afghanistan policy in terms of increased militancy and terrorism at home. Thousands of volunteers affiliated with the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam (Fazul Rehman) or JUI (F), Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam (Samiul Haq) or JUI (S), Tehrik Nifaz Shriat-i-Muhammadi, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Kashmiri fighters from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Al  Badr Mujahideen, and Arab nationals from different countries have been trained in guerrilla and defence warfare in Afghanistan during the last two decades, and hundreds more continue to report at the military camps in the Taliban-controlled areas of the country every month. What is noticeable about this activity is that no minimum age is set for the recruitment, and boys in their early teens are often seen heading for the frontline.19

          Giving an example of the impact of this cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the field of militancy and terrorism, Behroz Khan, a highly respected Pakistani journalist, points out in his report that the number of registered religious institutions in the NWFP, according to official statistics, is above 1000. There are no official estimates of other madrasas run by individuals in various parts of the province, Frontier and Tribal Areas (FATA), and the Northern Areas. According to conservative estimates, some 20,000 Afghan students are enrolled in various religious institutions in the NWFP and the overall strength of students at these seminaries is likely to be above 100,000. Officials in the country’s security agencies believe that 15 to 20 of these religious institutions pose a potentially grave threat to law and oreder.20 

          The institutions for Sunni Muslims receive much of their funding from Saudi Arabia, and various NGOs and charity organizations from a number of Arab countries, in addition to a meagre amount provided from the zakat fund by the government. The Shia institutions, especially in the Kurram Agency, Hangu, and Peshawar districts, get their funding from Iran. The flow of unchecked foreign funding to both sects has allowed them to construct spacious mosques, imambaras, and religious institutions with boarding facilities. And the fallout of this heavy funding is the outburst of sectarian violence that leaves scores of the innocent dead—all in the name of religion.21  In the words of Behroz Khan:

Pakistan is thus paying a heavy price for its fundamentalist brigade’s adventurism, both in terms of loss of precious human lives and in the threats it constantly faces from the world’s powerful states of tough economic and military sanctions for its close ties with the Taliban government, and what are perceived as its links with terrorist networks.22  

The massive increase of sectarian violence in Pakistan in the last 20 years can thus be seen as the consequence of the Islamicisation policies of successive governments and backlash of Pak-Afghan collusion in training the militants. It is, nevertheless, not easy to understand why the government and people of Pakistan have encouraged the establishment of such a large number of Islamic military organizations and groups in the last 10 or 15 years. The growth of such organizations continued unchecked even during the post-Zia democratic governments. A list of some of the largest Islamic militant organizations, provided by the Herald news magazine in September 1998, is as follows:







Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan.


Sipah-e-Mohammad Pakistan.23


The most typical of those organization, and the one with the largest manpower and resources, is the Lashkar-e-Taiba (‘army of the righteous’), even though it is the latest to join the ranks of the jihadi organizations. The Lashkar was formed after the Afghan jihad against Soviet occupation was nearly over, and is primarily meant to train recruits to do battle in Kashmir. There are many Pakistani jihadi organizations operating on the Indian side in Kashmir, but the Lashkar is the largest of them. The members of other jihadi organization are mainly local men, assisted by fighters from the other countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. ‘Eighty percent of the mujahideen in other jihadi groups operating in Kashmir come from that area’, according to a spokesman of the Lashkar. ‘But the case with Lashkar is exactly the opposite. Eighty percent of the Lashkar’s soldiers belong to Pakistan’, says the spokesman.24

             Compared to other similar organizations, the Lashkar-e-Taiba has proved to be a resounding success. Since its inception, it has managed to attract thousands of committed young men to its fold. The Lashkar prefers not to reveal the exact number of men it deploys in Kashmir at a given time. ‘The Amir decides how many mujahideen should be sent to the valley’, is all that the spokesman reveals. ‘The decision depends on the number of deaths that have taken place. It also depends on the requirement and capacity of the organization inside Kashmir to absorb new fighters.’25  What is known, however, is that the Lashkar recruits and trains many more men than it actually requires to fight in Kashmir at any given time.

            An interview with the Amir of the Lashkar-e-Taiba reveals the specific motivations and goals of this organization. An extract of the interview conducted by a Pakistani journalist, Zaigham Khan, with Hafiz Mohammed Khan, Amir, Lashkar-e-Taiba, runs as follows:

There are Muslim organizations who preach and work on the missionary level inside and outside Pakistan, but they usually steer clear of jihad. However, not only has the need for jihad always existed, the present conditions demand it more than ever.

Our jihad is confined strictly to not-Muslims, and particularly Hindus and Jews, rhw rqo Min wnwmiwa od rhw Muslims. The Quran too has declared these two groups to be enemies of Islam. These two powers are creating problems for Muslims and for Pakistan. To my mind, Hindus are what the Quran terms as mushriks (polytheists). This Hinduism is the worst form of shirk (polytheism) in which 30 million gods are worshipped. And from here shirk has been smuggled to other nations of the world. Hindus are creating problems for us directly. If God gives us the power, we will enlarge the scope of jihad to include the Jews who are the worst danger for the Muslim.26

        It may be pointed out here that the Lashkar-e-Taiba is the militant wing of Markaz-e-Dawa-wal Irshad, an Ahle Hadith Wahabi organization based in Muridke, near Lahore. The Markaz was founded in 1987 by three university teachers, Zafar Iqbal and Hafiz Mohammed Saeed from the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) in Lahore, and Abdullah Azam of the International Islamic University. Azam was killed in a bomb blast in Peshawar in 1989, but both Zafar Iqbal and Hafiz Mohammad Saeed still teach at the UET and continue to lead the organization. For the first three or four years, the Markaz was funded by Arab donors interested in ‘purifying’ Islam in the subcontinent, which is considered to have been tainted by the influence of Hinduism. But many Pakistani businessmen now support the Markaz generously, paying hundreds of thousands of rupees each month. The men who join the organization also help to raise funds. The money has been used by the organization to acquire precious land in Muridke. At the moment, the organization runs 30 schools in which nearly 5,000 students are enrolled. ‘We will continue to work in the twin fields of education and jehad’, says Professor Zafar Iqbal, one of the founders of the Markaz. ‘Jehad is carried out to establish the system of Allah in the world. But this system cannot be established without education’, the professor explains.26



Carried away by their successes in Afghanistan and by the clout acquired by them through militancy within Pakistan, the Islamic parties have of late started pressurizing the governments in Pakistan on matters of domestic and foreign policy, making their already not-too-easy task still more difficult. For instance, on 14 September 1998, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the Amir of the Jamaat-e-Islami, while addressing a protest rally against the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in front of the parliament building in Islamabad, thundered: ‘You will dig your graves by signing the CTBT. You will sign your death warrant by doing so, and we will take out your funeral procession from the National Assembly.’27

          The qazi was not alone in his condemnation of the government’s dithering’ on the CTBT issue. Equally incendiary views were being expressed by numerous religious organizations across the country. The very next day, Maulana Samiul Haq’s Darul Uloom Haqqania, one of the most influential Deobandi madrasas in the country, issued a fatwa deeming any support for the CTBT, whether verbal or in writing, to be rebellion against the Quran and Sunna. The fatwa ostensibly came in response to a query in which the petitioner, after arguing that the government would be ‘selling out to the Jewish, Christian, and Hindu powers and dealing a fatal blow to the forces of jihad’ by signing the CTBT, had posed the question: ‘Does the government have the right to sign this death warrant, this document of shame?’28

        What explains so much bravado on the part of Islamic organizations that they venture to express opinions and incite the masses on issues on which they have little knowledge, and which are not directly related to their original purpose? The only plausible explanation is that ever since the creation of Pakistan, the ruling elite, which includes the army, the bureaucracy, the political class, and consequently the people of Pakistan, have allowed themselves to be held hostage to the belief that since Islam was the only justification for the creation of Pakistan, it is in the name of Islam alone that Pakistan can be held together. And this, despite the warning given by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his speech in the Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1948 that the political role of Islam was over after Pakistan had been achieved.

          Since the Pakistani elite failed to discover alternative sources of inspiration to sustain and strengthen the country, it fell back on Islam and its ‘proprietors’ after every shock that the country received from within or without, giving to these ‘proprietors’ a sense of importance disproportionate to their political worth. The process culminated in a symbiotic relationship between Islamic political parties and various militant outfits that came into existence during the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad, with disastrous consequences for Pakistan itself in the post-Soviet period.

          For instance, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) has a fundamental connection with the Taliban, since the rank and file of the student militia was originally formed by Afghans educated at JUI-run madrasas. The Sipah-e-Sahaba is also linked to the Taliban, as well as to the Harkat-ul-Ansar. The Jamaat-e-Islami is said to have spawned a guerrilla offshoot, the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, while most Ahle Hadith political groups in the country are affiliated with the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Similarly, Shia political parties in Pakistan are associated with the Hizb-e-Wahadat. ‘After cutting their teeth in battle in Afghanistan and Kashmir, the young Islamist militants prove to be a key human resource for hard-line religious parties in their activities on the streets of Pakistan.’29 Together, the Islamic political parties and the militant outfits have given rise to what may be called a ‘jihadi culture’, with jihadi movements and jihadi strategies which are deployed inside and outside the country by vested interests. The consequence, in terms of instability, disruption, disaffection, conflict, and contradiction, within Pakistan and outside, is there for anyone to see.



Pakistan has been described by many in the West and some in Pakistan as a ‘failed state’. In the words of Syed Ali Dayan Hasan, a distinguished Pakistani commentator:

Pakistan is indeed a failed state. A state that does not have enough self-confidence to take criticism can only be described thus. A state that feels constrained to legalise bigotry and exclusion, extremism and prejudice, coercion and oppression in order to survive is certainly not presiding over a vibrant, successful and self-assured society. When mediocre opportunists start looking and sounding like heroes, it is time to unequivocally condemn those whose venality is responsible for the moral schizophrenia enveloping society. The responsibility for this situation ultimately rests with the failing leaders of Pakistan. Sharif is not just one of them—he may well be worst of them.30

       For India and the rest of the world, the question is not whether Pakistan is a failed state. Even if it is a failed state, it cannot be wished away. The relevant question is: What does Pakistan mean to the rest of the world? Is it a source of stability and strength, or a source of disruption caused by terrorism and militancy, the so-called ‘jihadi’ culture, supposedly sanctified by Islam, has already done enough damage to Pakistan itself, so much so that self-respecting Pakistanis feel embarrassed and ashamed. It is for the rest of the world to see whether it can help Pakistan put itself on an even keel, in terms of values and principles, and meanwhile guard itself against the adverse repercussions of a ‘failed state’, ideologically speaking, at least.


Notes and References


1.     Esposito, John L. 1987. ‘Islam: Ideology and Politics in Pakistan’, in Ali Banuazizi and Myron Weiner (eds. ), The State, Religion, and Ethnic Politics: Pakistan,


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Iran, and Afghanistan, pp. 360-1. Lahore: Vanguard Publishers.

2.     ‘Zia and Politics: Attitude and Impact’, The Herald (Karachi), August 1999, p.54.

3.     Ibid.

4.     Ibid.

5.     Ibid.

6.     ‘Zia and the End of Civil Society’, The Herald (Karachi), August 1999, p. 63.

7.     ‘Zia Replaced a Tolerant and Liberal Civil Society with an Intolerant, Retrogressive One’. Interview with Aitzaz Ahzan, The Herald (Karachi), August 1999, p. 61.

8.      For links between the Taliban and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), see Ahmed Rahsid, ‘Pakistan and Taliban’, in William Maley (ed.), 1998, Fundamentalism Reborn? Afghanistan and the Taliban, London: C. Hurst & Co., pp. 84-9. For the relationship between the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-I-Islam and the Taliban, see ibid, pp. 74-6.

9.      ‘Afghanistan’s Nation of Islam’ Newsline (Karanchi), September 1998, p. 37.

10.   Ibid., p. 38.

11.   ‘Afghanistan: Heart of Darkness,’ Far Eastern Economic Reviews, 5 August 1999, pp. 11-12.

12.    Adil, Adnan. 1996. ‘Pakistan Politics: Emerging Trends and Issues’. Paper presented at an international seminar on ‘Pakistan: Society, Economy and Policy’ at the South Asia Studies Centre, Rajasthan University, Jaipur, 14-17 February, p.Centre, Rajasthan University, Jaipur, 14-17 February, p.5.

13.   See I. A. Rahman, ‘Rout of the Mullahs’, Newsline (Karachi), October 1993, pp. 44-6.

14.   Adil, op. cit., n. 12 above, p. 5.

15.   For details, see Zahid Hussain, ‘The Rise and Decline of Political Islam’, Newsline (Karachi), February 1998, p. 44.

16.   Rehman, I. A. ‘The Politics of Religion’, Newsline (Karachi), October 1999, p. 78.

17.   For details, see ibid., pp. 78-80.

18.   Ibid., p. 80.

19.   See Behroz Khan, ‘Sectarian Spill-over’, Newsline (Karachi), October 1999, p. 76.

20.   Ibid. p. 77.

21.   Ibid.

22.   Ibid., p. 76.

23.   For the antecedents and objectives of these organisations, see ‘Allah’s Armies’, The Herald (Karachi), September 1998, p. 28.

24.   See Zaigham Khan, ‘Allah’s Army’, The Herald (Karachi), January 1998, p. 125.

25.   Ibid.

26.   Ibid., p. 125.

27.   See Zaigham Khan, ‘Playing with Fire’, The Herald (Karachi), September 1998, p. 25.

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28.  Ibid, p. 26.

29.  Ibid, pp. 26-7.

30.  Hasan, Syed Ali Dayan. 1999. ‘Failing Leadership in a Failed State’, The Herald (Karachi), June 1999, p. 43.


Professor Satish Kumar is a well-known political commentator and author. Former Prof. of Diplomacy, JNU, New Delhi, he is at present Director, National Security Research Foundation (NSRF), a New Delhi based think tank devoted to the study of national security related issues pertaining to India and its strategic neighbourhood. He is also Editor, India’s National Security Annual Review. This paper originally appeared in January 2000 issue of AAKROSH, a renowned defence policy journal published from New Delhi.