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Understanding Pakistan’s response to Mumbai

By Praveen Swami


President Zardari’s government, many had hoped, would dismantle the Pakistan that Zia-ul-Haq built — a Pakistan based on the dual primacy of the military and the mullah, resting on the pillars of religious chauvinism and hatred for India. If President Zardari’s handling of the fallout of the Mumbai carnage is any indication, the forces he represents have neither the will nor the resources to reverse history.


More than half-a-century ago, two of Pakistan’s most eminent judges drew this bleak lesson from a wave of violence that had led the country into the first of its many experiences of martial law: “As long as we rely upon the hammer when a file is needed and press Islam into service to solve situations it was never intended to solve,” wrote Justice Muhammad Munir and Justice Mohammad Rustam Kayani, “frustration and disappointment must dog our steps.”


Pakistan’s establishment didn’t listen then — and does not seem to be listening now. Ever since the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s attack on Mumbai, commentators have been struggling to explain just why Pakistan appears so reluctant to act decisively against the perpetrators. Some have focussed on the Lashkar’s patronage by the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate; others on the Pakistani military’s hopes of weakening President Asif Ali Zardari. All these explanations have merit but miss a critical element: the slow transformation of the Pakistani state itself into an instrument of the jihadist agenda.


Last month, as tensions between India and Pakistan escalated, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Sahibzada Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, called a clerical convention to discuss the issue. In their fatwa, the clerics dismissed the charge that the Mumbai attacks were authored in Pakistan, and instead called on their government “to unveil Indian conspiracies against Pakistan.” The fatwa, issued on behalf of the Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz — the Front for the Protection of the Prophet’s Honour — made it obligatory on all Pakistani citizens to wage jihad against India should war break out.


Earlier, ISI Directorate chief Lieutenant-General Shuja Pasha hailed jihadist leaders Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah, whose depredations have claimed the lives of thousands of Pakistanis, as “true patriots” for offering to fight India.


Much of the ongoing debate rests on the proposition that Pakistan’s institutional relationship with political Islam was forged by General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, in the context of anti-Soviet Union jihad in Afghanistan. In fact, the problem is older — and more fundamental. Ever since the birth of the Pakistani state, Islamists and secular democrats became locked in an irreducible ideological war for its soul. Each important battle, tragically, the religious right won.


In 1951, the Majlis-e-Ahrar, a group of clerics who had ceded from the Indian National Congress two decades earlier, initiated an agitation calling for members of the heterodox Ahmadiyya sect to be declared non-Muslims. It also demanded the removal of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Chaudhuri Zafarullah Khan, an Ahmadiyya. In the view of its mullahs, Pakistan was an Islamic state — and in an Islamic state, the minorities could not enjoy equal rights.


Factional politics helped the anti-Ahmadiyya movement gather momentum. Punjab Chief Minister Mumtaz Muhammad Khan Daulatana had for long used the services of the mullahs, as well as Maulana Abul Ala Maududi’s Jamaat-e-Islami, to keep public attention focussed on religious issues. Daulatana thus covered up his inability to address the province’s economic problems. For their part, the clerics regained ground lost through their opposition to the creation of Pakistan, and pushed for its new constitution to decree into existence an Islamic state.


Punjab’s Inspector-General of Police, Qurban Ali Khan — a man who, as chief of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau, laid the foundations of the ISI’s overt war against India — repeatedly warned against allowing the anti-Ahmadiyya movement to gather momentum. Daulatana, however, refused to act even after attacks against the Ahmadiyya adherents and mosques began to escalate from 1951. Even Prime Minister Khwaja Nazim-ud-Din found his religious sentiments outraged by the Ahmadiyya literature he was shown during his discussions with the Ahrar clerics. “Khwaja Nazim-ud-Din is a devoutly religious man and since he did not straight away reject the demands, he must have been impressed by their plausibility,” Justices Munir and Kayani observed.


Despite the extensive efforts to bribe and inveigle the anti-Ahmadiyya movement into easing off, matters eventually came to a head. In March 1953, Pakistan’s Prime Minister was compelled to reject the Ahrar demands, leading to massive violence. Punjab declared local martial law. As Justices Munir and Kayani noted, the Islamist cause by this time had developed a broad base of support. Had this not been the case, they noted, “Muslim Leaguers whose own government was in office would not have risen against it; [the] sense of loyalty and public duty would not have departed from public officials who went about howling against their own Government and officers; respect for property and human life would not have disappeared in the common man.”


“If there is one thing that has been conclusively demonstrated in this inquiry,” Justices Munir and Kayani concluded, “it is that provided you can persuade the masses to believe that something they are asked to do is religiously right or enjoined by religion, you can set them to any course of action, regardless of all considerations of discipline, loyalty, decency, morality or civic sense.”


It was a lesson that key leaders of the movement to transform Pakistan into an Islamic state — like the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Maududi — learned well. The failure of the Pakistani state to act against the rising tide of religious neo-conservatism aided their cause.


“By the time the 1956 Constitution came into being,” scholar Hassan Abbas has argued, “the religious forces of the country had consolidated their position quite considerably. Among other things, the communist-inspired military coup attempt in 1951 had inclined the government of the day to view the religious parties with a certain detached, if not benign, neutrality.” Maududi — sentenced to death by a military court for his role in the Punjab Disturbances — succeeded in securing the commutation of his sentence to life, and continued to wield enormous political influence. Pakistan, its 1956 Constitution decreed, would henceforth be called an “Islamic Republic;” the new Constitution also had a clause mandating that no law repugnant to the Koran and the Hadith could be passed.


General Ayub Khan, who took power in a palace coup two weeks after President Iskandar Mirza declared martial law in October 1958, initially attempted to reverse the tide. He renamed the country the Republic of Pakistan, removing the word “Islamic;” in 1961, he introduced a Family Law Ordinance that considerably strengthened the position of women; later, there were attempts to modernise madrasa education. However, Ayub Khan also set up an Advisory Council on Islamic Ideology, thus institutionalising the role of clerics in the affairs of state — and launched a war in Jammu and Kashmir that was cast as a jihad.


Maududi greeted Pakistan’s next military ruler General Yahya Khan — an officer whose hard-drinking, womanising ways were even then public knowledge — as “a champion of Islam.” Yahya Khan did little for the Jamaat’s project in Pakistan but did use its Razakar irregulars to unleash a campaign of terror in what is now Bangladesh. Yahya Khan’s use of Jamaat-e-Islami irregulars in Bangladesh built on similar experiments in Jammu and Kashmir — and prepared the ground for Pakistan’s use of jihadists as an instrument of state policy a decade later.


Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who became President and then Prime Minister in the wake of Yahya Khan’s post-1971 war humiliation, followed much the same trajectory. His Constitution declared Islam the state religion, and committed it to teaching religion in schools. Bhutto also set up a Council on Islamic Ideology, along the lines of the body instituted by Ayub Khan, to bring secular laws into line with the Shariah.


Islamist clerics, Bhutto hoped, would not ask for more but they did. By 1974, Bhutto —who had alienated his peasant and working class constituency by this time — was facing a new anti-Ahmadiyya movement led by the Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing, the Islamic Jamaat-e-Tulba. Bhutto at first sought to contain the agitation by arresting some 834 of the protesters and their leaders. Later, though, he caved in and declared the Ahmadiyya sect outside the pale of Islam. It did nothing, though, to prevent the near-inevitable outcome: the army leveraged the chaos to assert itself, and Zia-ul-Haq was installed as Pakistan’s third military ruler.


Pakistan’s establishment understands the agenda of the Lashkar, and groups like it — but sees their actions as an asset, not a threat. In a recent article, Pakistani journalist Khalid Hassan recalled a colleague questioning President Pervez Musharraf on his decision not to act against the Lashkar and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. “They are not doing anything in Pakistan,” Hassan recalls General Musharraf explaining, “they are doing jihad outside.”


President Zardari’s government, many had hoped, would dismantle the Pakistan that Zia-ul-Haq built — a Pakistan based on the dual primacy of the military and the mullah, resting on the pillars of religious chauvinism and hatred for India. If President Zardari’s handling of the fallout from the Mumbai carnage is any indication, the forces he represents have neither the will nor the resources to reverse history. Islamabad, post-Mumbai, isn’t in denial. It is simply driven by the reflexes imprinted by the history which gave birth to it.



Pakistani neocons and UN sanctions


At a meeting with a group of journalists among whom I was present, my dear and much lamented friend Tahir Mirza, then the Dawn correspondent, asked Musharraf why he was not acting against Lashkar-e Tayba and Jaish-e Muhammad. Musharraf went red in the face and shot back, “They are not doing anything in Pakistan. They are doing jihad outside.”


Khalid Hasan


Like bullfrogs out after heavy summer rains, Pakistani cyberspace and the realm of the printed word are full of the croaking of neocons who have convinced the already ignorant that the Security Council sanctions against Jama’at-ud Dawa and certain individuals only came because Pakistani officials were either sleeping at the post or had conspired with the 15-member Security Council to let the axe fall.


These people are not interested in facts. They only have opinions.


One cybercon who answers to the name Ahmed Quraishi writes on December 24, “We have a government with shady characters in key places, strongly backed by the Bush administration, acting and behaving as if they were representing a US occupation government in Pakistan.” Under “recommendation”, he proposes, “We need to start a witch-hunt in Pakistan to cleanse our academia and public life of such self-haters and defeatists who poison the minds of young Pakistanis about their homeland. Such academics and human rights activists should not be allowed to hide behind the freedom of expression.”


The two “traitors” he refers to are Pervaiz Hoodbhoy and Asma Jehangir.


Then there is the Ann Coulter of Pakistan, Shireen Mazari, who writes, “Thanks to the pusillanimity shown by our leaders ever since the Mumbai acts of terrorism, Pakistan is being squeezed by so-called friends and foe alike.” She goes on to predict, “However, let there be no doubt that India is going to carry out surgical strikes, probably beginning with AJK. After all, the extraordinary and unscheduled Envoys Conference can only have been called to contain the diplomatic fallout of such strikes.”


It is pointless to inform her that the envoys’ conference had been scheduled for some time and was not summoned because of Mumbai. Mazari also wrote that “in the Mumbai aftermath, we chose to prevent our allies from rallying around us in the UN Security Council.”


Ann Coulter, I should explain, is a neocon American figure who urged the bombing of Mecca and who wrote, “Liberals are always against America. They are either traitors or idiots, and on the matter of America’s self-preservation, the difference is irrelevant.”


She is also an ardent admirer of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy and his witch hunts.


But to return to the Security Council sanctions, a statement issued by the Foreign Office in Islamabad laying out facts was lost in the din created by our croaking neocons. So let me quote that for the record:


“Action against the JuD and certain individuals was initiated following their designation by the UN Sanctions Committee established pursuant to the UN Security Council Resolution 1267, on the Consolidated List of individuals and entities associated with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The request for enlisting the JuD had been under consideration of the UN Sanctions Committee since 2006… Since this resolution was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, it is obligatory on Pakistan to fully implement its provisions. Pakistan, as a responsible member of the United Nations, has fulfilled its international obligations.”


On December 9, a day before the resolution, Pakistan’s UN ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon said in a statement, “After the designation of Jama’at-ud Dawa (JuD) under (Security Council resolution) 1267, the Government, on receiving communication from the Security Council, shall proscribe the JuD and take other consequential actions, as required, including the freezing of assets.”


This shows that the sanctions were more than expected as was their imminence and the UN mission was not asleep as is being charged by the Ann Coulters and other neocons of Pakistan.


Those who are rising in defence of Lashkar-e Tayba and its mutation, the Jama’at-ud Dawa, perhaps neither know nor do they care to know what the Security Council’s terrorism sanctions committee is. And although these cybercons and super-patriots are beyond redemption and repair, let me nevertheless explain what this committee is and in the face of which Pakistan is accused of having acted pusillanimously.


The Security Council Committee established pursuant to Resolution 1267 (1999) on October 15, 1999, is also known as “the Al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee”. The sanctions regime has been modified and strengthened by subsequent resolutions, including Resolutions 1333 (2000), 1390 (2002), 1455 (2003), 1526 (2004), 1617 (2005), 1735 (2006) and 1822 (2008) so that the sanctions measures now apply to designated individuals and entities associated with Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and/or the Taliban wherever located.


The names of the targeted individuals and entities are placed on the Consolidated List. The resolutions listed above have all been adopted under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter and require all states to take a number of specified measures in connection with any individual or entity associated with Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and/or the Taliban as designated by the Committee.


And what are those measures? Freeze without delay the funds and other financial assets or economic resources of designated individuals and entities; prevent the entry into or transit through their territories by designated individuals; and prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale and transfer from their territories or by their nationals outside their territories, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types, spare parts, and technical advice, assistance, or training related to military activities, to designated individuals and entities.


The Committee is one of three subsidiary bodies established by the Security Council that deal with terrorism-related issues. The other two committees are the Counter-Terrorism Committee and the 1540 Committee. The three Committees and their expert groups coordinate their work and cooperate closely and the Committees’ chairmen also brief the Security Council on the activities of the Committees in joint meetings, when possible.


No one can prevent the action of the committee; nor is anyone invited or told about its proceedings. Normally the first signal is a note circulated to all UN member states.


And now the unvarnished truth.


Since 2006, Pakistan, against better advice and reasons that have been blown sky-high by Mumbai, had kept the sanctions from being clamped with the help of China. However, after the Mumbai attacks, China informed Pakistan that it could no longer block the terrorist group and individuals from being sanctioned. The question the neocons and the super-patriots should ask, but don’t, is: Why was Pakistan blocking sanctions against a terrorist group?


And this takes me back to Pervez Musharraf’s first visit to the US after his coup. At a meeting with a group of journalists among whom I was present, my dear and much lamented friend Tahir Mirza, then the Dawn correspondent, asked Musharraf why he was not acting against Lashkar-e Tayba and Jaish-e Muhammad. Musharraf went red in the face and shot back, “They are not doing anything in Pakistan. They are doing jihad outside.”

Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 28th, 2008 at 6:00 pm