By Ahmad Faruqui
August 21, 2018
In his maiden speech to the nation, Imran Khan focused on a variety of social, cultural and economic problems facing the country. He talked about the need to get rid of corruption, poverty, illiteracy, dependency on foreign loans, and the budget deficit. He also referred to the need to end the lavish style of the ruling class, including the elected officials and the senior bureaucrats. He also spoke about how Pakistanis were singled out in foreign countries.
His speech was weighed down with references to Islam, reminding one of Zia’s many speeches to the nation. He spoke of creating a welfare state, reminding one of Bhutto’s Islamic Socialism. And he talked about “vile politicians” in a manner reminiscent of Ayub.
But the prime minister devoted precious little time to discussing the problem which is threatening to tear apart the social fabric of the country while ostensibly being carried out in the name of a Holy War against the infidels. One has to assume this was a conscious omission.
Religious militancy is the primary reason for Pakistan’s being singled out in foreign countries. It is also why the Pakistani passport ranks third from the bottom on a global scale, just ahead of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Prime Minister seemed to suggest that the West’s War on Terror had caused some of the people in FATA to become terrorists. He failed to mention the long history of Pakistan’s support of “freedom fighters” either in Afghanistan or in Kashmir. He talked about seeking peaceful ties with all neighbours but neglected to discuss the root causes of Pakistan’s long-standing disputes with its neighbours. And he presented no strategy for resolving the disputes.
He talked extensively of reducing government spending, raising taxes, and expanding exports but did not talk about cutting the defence budget or making it more transparent. Surely, corruption and a lavish lifestyle are not the exclusive preserve of civilians.
Pakistan, in the court of world opinion stands accused of fighting a proxy war against India. Pakistan has repeatedly injected militants, variously called “freedom fighters” and “mujahideen” into Kashmir, not once but thrice, in 1947, 1965 and 1999.This “holy war” has not yielded any positive results. In fact the blowback has been terrible. Does PM Imran intend to reverse this tactic?
Pakistan has long sought strategic depth in Afghanistan. That policy has not yielded any positive results either. If peace is restored with India, then there would be no need to seek strategic depth to offset an Indian invasion. Furthermore, relations would improve with Afghanistan as well. Will Imran seek to reverse this failed policy?
While Pakistan was created as a homeland for the Muslims of British India, it is unlikely that the founders expected it to be a religious state. In fact, it was not only nine years after its independence that Pakistan was declared an Islamic Republic. Even then, during the Ayub and Yahya eras, religion was not worn on the sleeve by Pakistanis or their rulers.
Unfortunately, things changed during the tenure of ZA Bhutto. While he was himself a very secular man, the religious parties were able to pressurise him into passing a law that declared Ahmadis non-Muslims.
Of course, religion truly entered the body politic during General Zia’s tenure. And that is where the notion of jihad entered the political vernacular.
To understand the ramifications of this jihad policy, I recently reached out Dr Tariq Rahman, dean of liberal arts and social sciences at Beacon house National University. His newest book, coming out in September, is called “Interpretations of Jihad in South Asia: An Intellectual History.”
In this book, he analyses the thought processes and actions of leading jihadists such as Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar. He shows how the Muslim scripture and prophetic traditions have been used by these actors to carry out what they believe is a bold and necessary mission with a divine sanction.
The book’s main thesis is that interpretations of jihad vary from person to person. The traditionalists view it as being both defensive and aggressive. The progressives view it as only defensive. The radical Islamists view it as insurrectionist, aggressive, and eternal. Their vision also authorises the pursuit of violence not only against armed groups but also against innocent civilians. Violence acquires a divine sanction and becomes a legitimate weapon in the battle to establish a state governed by Islamic law.
The book also discusses how jihad came to South Asia and how the unique social and political environment of the region has shaped its character and given it a militant malevolence.
Dr Rahman said that “Pakistan has been using Islamist militants to bleed India since 1989.” While the Indians were able to suppress the uprising, Pakistan continued with the policy. He added, “It has harmed Pakistan even more than India since it has increased the space for Islamist extremism and anti-religious minorities prejudice,” within Pakistan.
I asked if jihad originated with General Zia. He said, “Islamic propaganda was used by Pakistani governments even before Ziaul Haq came to power, but it became very pronounced during his tenure. I was an army officer in the 1970s and there were talks on Jihad in the army even then, though officers were not religious and the officers’ messes and clubs still served alcohol”.
He said this policy changed during the first two years of Zia’s tenure, in 1977-79. He said anecdotal evidence seemed to suggest that the average officer talked more of Islam and jihad than preserving regimental honour and professional soldiering.
When I asked him about Imran’s likely foreign policy and specifically his policy toward India, Dr Rahman said that Pakistan’s India policy is controlled by the army. Many analysts would call this an absolute truth.
Thus, if Prime Minister Imran Khan genuinely wants to have friendly relations with India, it is unlikely that there will be much “out of the box” thinking on the subject unless the military wants a thaw. And if does want a thaw, it will have to call off the jihadists. The risk is they will turn on the army.
Ahmad Faruqui has written, Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan.