Those who were responsible for framing Pakistan’s foreign and defence policies in the 1980s had banked on the misleading assumption that the clash of two super-powers that had ensued in the neighboring Afghanistan was at best a never ending conflict and at worst either one of the two combatants would decamp the field like the Americans did when the Viet-Congsover ran the US troops in South Vietnam in 1975.
But in either case the policy that the then Pakistan’s military Junta led by General Ziaul Haq had devised to meet the developing situation across its north-western borders would ensure, Islamabad was convinced, a perpetual inflow of unencumbered dollars: A never-ending war would ensure a never ending flood of US dollars and in case one of the two were to concede defeat it would be another kind of flood, that of petrodollars from the Muslim Middle East led by Saudi Arabia.
And naturally the Junta did not prepare a plan ‘B’ to meet the situation that emerged in early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union leading to its dissolution and the US walking away from the scene of the war bequeathing the aftermath to Pakistan. And naturally Islamabad did not know what to do with the three million Afghan refugees left destitute on its soil and how to handle the US inspired Jihad that had entered into the mental make-up of its national persona and the jingoistic madrasa culture that had seeped deep and wide across the country.
In desperation the Junta went along with the only idea that it thought would ensure continued inflow of petrodollars. So, very soon the Saudi Islamic school thought with emphasis on intolerance and radicalization started spreading through the length and breadth of the country. As a logical corollary the Muslim Middle East funded madrassas began sprouting all over the Pakistan.
And those of our strategic thinkers that had started calling the shots after the demise of General Zia’s Junta following his death in an air crash instead of getting rid of this creed as quickly as possible and returning to the usual business of building a social welfare state as envisaged by the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, tried to employ this misleading ideologyin the Indian held Kashmir (IHK) to avenge its ignominious defeat in 1971 at the hands of India in the defunct East Pakistan. Meanwhile, the bloody free-for-all that was going on in post-war Afghanistan was seen by these strategists as a God sent opportunity to create what they called ‘strategic depth’ across the Durand line.
So began two almost ten-year long wars launched using non-state actors made up mostly of the graduates of the Jihadi madrass as. Both wars were being waged simultaneously, one on the side of freedom fighters in IHK and the other on the side of Taliban against Northern Alliance. By the time, these wars ended without achieving their objectives the minds of most Pakistanis had been captured by an Islamic school of thought that rejected all other competing thoughts as un-Islamic branding the followers of these other schools of thought as apostates ordained by their interpretation of Islam to be killed to purify the state of Pakistan and make it really a land of the pure.
The mainstream political parties whose responsibility it was to counter this ideology instead went along with the wave not knowing how to oppose an ideology that was being promoted in the name of Islam. So, by the time our national security institutions had realized what was happening, these misled Islamic ideologues had taken over the political, cultural and social leadership of the country and were on the verge of capturing our security institutions as well.
By the middle of decade of 2000, our security institutions had started coming under increasing attacks from the Jihadis at the behest of these misled self-proclaimed Islamic ideologues. When the state of Pakistan started hitting back with Zarb-i-Azb launched in June 2014, these ideologues went into hiding, and many even crossed over to Afghanistan. But our mainstream political parties either out of fear or perhaps because they were intellectually not up to it failed to recapture and re-occupy the physical and intellectual space that was created as a result of Zarb-i-Azb.
All that that was needed urgently from the political leadership was to establish the rule of law in the country, improve governance and start cleansing the minds of those that had been won over by the distorted interpretation of Islam propagated by the Jihadi ideologues. Also, it was time that the government to boldly undertaken the task of reforming the syllabus of both the madrassas and the public schools in the country because meanwhile the misled ideologues using their political, cultural and social powers had already turned our schools, colleges and universities into institutions teaching the Pakistani youth intolerance, bigotry and radicalization.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) were misused by these deluded ideologues to introduce subjects at all educational levels—primary, secondary, college and university ——that they thought would help in the establishment of ‘an Islamic society’ reflecting their narrow and misleading version of Islam.
As a result, parallel to historians and clergy, the work of re-writing national Islamic ideology to promote an obscure version of Islam was also undertaken by the educationists and textbook writers, supported by the successive governments. This it is believed had sown the seeds of religious intolerance particularly in terms of persecution and exclusion of religious minorities. A close review of the textbooks particularly on the subjects of Islamic and Pakistan studies revealed that their writers believed that this distorted version of Pakistan ideology was indeed the ideology that would guide Pakistanis to lead a truly Islamic way of life.
As the Zarb-i-Azb advanced the government should have stepped in without losing time to promote inclusive and tolerant educational narratives and engaged leading and senior faculty members—mostly from Islamic studies and Arabic departments of universities and colleges from across Pakistan to undertake the immediate task of reforming the syllabus at all levels—school, college and University.
According to eminent educationist, Abdul Hameed Nayyar over the years, many people have identified the negatives contained in the national school curriculum and textbooks, but removing them appears to have become a near impossible task. Adding he said “Sincere attempts have been made at the state level to purge such material from the learning schemes, yet things have remained the same, primarily because education is perceived by politicians less as a means of building the nation’s future than as an ideological battlefield. On the other hand what is being largely overlooked is the fact that it is eventually the teacher in the classroom who has the greatest influence on young minds. It is, therefore, important to address teachers, to sensitize them to religious diversity and to challenge their own intolerance and prejudices.”
Here is a lesson for our national policy makers trying to design a wholesome Pakistani persona in the face of rising violent extremism in the country. Rached Ghannouchi, the founder of Tunisia’s Islamic political party Ennahda, in an essay (From political Islam to Muslim democracy) in the recent edition of Foreign Affairs (September/ October 2016 issue) has disclosed that Tunisia’s new constitution enshrines democratic mechanisms, the rule of law, and a full range of religious, civil, political, social, economic, cultural and environmental rights.
“We want the mosque to be a space for people to come together, not a site of division…. To be clear, the principles of Islam have always inspired Ennahda, and our values will continue to guide us. But it is no longer necessary for Ennahda (or any other party) to struggle for religious freedoms: under the new constitution, all Tunisians enjoy the same rights, whether they are believers, agnostics, or atheists. This will prevent officials from using faith-based appeals to manipulate the public. It will also restore the independence of religious institutions: religion will no longer be hostage to politics….Confronting violent extremism requires an understanding of the true teachings of Islam, which reject black-and-white views and allow for interpretations that accommodate the needs of modern life. The effective governance of religious institutions will facilitate better religious education and reintroduce moderate Islamic thinking to Tunisia.”