Shahid M Amin
THE latest horrific incidents of terrorism in Kabul and London are all over the news. There was a suicide bomb explosion in Kabul on May 31, 2017 that killed over 90 people. Terrorists struck again two days later and killed 12 mourners who were attending the burial of the first atrocity. The Afghan regime resorted once again to its blame game by accusing Pakistan and its agents for the Kabul atrocity. But the second terrorist attack brought out many Afghan protestors who accused President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah for failing to provide security to Afghan citizens. For its part, Pakistan denied any responsibility. A Foreign Office spokesman said that the “rhetoric of blaming others to hide Afghanistan’s own failures was unhelpful”. It seems that the Afghan regime is stuck with a narrative in which Pakistan is made the scapegoat for every terrorist incident that takes place in Afghanistan, based on the false assumption that Afghan Taliban take the cue from Pakistan. The former have denied any responsibility for the Kabul incident, whereas the IS (Daesh) says it carried out the atrocity.
Not long ago, a large Pakistani parliamentary delegation visited Kabul and held lengthy talks with their counterparts, as well as the Afghan leadership. High-ranking Pakistani military officers separately visited Kabul. There is always a nagging feeling that parliamentarians and others can do a better job than our diplomats, and some hopes were raised in Pakistan that things would now move in a positive direction. But nice speeches and hospitality can sometimes create illusions as shown by the latest developments in Kabul. The hard ground reality is that the Afghan regime is facing a grave military challenge from the Afghan Taliban. Daesh has emerged as an additional deadly threat. Under Indian goading, the regime is seeking to cover its failures by making Pakistan as the scapegoat. Under the circumstances, we have to be realistic. No breakthrough in Pak-Afghan relations is likely in the near future. We should concentrate instead on our war against the terrorists and try to eliminate all possible sanctuaries for militants who operate across the borders.
There are press reports that India might send some troops to Afghanistan to bolster the Kabul regime. That would be a repeat of what the Soviet Union did in 1979 to protect the Communist regime. India is probably not cognizant of what happened thereafter. It has been said that it is easy to enter Afghanistan but difficult to get out of it. The terrorist incidents in London on June 3, 2017 are being attributed to Islamist extremists and would fan Islamophobia in the West and create further difficulties for British Muslims. Unfortunately, the image of Islam is being adversely affected by each such incidents of terrorism. British Prime Minister Theresa May has used hard language against “radical Islam” and warned of tougher action. “We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are. Things need to change.” She called the threat from radical Islamism as “one of the great challenges of our time,” and warned that there was “far too much tolerance of extremism in our country.” This is language that paraphrases Donald Trump. She hinted curbs on the use of Internet to deny extremist ideology the “safe space it needs to breed.”
The fact is that there is a growing consensus in the world against Islamist extremism. There is no doubt that Muslim countries strongly condemn terrorism and it is also a fact is that far more Muslims have died due to such terrorism than the casualties suffered by non-Muslims. But Muslim societies must also recognize that not enough has been done by them to check, curb and eliminate the distorted ideology that is producing many extremists, who keep morphing into terrorists and suicide-bombers. Pakistan is a prime example of such metamorphosis. It was a relatively tolerant society for the first three decades after its independence. But gradually the trend towards Islamisation allowed the growth of intolerance, firstly towards non-Muslims and subsequently amongst the Muslims themselves. The Afghan Jihad in the 1980s led to the militarization of religious extremists.
Not only Ziaul Haq but also the USA and others thought that militant Islam could be used as a weapon against Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan. In the process, many Frankenstein were created who have tended to devour their own creators. Instead of understanding this phenomenon, many circles in Pakistan and elsewhere in Muslim countries kept deceiving themselves by asserting that no Muslim could be a terrorist or suicide-bomber. We turned a blind eye to overwhelming evidence that there were religious figures and bodies that were brainwashing young boys and others to believe that killing the non-believers was a sure ticket to paradise. No doubt, such extremist propaganda received an impetus from the perception that, in addition to India and Israel, the West under US leadership was targeting one Muslim country after another for invasion.
While the reasons for growing Islamist extremism and terrorism can be debated, there is no doubt that, due to this phenomenon, the image of Islam has been marred. It is nothing less than a travesty that a religion whose very name means peace is being viewed so negatively by many circles in the West and elsewhere. The irony is compounded by the fact that Muslim countries and societies have become the biggest victims due to the deviationist ideology of such extremists. It is time to do some heart-searching to understand the nature of the problem and how to overcome it. The tendency of many amongst us to simply put the blame on others will take us nowhere.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.