Shahid M Amin
FOR the last three decades, Islamist extremism has been projected by the West, and countries like India and Israel, as the main security threat to the world. There is no doubt that the image of Islam has marred by the violent activities of misguided Muslims, masquerading as jihadists. However, two important events took place this week in the context of eradication of terrorism. One is a unanimous fatwa against militancy, issued on January 16, 2018, endorsed by Pakistani religious scholars of all schools of thought. International Islamic University, Islamabad, prepared the document after consultations with religious scholars, intellectuals and policy-makers, which declared armed struggle against the country, its government or armed forces as illegal.
It stresses that it is the responsibility of government to implement Islamic provisions of the constitution. Taking up arms to achieve this purpose amounts to “Fasaad fil ardh” (mischief on earth), denounced by the holy Quran. It says suicide is unacceptable in Islam and is a grave sin. The fatwa shows that, after years of dithering, Pakistani ulema haveunanimously denounced all militant groups, particularly those resorting to suicide bombing. Since these groups swear by Islam, their Islamic pretentions have been discredited by the fatwa which should open the eyes of their unwitting followers who are led to believe that they are fighting for supremacy of Islam.
The second notable development was the announcement of a revised US Defence Strategy on January 19, 2018. Ever since 9/11, fighting (Islamist) terrorism has been the top US military focus. The revised strategy announced by Defence Secretary Mattis says that competition from “revisionist powers” China and Russia –and not terrorism— is the top US security challenge. While Mattis did not elaborate rationale for this shift of emphasis, it seems that US feels that sufficient headway has been made worldwide in combating terrorism. Success in defeating IS (Daesh) in Iraq and Syria, where it was ruling a large area, and the decline of Al-Qaeda have clearly led to downgrading Islamist terrorism from the top US security concern to a secondary priority. Pakistan’s successful military campaign since 2014 has made an important contribution in the eradication of terror.
Terrorism is not unique to the Muslim world nor is it a recent phenomenon. Jewish groups like Irgun were involved in terrorism in Palestine since 1938. Irgun’s leader Menachem Begin later became Israel’s Prime Minister. Terrorism by Tamils began in Sri Lanka in the 1980s, with the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) making it an instrument of policy till their defeat in 2009. Suicide bombing was a common tactic of Tamil Tigers. Ex-Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a Tamil suicide bomber in 1991. Latin America has long seen terrorism by various political groups and individuals. Northern Ireland and Spain have also had terrorism.
Though rise of terrorism in Muslim societies is a recent phenomenon, it has acquired a world-wide shape and done great damage to the image of Islam. A peaceful religion has been dubbed as one supporting violence and intolerance. Palestinians were the first in the Islamic world to use terrorism as a political weapon in 1970s. There were hijacking of planes and miscellaneous acts of terror. A Pan Am plane was hijacked in Karachi in 1986 by four Palestinians. In Pakistan, growing sectarian tensions in the 1970s would first lead to the use of terrorism. But it was the jihad against Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan that brought a sea change and led to sharp growth in religious extremism and resultant terrorism. The jihad was supported not only by Pakistan and Muslim countries, but also by USA, the West, China and Japan. At the time, it was seen as a legitimate war of liberation from alien military occupation. Due to its proximity, Pakistan became the conduit for the support of Afghan Jihadis. Eventually, the Soviet Union was forced to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989. However, this turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory due to the radicalization and militarization of Jihadis. There was a proliferation of arms in Afghanistan, Pakistan and even elsewhere. Muslim militant groups began operations, notably, in Pakistan as also elsewhere in world. The militancy produced by the Afghan jihad gave birth to Al-Qaeda, resulting in 9/11 and US/NATO invasion of Afghanistan. That in turn gave a new incentive to terrorists.
The emergence of militant sectarian groups in Pakistan since 1970s has often led to violence. Since the 1980s, the two wars in Afghanistan have produced a different breed of extremists and terrorists with a dual agenda: Islamization and anti-Americanism. They mostly subscribe to the Deobandi school of thought among Sunni Muslims, who are ideologically close to Wahhabis and Salafis of Saudi Arabia, and are receiving some support from Gulf States. Some militant groups have carried out operations beyond the borders of Pakistan, leading to serious complications in Pakistan’s foreign relations. The end result of activities of these terrorists is that over 60,000 Pakistanis have been killed, the law and order has been adversely affected, and the economy has suffered greatly. Moreover, there has been hostile propaganda by India and Islamophobic reporting in Western media, which has adversely affected Pakistan’s image. It is viewed as a violent and fanatical country where life is not safe, and sanctuaries exist from where terrorists carry out attacks on other countries.
The latest fatwa issued by Pakistani Ulema should help in elimination of terrorism by dissuading those who are attracted to its ranks on the pretext that they are fighting for the supremacy of Islam. The fact that Hafez Saeed, dubbed as a terrorist by the UN, has also endorsed the fatwa sends a positive message that militancy is being abandoned even by those who have long upheld it. Equally welcome is the declaration by Foreign Minister Asif at the fatwa ceremony that “with this narrative, we make it clear to the entire world that all national institutions are united against terrorism. We have rejected all forms of terrorism and extremism.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.