Wages of extremism

Shahid M Amin

PAKISTAN is a sovereign state and it has full authority to decide what kind of relationship it wants with other countries: whether to have peace or war. But such a decision must be made by the Pakistan government, and not by any non-state actor or by some ‘rogue’ officer sitting in an intelligence agency. This is the real rationale behind the arrest of Hafiz Saeed. He was designated a ‘terrorist’ by the UN in December 2008, shortly after Mumbai terrorist attack, and was included in the list of organizations and individuals subject to international sanctions under UN Security Council Resolution 1267. He is one of the non-state actors whose activities have created foreign policy difficulties for Pakistan.
For nearly two decades, Pakistan’s relations with India, in particular, have been adversely affected by actions attributed to non-state actors like Hafiz Saeed and others. These included the hijacking of an Indian airlines plane in December 1999 by Harkat ul-Mujahideen, when India had to release two notorious extremists Maulana Masood Azhar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh to secure the end of hijacking. The attack on Indian parliament in December 2001, the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008 and, more recently, terrorist incidents in Pathankot and Uri have soured Pakistan-India relations and almost brought two countries close to war. The lives and security of 1.5 billion people in the sub-continent have been endangered due to terrorism engineered by a handful of non-state actors, whose activities are not only condemnable on moral and legal grounds but also on pragmatic grounds. Has the Kashmir problem been solved or India brought down through such terrorist acts? On the contrary, this kind of terrorism has played directly into Indian hands. The Kashmir cause has been defamed by its association with terrorism. India has been able to divert world attention from its violation of human rights and the Kashmiri freedom struggle by portraying it as a case of Islamist extremism and terrorism.
Blame must also be placed on the two governments in India and Pakistan (particularly the former) for a lack of statesmanship in allowing terrorists a veto over the peace process. What seems to have happened is that efforts of two governments for peace and cooperation have repeatedly been derailed by a few terrorists, whenever latter chose to do so. This makes no sense. It is intolerable must not be allowed to happen any longer.
In a broader context, Islamist extremism and terrorism have marred the image of Islam all over the world. A noble religion, whose very name means peace, is being increasingly viewed by many people as a militant ideology advocating intolerance and violence. Islam teaches mercy and forgiveness. The Holy Quran says that if anyone killed a human being, it would be as if he killed the whole of mankind. It also says “there is no compulsion in religion.” The Muslim terrorist is, therefore, doing the exact opposite of Islamic teachings. Terrorism is rejected by Islam and those Muslims who propagate or practice it are doing more harm to Islam than any anti-Muslim forces in the world. Terrorism and suicide-bombings are a new phenomenon in Muslim societies and can be traced back to the anti-Soviet Afghan Jihad in 1980s, which radicalized and militarized Muslim extremists. It provided inspiration to Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Hezbollah, IS (Islamic State), IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), Boko Haram (Nigeria), as also Pakistani extremist groups like Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Jaish-i-Muhammad, Lashkar-i-Tayyaba, Sipah-i-Sahaba, Tehreek-i-Jaferia, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Taliban, etc. The recent pattern worldwide has been that wherever there is a terrorist incident, there is also an unfortunate link with one Muslim group or the other. Hence, it is no wonder that Muslims are being viewed with suspicion, and often with hostility, by many countries. This is one reason that helped Trump to win in US elections.
The surprising thing is refusal of some Muslim circles to accept the very existence of Muslim terrorists. These sceptics have been living in a state of denial. A Jamaat Islami leader Qazi Hussain Ahmad always refused to accept that Muslims could be involved in terrorism. He ignored the overwhelming evidence that all those arrested, or identified through DNA or other evidence, were Muslims and Pakistanis. Some sceptics contend that handlers of these terrorists are anti-Muslim countries. That might be so in some cases, but the actual perpetrators of terrorist acts have generally been Muslims who were motivated by ideological reasons.
The real issue that needs to be addressed is as to why extremist ideas have been spreading in Muslim societies. Among the external reasons is the perception that ‘Islam in danger’ due to the aggressive designs of USA, India, Israel and/or Russia. There is some truth in such allegations but such fears are deliberately exaggerated by certain fanatical groups to arouse passions and incite violent reactions among impressionable people like teenagers and illiterate sections of society. The reality in international relations is that policies are based on the pursuit of national interests and religion is hardly the basis of policies. The USA has had a long-standing relationship with Pakistan and it supported Muslim Afghans during their resistance to Soviet occupation of their country. India has close relations with Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Russia has friendly relations with several Muslim countries. Israel is friendly with Egypt and had close relations with Turkey. China is the closest friend of Pakistan. All of this shows that religion is not the driving force in foreign policy decisions.
The spread of religious extremism in Pakistan has led, notably, to a rise in sectarian differences. This is partially due to regional rivalry between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, which has spilled over into Pakistan, as both of them have been patronizing rival sects in Pakistan, and even elsewhere. Among Pakistani Sunnis, increasing religiosity and rise in number of religious institutions are accompanied by a growing rift between Deobandis and Barelvis. The former are ideologically closer to Saudi Wahhabis and are more intolerant. As a result, the Islamic concept of a Muslim Ummah is being eroded. Minorities are also being oppressed. Pakistan has clearly paid a heavy price due to religious extremism: over 60,000 people killed, heavy economic losses and destabilization of the country. The time has come to say: no more extremism and terrorism.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.
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