Pyra­mid of chal­lenges

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - M Amir Rana

IT is not so much re­li­gion-based nar­ra­tives as re­li­giously in­spired ac­tors who pose - ei­ther ad­ver­tently or in­ad­ver­tently - the great­est chal­lenge to peace and sta­bil­ity in Pak­istan. How­ever, while the ac­tors are largely con­sid­ered part of the prob­lem, they are also part of the so­lu­tion.

Re­li­giously in­spired ac­tors have been tak­ing full ad­van­tage of the state's pol­icy of us­ing them to achieve na­tional po­lit­i­cal and strate­gic in­ter­ests. A re­ver­sal in the pol­icy would not put the ge­nie back in the bot­tle. The past is not only painful, it also ob­structs the way to con­struct­ing a new fu­ture.

Chal­lenges fac­ing Pak­istan's se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity are man­i­fold and can be com­pared to a four-lay­ered pyra­mid with four crit­i­cal threats to in­ter­nal se­cu­rity, three folds of rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion that ex­ist in so­ci­ety, two bor­der-re­lated in­se­cu­ri­ties and one grand re­li­gious-ide­o­log­i­cal nar­ra­tive.

So­ci­ety may op­pose vi­o­lence, but not nec­es­sar­ily the ex­trem­ists' agen­das.

The four crit­i­cal se­cu­rity threats em­anate from or are linked to the tribal ar­eas, madres­sahs, Afghan refugee set­tle­ments and prisons. The tribal ar­eas are im­por­tant for mil­i­tants to keep their net­works in­tact and to ex­pand their in­fra­struc­ture. Cer­tain madres­sahs and banned mil­i­tant out­fits pro­vide hu­man re­sources, ide­o­log­i­cal support and more crit­i­cally the hide­outs for ter­ror­ists, which are cru­cial for the lat­ter to carry out their at­tacks.

Many Afghan refugee set­tle­ments - both le­gal and il­le­gal - pro­vide space to crim­i­nals in­volved in smug­gling arms, ex­plo­sives and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools, be­sides serv­ing as re­cruit­ment cen­tres for po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists. Also, it has been ob­served that in many cases mil­i­tants used th­ese set­tle­ments as their hide­out.

Prisons play a crit­i­cal role where mil­i­tants' net­work­ing, re­cruit­ment and run­ning of cells are con­cerned. Prisons in Pak­istan hold thou­sands of mil­i­tant de­tainees, many of whom have not been tried in court as yet. Prisons also serve as safe havens for ter­ror­ists be­sides pro­vid­ing them with an op­por­tu­nity to rad­i­calise their fel­low in­mates.

The se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment and po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship are well aware of th­ese in­ter­nal se­cu­rity threats and want to ad­dress them on an emer­gency foot­ing. As the se­cu­rity forces are al­ready en­gaged in fight­ing mil­i­tants in the tribal ar­eas, the Na­tional Ac­tion Plan was evolved mainly to ad­dress the other three con­cerns. While many saw NAP as an in­te­grated coun­tert­er­ror­ism frame­work, the re­li­giously in­spired ac­tors - par­tic­u­larly those who have po­lit­i­cal stakes and also con­trol faith-based fi­nances - re­sisted the plan and tried to make it con­tro­ver­sial. This elite is aware of its power and deep pen­e­tra­tion in the so­cio-re­li­gious and eco­nomic struc­tures of so­ci­ety.

This chal­lenge is also linked to three folds of ex­trem­ism in Pak­istan, which can be viewed from a class per­spec­tive.

Pak­istan's lower, mid­dle and up­per classes are suf­fer­ing from vari­ant ten­den­cies of ex­trem­ism. Var­i­ous in­di­ca­tors sug­gest that ex­trem­ism in the coun­try is driven by mul­ti­ple fac­tors and oc­curs at three lev­els. Firstly, it oc­curs among lower-in­come groups, par­tic­u­larly in poorly gov­erned ar­eas such as the tribal belt bor­der­ing Afghanistan, south­ern Pun­jab and parts of Sindh, where poverty, in­equal­ity and in­ef­fec­tive ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­tures spur ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism. The lev­els and trends of ex­trem- ism are dif­fer­ent in the mid­dle-in­come group. The driv­ers of ex­trem­ism in ar­eas such as cen­tral and north Pun­jab, Karachi and Hy­der­abad, the set­tled dis­tricts of Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa and Kashmir, are mainly po­lit­i­cal. As for the up­per-mid­dle class, grow­ing alien­ation from so­ci­ety is said to be fu­elling ex­trem­ism.

Mul­ti­ple faith-based ac­tors trans­form and chan­nel th­ese ex­trem­ist ten­den­cies into more rad­i­cal, vi­o­lent be­hav­iour. The sec­tar­ian and ortho­dox re­li­gious groups and madres­sahs mainly de­pend on lower-in­come groups as a source of power and as support bases. Ter­ror­ist groups, in­clud­ing Al Qaeda, fo­cus more on the mid­dle classes while cer­tain Is­lamist move­ments call for a re­li­gious awak­en­ing within the up­per classes of so­ci­ety.

The role of re­li­giously mo­ti­vated ac­tors in th­ese three folds is crit­i­cal, but it does not fall un­der ar­eas of im­me­di­ate pri­or­ity for the state. This shapes pub­lic be­hav­iour and cre­ates am­bi­gu­i­ties in the minds of the peo­ple. So­ci­ety may in­deed be op­posed to vi­o­lence, but not nec­es­sar­ily be op­posed to the ex­trem­ists' agen­das. The sec­ond - and most im­por­tant - fea­ture is the pres­ence of mil­i­tant net­works on Pak­istani soil. Over 100 mil­i­tant groups and for­eign ter­ror­ist net­works are re­port­edly op­er­at­ing in Pak­istan's tribal re­gions. Ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism have a cause-and-ef­fect re­la­tion­ship in Pak­istan.

The strate­gic and se­cu­rity is­sues on Pak­istan's east­ern and western bor­ders have cre­ated the space for faith-based ac­tors to in­ter­vene in highly sen­si­tive se­cu­rity do­mains. The Kashmir dis­pute be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan and the Du­rand Line is­sue on the western bor­der en­cour­aged the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment to use re­li­giously in­spired non-state ac­tors for cer­tain ob­jec­tives. The re­li­gion­based mil­i­tant groups gained real strength from the state's at­ti­tude. Over the pas­sage of time, th­ese mil­i­tant groups got stronger and grad­u­ally be­came in­de­pen­dent. Many have turned against the state and oth­ers may do so.

How­ever, by pur­su­ing or pro­tect­ing its strate­gic in­ter­ests through th­ese ac­tors, the state sur­ren­dered its nar­ra­tive to the mil­i­tants. Now they claim the state has com­pro­mised the com­plete Is­lami­sa­tion of the coun­try. The non-vi­o­lent faith-based ac­tors want to achieve this tar­get through po­lit­i­cal means, the mil­i­tants by use of force.

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