Death of Pakistani film star Neelo

With much going on in India and this cold weather, (that I hate from the bottom of my heart, makes me thoroughly lazy) in the past few days had not checked on the happenings in Pakistan. It was only when I started checking today, that I came to know that Pakistani actress Neelo, who was a mega star of the Pakistani film industry in the mid 60s and early 70s, had passed away recently.

Born Cynthia Alexander Fernandes, rechristened as Neelo in films, she gave the first diamond jubilee hit of Pakistan, the movie called Zarka, where guess what, she plays a Palestinian liberation fighter wreaking havoc on the Israelis (no wonder despite all their desire by the Pak army Generals, it is not going to be that easy for the politicians to reconcile with Israel). And if I remember correctly, the movie was released in the year 1969, so the demonisation of the Jewish state has a long history in Pakistan.

Now for the YouTube video I post here and the story behind it….

When the Shah of Iran was visiting Pakistan in 1965, he was hosted by the Nawab of Kalabagh, who was then the Governor of United Province of West Pakistan. He wanted to entertain the Shah and demanded that Neelo come and dance at the event. When Neelo refused, he sent police to forcefully bring her to the event. Realising that she may be forced to go, Neelo took sleeping pills and had to be rushed to the hospital to save her life. When the famous poet Habib Jalib heard of the incident, he wrote his famous Nazm, “Neelo”, as a dedication to her…

तू कि ना-वाक़िफ़-ए-आदाब-ए-शहंशाही थी

रक़्स ज़ंजीर पहन कर भी किया जाता है

तुझ को इंकार की जुरअत जो हुई तो क्यूँकर

साया-ए-शाह में इस तरह जिया जाता है

अहल-ए-सर्वत की ये तज्वीज़ है सरकश लड़की

तुझ को दरबार में कोड़ों से नचाया जाए

नाचते नाचते हो जाए जो पायल ख़ामोश

फिर न ता-ज़ीस्त तुझे होश में लाया जाए

लोग इस मंज़र-ए-जांकाह को जब देखेंगे

और बढ़ जाएगा कुछ सतवत-ए-शाही का जलाल

तेरे अंजाम से हर शख़्स को इबरत होगी

सर उठाने का रेआया को न आएगा

ख़याल तब्-ए-शाहाना पे जो लोग गिराँ होते हैं

हाँ उन्हें ज़हर भरा जाम दिया जाता है

तू कि ना-वाक़िफ़-ए-आदाब-ए-शहंशाही थी

रक़्स ज़ंजीर पहन कर भी किया जाता है

Riaz Shahid, who directed the superhit Zarka, and later married Neelo, used this Nazm in the movie. He however changed the word ‘आदाब ए शहंशाही’ to ‘आदाब ए ग़ुलामी’ in the first line, and also simplified the Nazm. The Nazm was beautifully sung by the maestro Mehdi Hassan, and I must confess, it remains one of my most favourite Nazms.

Rest in peace Madam!


Sir Syed – the man, his reforms and his legacy.

I was recently reading an article which described Sir Syed as a great social and religious reformer. He surely was a great religious reformer, but was he also a social reformer? I have my doubts for other than from his advocacy of widow remarriage, his voice on all the other social ills plaguing the then Muslim society is pretty muted. On religious matters of course his views are nothing short of revolutionary. He surely qualifies as the ‘reformation’ man for Islam. A thorough rationalist, his entire religious theology was premised on the basic postulate that there couldn’t be any contradiction between the Word of God (Quran) and the Work of God (Nature).  He argued that in case there was any contradiction between a scientific fact and a religious ruling/precept, the latter must be reinterpreted in accordance with the former. He challenged the Hadith as a rational basis of Islamic jurisprudence, criticized the practice of Taqlid (to follow), stressed on Tafsir (rational interpretation) and supported free exercise of ijtihad (independent reasoning). For him, no Jinns, Satan or Hoors existed, neither did heaven or hell. He argued that the miracles mentioned in the Quran were not to be understood literally but as idioms. For example, he argued that Isra and Miraj (Prophet’s accession to heaven and vision of God on the night of beatitude) were not a physical or spiritual experience but only a dream. The traditional Ulemas of course were not impressed and dismissed him and his theology as Nechari. He also earned a lot of fatwas in the bargain.

So how do we assess this great man? What was the impact of Sir Syed on the social and political lives of the Muslims of the subcontinent? I would argue that his philosophy of political quietude asking Muslims to stay away from the national movement and depend on the British for promoting Muslim (elite) interest rather than on the larger Muslim society (which included the Pasmanda Muslims) not only created fertile soil for the rise of religious separatism but also laid the foundation of a Muslim society which abhors reforms (till date). His belief that the foundations of an enlightened society could be laid only through modern education and religious reform ignored the reality that religion and education do not constitute the ‘whole’ of society and no society can progress without addressing issues like political participation, removal of social ills, inequality and discrimination. Further, the practical problem that any scholar who seeks to reform societies by reinterpreting religious texts faces is that others who do not agree with him, are bound to challenge him with their own interpretations. More often than not they sound convincing (too), for it is the nature of religious texts that more often than not, they contain mutually contradictory verses.  Religious reform movements that base themselves purely on reinterpretation of religious beliefs and practices while ignoring mass participation/support have limited shelf life with limited overall impact/following (for example the Brahmo Samaj).

While followers of Sir Syed may challenge my assertion, I believe that the fundamental audience of his religious reforms were not Muslim masses (may be the Ashrafs were) but the British colonialists. His writings like the Tehkik-e-Lafz-e-Nasara, The Mohamedan Commentary on the Holy Bible, Asbab Baghawat-e-Hind and Risalah Khair Khawahan Musalman were all directed at the British. The first two books were written with a view to promote the idea of similarity between the Semitic religions of Islam and Christianity, whereas the latter two books sought to project the loyalty of the Muslims to the British. The Khutbat-i-Ahmaddiya, which he wrote in response to William Muir’s (bakwas – interpretation mine) book on the life of the Prophet, as well as his reinterpretation of the Quran was done keeping the British audience in mind. Islam was sought to be projected as a religion that was compatible with modern sciences and thus did not qualify as a backward religion.

The primary focus of Sir Syed was not to address the concerns of Muslim society as a whole but only those of the Muslim elites. His focus thus remained on providing modern education to the Muslim upper castes, their representation in the Viceroy’s executive council and jobs in the government. While he was a votary of excellent inter-community relations with the Hindus at the social level (he was delighted that Muslims were not slaughtering cows during Bakr-Id), when it came to politics he was paranoid about any cooperation with the Hindus, lest Muslim interests (which he considered to be antagonistic to the Hindus) be compromised. He also feared that any political cooperation with the Hindus would jeopardize his argument of unflinching Muslim loyalty to the British.  This made him advocate with some ferocity that Muslims follow a policy of political indifference and not join the Congress – even though the Congress was hardly demanding anything radical those days.  

This political apathy proved detrimental to both India and Muslims in the long run. Political apathy as a policy became untenable when the British introduced limited representative institutions in India. The legitimacy that scholars like Sir Syed provided to the concept of Muslim and Hindu interests being antithetical to each other (Govt. jobs, members of viceroy’s council etc.) not only foreclosed any chance/experience of a common Hindu Muslim struggle, but also led to the rise of Muslim separatism. By constantly evoking unflinching loyalty to the British, he not only provided legitimacy to their rule (if only in the eyes of the Muslims) but also provided the British with the theoretical/ideological rationale for their policy of divide and rule. They could now argue that since a section of India (Muslims) considered them to be legitimate/just rulers of India, it was their responsibility to ensure that the interest of that community was protected.    

This policy of not joining the mainstream and political quietude also had an adverse impact on the Muslim society.  The Indian National Movement was as much a movement for political reforms as it was for social reforms. All communities and social groups who participated in the national movement also worked to eradicate the social ills plaguing their community (like abolition of untouchability amongst Hindus, the reforms in SGPC and formation of Singh Sabha for Sikhs). The national movement which sought to challenge the might of the British empire could not do without mass participation. To enthuse the masses, their pressing concerns like exploitation and social discrimination needed to be addressed and made a part of the nationalist discourse. The policy of political quietude ensured that Muslim politics, dependent on the British and the elites could do without addressing the concerns of the Muslim masses. Since then, (till date) Muslim politics has remained hostage to elite politics and revolves not around substantive but emotive issues.

This political indifference also changed the character of the Indian National Movement to fundamentally Hindu, when seen in the context of social reforms. Unsure about Muslim commitment to composite nationalism, Muslims were left to tackle their social reforms themselves – a hands offish approach that continued even after independence, much to the detriment of Muslim society.

In conclusion it can be said that while his religious ideas were revolutionary, his neglect of social reforms (some might argue very deliberate) and dependence on the British and the Muslim elites, who were more interested in preserving their privileges, rather than securing socio-economic rights for ordinary Muslims led to the condition of the Muslim society remaining hostage to its elites. His ferocious opposition to securing political rights for India within a composite national movement laid the foundation of Muslim separatism, represented by the Aligarh movement.

PS: One important influence over Sir Syed was Adam Smith’s theory of demand and supply, whose works he discovered during his trip to London. In his writings at many places, we find reference to this theory. For example, when he pleads for the adoption of modern education, he argues that during the Mughal period there was demand for traditional religious education but with the advent of the British, who was going to demand such an education? I was intrigued that the genius that Sir Syed was, did he not understand what facilitated the ‘demand’ for religion? Isn’t it the solace that religion with its belief in the supernatural provides, more so when the times are tough? If religion was all about science will it be a source of such a solace, will it be demanded by the masses then?

(The views expressed as personal)

Khadim Hussain Rizvi and the rise of Barelvi extremism in Pakistan

The massive crowd that gathered at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore at the funeral of the firebrand, radical Ameer of the political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Khadim Hussain Rizvi shocked many observers of Pakistan who considered his sect, the Barelvis, quietist and peaceful. Seen as adhering to Sufi Islam and revering saints and the Prophet, many believed they represented the moderate face of Islam providing an antidote to radical Islam.

The Barelvi movement was founded by Ahmed Raza Khan of Bareilly in the late 19th century as a reaction against the reformist Deoband, Ahl-e-Hadith and Ahmadi sects of Islam. Unlike the latter who emphasize upon the ‘humanness’ of the Prophet, the Barelvis consider the Prophet as God’s light (Noor), ever present (hazir-o-nazir), and having knowledge of the unseen (ilm-e-ghaib). They are the lover of the Prophet (Ashiq-e-Rasool) and for them the protection of his sanctity and veneration for him are non-negotiable. The Barelvis have a long history of supporting murder and violence when they believe that the Prophet has been insulted. In British India (1929), they eulogized Ilm-ud-Din as a holy warrior (ghazi) when he murdered the Hindu publisher of the book ‘Rangeela Rasool’ which was considered libelous towards the Prophet. They were most vocal in their condemnation when caricatures of the Prophet were published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2006. In 2008 they hailed Amir Cheema, the Pakistani immigrant to Germany, as a hero when he attempted to assassinate the German publisher of these caricatures. The Barelvi ulemas condemned Governor Salman Taseer when he argued for amending the blasphemy law in Pakistan. When Taseer was murdered by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri, not only did they defend Qadri but also pleaded for his release. Fatwas were issued against offering funeral prayers for Taseer based on which the Imam of Badshahi mosque refused to lead the ritual prayers for Taseer. The violent sit-in in Faizabad led by TLP this month, demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan was in protest against the re-publication of cartoons of the Prophet in France.

The TLP led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi has its genesis in ‘Tahreek-e-Rihai-Mumtaz Qadri’, a movement launched to secure the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the earlier mentioned murderer of Governor Salman Taseer. Building his politics around the twin emotive issues of the finality of the Prophet-hood of Mohammad (khatam-e-nabobat) and strengthening of blasphemy law (tauheen-e-risalat), this charismatic leader established instant connect with his followers through his demagoguery, easy accessibility and smart use of social media platforms. After Mumtaz Qadri was hanged in 2016, the movement was renamed ‘Tahreek-e-Labbaik-ya-Rasulallah’ (TLYRA) which finally converted itself into a political party, TLP. It contested the 2018 elections and surprised many by bagging 2.2 million votes, emerging as Pakistan’s fifth largest political party and the third largest in Punjab. It also won two seats in the Sindh provincial assembly. This political performance was creditable considering that the Barelvi religious political parties like Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) had remained fringe players in the space occupied by religious political parties which was dominated by Deobandi parties like Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). The partisanship that the ‘deep’ state of Pakistan showed towards the radical Deobandi groups at the cost of the Barelvis, further aggravated their marginalization. This emboldened the Deobandi extremist groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba (SS) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), who considered the Barelvis to be heretics to attack Barelvi shrines (Abdullah Shah Ghazi, Data Durbar, Sakhi Sarwar, Shahbaz Lal Qalandar) and murder their religious and political leaders. The LeJ practically wiped out the entire leadership of the Barelvi Sunni Tehreek in 2006 in the Nistar Park attack in Karachi, where nearly 50 Barelvi leaders were killed. Saleem Qadri, the Chief of Sunni Tehreek (ST) was killed in 2001 and Allama Sarfaraz Naeemi in 2009.

After he burst onto the political scene in 2011, Rizvi organized several violent rallies, sit-ins and blockades against the perceived dilution of the twin laws of blasphemy and finality of Prophet-hood. Most of his rallies and sit-ins ended with the government conceding to his demands, which showed their weakness and further emboldened him. When the Election Bill, 2017, proposed changing the wording of the oath from ‘I swear’ to ‘I declare’, Rizvi and his followers held a sit-in at Faizabad arguing that this diluted the finality of Prophet-hood of Muhammad. The then PML (N) government sought the help of the army to disperse the protestors, but they declined showing their tacit support for the sit-in. The beleaguered government capitulated, accepting all demands of Rizvi. Not only was the proposed amendment reversed, the Law Minister, Zahid Hamid who had piloted the amendment resigned and all cases against the protestors were dropped.  The ‘deep’ state’s support to the sit-in was further confirmed when Director General (DG), Rangers Punjab, Major General Azhar Navid Hayat was seen handing over cash filled envelopes to protestors. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, taking suo-moto cognizance of the Faizabad sit-in, castigated the armed forces and its agencies for acting in a partisan manner during the protest. A couple of days before his death, Rizvi had again been leading a protest movement against the re-publication of the cartoons of the Prophet in France. Reports state that the government, in an agreement with the TLP had conceded to all their demands.

The question which many ask now is about the future of TLP and the issues championed by Rizvi. Ironically, while Rizvi riled against the dynastic character of the mainstream political parties in Pakistan, much like them his elder son Saad Rizvi has been named the new ‘Amir’ (Chief) of the party. How far he can keep the party united remains to be seen. The TLP witnessed factionalism in 2017 when Asif Ashraf Jalali broke ranks with Rizvi after Rizvi unilaterally called off the Faizabad sit-in. As for the issues championed by TLP i.e blasphemy laws and finality of Muhammad’s Prophet-hood, both these issues enjoy widespread support in Pakistan. Minorities and Ahmedis are regular targets of these laws. The crisis of governance, declining credibility of mainstream political parties, a failing economy, rising urbanization, unemployed and underemployed young population and above all support of the ‘deep’ state to radical groups will ensure that parties like TLP will sooner than later convert their street power into substantial electoral victories. This does not portent well either for Pakistan or for the region.  

India supporting and sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan? Pakistani lies exposed!


Sartaj Aziz with the Pakistani dossiers 

So the truth is finally out. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on foreign affairs, Mr. Sartaj Aziz confessed that the dossier on the so called Indian involvement in promoting terrorism in Pakistan given to the United Nations and the United States did not contain any ‘material evidence’ but instead contained ‘patterns and narratives’ of Indian involvement. This was stated in response to the demands of the members of the committee that the dossier and the evidence of Indian involvement be shared with them. Sartaj Aziz refused to share with them the dossier and stated that ‘The dossiers have been meticulously prepared, but material evidence cannot be shared for the sake of protecting the sources’.

The so called dossier was initially prepared by Pakistan for handing over to the Indian National Security Advisor (NSA), Mr. Ajit Doval during the meeting of the National Security Advisors (NSAs) of India and Pakistan (as was agreed to in the meeting between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference in Ufa, Russia).  It was reported (Economic Times, July 14, 2015; Pakistan PM’s NSA Sartaj Aziz says to hand over dossier on alleged Indian ‘interference’) that the Pakistani Establishment had told ET that this dossier had ‘solid evidence’ and had already been shared with some countries. Since the meeting was subsequently cancelled, the so called dossier was later presented to the UN Secretary General by Ms. Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations and by PM Nawaz Sharif to John Kerry, US Secretary of State. This dossier was never shared with any Pakistani journalist or analyst and this is what a pro-establishment anchor Dr. Shahid Masood had to say about the dossier. Have a look:



Even the United States refused to acknowledge the dossier or the charges mentioned therein. Spokesman for the United States Department of State, John Kirby stated that he was not aware of the receipt of any such dossier. John Kerry (who is generally considered to be a Pakistan sympathizer), upon his meeting with the Pakistani PM, made no mention of the dossier and tweeted that he and PM Sharif discussed ‘security, regional and global issues’.  America further snubbed Pakistan and asked it to put in ‘additional effort to target all terrorists in its territory.’


Pakistani Accusations:

Of late the Pakistani establishment has been crying hoarse over Indian involvement in supporting terrorism in Pakistan. It accused India of funding the Pakistani political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) led by Mr. Altaf Hussain, supporting and funding the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), Pakistan and the Baloch Nationalists. The so called dossier was said to have been prepared as conclusive evidence of these involvements. The Pakistani establishment picked up the story of India having funded the MQM with a view to promote terror in Karachi from a report about the confessional statement of MQM leader Tariq Mir who was stated to have confessed before the London Metropolitan Police of having been provided funds by Indian agencies. The existence of any such confessional statement (as shown in the Pakistani media) was denied by Alan Crockford, the spokesman of the London Metropolitan Police who stated that ‘no such document is part of the record’. Interestingly, initially the story of Indian funding to MQM was broken in a BBC report by Owen Bennet-Jones. This story by Mr. Bennet-Jones remains in my eyes one of the shoddiest and most one sided works done by BBC and undermines its credibility and reputation. Here is how the (so called) expose begins, ‘Officials in Pakistan’s MQM party have told the UK authorities they received Indian government funds, the BBC learnt from an authoritative Pakistani source.’ So the entire expose rests on an ‘unnamed’ Pakistani authoritative source and the source from MQM. No cross verification of facts needed from the London Metropolitan Police! Since the latter denied it, the whole expose falls flat. You can have a look at the report and judge for yourself:



Pakistan has for long accused India of supporting Baluch nationalists who are waging a war for independence from Pakistan. It has accused the Indian consulates in Afghanistan of being conduits to support this war. To any student of international politics, it would appear preposterous that the Iranians would allow the Indian consulate in Zahedan to be used to foster an independence movement in Pakistani Baluchistan for this would invariably have a collateral impact on their restive Sistan Baluchistan province. Much hue and cry was made in 2009 over a statement by Dr. Christine Fair as proof of Indian support to Baloch terrorism wherein she had said (in the Foreign Policy roundtable), ‘Having visited the Indian Mission in Zahedan, Iran, I can assure you they are not issuing visas as their main activity.’ Masters as they are in the art of distorting facts, Pakistanis picked upon this statement as proof that India was supporting terrorism in Balochistan through Iran. In an interview to Outlook magazine subsequently, Dr. Fair categorically denied that India was supporting terrorism in Balochistan. She said, ‘I never said there was active support for terrorism, that is something that the Pakistanis attributed to me.’

Similarly, during the sidelines of the Non Aligned meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in 2009 when the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his then Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistani media went on overdrive reporting that a Pakistani PM had provided a dossier to Manmohan Singh on the Indian involvement in Baluchistan. It was reported that it was this dossier and the proof provided therein, that had forced the Indian PM to acknowledge the Indian involvement. It was because of this that Balochistan had found a reference in the joint declaration issued after the meeting. This joint declaration was much criticized in India. Later on though it was acknowledged by none other than the then Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, that no such dossier had ever been given to the Indian PM. In an interview to the Outlook magazine he stated, ‘No we didn’t (hand over a dossier). Actually, we flagged the issue of Balochistan. We asked for a positive attitude and asked for non-interference inside Balochistan.’

It is worthwhile to note that Baloch separatist leaders like Hyrbyair Marri have repeatedly and categorically stated that Baloch people are not in favour of seeking Indian help for Baloch independence (Dawn, October 10, 2015; ‘Will never seek help from India: Hyrbyair Marri). He stated “I have never sought help from them, nor will I in the future.” Interestingly while Pakistan was preparing the so called dossier (in August), Brahmdagh Bugti, the Chief of Baloch Republican Army (BRA), announced his decision to open a dialogue with the Pakistani government. He stated that he was ready to negotiate with the Pakistani establishment and was ready to coexist with Pakistan. Here is what he said in his BBC Urdu interview:



If India was controlling these Baloch nationalists, how could it allow Brahamdagh Bugti to negotiate with Pakistan with a view to bring peace to Balochistan, especially when the relationship between the two countries is at the moment close to its lowest? Is it any secret as to what Pakistani agencies end up doing to Hurriyat moderates who show flexibility and willingness to negotiate with India? What happened to Abdul Majid Dar and Abdul Gani Lone?

The most preposterous claim made by the Pakistani establishment is that India supports the Tehrik e Taliban (TTP), Pakistan. Post the tragic attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, General Asif Bajwa, the Chief Military Spokesman accused India of funding the TTP. That the Taliban had been created and supported by Pakistan has been acknowledged by the then President of Pakistan, Parvez Musharraf and is now on record. In an interview to the Guardian (13 February 2015, Musharraf: Pakistan and India’s backing of ‘proxies’ in Afghanistan must end), he stated that Pakistan supported the Taliban to undermine President Karzai. That the TTP is rabidly anti India has been stated time and again by the spokesmen and chiefs of Taliban themselves. In an interview to The News, (December 23, 2008), the Chief of TTP, Baitullah Mehsud had committed that ‘thousands of our militants are ready to fight alongside the army if war is imposed on Pakistan (by India)’. Hassan Abbas, the former Pakistani security officer in his book, The Taliban Revival writes that in November 2008, post Mumbai attacks, fearing surgical strikes from India, Pakistani intelligence had declared Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah, both senior commanders of TTP as ‘patriotic’ at a special confidential media briefing. He writes that leading Pakistani journalists were told by the Pakistani intelligence, ‘We have no big issues with the militants in FATA. We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah Mehsud and Fazlullah. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue.’

Similarly, after an attack on the Pakistani side on the Wagah border (November 2014), TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan tweeted that India was as much a target for them as Pakistan and threatened to attack PM Modi.  See here:



Why the Pakistani insinuations?

Why is it that the Pakistanis have now suddenly ratcheted up the insinuation that Indians are involved in terrorism in Pakistan without any conclusive evidence? In the eyes of this author, there is method to this madness. Here are the reasons:

First, is the issue of ‘equivalence’. Pakistan seeks equality with ‘Hindu’ India in all spheres. As India has, much to the chagrin of Pakistan, successfully managed to convince the international community of being a victim of Pakistani sponsored terrorism, Pakistan wants to paint itself as a ‘victim’ of Indian sponsored terrorism so as to develop a false moral equivalence between the two countries. Unfortunately for Pakistan, there are not many takers of this argument and it is still seen by the international community as principally a ‘sponsor’ rather than a ‘victim’ of terrorism.

Second, Pakistan remains deeply concerned about the developing strategic relations between India and the United States. Pak PM Nawaz Sharif expressed concern during his US visit (September 2105) that American support to India was affecting the strategic balance in South Asia and requested the United States to side with Pakistan against India and to pressurize the latter to negotiate on Kashmir.

Pakistan’s ambivalent attitude towards terrorism and its selective targeting of terrorists has gradually changed the narrative in the United States which now has started to look at Pakistan more as a part of the problem than the solution. Mention should be made here of the candid admission by Sartaj Aziz that Pakistan should not target those militants who do not threaten its security. ‘Why should America’s enemies unnecessarily become our enemies?’ he asked in an interview to BBC Urdu in November 2014. ‘Some of them are dangerous for us and some aren’t, so why should we make enemies of them all?’ he asked while speaking of the Haqqani network.  Though the US establishment is still to get over its old habit of seeking to ‘buy’ off better behavior from the Pakistani establishment, more and more voices of the futility of this approach are now being heard. A corollary to this is that India receives a more sympathetic hearing to its narrative of Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism. USA has been pressurizing Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack and also against the D Company.

Third, the Pakistanis believe that since the mid of this year, the geo-strategic and geo-political situation/ dynamics had gradually and irretrievably turned in their favour. Their all-weather friend China had recently announced an investment of 46 billion dollars in Pakistan and President Ghani of Afghanistan had gone out on a limb to repair the relationship with Pakistan reversing many of his predecessor’s so called pro-India policies. President Ghani had not only decided to put on hold Karzai’s request for Indian weapons to fight the Taliban, but had also sent six Afghan army cadets to Pakistan for training, visited the Pakistan army HQ (November 2014) and signed an agreement with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to combat terrorism. In return it was expected that Pakistan would use its influence to reign in the Taliban and bring them to the negotiating table. The United States and China too were supportive of Pakistan in the belief that it could help in a negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio by bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. All this helped create a mistaken sense of bravado and arrogance in the Pakistani establishment that they were indispensable to the achievement of the geo-strategic objectives of major powers and so could adopt a more belligerent attitude towards India. (That the subsequent events like the failure of the Murree talks and the Kunduz attack by the Taliban made Ghani realize the futility of his outreach to Pakistan and the limitations of Pakistani influence on the Taliban itself is another story.)

Fourth, is the oft repeated Pakistani establishment’s strategy of ‘externalizing’ its internal problems. Since the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, incidents of terrorism have gone down in the country but there still have been some spectacular terrorist attacks by the TTP like the unfortunate attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar (December 2014) in which 132 innocent children were killed and the attack on the Air Force Base in Badaber (September 2015) in which 29 people were killed. Dr. C. Christine Fair in her book ‘Fighting to the End: Pakistan Army’s Way of War’ mentions that in the face of internal threats and challenges, the Pakistani Army seeks to externalize (mostly successfully) these threats to the enemies (India) who are held responsible for creating and aggravating these threats. This in turn not only brings the focus back to India but also buttresses the Pakistan army’s role as the premium institution in meeting these threats. As mentioned earlier, it is not for nothing that the DG, ISPR Gen. Bajwa was quick to blame India after these attacks.

Fifth, is the personality of the present Army Chief of Pakistan General Raheel Sharif. He is a hawk on India. He hails from a family of ‘martyrs’ and his brother Rana Shabbir Sharif was killed in the 1971 war with India and is the only recipient of both the Sitara-e-Jurrat and the Nishan-e-Haider. In fact, on his elevation to the post of COAS many analysts argued that he got the position only because of his family legacy. He was not in a command position as Lt. General but was serving as Inspector General, Training and Evaluation (DG, T&E). He was also not the senior most but third in the list of Generals to be considered for the position after Lt. General Haroon Aslam and Lt. General Mehmood. Taking a firm anti-India line always helps consolidate one’s position amongst skeptics in Pakistan. Further, like Nawaz Sharif, he too is a Kashmiri. So any one in India having any illusion that the General will be accommodating towards India is in my opinion day dreaming.

Sixth, the change in government in New Delhi and the new hardline but pragmatic policy of the present government has disoriented the Pakistani establishment. Used to the old ways of the earlier governments, Pakistan finds the belligerent statements of the present NSA and ministers disconcerting. It does un-nerve the Pakistani establishment when India’s defense minister goes on record to state ‘kaante se kaanta nikana’ (use a thorn to take out thorns) and that ‘we will neutralize terrorists through terrorists only’. Pakistan understands that India does have the ability to respond to Pakistani terrorism in kind (but has as a policy refrained so far from doing so) as was demonstrated during the days of the Punjab insurgency when RAW (India’s spy agency) had created a Covert Intelligence Team X (CIT-X) and a Covert Intelligence Team J (CIT-J) to target Pakistan and Khalistani terrorists.  For some unknown reasons and in the mistaken belief that it will earn Pakistani goodwill, these covert teams were closed down under the orders of the then PM, Mr. I. K Gujaral. Pakistan believes that if it raises sufficient hue and cry about Indian involvement in terrorism in Pakistan (even without any evidence), it could pressurize India to refrain from such covert activities/operations.

Seventh, with the international pressure it was subjected to after its state sponsoring of the Mumbai attack, Pakistan was forced to reign in some of its proxies created with the express aim to give effect to its doctrine of ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts.’ Further, under domestic pressure post the attack on school children on Peshawar, it started taking action against anti-Pakistan militant organizations like the TTP and some sectarian organizations. While some terrorist organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are pro-Pakistan to the hilt and would in no circumstances countenance an attack on the Pakistani state, other terrorist groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Al-Badr, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi etc. share an ideological affinity with the militant Islam professed by groups like the Taliban. Recently, there were reports that bodies of 71 Al-Badr militants killed in a drone attack in Afghanistan were returned to Pakistan, pointing to the ideological affinity and relationship between these militant organizations. The Pakistan establishment fears that these militants may soon declare the Pakistani state and army as apostate and may turn against them by aligning with anti-Pakistani militant groups. A belligerent stance against India not only helps in shoring up Pakistani reputation in the eyes of these militant groups (for as mentioned earlier, these groups remain firmly anti-India) but also helps to keep public opinion firmly in its favor.

Last but not the least, the narrative that India is supporting and funding groups like the TTP helps remove any skepticism from the minds of the Pakistani troops and officers in the justness of their fight against these groups, who claim to fight for Islam and the Sharia. It is no secret that the Pakistani society and the Armed forces have become deeply Islamic post Zia’s Islamization programme. During the Afghan Jihad, many in the Pakistani armed forces developed close contacts and life-long associations with the Mujahadeen. Brig. Sultan Amir (Colonel Imam) has been a legendary figure in the Pak army and a supporter of the Taliban till his assassination ironically by the latter. Khalid Mehmood, a technician with the Pakistan Air Force was convicted and hanged in an assassination attempt on Parvez Musharraf. Similarly, the attacks on PNS Mehran Naval Base in 2011 and Karma Airbase in 2014 were attributed to insiders. With such divided loyalties amongst the armed forces, the official narrative that TTP is funded by and so is a stooge of ‘Hindu’ India is a convenient psy-op devised to foster unity amongst the armed forces and to remove all skepticism from their minds of the righteousness of the cause of taking up arms against these groups.

It can thus be seen that while the establishment of Pakistan does realize that it does not have any substantive proof of Indian involvement of terrorism in Pakistan, it is convenient and useful for them to keep carping about it. I conclude by quoting Cyril Almeida, a well-known Pakistani columnist on the dossier (Dawn, October 4, 2015, ‘One country, Three policies’); ‘Some familiar with the contents thought it lucky the Indians weren’t willing to receive the dossiers…Because, had the Indians been embarrassed into receiving them, they may have gleefully splashed the contents around the world — so shoddy being either the work of the dossiers’ compilers or, worryingly, of the intelligence-gatherers themselves.’ So can we say that the drama of the cancellation of NSA talks was enacted not by Pakistan because India insisted on discussing only terrorism, but because they were too afraid and embarrassed to hand over these so called dossiers with proofs to the Indians?



Operation Zarb e Azb: Will it end terrorism from Pakistan?


“Pakistan’s policy of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan has been proven wrong and the country now needs to focus all its strength on dealing with the militants”- Hillary Clinton

The Pakistani armed forces launched a military offensive christened ‘Zarb-e Azb’ (sharp and cutting strike), against the Pakistani Taliban and local and foreign militants based in North Waziristan on 15 June 2014. Pre-dawn airstrikes were launched by the armed forces in which 105 terrorists were alleged to have been killed. North Waziristan is one of the tribal agencies in Pakistan which borders Afghanistan and was seen as the most important sanctuary for Al Qaeda, Pakistani and Afghan insurgents. The operation was launched in the backdrop of the daring attack on the busiest international airport of Pakistan, the Jinnah International Airport at Karachi. Ten militants of TTP and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) attacked the airport on 8 June 2014, killing 36 people.

The Americans and the Afghan government had been calling upon the Pakistan government to launch an operation in this area for long as this area was considered the epicenter from which militants launched operations against the ISAF and Afghan forces.  Pakistan’s ‘all weather friend’ China, had also expressed concern over the sanctuaries of the East Turkestan Movement in the area. Pakistan though was reluctant to carry out any military offensive in North Waziristan since this was the base of the ‘good’ or the pro-Pakistan Taliban like the Haqqanis’ who were being used to further Pakistan’s geo-strategic interests in the region. The government of Nawaz Sharif in March had sought to engage the Taliban in peace talks which collapsed with the brazen attack on Karachi airport.

Describing the operation, the military spokesman Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa, characterized the operation as the ‘beginning of the end of terrorism in Pakistan’. He further added that the military would not discriminate between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Taliban and that ‘for military, there is no discrimination among different Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) groups or the Haqqani Network’. ‘Army will crush them all.’

Several questions however remain in the eyes of skeptics. Firstly, will this operation achieve its objective of eliminating terrorism from Pakistan? Secondly, has the Pakistan state really debunked its desire for strategic depth in Afghanistan and ceased to use terrorist groups as an instrument of state to achieve its geo-strategic objectives in the region? Thirdly, does the operation have unstinting support of the general populous and how long will this support last? My blog post is an assessment and answers to these three questions.

1. Will Zarb-e-Azb end terrorism in Pakistan?

According to this author the answer is an emphatic no. The Pakistani state lacks a strategic vision and strategy to deal with the issue of terrorism confronting it. Its counter terrorism instruments and institutions are either weak or dysfunctional and the country lacks consensus amongst its politico- military leadership on the most effective methodology to tackle terrorism.  The state thus adopts ‘tactical’ rather than ‘strategic’ approach to tackle terrorism.

Owning the operation

In any war it is not only the armed forces but the ‘nation’ that goes to war. To succeed, every instrument of state i.e. the government, political parties, civil society, media etc have to be on the same page and endorse the strategy adopted. It seems however that consensus still eludes the nation on the question if force should be used against the militants based in North Waziristan. Though the military in its press release claimed that it was acting on the direction of the government and had ‘launched a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists who are hiding in sanctuaries in North Waziristan’, subsequent statements revealed that not all political leadership/parties were on board or fully briefed. The provincial governments of Sind and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) complained that they had not informed before the launch of the operation.  Shabbir Ahmed Khan, the provincial Secretary-General of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), a part of the ruling coalition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said ‘The Federal government did not take the provincial government into confidence.’ Similarly, Senator Farhatullah Babur of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) stated that the Sind government of PPP had received no prior intimation about the operation. While Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf has lent grudging support to the operation, the Jamat-e-Islami (JI) has opposed it. The Chief of JI and Finance minister of KPK, Shiraj ul Haq lashed out at the Federal government for not finding a way to avoid the operation.

The Federal cabinet also seems divided on the issue. While Khwaja Asif, the Defence Minister is said to be in support of this operation, Chaudhary Nisar, the Interior Minister is opposed to it. This lack of consensus amongst political parties and government ministers, who serve as important builders and mediators of public opinion, may seriously compromise the achievement of objective as set out by the operation.

Weak/dysfunctional counter terrorism institutions

In February 2014, the Nawaz Sharif Government brought out the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) which envisaged developing multi pronged strategies to meet the challenges of terrorism. However, there are reports that NISP was prepared without the participation of an important stakeholder; the armed forces of Pakistan. So far not much work has happened on the provisions of the NISP.

The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) Act was passed in March 2013,but as Ansar Abbasi wrote (The News,  June 18, 2014) ‘not a single meeting of the authority’s high-powered board of governors, headed by the prime minister and comprising all the key government players including spymasters has been held as yet. This board has a key role in implementing the NISP which promises capacity building of criminal justice system, police, civil armed forces and other law enforcing agencies for border management besides setting up of a key institution to be called the Directorate of Internal Security (DIS), which would be established under the NACTA to coordinate intelligence and operational work of all the civilian and military agencies to effectively counter terrorism.’

International experience in fighting terrorism shows that professional and motivated police forces supported by effective intelligence agencies are the best instruments in fighting terrorism. However in Pakistan police are hardly in ‘the lead’ in fighting terrorism as this role has been ‘usurped’ by the military. Though they make some perfunctory noises from time to time, this author believes that the Pakistan army has a vested interest in checking the growth of an effective police force as it compromises its image of being the ‘sole’ provider of security in the country. An Asia Society report (edited by Hassan Abbas) on Police reforms in Pakistan stated, ‘Pakistan’s police system suffers severe deficiencies in a number of areas, including equipment, technology, personnel, training, and intelligence capability. Moreover, the political will needed to address these issues is largely missing. Besides a poor public image, both the police leadership and the rank and file appear to lack a sense of accountability to the public they are meant to serve. Moreover, the system simply is not structured to reward good behaviour, as merit-based opportunities for professional advancement are scarce, low pay is the norm, and a lack of support and resources compels even many well-intentioned officers to misuse their authority in order to survive.’

Another weakness noticed in the police force is Pakistan is the lack of women police officers. In a report prepared by the Institute of Inclusive Security (March 2014) it was stated, ‘Policewomen improve the operational effectiveness of these forces by building trust with local commu­nities, more effectively de-escalating violence, and collecting vital intelligence that men could not. Due to prohibitive norms, only women in the police can serve as first responders to care for female victims of terrorist attacks. Additionally, female civilians are more likely to report cases of gender-based violence to women officers. These roles help cultivate a more collabo­rative relationship between the police and citizens, who otherwise typically see the country’s police forces as corrupt and inefficient.’ Statistics released by the National Police Bureau of Pakistan in 2011 revealed that out of 453,901 members of the police forces, only 4,027 were women. This repre­sented only 0.89 per cent of the total police strength of Pakistan. Most of them served in lower ranks, from constable to inspector level. Only 85 of these policewomen served in higher ranks, and the majority were from Punjab.

Similarly, the convictions of captured terrorists remain low. While the conviction rates in countries like the United States is close to 95 per cent, in Pakistan it remains a dismal five per cent. In a report titled ‘Anti Terror Laws, Policing and the Criminal Justice System: A Case Study of Anti Terrorist Efforts in Punjab’ it was stated that out of 1,015 cases pending before the Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATC) in Punjab, only 506 were adjudicated with 136 convictions only. The report calls for a holistic reform of the criminal judicial system in Punjab.

2. Has the notion of strategic depth/terror as an instrument of foreign policy been debunked?

It is no secret that Pakistan has created, nurtured and supported many of these terrorist and sectarian groups to achieve its perceived geo-strategic interests in the region. Groups like the Haqqani Network, based in North Waziristan were supported with a view to achieve strategic depth in Afghanistan while anti-India groups were supported to wage a proxy war against its eastern neighbor. With the launch of Zabr-e-Azb, has Pakistani state ended support to these groups and are all terrorist groups being targeted by the Pakistan armed forces? The reports emanating from the field do not give much hope to such assertions.

Distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists

Reports emanating from North Waziristan suggest that most of the ‘good’ Taliban had already left the area before the launch of the operation and moved into Afghanistan. This included the Haqqanis and Hafiz Gul Bahadur. A BBC news report (M. Ilyas Khan, 30 June 2014) read, ‘Recent evidence suggests that most of these groups have already left the regions around Miranshah and the other main town in North Waziristan, Mir Ali. The most prominent among these are the Uzbek fighters allied to the TTP who claimed the 7 June assault on Karachi airport, and are believed by many to be one of the two major targets of the current operation, along with the TTP.  They are mostly believed to have slipped into Afghanistan’s Khost province after Pakistani troops left a section of the border unmanned for a couple of weeks prior to the operation.’ This fact was also corroborated by Saifullah Mehsud of the FATA Research Centre speaking to Ejaz Haider on his programme “Beylaag” on Capital TV on 1 July 2014. It seems to be a redux of the earlier operation in South Waziristan of 2009, Rah-e-Nijaat, where the leadership of the terrorists groups had managed or were allowed to escape before the launch of the operation. Analysts believe that Pakistan militarily still believes that it would need the support of these ‘good’ Taliban post the withdrawal of ISAF forces in 2014 to counter its arch-rival India in Afghanistan. So much for the burial of the concept of strategic depth!

Punjabi and Karachi Taliban

The militants based in North Waziristan have developed organic linkages with other terrorist and sectarian groups based in other regions of Pakistan especially in Punjab and Karachi. In his seminal work ‘Punjabi Taliban’, Mujahid Hussain (page 38) writes, ‘Today the greatest number of organisations and groups indulging in extremism, sectarian and jihadi activities in the region are located in the different cities and towns of Punjab. Except for certain militant groups that are active in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Tribal Belt, the centre of all jihadist and sectarian outfits are situated in Punjab. It is also worth mentioning here that the greatest supply of cannon fodder of the militants to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Tribal areas comes from Punjab. According to a conservative estimate, more than fifty percent of the militants active in these areas, hail from Punjab. After the US invasion in Afghanistan the majority of terrorsits of Al-Qaeda and Taliban have taken refuge in Punjab. The prominent operatives of Al-Qaeda like Khaled Sheikh Muhammad, Abu-Zubaida and Abu Khalifan were all arrested from big urban centres of Punjab and Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Gujarat whereas hundreds of other terrorists were captured from different cities of province.’ Is it any surprise then that Osama bin Laden was living in Abottabad?

Karachi has an ethnic Pashtun population of around four million which provides a ‘safety net’ to the militants of FATA. These linkages go back to the 1990’s when Taliban had established its first office in the areas of Sohrab Goth and Pashtunabad areas in late 1994 which were only closed down when Pakistan recognised the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 1996.  Zahid Hussain in his book ‘The Scorpion’s Tail’ writes (page 5), ‘The port city of Karachi, a teeming metropolis of 18 million people in the Arabian Sea, has become a main hub of radicalism, offering the militants sanctuary as well as funding and a steady flow of new recruits from the thousands of madrassas spread across the city. It was in Karachi that Faisal Shahzad (the Times Square bomber) made contact with those who helped him make his way to the tribal territory of Waziristan for training in bomb making.’

Karachi has also emerged as the ‘purse’ of militancy in Pakistan with militants engaging in extortions, kidnappings for ransom and also bank robberies. As per police estimates nearly 65 per cent of bank robberies in the city can be traced back to various Islamist groups, particularly the TTP. A large number of sleeper cells of various militant outfits exist in Karachi. During the period 2010-2012, nearly 300 TTP activists/financers have been arrested from the city. (Imtiaz Gul, ‘Pakistan before and after Osama, page 144-5).

Unless action is taken against all militant groups in all parts of the country, chances of a terrorism free Pakistan will remain a chimera. So far the state has shown no inclination of desire to curb the activities of these terrorists groups. I have not mentioned the sectarian outfits here for have already written about them in my previous blog post here.

3. Public support for the operation?

For any operation to succeed, unstinting public support to the armed forces is a prerequisite. It is more so from the people of the region who suffer the most. Right now going by reports it seems that the Pakistani population in general supports the operation (barring the extreme right-wingers). However, whether  this support will last if the operation drags on and there are blow backs in the form of increased instances of terrorism and suicide bombings in the heartlands of Pakistan is any body’s guess. Taliban have threatened increased acts of terrorism in Pakistan. Sahidullah Shahid, the spokesman of TTP stated ‘we want to make it clear to the rulers of Pakistan that you are killing tribal children, and, by God, we will soon shake your palaces in Islamabad and Lahore and burn those to ashes. We are eyeing victory with the help of God, and you will become a joke for the world.’ There are reports that in order to meet the challenge of the expected blowback, government is mulling invoking Article 245 of the Constitution to summon the army to all major cities in the country to guard and protect important public installations.

Taliban spokesman further warned that ‘Foreign investors, airlines, and multinational companies should cut off business with Pakistan immediately and leave the country or else they will be responsible for their damage themselves.’ Heeding  the call, Cathay Pacific announced the suspension of its Pakistan operations from 29 June 2014. If more multinationals decide to exit Pakistan, the already teetering economy may take another hit leading to higher inflation and unemployment. The cries then for ‘talks’ with Taliban rather than ‘operation’ could gain momentum.

For the residents of the tribal areas, the experience of both Rah-e-Rast and Rah-e-Nijaat suggests increased hardships. Since the Pakistani army uses aerial bombings, heavy artillery and other area weapons in its counter terrorism operations, not only do they become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the economy of the area is also destroyed. Bombings destroy the agricultural economy of the area and blown up bridges and roads affect  transportation and communication. Latest reports in the newspapers suggest that  about seventy five thousand IDPs are facing hardships in the relief camps set up by the government.

Paradoxically while the operation has been launched with the expressed objective of ending terrorism in Pakistan, it may instead be achieving  the exact opposite. Ayesha Siddiqa, writing in Tribune (Spilling the Beans, July 3, 2014) states ‘Latest reports from Bannu suggest that militant and religious outfits like the JuD, the JI and the JeM dominate welfare activities in the area. The services provided thus, will pave the way for recruitment of more jihadis from amongst the IDPs or build greater sympathy for these outfits amongst the displaced people. This is not an ethnic issue — the IDPs are physically, psychologically and emotionally vulnerable, which makes them easy targets for exploitation. Intriguingly, non-religious NGOs are finding it comparatively difficult to set up base. This pattern certainly does not indicate a reversal of the ‘strategic depth’ policy.’

In conclusion it can be said that the final outcome of the operation Zarb-e-Azb may be no different from the earlier operations Rah-e-Rast and Rah-e-Nijaat. The operations may lead to the army establishing its presence in the area and some writ of the state being enforced; the top leadership of the militant outfits will, however not be eliminated. The state does not seem inclined to launch counter terrorism operations against the Punjabi Taliban or clamp down on sources of finance of the extremist groups who continue to gain strength. The doctrinal overhang of ‘strategic depth’ and ‘terror as an instrument of state policy’ though muted survives. All in all, the objective of the operation is more ‘tactical’ than ‘strategic’.




Sectarian violence in Pakistan


“Yeh jo dehsatgardi hai, iske peeche wardi hai”: Slogan by Shia Hazara protestors against killings in Kohistan.

In another case of unending sectarian killings in Pakistan on 9 June 2014 nearly 30 people were killed and many more injured in a suicide attack on Al Murtaza hotel hosting Shia pilgrims in Taftan, a district bordering Iran. A suicide bomber purportedly belonging to the banned Sunni sectarian outfit Jaish-ul-Islam entered the hotel and detonated the explosives strapped to his body among the Shia pilgrims returning from their pilgrimage to their sacred shrine in Iran. Newspaper reports (Express Tribune) suggested that intelligence agencies had warned of possible attacks on pilgrims one month ago, but the authorities had failed to put in place adequate security to thwart Sunday’s attack. While threats to Pakistan’s security from terrorism unleashed by organizations like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Al-Qaeda etc make regular headlines across the globe and bring expressions of concern, the rising tide of sectarianism in Pakistan poses no less a threat to the stability to that beleaguered nation.

The rise of sectarianism in Pakistan had both an internal as well as external dimension. Internally, sectarian differences in Pakistan were set in motion by General Zia’s controversial Islamization programme launched in 1979. Shias resisted General Zia’s policy of introducing Islamic Sharia laws based on a radical brand of Sunni Hanafi system of jurisprudence. When Zia’s regime sought to implement Sunni laws of inheritance and Zakat (the obligatory alms tax) in 1980, it was vehemently opposed by the Shias. An important Shia cleric, Mufti Zaafar Hussain argued that if Pakistan was to have Islamic laws, Shias should be allowed to follow their own jurisprudence (Jaafariya fiqh). On 5 July 1980, Shias openly defied martial law and congregated in Islamabad, virtually shutting down the government. Faced with strong Shia protest Zia capitulated, granting Shias exemption from all Islamization rules which contravened Shia law. This ‘defeat’ though, was not taken kindly by the military and the ruling regime. The formation of the Shia outfit Tehrik-e-Jafaria Pakistan (TJP), it’s militant student wing the Ithna Ash’ariya Students Organisation and the rise of charismatic ‘Khomeini-like’ leaders amongst the Shia’s- notably Allamah Arif Hussaini also made the military regime uncomfortable. In 1983 much to the discomfiture of the regime TJP joined Benazir Bhutto’s Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD). Externally, the success of the Islamic revolution in Iran (1979) had filled the Shias of Pakistan with a new self confidence and ‘set in motion, first, a power struggle between the Pakistani State and its Shia community, and later a broader competition for power between Shias and Sunnis’ (Vali Nasr).

To check this Shia assertiveness the military regime of Zia began investing in strengthening various Sunni institutions and organizations. It poured money into the existing Sunni madrasas (seminaries) and set up new ones. Madrasas were strengthened in those areas where the threat was perceived to be the greatest i.e. in the areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Baluchistan bordering Iran. Military governors of Punjab, KP and Baluchistan assisted the elite intelligence agency ISI, in creating and organizing Sunni sectarian outfits to tackle the so called ‘Shia problem’. With state support radical Sunni organizations like the Sawad e Azam Ahle Sunni, Anjuman e Sipah e Sahaba, Sunni Tehrik, Tehrik Nifaz Shriat-e-Muhammadi, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba etc were created and allowed to flourish. The founder of Sawad e Azam Ahle Sunni, Maulana Salemullah Khan in 1980 demanded that Pakistan be declared Sunni state and that Shias be declared non-Muslims. This demand was later reiterated by Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhanghvi of Anjuman e Sipah e Sahaba. Concerned with the growing influence of Iran in the region and seeking to limit its politico-religious influence in Pakistan these Sunni sectarian outfits were supported externally by Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The Afghan Jihad being waged by Pakistan in the 1980’s also resulted in the free flow of arms, money and training for Sunni Islamists. Pakistan soon emerged as the battleground for the proxy war of influence between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. These groups acquired further legitimacy and power when they and their off shoots became the instruments of the Pakistani state in its proxy war with India in Kashmir.

As these sectarian groups gained ascendancy since the 1980s Pakistan began witnessing the scourge of sectarian violence which targeted various ethnic groups, minorities, professionals and even women and children. Sectarian violence involved groups on both sides; however, anti-Shia violence has now become more prominent. Other minority groups like the Hindus, Christians, Ahmediyas and Sufis have also been at the receiving end of the Sunni extremist outfits. Muhammad Amir Rana, Director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) was quoted in the Washington Post (January 15, 2014) as saying, “We are on a very dangerous trend where sectarian violence is increasing, and it is starting to take the shape of structural violence. We are now seeing sectarian tensions triggered not only by terrorism incidents, but average clashes within the sectarian communities.” As per the report of PIPS, 687 people were killed in sectarian violence in the country in 2013, which represented an increase of 22 per cent over 2012. Similarly, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which monitors violence in the region, Pakistan’s death toll from sectarian violence last year was the highest since the organization began tracking the statistic in 1989, when 18 people were killed.

The question then arises is why does the Pakistani state allow these groups to survive or even flourish when all round instability is being created by them in the country? Several reasons can be attributed to this. First is the nature of the Pakistani state and its nationalism. These groups draw legitimacy from the ‘ideology’ of the Pakistani state which legitimizes faith and sect based discrimination.  The Objective Resolution of 1949, the Second Amendment act of 1974 (which declared Ahemdis as non-Muslims) and anti-minority laws like the blasphemy laws (Article 295 of the Pakistani Penal Code) institutionalize these discriminations.  The latest US State department report on religious freedom states that Pakistan’s minority Ahmadi sect has become the target of rising sectarian violence, with its burial grounds, mosques and homes coming under assault. According to Islamabad based Centre Research and Security Studies (CRSS), since 1990 at least 60 people have been killed outside the Pakistani justice system in cases related to blasphemy.  During the period 1977 to 2012, 327 blasphemy cases were registered and 19 people are serving life sentences.

The official school text books promote intolerance containing blatantly anti-religious minority, anti western material. “Such textbooks try to create and define Pakistani nationalism in a very narrow sense. It tries to define it in term of an Islamic identity,” says Abdul Hameed Nayyar, a well-known historian, activist, and former physicist. When these text books were partially revised in KP under the government of Awami National Party (ANP), the newly elected government of Pakistan Tehriq-e-Insaf (PTI) and its coalition partner Jaamat-e-Islami (JI) decided to restore violent Jihadist contents in school text books.  In a press conference on August 21, 2013, Shah Farman, KP’s minister for information and culture said that the government would rectify the holes and mistakes in the existing text books published by the previous secular ANP government. “What kind of sovereignty, freedom, and Islamic values is this when Islamic teachings, jihad, and national heroes are removed from textbooks?” he reportedly asked. Is it then any surprise then that radicalization and sectarianism have taken deep roots in Pakistani society and Pakistani public opinion demonstrates considerable support for the world view of radical Islamic and sectarian organizations?

Secondly, sectarian groups (especially Sunni) have been receiving active patronage by institutions of the state like the army and political parties. The Pakistani military has been using these groups as an arm of the state to wage proxy wars against Afghanistan and India. In 1988 the Federal government allowed the Sunni activists to raid the town of Gilgit, the only Shia majority province of Pakistan in reaction to their uncooperative attitude in the Afghan Jihad. Nearly 150 Shias were killed, their houses burnt and shops looted. Sunnification of the Northern areas was also a part of the military’s strategy to use Sunni Secterianism in Kashmir war. Groups like Harkat ul Ansar (later renamed as Harkat ul Mujahideen), who fought the proxy war in Kashmir were the offshoots of the Sipah a Sahaba. The Hizb ul Mujahadeen formed in 1989 was the armed wing of the Jamat i Islami of not only Jammu and Kashmir but also of Pakistan. Maulana Masood Azhar’s Jaish e Mohammad and Harkat ul Jihad ul Islami drew members from various Deobandi sectarian groups. Shia (Hizbul Momineen) and Salafi (Tehrik ul Mujahideen) sectarian groups were also drawn into the proxy war in Kashmir by the Pakistani army. The influence that these sectarian groups now wield can be gauged from reports that when GHQ of the Pakistan Army at Rawalpindi was attacked in December 2009 by Tehrik e Taliban, Pakistan (TTP), Maliq Mohammad Ishaq, one of the founder members of the LeJ, Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, the chief of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalil, the ameer of Harkat ul Mujahideen, and Mufti Abdul Rauf, the younger brother of Maulana Masood Azhar who is also the acting ameer of Jaish-e-Mohammadwere specially flown on chartered planes to negotiate with the members of the TTP who were holding some military officials hostage.

Besides the military both the mainstream political parties of Pakistan i.e. the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) have from time to time courted and taken support from these sectarian outfits to further their political interests. PPP tied up with the Sipah e Sahaba, Pakistan (1993-96) in the province of Punjab giving them ministerial positions to get their support. In 1994, it formed a tacit alliance with Sipah e Mohammad, the radical Shia group to check its earlier alliance partner TJP with whom it fell out after the local elections in the Northern Areas in which the latter got more seats than PPP and demanded to lead the coalition. In the by-polls held in Jhang district of Punjab in 2010, the then law minister of PML (N) government in Punjab, Rana Sanaullah was openly seen campaigning with Maliq Ishaq of the SSP and LeJ. In its budget of 2013-14, Punjab government of the PML (N) provided funds of 61 million rupees to the Jamat ud Dawa, the front organisation of the Lashkar e Toiba.

Thirdly, the capacity constraints of the law enforcement agency, archaic anti terrorism laws and sympathetic judiciary have all contributed to the strengthening of these organisations. Members of these groups maintain active links with the intelligence agencies and there have been reports of interventions for their release by these agencies when they are apprehended by the law enforcement agencies. The criminal justice system in Pakistan fares poorly when dealing with these secterain groups and their members are often acquitted by the courts for the lack of evidence. In May 2014, Maliq Ishaq who was named a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ by the U.S. State Department was acquitted by an anti-terror court in Pakistan for the lack of evidence despite his open admission to journalists that he had killed over hundred Shias.  A report published in Dawn (13 October 2013) quoting an official government report revealed that since 2007, 1,964 alleged terrorists have been released by courts of which 722 had rejoined terrorist groups and 1,197 were active in anti state activities. The virus of radicalization has also pervaded the judiciary  as can be seen in the photographs published in several newspapers where Justice Sauqat Aziz Siddiqi, recently appointed as the judge to Islamabad High court, in his earlier avatar as a lawyer was seen kissing the murderer of Salman Tasser (the then Governor of Punjab), Mumtaz Qadri.

It can thus be seen that the virus of sectarianism and radicalization has pervaded the entire body politic of Pakistan, infecting both its society and organs of the state. This virus can only be cured with a complete reorientation of the ‘ideology’ and ‘nationalism’ of Pakistan which is based on radical Islam and institutionalized discrimination of minority groups and the ‘other’. Unless that happens Pakistan would continue to be plagued by sectarian violence and terrorism.  The spread of sectarianism in Pakistan not only threatens the stability of Pakistan but has the potential to spill over to its neighbors, destabilizing the entire region. This is so because many of these sectarian groups have developed linkages with pan-Islamic terrorist organizations like the Al-Qaeda and subscribe to its ideology. Pakistan’s neighbors like Afghanistan, Iran and India need to watch out.

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