Karachi, Dec. 21: The “jihad project”, a number of Pakistanis believe, is over. But they also think that their establishment does not seem to have fully realised this fact.
The so-called jihadis have little support among the Pakistani masses. They are also realising that after 9/11, jihad is a word that shuts doors internationally.
Within Pakistan, the internal impact of the jihadi culture on society has been so great that youngsters are speaking out against it.
Amra Ali, a young art critic, said: “We were used by the Americans who first projected these jihadis as freedom fighters and branded them terrorists after 9/11. These terrorists that were created have had an impact on our society — today, there is a gun in front of every house. A Kalashnikov culture has taken birth in our society. Even our mosques need to be protected from the extremists.”
A youngster who did not want to be identified felt that the Kashmir policy of the government has encouraged sectarianism within Pakistan. “A lot of people they train and send to Kashmir have a sectarian domestic agenda. When they return from Kashmir, they follow a sectarian agenda here and for a long time the state has turned a blind eye to them,” he said.
Naveed Akhtar, a 27-year-old, went to the extent of saying: “I don’t think states should be based on religion. Earlier, Hindus and Muslims used to fight. Now, in our country, Muslims are killing each other. Up to the time of Partition, the difference between the Shias and the Sunnis, the Barelvis and the Deobandis did not warrant their killing each other. So where has this sectarianism come from' Who is giving these maulvis money to create strife in our society'”
“The jihadis remain a force. But they cannot be a real threat without some support from the establishment,” Ghazi Salauddin, a senior journalist, said.
Iqbal Haider, a former senator and human rights lawyer, felt the jihadi forces had damaged Pakistan. “They have grievously hurt Pakistan’s international image, economy and society. What is the achievement of their so-called jihad' Our society has been brutalised by them,” he said.
General Pervez Musharraf himself has been a target of these groups and after the latest assassination attempt against him, he has admitted to several other such bids in the past.
Yet there are those in Pakistan who believe there is reluctance in sections of the establishment to let go of the jihadis. “The pattern of this regime’s policy since 9/11 is to do under pressure the minimum necessary to keep Washington sweet. They have not realised that the jihad project is passé,” Rashed Rahman, former editor of The Frontier Post, said.
This view is supported by the fact that even by its own admission, out of the 500 people that Islamabad has handed over to the US, 490 are al Qaida members and only 10 are Taliban. There are periodic bans on the jihadi groups but they resurface in a different garb.
“Two years ago, a ban was imposed on internal jihadi groups. But the regime chose to look the other way while these groups continued to function. Once again, two years down the road, pressure is mounting on Pakistan. So there is a fresh wave of bans, freezing of assets, etc. What is interesting about this new campaign is that except for the Shia leader, Allma Sajid Naqvi, accused of the murder of Azam Tariq, the leader of a virulently anti-Shia group called the Sipah-e-Sahaba, no other leader or member of a banned group has been arrested,” Rahman pointed out.
He said: “It is a policy of ‘preservation’ rather than elimination that the Pakistani establishment is following.” Rahman argued that a three-way nexus had developed between “the domestic jihadis, the Afghan jihadis and the Kashmir jihadis — retaining one means retaining the others and abandoning one means abandoning the others”.
Those supporting the jihadis “had merely put their head down in Afghanistan when the Americans had blood in their eye and waited for the storm to pass. Then they quietly put together a fresh triangular alliance between the Taliban, al Qaida and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who was resurrected from exile in Iran. That forms the backbone of the resistance in Afghanistan today”, he added.
“The nexus between the different kinds of jihadis is now causing rancour with the Americans. In Afghanistan, they are at the receiving end of it. And vis-à-vis India, it does not fit in with their grand design for the region of promoting trade, investment and possibly hoping that India would act as a counterweight to the new emerging power of China.”
Rahman felt that regardless of Musharraf’s secular credentials, “because of international, regional and domestic pressures, the regime will find it increasingly difficult to revive and continue with its past policies towards the jihadis”.