The Terrorist Within
By *Prof Ishtiaq Ahmed - Syndicate Features
The past couple of weeks have seen terrorism acquire proportions that must begin to be unbearable for Pakistanis. A doctor shot dead for bringing the polio vaccine to remote rural areas in the NWFP, a woman minister shot dead at point blank range by a fanatic for allegedly not wearing proper Islamic dress (whatever it means) and then potential suicide bombers blown to smithereens in Chichawatni by the same device they were carrying on a bike to strike some target: and one wonders who is no longer on the hit lists.
These brutal crimes occurred a few days after suicide bombers had blown up 15 persons, including a senior civil judge, in a court in Quetta, and an earlier attack had taken place at Islamabad Airport causing several casualties. These I call acts of terrorism derivative of an ideological-political conviction. There are deeper, more culture-oriented types of terrorism such as honour killing and Karo- Kari that have become more frequent.
The theoretical literature on terrorism is now extensive, but one should avoid reading too much of it because it would be natural to become paranoid knowing that all the different types of terrorists -- the lone operator (very often one with pathological misogynist convictions), the highly-motivated ideological terrorists who would kill in the name of nation, God and race, the so-called freedom fighters, who would blow up a market place full of poor peasants selling their vegetables and customers trying to find a cheap deal for themselves -- are on the prowl in Pakistan.
All Muslims are not terrorists and suicide bombers, but Muslims, especially Pakistanis, are on an average more likely to be in the headlines for some brutal act of terrorism. The exception is, of course, Iraq, where foreign occupation may be partly blamed for sectarian killings. I find absolutely no reason for so much violence in Pakistan. The late Pakistani Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was sentenced to death by a divided Supreme Court on charges of having entered into a conspiracy to assassinate a political opponent. Such a verdict was purported to convey the message that the life of a citizen was so precious that even an elected prime minister could not be given immunity if found guilty of being involved in such a crime. He was ostensibly hanged to convey to the world that Pakistan had a zero-tolerance on murder.
But Pakistani Ulema are the most notorious for issuing fatwas that goad on their fanatical followers to kill alleged blasphemers, NGO workers, women activists and all those they believe are working against Islam and Pakistan. The state does not have laws at hand to charge such men with conspiracy to kill. Ghulam Sarwar who shot dead the woman minister of social work of the Punjab, Mrs Zille Huma Usman, on February 20, 2007 had already been put on trial for murdering six so-called call girls. He even had intentions of killing former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. How come the courts never found reliable evidence to convict a serial killer?
The latest culture-oriented terrorism known as Karo- Kari prevalent in Sindh took place in Sanghar, interior Sindh, where two uncles killed their nieces because they were allegedly seen in the company of alien men in a banana orchard. They were hacked to pieces and buried without a religious funeral.
I think there is a causal relationship between General Zia-ul-Haq's Islamisation measures which gave us the Hudood and Blasphemy laws and the so-called law of evidence that effectively reduced the testimony in court given by a woman to half in worth as that given by a man.
In the 1980s and 1990s several Christians were gruesomely killed by fanatics allegedly for having blasphemed against Islam. One of them in Faisalabad was a school teacher, Nemat Ahmar. He was also a noted Punjabi poet and writer. He was stabbed to death by a young fanatic called Farooq on January 6, 1992.
Niamat Ahmar's old friend, Masood Qamar, himself a noted poet, who lives in Stockholm, described the young Christian teacher as a very fine human being fully conscious of his social responsibilities who would never show such indiscretion as to blaspheme against the Prophet. His gruesome murder was motivated by sheer religious fanaticism coupled with a desire to get his job. The culprit Farooq was released later.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has been providing evidence every year in its annual reports of how Hindu girls in Sindh are abducted and forced to convert to Islam and Ahmadis and Christian places of worship are set ablaze by fanatics. Such crimes against women and minorities began to increase dramatically much before 9/11 or the occupation of Iraq. So, the usual victim-hood argument populist Pakistani scholars put forward to explain the current dismal situation in Pakistan is sheer baloney.
Yet, the fact remains that until the end of the 1960s Pakistan was a fairly liberal society. People were, no doubt, religious and pious, but in a good sense. The only noteworthy violence against minorities was in 1953 when elements in the Punjab Government connived with the Ulema in launching the Khatam-e-Nabuwat movement that resulted in the loss of Ahmadi lives and property. At that time the state acted with resolution and crushed that movement.
I remember Ahmadi families who lived in Mozang, Lahore, from where I hail, returned to their homes. Within no time we were playing again with Ahmadi boys and nobody cared about the sectarian differences. The Ahmadi issue was revived by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto again for purely opportunistic reasons. It emboldened the Ulema who since then have never hesitated to blackmail the State in adopting their obscurantist agenda.
I am not inclined to believe that Muslim societies are innately violence and terrorism-prone. If that was true we would never have had peace ever since the first group of fanatics killed the venerable pious caliph, Hazrat Usman, in 656 AD. Persistent terrorism is unthinkable without an organisation and powerful agencies being involved in it. The sooner we grasp this point the better it would be for all of us.
The terrorists are now targeting the state and its functionaries as well as their usual objects of hatred: educated and independent women and minorities. Therefore, the state will have to decide which way it wants to proceed. It can either be a modern, rule-of-law oriented entity or the Taliban type of medieval regime will supplant it. There is no middle way between terror and non-violence. Pakistan has to make a choice.
* Prof Ishtiaq Ahmed is an associate professor at the Department of Political Science at Stockholm University in Sweden.
- Syndicate Features -