Military rule and the Ã¢â‚¬Å“war on terrorÃ¢â‚¬Â are the two main culprits for the rise of militancy in Pakistan. A third factor, a dictator-foreign nexus Ã¢â‚¬" whereby a Western power covertly or overtly supports dictators or military rulers Ã¢â‚¬" adds fuel to the fire.
Militancy surges under military rule. By putting restrictions on genuine political activity, dictatorial rule shuts the doors on peaceful expressions of dissent. It attempts to establish its writ by sheer force, and as a reaction, it gives rise to an urge among certain segments of society to advance their cause through strong-arm tactics. In this vein, militancy is not restricted to extremists; it becomes a prevalent mindset Ã¢â‚¬" although in varying degrees Ã¢â‚¬" among the general population.
Religious political parties in Pakistan have been working rather unsuccessfully toward an Ã¢â‚¬Å“IslamisationÃ¢â‚¬Â of the political system. They have succeeded neither in persuading the government to accept their demands, such as complete implementation of shariÃ¢â‚¬â„¢a (religious law), nor in coming to power themselves. The inability to make significant political advances in a democratic process, together with the militarised government setup, gives cause to those referred to as the Ã¢â‚¬Å“local TalibanÃ¢â‚¬Â and to al Qaeda-influenced elements.
The Lal Masjid episode illustrates this problem. In April and May 2007, I met with Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the deputy chief of the mosque and its adjacent school, who was killed in the ensuing siege. I asked him about the legality and effectiveness of the methods employed by his students, like taking hostages and threatening suicide attempts against government targets.
He responded, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Our struggle may be viewed as a natural alternative to the almost complete failure of religious political parties and their approach.Ã¢â‚¬Â Referring to the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (United Action Forum), an alliance of religious parties, he said that the ruling elite would never meet their real demands Ã¢â‚¬" and would instead try to placate the religious parties by agreeing on peripheral issues such as writing an individualÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s religion in his/her Pakistani passport.
Claiming that the Lal Masjid episode will lead the way for other such protests, Ghazi, also a university graduate and former United Nations official, assured me that although he threatened the use of force, he did not intend to resort to it.
Hopefully, I thought.
Eventually, however, the government used force and the students responded in kind, giving extremists yet another excuse for increasing ruthlessness.
Also contributing to the rise in militancy is the widespread resentment against US military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many Pakistanis feel that the United States invaded a sovereign Muslim country on the pretext that it was providing refuge to Osama bin Laden, without having established his guilt in a court of law. Moreover, some contend that the United States invaded Afghanistan even though the Taliban had offered to hand bin Laden over Ã¢â‚¬" as was reported at length by the media Ã¢â‚¬" to a third country, a group of countries, or to the Organisation of Islamic Conference. Furthermore, the alleged reason for invading Iraq Ã¢â‚¬" their development of weapons of mass destruction Ã¢â‚¬" proved baseless.
This lack of legal process, many extremists believe, justifies attacking American targets.
With de facto military rule at home and two wars in the region, the situation in Pakistan is dire. The people of Pakistan love their army, but they do not approve of its meddling in politics. They do not hate the United States, but they are angry with some of its policies.
An end to the Ã¢â‚¬Å“dictator-foreign nexusÃ¢â‚¬Â between the United States and President Pervez Musharraf may also greatly help control and minimise the spiralling problem of militancy.
Musharraf relinquished his military position only after being Ã¢â‚¬Å“re-electedÃ¢â‚¬Â by the outgoing assembly. He then imposed emergency rule, dismissed the Supreme CourtÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s judges Ã¢â‚¬" including the Chief Justice Ã¢â‚¬" and amended the Constitution. To many, Pervez Musharraf acted with the tacit support of Washington during and after the imposed emergency. Without playing favourites, the US-led West has to be seen as sincerely championing the cause of democracy, instead of patting dictators on the back in self-interest.
Addressing these three issues is the panacea for curbing militancy in Pakistan Ã¢â‚¬" and the sooner it is employed, the better.
* Abdullah M. Adnan is an Islamabad-based researcher and political analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews)