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Our new strategic assets

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 By Amir Hussain

Our carefully manufactured brands of holy war are no longer available to fight the battles of strategic importance on two fronts at least i.e.  Against the enemy within and the one outside the national borders.  Left to their own choices by state the religious puritans in the recent past enjoyed liberty to harass and persecute the imagined enemy within more than fighting the external enemy. Ultimately the demagogues of religious purity, homogenization and one-dimensional patriotism grew too big to be managed by their patrons.

Loosely defined as anyone or everyone who defies political regimentation imposed by the state for coercive adherence to ideology and patriotism the enemy within has a broad category of citizens. The ‘usual suspects’ who are believed to be in defiance of the state induced ideological homogenization and who speak for a more tolerant, inclusive and pluralistic Pakistan based on its cultural, ethnic and religious diversity fall in the category of the enemy within. The enemy within is an amorphous group of people ranging from seculars, socialists, nationalists, civil society activists, minorities, women and moderate religious scholars etc. While the holy war brigade shows restraint from inflicting terror on critical thinking in a changed political environment, the state has mastered the art to use relatively moderate forces from the mainstream to do this job rather effectively. What was once the preserve of religious outfits has now been assigned to elected rightwing parties whose allegiance to state Bonapartism has become the primary condition of staying in power.  

Nonetheless state ideology is not necessarily an anti-people political agenda but when states lose the political legitimacy of their action, they deploy coercive means to maintain political order.  The weak states always wage wars against the imagined enemy within to suppress political dissent. All post-colonial states are weak states and they use coercive political instruments to break social solidarity and collective political expression.   The story of political dissent in a post-colonial state like Pakistan has been the story of persecution, repression and harassment in the absence of a strong system of citizens’ participation and political accountability.  This means that Pakistan is not an exception in the political constellation of post-colonial states where the project of nation-building could not reach to its logical end.   

What worries us all in Pakistan is that the centrifugal political drift is more visible today than the convergence of national interest, giving rise to regional and ethnocentric political movements in a colonial framework of dualism of local and outsider. In Pakistan there has been a long struggle by nationalists and ethnocentric groups declaring themselves as local and the federalist parties as outsiders. From the debacle of Bengal to the separatist movements in Balochistan and increasing political dissent in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistani ruling class has failed to establish an inclusive polity. Similarly, in India BJP has been using the colonial political tactics of local and outsider to establish its dominance by creating the image of Muslims as outsiders.   There are at least 30 separatist movements in India which consider the Indian central government as outsider and usurper of indigenous resources.  

 It has become a political normal for the post-colonial states to use religion and culture as a power instrument to unleash terror on political opponents, minorities and those who dare to challenge the repressive status quo. Pakistan has been providing patronage to religious extremists as state proxies for persecuting political dissent. In India it has become political normal to preach RSS ideology to persecute Muslims and Dalits and all other dissenting voices against the BJP regime.  Unlike India the religious extremists in Pakistan could never get an electoral victory but they held street power and capacity to bring life to a standstill. The militant groups unleashed terror against enlightened and progressive sections of Pakistani society and hence they became the de facto custodians of state ideology for the common citizens.  

In the post cold global environment these religious groups found many new breeding grounds beyond the national boundaries to exert their influence.  From being mere strategic assets of a repressive post-colonial state, they became the symbol of resistance for many disgruntled, downtrodden and wretched young people across the Muslim world. In a neoliberal world shaped by increasing disparities, poverty and plight the dispossessed young people started to gravitate towards religious extremists. The well to do and adventurist anti West and educated Muslim youth was also attracted by the idea of resistance against the cultural hegemony of the West.   

The religious extremists became a global menace and they were branded as the most lethal global terror networks in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks. Across Pak-Afghan border, the so called Mujahideen of cold war were replaced by more puritan groups in the form of Taliban with strategic global outreach through Al-Qaeda network. There is a simplistic narrative about the emergence of Taliban that they were created by Pakistani establishment to safeguard its political and economic interests in the post-cold war era. The narrative goes like this, ‘Pakistani establishment was not comfortable with fighting Mujahideen factions as a viable post-cold war political setup to meet the larger geostrategic goals. Pakistan wanted to see a stable government with an overarching political role to rule the war-torn Afghanistan. Taliban were therefore the products of Pakistani political wisdom to continue control over Afghans.’  

While there is no doubt that Pakistan supported Taliban and helped them consolidate political power but it is   too simplistic to believe that Taliban were the products of a well-entrenched political conspiracy of Pakistani establishment.  The process of Talibanization of Afghanistan was more of an indigenous movement of Afghanistan which gradually spread across the country as a force of unification. Taliban proved themselves to be the most vibrant political force amidst growing popular discontent with Mujahedeen factions. 

In Pakistan a new term was coined to differentiate between those who were still loyal to the state and the ones with global aspirations of Jihad as good and bad Taliban respectively. However, Taliban proved to be much smarter than the state’s political gimmicks by frequently switching their loyalty from good to bad and vice versa.   

With the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan as de facto rulers the religious outfits in Pakistan started to aspire to occupy state to establish a medieval type Islamic emirate. The strategic assets who once fought against internal and external threats to the state were turning against it. These religious extremists proved to be too stubborn to be managed so much so that they started to target state institutions and killed high profile state functionaries. Today the message is loud and clear that the strategic assets who are otherwise filled with the spirit of fighting holy wars are no longer willing to fight for our cause in Kashmir. The firebrand clerics who once used to up the ante on Kashmir are nowhere on the political horizon today. While the extremists have gone into hibernation, this is our right moment to reflect upon strategic wars i.e. the wars about controlling economy, technology, culture and natural resources. In order to fight our new hybrid wars our most important strategic assess are our citizens who want an inclusive, democratic and economically prosperous Pakistan with capability to win these wars. 

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