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Pakistan and the Taliban's stateless power

Pakistan and the Taliban's stateless power

Author: Praveen Swami
Publication: The Hindu
Date: April 25, 2009
URL: http://www.hindu.com/2009/04/25/stories/2009042554321000.htm

The jihadist movement is not a threat to the alliance of the military and the mullah, which shaped Pakistan's history.

"Whosoever takes part in jihad against India, Allah will set him free from the pyres of hell" Lashkar-e-Taiba ideologue Muhammad Ibrahim declared a decade ago. For years, the Pakistani state used its resources to ensure that jihadists like Ibrahim did not have to wait until afterlife to profit from their actions. Nurtured by power, Pakistan's jihadist movement grew into a formidable beast. Now, the beast appears poised to bite the hand that has for so long fed it.

Despite the threat, the Pakistani state seems remarkably unwilling to fight back - a phenomenon that has caused no small amount of bewilderment among analysts and commentators across the world. In fact, the military-dominated state apparatus could prove to have a better comprehension of reality than its critics. Pakistan's jihadist movement does indeed seek power, but not a state. It poses no threat to the alliance of the military and the mullah, which shaped Pakistan's destiny.

Pakistan's heartland jihadist movement - often described as the Punjabi Taliban to denote its ethnicity, ideology and principal area of operation - has been responsible for a string of spectacular assaults since 2007.

Investigations into last year's bombing of the Mariott Hotel in Islamabad, the recent attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team in Lahore, as well as a string of assaults on the Pakistani security forces, have shown that they all involved Punjabi operatives. Tariq Pervez, head of Pakistan's National Counterterrorism Authority, described the Punjabi Taliban thus: "ideas, logistics, cash from the Gulf. Arab guys, mainly Egyptians, and Saudis, are on hand to provide the chemistry. Veteran Punjabi extremists plot the attacks, while the Pakistan Taliban provides the martyrs."

The Punjabi Taliban, as a distinct category, first entered public discourse when Qari Saifullah Akhtar's Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami recruited jihadists from the region to fight in support of Mullah Mohammad Omar's forces in Afghanistan. Hassan Abbas, a leading scholar on jihadist groups in Pakistan, has observed that the Punjabi Taliban "directly benefited from state patronage in the 1990s [and in some cases even later] and was systematically trained in asymmetrical warfare, guerrilla tactics and sabotage."

Later, though, many cadres of the Punjabi Taliban went on to join organisations operating within Pakistan. Many of these organisations were proscribed by the former President, Pervez Musharraf, in the wake of the 2001-2002 military crisis with India, leading their cadres to relocate in Pakistan's northwest.

Prominent among them were factions of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, whose commander, Maulana Masood Azhar, is rumoured to be hiding with the Taliban commander, Baitullah Mehsud, in South Waziristan. Also significant are the Sipah-i-Sahaba and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, both of which had their genesis in state-sponsored terrorism directed at Pakistan's Shia minority. In a report published in March, the International Crisis Group described the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as the "lynchpin of the alignment between the Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and sectarian groups."

Received wisdom has it that the Punjabi Taliban's growing reach and influence pose a threat to the Pakistani state. Islamists, the argument goes, would come to power should the Pakistani state disintegrate, thus acquiring control of its conventional and nuclear military assets.

Pakistan's jihadist movement, though, does not seek to acquire a state, as distinct from mere territory. Millenarian religious movements - of which Pakistan's jihadists are one manifestation - are fundamentally different from the struggles for national liberation of the 19th and 20th centuries. Where these earlier movements were focussed on the acquisition of state power, millenarian movements see it as an obstacle.

Part of the reason why jihadists are not seeking to capture the state is tactical. As scholar Jakub Grygiel has observed in a recent essay in The Policy Review: "It is becoming highly desirable not to have a state. A state is a target that can be threatened, and hence pressured, deterred and, if necessary, destroyed. The greater the capability of nations to destroy one another, and of the great powers in particular, the more dangerous it is to have a state, especially for groups whose goal is to challenge the existing powers. The state becomes a burden because it has to be defended, a difficult task when, as today, world power is unbalanced."

Grygiel notes that a variety of tools - notably, new media and the diffusion of military technology - makes it possible for millenarian movements to possess both lethality and ideological influence.

But, Grygiel suggests, there is a more fundamental reason for the aversion of millenarian movements to the project of statehood: the fact that the business of governance means corruption of their ideological objectives. "Controlling a nation will not satisfy those objectives because it almost always requires political compromises. No country can ever attain the perfection of the ideal, and all countries are certainly limited in their ability to implement religious or other absolute ideas. The state is therefore a source of deep dissatisfaction to those who want to use it as a means to pursue their extremist goals."

Much of the writing which helped lay the ideological foundations for Pakistan's jihadist movement bears out this proposition, touching only fitfully on the question of what kind of state it seeks to create.

Abdullah Azzam, Palestine-born jihadist who co-founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba, listed only one obligation for the Islamic state in his work The Signs of Allah, the Most Merciful, in the Jihad in Afghanistan. "It is incumbent on the Islamic state," he stated, "to send out a group of mujahideen to their neighbouring infidel state. They should present Islam to the leader and his nation. If they refuse to accept Islam, jizyah [a tax] will be imposed upon them and they will become subjects of the Islamic state. If they refuse this second option, the third course of action is jihad to bring the infidel state under Islamic domination."

Indeed, Azzam argued, the Afghan mujahideen he venerated had erred precisely because they sought state power. "Instead of directing their guns at the infidels of India to liberate Kashmir, and at the Russians to liberate Tajikistan," Azzam wrote, "they went at each other's throats in a genocidal power struggle for the remains of Kabul. They chose carrion over the Paradise of Kashmir, Tajikistan and Palestine."

Azzam's principal ideological mentor, the Egyptian Brotherhood-linked intellectual Sayyid Qutb, was also cursory in his treatment of the Islamic state. Qutb's signal work, Milestones, cast Islam as being in implacable opposition to jahiliyyah, or the state of ignorance. In Qutb's view, the "Muslim party has no choice but to go for and control the power centres for the simple reason that an oppressive immoral civilisation derives its sustenance from an immoral governmental set-up." However, Qutb offered no map of what 'the Muslim party' ought to do once it captured the state. Instead, he cast the future as consisting of an endless struggle between Islam and jahilliyyah.

Developing on ideas like these, the Lashkar ideologues argued that the absence of an Islamic state meant jihad had become incumbent on individual Muslims. In an undated tract, Jihad in the Present Times, the Lashkar's Abdul Salaam bin-Muhammad argued that Muslims were in a "position of disgrace and slavery." It was therefore "binding and incumbent" upon individuals to fight until Islam became the "dominant global order.

Lashkar ideologues have often criticised Pakistani regimes for failing to join in this project - but have never initiated a political mobilisation seeking to take control of the state itself. Lashkar chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, in a June, 12, 2008 speech, called on Pakistan to "disassociate itself from the war on terror and join the mujahideen to fight in Afghanistan and Kashmir." His deputy, Abdul Rehman Makki, went one step further, asking that the Pakistan government "should snap ties with the U.S. and Europe and wage an open jihad against them." Later, in October 2008, Saeed railed against President Asif Ali Zardari for failing to understand that "the only way of stopping Pakistan from becoming a barren wasteland is to free Kashmir from Indian occupation." In both Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir, the Lashkar acted on its polemic. Never, though, did it demonstrate the desire to capture state power to further the jihad.

For scholars of Islamist movements, this is no surprise. French scholar Olivier Roy has pointed out that the jihadist "quest for a strict implementation of shariah with no concession to man-made law pushes them to reject the modern state."

Pakistan's elites have proved adroit at transforming the apocalyptic fears raised by the prospect of a jihadist coup into hard cash. Between 2002 and 2008, the U.S. spent $11.2 billion to help Pakistan combat terrorism and enhance security. But the cash has, quite evidently, done little to persuade Islamabad to abandon its march into the abyss. It is becoming clear that the war against jihadist terrorism cannot be won without first finding ways to transform the worldview and institutional interests of Pakistan's army.

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