October 2007

Vol 7 - No. 4
























South Asia: Pakistan | October 2007



An Islamist takeover




There is a widespread perception in the world that extremists are about to gain control over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Once that happens, they will embark on a radically new level of terrorism: one truly involving the use of weapons of mass destruction.


Some of the statements by the three men of Islamic reaction -- Abul Ala Maududi of Pakistan, Syed Qutb of Egypt and Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran -- on the duty of Muslims to spread Islam all over the world should leave no doubt that they did not overrule such expansion through force; on the contrary, the language and vocabulary they employed is unabashedly violence-prone. Therefore, the fear about an Islamist takeover in Pakistan is understandable, but its chances of succeeding are greatly exaggerated.

In any event, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the head of the Jamaat-e-Islami, founded by Maududi, and currently the head of the main clerical coalition, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, has in an article published in this newspaper on Sept. 9 made a strong statement purporting to dispel such a view about Islamists.

He wrote that Muslims are God-fearing people who can never think of causing death and destruction of innocent human beings by using nuclear weapons against them. He said that on the contrary, such evil acts are the doings of materialistic forces like the United States, which dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and caused the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese.

I think Americans would mind being described as a materialistic nation if that word is used as an antonym of 'religious' or 'spiritual'. After all, the US is the most devout Christian nation with the highest rating of a regular church-going population among all the advanced Western polities, and under George W. Bush any pretence of materialism in the sense of being non-religious has been put aside as he openly professes a messianic fundamentalist Christian commitment purporting to save the world from alleged evil forces.

It is possible that Qazi Hussain Ahmad has had a real change of heart and he no longer subscribes to the use of force in general (and not just force through nuclear weapons) to solve political disputes or to achieve justice. In that case, it would be important that he condemns the terrorist attack in the United States on September 11, 2001 without any qualifications. While some weird argument can be made about an attack on the Pentagon since that is where the US military establishment resides, there can be no justification at all for killing nearly 3,000 men and women who were working in the World Trade Center buildings or were traveling in commercial aircrafts. I remember seeing a Pakistani father, Syed Tariq, crying hysterically on television because his daughter was working there and she was killed. Many Bangladeshis working in restaurants that day were also killed.

It turned out that the 19 men involved in those outrages were Arabs, 15 of them Saudi citizens. Anybody who has looked at the textbooks used in Saudi Arabia would have no difficulty in establishing that one main objective of such education, is to create citizens who hate everyone who does not subscribe to their narrow and bigoted ideology. We know that acts of terrorism are not natural or normal occurrences. They begin with indoctrination that inculcates a sufficiently impaired worldview and creates a mindset that given an opportunity, can be easy bait for recruitment by terrorist organisations.

What we always forget is that if the Americans have dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki once, they will do it again if they feel their vital interests or existence is gravely threatened. It is, therefore, not wise to provoke a conflict with the United States. Somebody has rightly pointed out that millions of Muslims, including several hundred thousand Pakistanis, work and earn a decent living in the United States and help their families. Their lives are already menaced by security checks and other forms of harassment. There is absolutely no reason to invite a full-fledged American military reprisal.

Therefore, I believe General Pervez Musharraf acted most wisely by joining the war on terror. I do believe, however, that while tracing down alleged Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan was correct, handing them over to the Americans in lieu of handsome rewards was unbecoming of a sovereign state. Those individuals should have been put on trial in Pakistan and given a fair chance to prove their innocence. Handing them over to the United States was too mercenary a way of doing things.

On the other hand, it was good that the Pakistan Government moved quickly to remove nuclear scientists from their jobs in the Pakistan nuclear bureaucracy and technocracy, when the Americans provided evidence that they were involved in extensive illicit trade in nuclear technology and equipment with states that the Americans consider rogue, in the international state system such as Iran and North Korea.

Weeding out generals and other bureaucrats suspected of harbouring Islamists or Al-Qaeda sympathies has also been a correct calculation. This is because if anything, we need to make sure that the Americans do not attack and occupy our country, which they will do, if they feel that the nuclear facilities are in the hands of terrorists.

Surely, Qazi Husain Ahmad will agree that the Lal Masjid insurgency was nothing but a typical manifestation of strong-arm tactics by extremist Muslims that could not have been allowed to succeed. The student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islami Jamiat-e-Tulba, already terrorises liberal students on university campuses throughout Pakistan. Keeping such terrorism out of the streets of Islamabad and other towns and cities of Pakistan is most important if Pakistan is ever to start behaving like a civilised society that allows dissent and pluralism to flourish.

Qazi Hussain Ahmad writes, 'Islam is a religion of love and peace, which invites all human beings to live like brothers and worship one God so that the entire world could become an abode of peace'. I think if we can begin to live like brothers and sisters among ourselves first, the rest of the world may be also be encouraged to do so. As a minimum, we should stop sectarian killings. Also, it would not be bad if we encourage our women and non-Muslim citizens to feel that they are equal before the law and have the same rights as Muslim men. Therefore, Qazi Hussain Ahmad should join the ranks of those who want to repeal all laws that create a society of unequals.


* This article was first published in the News International on 15th September 2007. The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), National University of Singapore on leave from the University of Stockholm. Email: isasia@nus.edu.sg. ISAS is dedicated to the study of contemporary South Asia .



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