Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha

Security Analyst

Islamabad (Pakistan)


The post September-11 geo-political developments seem to have forced Pakistan to reconsider its policy options. The Musharaff regime is in continuous endeavors to change the country’s image from a religious extremist state to a liberal Islamic country. The government has also put in efforts in altering the socio-political and socio-economic fabric of the state. Devolving power to the grass-roots, deemed to be strengthening the democracy, or ensuring the economic progress through a handful of mega-projects are some desperate measures taken up by the government in an effort to liberalize the society.

Interestingly, external powers are also anxious in Pakistan’s transformation into a liberal society that doesn’t produce militants. President Pervez Musharaf, in fact, has found an external partner in the form of the international community, dominatingly the US, to make changes domestically. For instance, assistance has been sought from abroad to eradicate the problem of madrisahs (the religious schools). A real change would, however, depend upon the establishment’s understanding of where the problem lies.

Besides, the question also arises that how committed the state apparatus is to turn the socio-political system and the country around; and would it help initiating (and later on facilitating) a dialogue with the various fractions of the society to ensure liberalization of the state and social reforms? One also wonders what impact economic and political development measures instituted by a military regime would have on the country’s transforming socio-politics. The suspicion surfaces from the fact that the military was in the past responsible for political underdevelopment and a deliberate rise in militancy and religious extremism in the country.

Since the US attack on Afghanistan, Islamabad seems to have drawn attention of the world community for its social order was viewed as a nesting ground for militancy and terrorism - the effects of which were not only felt in the other parts of the world but in Pakistan as well. One wonders how to transform a country from the home of religious extremism to moderation.

Since poverty and underdevelopment were recognized factors leading the society away from moderation, the international community was willing to provide resources to Islamabad to bring about relevant economic and social change. Although one cannot debate a rise in religious intolerance and xenophobia, it is vital to understand the basic dynamics of the negative developments in the country. A comprehension of the nature of religious extremism is necessary to understand where the problem lies and how to eradicate it. My perception of the issue is that the menace of extremism was caused by state policies and interference of the establishment in the political system. One must comprehend the imperative for this kind of negative state interference.

Though poverty is a major underlying element for violence and extremism in the society, alleviating poverty alone might not be the only recipe for solving the issue. An evaluation of how and why the political and economic growth was retarded over the course of half a century will help understand the problem and find answers to it.

Ideology, State and Society in Pakistan

The kind of religious extremism one hears about in the modern day Pakistan is a phenomenon deliberately imposed on the society. Such state sponsored ideological extremism gets reflected in changing attitudes and beliefs of the entire society. If one has to find answers related to the birth of fundamentalism, it would be necessary to review the political development of the state and society since 1947.

Despite the fact that Pakistan is an Islamic country created to be a homeland for the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent, there is no hard evidence to suggest that it was meant to be a theocratic state or a land espousing religious extremism. The liberation movement that led to the creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims in 1947 represented the frustration of an ethnic/religious minority with another ethnic/religious majority. Nonetheless, the lack of clarity regarding which direction the new nation had to take, especially in the formative years, resulted in chaos and frustration.

From a political development perspective, Pakistan’s political history and traditions are far from enviable. Since its independence from British rule in 1947, the country experienced a traumatic political environment hampering the economic progress. After losing Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the nation, the state was mired with political instability. Jinnah was expected to provide the basic guidelines for the formulation of the legal, legislative and administrative system of the country. Unfortunately, with his death in 1948, an opportunity to get some guidance was lost. Jinnah did not leave much behind except for his numerous speeches that were manipulated by groups supporting a secular system or those desiring the country to be a theocratic state. In fact, one of the major questions, yet unresolved, was whether Pakistan were made to be a secular state or a country with a strong Islamic system of government. Although academics have tried to prove at length that the state envisioned by Jinnah was not theocratic in nature, the issue is far from resolved (1).

This confusion factors in the tussle of the religious parties and groups to turn the country into a theocratic state. This unsettled issue is very much linked with the circumstances in which Pakistan was formulated. The political philosophy of the Pakistan liberation movement basically advocated a separate state for the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent. The assertion was that Muslims of this sub-region could not hope to prosper in a united India dominated by a Hindu population. Interestingly, this vision was challenged by the Indian Muslim clergy by opposing the idea of an independent Islamic state (2). Prominent leaders like Maududi, founder of Jamaat-i-Islami, were amongst the most vehement opponents of the independence plan. According to Hamza Alavi, this dichotomy was because the independence movement did not aim at creating an Islamic state but really was a movement of the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent (3).

The state created on the basis of religious ideology, nevertheless, was soon caught in a dilemma of moving into which of the two directions: towards a radically ideological nation, or towards a country having a secular orientation. The then political, bureaucratic or military leadership was not exceptionally religious minded by any means (4). The liberation movement, therefore, was not led by the religious zealots but by the secular segments of the Muslim society including Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The two-nation theory was, however, upheld quite emphatically to justify the creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims. The religious ideology as the basis of the state was viewed as an affective tool for nation-building and at thwarting possible Indian designs to reject the creation of Pakistan.

Besides the pressure to rebut the religious clergy and India, the post-independence leadership in Pakistan deliberately projected the ideological dimension due to the lack of an alternative theme or philosophy. After all, Islam was the only shared value amongst the diverse regions that made Pakistan. Thus, the first legal document produced in 1949 known as ‘Objective Resolution’ accepted religion as the basis of establishing a political system. The document espoused Islamic ideology as the cornerstone of any future legislative or administrative system in the country. This Resolution fundamentally set the religious-ideological tone of the national political system. Religion was considered as a unifying force in a state comprising a number of diverse ethnic groups. Although this element did not help minimize the bitterness of the people of the eastern wing (East Pakistan, now a sovereign state of Bangladesh) that was eventually lost in 1971, religion continued to be recognized as a cohesive factor.

Nevertheless, the Islamic ideology was absolutely not irrelevant to the country’s socio-politics. The mildly religious-minded population had a greater influence of Barelvi (sophi or sufi) Islam rather than Deobandi (orthodox) school of thought (5). (Islam was spread in the Indian Subcontinent by sophis that did not subscribe to orthodoxy.) The active state sponsorship of orthodox religion, nonetheless, seems to have increased orthodoxy in the society.

As mentioned earlier, it was not before the 1970s that the establishment started to use religion as a tool to win popularity. In fact, General Ayub’s government declared the Jamaat-i-Islami, the leading religious party, illegal and had arrested its top leadership. This decision was later declared unlawful by the Supreme Court, hence, allowing the part to participate in the 1965 election campaign (6). Ayub’s reaction to the religious parties was driven by his desire to portray Pakistan as a progressive and modern state (7).

Afterwards, one could notice two trends in the establishment’s dealings with religious parties. One, religious parties were used for personal political goals. The other was that political parties of all kinds brokered deals with religious parties as part of their electoral politics. Such manipulation is explained by Paul Brass as the ‘instrumentalist’ approach. According to his theory, political elite tends to use traditional culture and religious sentiments for political gains (8).

This alliance between the ideologically diverse parties was, however, always short lived as the core leadership of the parties found it difficult to subscribe to the other’s political agenda. Moreover, the country’s continuous dependence on the west for economic assistance did not make it viable to establish long-term strategic links with religious parties. This has been the recurring pattern of political discourse for the past three decades.

Starting from the 1970s, governments seem to be racing against each other by being more accommodative to orthodox views than the previous ones. In fact, each government tended to raise the ‘stakes’ even higher. For instance, the elder Bhutto (9) prohibited alcohol and declared Friday instead of Sunday as the weekly public holiday in respect of religious-cultural traditions. These measures were adopted despite that he was no teetotaler and enjoyed a fairly western lifestyle. Furthermore, Islamic-Socialism was a slogan he had raised to win votes and popular support.

The drive towards religion

While socialism was used to propagate the policy of nationalizing private industries and businesses, Islam indicated Bhutto’s instinct of playing to the gallery. General Zia-ul-Haq’s era speeded up the ‘Islamization’ of the system and society. The introduction of Sharia, Islamic laws, denoted through the Hudood ordinance and blasphemy law aimed at increasing the religious content of the country’s legal system. The later law was often invoked to victimize both the Muslims and non-Muslims. Quite often, the law was manipulated for political purposes by the governments or at lower level to punish people for opposing a local feudal or his gang of supporters.

Zia also created Nazim-i-salaat, a committee to ensure that the community conformed to religious rituals like five-time prayers a day. Moreover, the government’s positive encouragement of religious parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami pushed the society aggressively towards orthodoxy. The grand finale of Zia’s drive towards religion was in the form of the referendum held in 1984 in which people were asked to make a choice between an Islamic system and a secular type of government. Consent for the former was to be seen as a support for electing General Zia as President for five years.

Having ousted a popular Prime Minister, Zia saw religious ideology as the only option to win political legitimacy at home. Despite using the religion card, the results had to be manipulated (10). In the eleven years of General Zia’s rule one would observe an increase in the street-power of the religious parties, especially the Jamaat. The increased influence was because of the alignment between the military dictator and the later.

There are four explanations for this informal alliance between the state and the religious parties.

1. Zia being from the middle-class and comfortable with orthodox Islam found it easier to ally himself with them;

2. Having been traditionally disappointed with secular governments, the Jamaat saw this as an opportunity to claim greater political space through an alliance with the military leadership (11);

3. These parties, especially the Jamaat, were of great assistance to Zia in launching a seemingly popular movement against Bhutto in 1977 that had eventually led to the Prime Minister’s removal from power (12);

4. Zia had to forge an alliance with the Jamaat and other religious parties to fight war in Afghanistan.

As it was decided to use Islamist zealots in building a resistance in Afghanistan against the Soviet troops, the Jamaat turned up as an obvious choice to Zia. This was because the views of Maududi and other Jamaat leaders, for example, were popular with the religious elements in Afghanistan.

The impact of the Afghan war

The Afghan war was a major contributory factor in converting a significant number of people to orthodoxy. Converting people to the idea of Jihad, holy war, required their acceptance of orthodox Islam. The use of madrisahs (religious schools), and Pakistani territory to train mujahideen to fight the Soviets, indeed resulted in the proliferation of militant groups. That was the time when deeper links were developed between religious parties/groups and the military establishment.

The nexus amongst the US CIA, British MI6, Pakistan’s ISI, Saudi intelligence, along with the religious groups in Pakistan trained the Afghans to fight the Soviet forces (13). Training camps were established in Pakistan near the Pak-Afghan border invoking Moscow’s wrath. The entire operation was masterminded and initiated by the aforementioned intelligence agencies.

The then head of the Jamaat, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, was of the contention that his party encouraged the Pakistani military to help the Afghans fight the Soviets (14). Although his claim was denied by people involved in the Afghan operation (15), the more important factor is that the close involvement of the Jamaat in operations like supplies, providing manpower and establishing the weapons pipeline was crucial in training the party’s own segment of militants. These warriors, who engaged in a holy war along with their Afghan brethren, were highly religiously motivated to fight what they considered an un-Islamic evil force in Afghanistan.

A number of Afghan rebel leaders were indeed inspired by the teachings of the Jamaat (16). Also, the role the party played in building the Afghan resistance led to long-term ties with the Taliban who launched their operation to control the Afghan territory in 1994. (At that time, the Taliban received help from the Saudis, the Americans and the Pakistanis.)

The establishment’s close ties with the religious parties were instrumental in gathering resources to launch insurgency operations in Kashmir. Weapons, money and people were three essential elements that the Jamaat could tap, and ready to move from one front to the other, from Afghanistan to Kashmir. Of course, Pakistan ISI’s assistance was available at almost every stage. Incidentally, the US, at that time, did not object to this policy!

At hindsight, the coalition between Zia and the religious parties was of greater benefit for the dictator who had manipulated them to get maximum political and strategic mileage for himself. Despite Zia’s religious inclinations he could not fulfill the expectations of these parties in return because he was unwilling to transfer power to them or implement their agenda (17).

Obviously, the process of Jihad did not stop after the signing of the Geneva accord that resulted in the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. In fact, the war in Afghanistan spurred militancy in limited circles of the Pakistani society. One of the primary lessons drawn from the Afghan war was that insurgency was an affective tool in defeating a superior conventional force. Planners within Pakistan’s military took pride in claiming that their efforts caused the defeat of a superpower. Furthermore, they saw the partnership between the state forces and non-state actors as a viable tool for winning wars on other fronts as well, for example against India in the “Indian-Occupied-Kashmir.”

In order to understand the connection amongst militancy, state and its policies, one needs to focus on a military dominated policy-making process. This would also help in comprehending the reasons why the state has played an active role in encouraging militancy. The military has emerged as a key actor in national power politics and decision-making. The policymaking process, hence, reflects the core agenda of the armed forces: regain control of Indian-occupied Kashmir. The aim does not correspond with the military’s technological and war fighting capability, of course. The lack of capacity to force a solution on the bigger neighbor, Pakistani military has tried to create opportunities to increase the cost for India to retain the territory while avoiding a corresponding increase (18).

New Delhi, it must be noted, has always been unwilling to negotiate the dispute. The huge cost of using regular forces in subversive operations was realized after the 1965-war with India. Since the Afghan war has proved the efficacy of using non-state actors to conduct proxy wars, it deemed easy to mobilize the warriors from not only Pakistan but from other Islamic countries and to manipulate religious ideology as a driving force as well. The low-cost of such low-simmering conflict would indeed not burden Islamabad as these activists were provided with only training and weapons. Even this expense can be borne by the militants who could generate their own funds through donations from devout Muslims.

The thrust of Pakistan Army’s military strategy built up during the 1980s and the 1990s was to ‘keep the fire burning’ in Kashmir thus turning the disputed territory into a liability for India. Hence, militancy and religious extremism found sponsors in the Pakistani military that was willing to train people to wage a religious war on different fronts. New training outfits were opened in different parts of the country and old and newly established militant groups were encouraged to take part in Jihad.

Here, it would be pertinent to mention that the 1980s was a period when religious sectarianism was also on a rise in the country with the Sunnis (orthodox Muslims) fighting against the Shiites bringing a new increase of violence in the country. The military machine, however, approached both groups to participate in a greater objective of fighting Jihad against India. The unofficial declaration of war against India to liberate Kashmiri Muslim brethren provided a common ground to a majority of religious parties and militant groups that otherwise had diverse agendas.

This does not mean that bi-sectarian hostilities diminished. In fact, they intensified as these groups got weapons and trained manpower and were given free leverage by the government. It must be noted that the radical parties/groups in Pakistan are essentially driven by sectarian agendas rather than a shared religious philosophy (19). The war in Kashmir, however, provided them with a common objective of ousting Indian forces and gaining control over a territory that could then be used to implement their version of Islam.

Also, the understanding was that once this goal was accomplished they could then attend to convert Pakistan into a theocratic state. Their alignment with the military for this purpose was also the basis for developing a symbiotic relationship with the state that was usually interpreted as an increase in their street power. This focus forced the establishment in Islamabad to turn a blind eye to the militants expanding their war to other fronts such as Chechnya or Bosnia, or battle against each other. A noticeable factor is that these militant groups re-interpreted the meaning of Jihad tailoring it to their respective needs.

The definition of Jihad found in Koran, the Muslim holy book, is far more limited in context and content than what was prescribed by these zealots. Jihad according to the Koran is mainly a defensive war. The militants, however, have interpreted it as a war fought against evil and intriguingly the definition of evil is extended to even include rival sectarian groups. Given the new interpretation, the militants were comfortable with the idea of fighting a war with no end in the foreseeable future.

The new militants produced in Pakistan, courtesy the state, were eager to move from one front to another for bringing justice to the Muslims of the world (20). During the 1990s, one observes a dramatic increase in the number of militant groups. According to an estimate, seventy-two militant groups were operating in Pakistan. As mentioned above, the state machinery provided them all the logistic support, training and equipment. Sources interviewed revealed that this large number denoted a particular strategy of the military intelligence, to keep the militants divided. In this manner it was difficult for the later to pose a threat to the state. Interestingly, these groups were operating in isolation from the civil society that continued to be fairly moderate. The reason for their success in inducting warriors was mainly due to the peculiar economic and political conditions of the country discussed later.

Impact of Political Instability

The political instability in the country was another major contributory factor that gave rise to the menace of militancy. The continuous manipulation of the political system by the armed forces to remain in power politics, and the conflict among the political leadership are two factors that generated political chaos.

One of the painful realities of life in Pakistan is that since its creation the state could not get rid of the predominant feudal system. Not only that the feudal class was a significant stakeholder in politics, it had also helped proliferating feudal attitudes into the greater social fabric of the society. For instance, the newly developed industrial class shared the same attitudes as the landed class: discouraging dissent and eager to protect personal interests. The same can be said about the bureaucratic elite that have followed a tradition of protecting self-interests with no concern for the common man.

Wanting in liberal thinking, the elite of Pakistan has been extremely authoritarian in its behavior. Hence, communication and dialogue to understand each other’s perspective is not a forte of Pakistan’s political and administrative system. These factors have lead to confusion, chaos and political instability, thus, allowing the military to grow into a key actor in power politics. Due to its corporate interest, the military acquired a similar attitude and used its power to gain political influence that, in turn, was used to destabilize the political process.

A weak democratic system or government that did not question the military was an obvious corollary of the civil-military imbalance. Not only that, it established a pattern in politics of arbitrary removal of the governments. The political chaos in the early days hampered the creation of a sound political system and a constitution. The sore point is that the country had to wait for nine years for its first constitution adopted in 1956 (21). Even that did not last long. The constitution was abrogated by the military as General Ayub Khan imposed martial law in 1958.

The military in fact started to make inroads into politics much earlier in the nation’s history (22). Being the only organized force, it was in a better position to assert itself. Needless to say, the incompetence of the political leadership drew the armed forces heavily into politics and policymaking. The first partial martial law was imposed in 1953 after the anti-Ahmadi riots broke out in Lahore (23). Successive weak political governments made it convenient for the strong military leadership to claim a bigger room in national decision-making. The Army top brass had started to form their own opinion regarding what was right for the country, thus, acquiring a role where they saw themselves not only as protectors of national security but as the guardians of the state ideology as well (24).

In the military’s perspective, fighting both internal and external threats, which they believed were inter-linked, was their responsibility. The political chaos caused by the infighting of the politicians was not viewed as a teething problem of a newly established country but as a bid to weaken Pakistan.

The first military government formally launched the military in politics. General Ayub decreed himself President and promulgated the second constitution in 1962. This was followed by the first indirect elections in the country that were clearly manipulated to elect him as the President. The excuse given for introducing a new system was to strengthen democracy especially at the grassroots. The ‘basic democracies’ system, as it was called, however, was aimed at curtailing organized mass participation in politics (25).

One can find a similar pattern in General Musharaf’s drive towards devolution of power and democracy to the grassroots. Instead of encouraging participation through formal political channel of political parties, the government opted for party-less elections at the grassroot level. Moreover, the lack of clarity of how the political system would develop risks furthers social frustration. According to Lt. General (Retd.) Hameed Gul, who supports religious extremism, it is this devolution plan that would lead to a religious revolution in the country. He believed that lack of clarity and cohesion in the new system would increase confusion that would pave way for an ideology based political change (26).

General Ayub, amid the political turmoil, handed the power to General Yahya Khan who took over the reins as the second Martial Law Administrator in 1968. By then, the political chaos had increased to a degree that forced the military to hold general elections in 1970. The elections won by Awami League (27) were to form a constituent assembly and not a legislature. The then establishment and the political leadership of West Pakistan were not willing to handover the power to an East wing party. This resulted in a civil war as the army violently attempted to curb political agitation in the eastern part.

Finally the secession of East Pakistan after fighting a full-fledged war against India in December 1971 let Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (28) take charge of the remaining territory as, interestingly enough, a civilian martial law administrator. He later convened the National Assembly, according to parties’ position of 1970-election in West Pakistan, and thus became the President of the country.

In 1973 the National (constituent) Assembly approved the new constitution of Pakistan. The new document empowered the then constituent assembly to continue as a legislature for the next five years. The assembly consequently elected Bhutto as the Prime Minister of the country according to the new legislation. Bhutto’s rule from 1971 to 1977, however, was the longest so far by a political government in Pakistan’s history. Devising administrative changes in the functioning and command and control of the armed forces, Bhutto as the Prime Minister became commander in chief of a demoralized military that had recently experienced a humiliating defeat on the hands of the Indians.

However, paying lip service to strengthening of democracy, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto reverted to authoritarian practices including the use of the military for his political goals. His political ambition re-strengthened the armed forces as an organization and returned it as a player in the country’s power politics paving way for the third military regime in 1977 (29).

The eleven-year regime of General Zia-ul-Haq was devastating in all respects. The human rights abuses to curb the voice of dissent and the policy of infiltrating political parties were highly damaging for the political system. Executing Bhutto (30) in 1979 and declaring himself as the President (31), he again got himself elected for five years through an engineered referendum. He held a party-less election in 1985 making a less known person, Muhammad Khan Junajo, a puppet Prime Minister.

The military dictator started manipulating the political process by tempering the constitution. The controversial article 58 (2b) amended to the constitution was to empower the President to sack any political government. This clause was invoked five times since 1985 to remove political governments: once by Zia himself to depose Junajo-government. Incidentally, the charges were always similar - corruption. The issue is not that the successive political regimes did not indulge in corrupt practices but that these were removed in a pretty arbitrary fashion specifically whenever a respective head of government tried to interfere with direct interests of the armed forces.

The political instability, incessant corruption of the political and bureaucratic elite, and poor governance gave birth to public’s skepticism of the prevalent system. This was reflected in the gradually decreasing turnout of voters in elections. This decrease, however, was also caused by the inability of political parties to mobilize its voters and have strong political debate at the grassroots. General Zia got killed in a conspired plane crash in 1989 and the succeeding interim President, Gulam Ishaq Khan, transferred the power to the elected Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, daughter of elder Bhutto, whose Pakistan People's Party won the majority vote in the freshly held elections.

Neither Bhutto-government nor two following popular governments were ever allowed to complete their respective five-year constitutional-term. All three regimes were dismissed by invoking the Article 58 (2b) of the constitution. Nawaz Sharif in his second tenure as the Prime Minister finally revoked this controversial article of the constitution. Instead of giving stability to the system, annulling 58 (2b) left the military with no choice but to impose a martial law to dispose of a political government in the future. Which General Pervez Musharaf did in 1999.

Although Musharaf presents himself as a harbinger of democracy and has promised to restore democracy, the continued aggressive involvement of the armed forces in politics as well as in administering the state is hardly a recipe for democracy.

The political instability, armed forces’ manipulation of the political system, and feudal character of politics caused endless crises. The growing ethnic and sectarian rivalry resulted in the fragmentation of the society. Poor governance and diverse agendas of the political leadership caused the breakup of East Pakistan. The war with India was, in fact, just the culminating point. The atrocities of the armed forces, mainly belonging to the western wing, weighed heavily upon the minds of East Pakistanis (Bengalese). The bitterness of the Bengalese increased when they realized that West Pakistan was unwilling to let the leadership of their province rule the country even after winning the majority in the elections. The military had seemingly collaborated with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who won a majority in the western wing in the 1970-elections, to deny the right of government to Awami League. This triggered a civil war in the eastern province. The civil war followed by a war with India resulted in the dismemberment of the country.

Unfortunately, the policy-making elite failed to learn any lessons from the tragedy. No efforts were made to minimize or eradicate the grievances of the smaller provinces against the bigger province, Punjab. The main explanation of the anxiety of the smaller provinces (32) is that the major share of resources is taken by Punjab.

It would also be worthwhile to draw attention towards four other developments taking place simultaneously. All the political parties were increasingly resorting to using Islamic ideology to prove their credibility. Unable to solve the core problem of poverty, underdevelopment and regional divide, it was considered politically expedient to revert to a theme that was considered non-controversial and a unifying force. The idea was to use whatever method available to muster political support of the masses.

This behavior, however, increased the blackmailing power of the religious parties and gradually created an impression of a phenomenal increase in ideological fundamentalism. Secondly, since the 1980s, the political governments enjoyed lesser and lesser control over curbing extreme elements.

As the official policies on Afghanistan, Kashmir and India were dealt with by the military - creation of militants being a corollary of these policies - the political governments were not permitted to dabble in these areas.

The result was that, while the governments were using religion or getting blackmailed by religious parties to formulate policies that projected a peculiar image of the country, their supporters were unable to draw a mass support from the general public. This situation reflected by the political parties’ inability to attract voters in elections. Finally, the militant groups that grew under state patronage had opted for a change in the socio-political system. They tried this by turning the country into a theocratic state through the power of gun and not by the electoral process. Their preoccupation with Jihad, however, did not allow them to disturb the political process to a great extent. Moreover, the majority of people continued to believe in bringing change through the electoral process rather than force. Hence, militant groups continued to operate on the sidelines without having a major impact on the political process.

The policies of military regimes to counter political opponents had encouraged ethnicity and sectarianism thus adding to the chaos. For instance, General Zia-ul-Haq sponsored the creation of the Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) to encounter the popular Pakistan’s People’s Party in the southern province of Sindh. The MQM, an ethnic party accused of spreading violence in the province, was the brainchild of military’s prime intelligence agency: the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) (33). It was in the same fashion that the ISI later created sectarian and militant groups in the country.

These developments not only denote the myopic approach of the military but also indicate military top-brass’ failure to understand the negative impact of such policies on the political environment of the country. The growing political cleavages have led to further fragmentation of the political system and society increasing frustration of the masses. Resultantly, the common man started to consider options that were not regarded as before in respect to political stability.

The increased popularity and street power of the religious parties is clear evidence on this account. For example, Deobandi, the orthodox school of thought, has, indeed, gained more popularity over the past ten to fifteen years.

Economic Instability and Societal Fragmentation.

The political mess was compounded by poor economic performance and a growing underdevelopment. Today, Pakistan has very unimpressive economic and socio-economic growth indicators. Moreover, social and human development indicators are equally poor. According to the human development report (vis--vis Pakistan) (34)

- at least 28 million people live below the poverty line;

- two-thirds of the adult population are illiterate;

- basic health facilities are available to only half the population;

- maternal mortality rate is very high - 340 per 100 000;

- one-fourth of new born babies are underweight and malnourished;

- it has one of the highest population growth rate in the region - 3.6%

In human development the country lagged behind other regional states like India and Sri Lanka. This was despite a per capita increase in income calculated at 231% for the period from 1970-93. This was claimed to be the highest rate of increase in South Asia. Even such a brilliant per capita income growth rate could not help alleviating the deprivation of the poor. The bad communication network, lack of easy accessibility to social services, and domination of a feudal life style of landowners, businessmen, bureaucrats and other affluent people are a few factors disfiguring the picture of the suffering humanity in the country.

The governments’ resource allocation policies were also biased: favoring the defense against social development (see Table 1). This kind of unequal distribution of resources increased the number of poor from 19 million in 1960 to 42 million in 1995 (35).

Such negative indicators are not surprising in a state where the government’s priorities reflect a bias













































































for military security over socio-economic development. The defense spending has traditionally taken a major share of the central government expenditure (CGE) from the successive regimes - on average six to seven percent of the GDP. Over the years, one can observe a crowd out of social and investment expenditure by defense spending (see table 1).

Table 1 Pakistan: Defense versus Development (All figures given as percentage of GNP)

Source: Economic Survey of Pakistan

The military has always repulsed any move to reduce the military expenditure. For example, a move to reduce defense spending during the government of Prime Minister Junejo (1985-87) was rebuffed by the military President, General Zia-ul-Haq. “How can you fight a nuclear submarine” Zia declared “or an aircraft carrier with a bamboo stick? We have to match sword with sword, tank with tank, and destroyer with destroyer. The situation demands that national defense be bolstered and Pakistan cannot afford any cut or freeze in defense expenditure, since you cannot freeze the threat to Pakistan’s security.” (36).

Since the 1980s, debt repayment has become another major expense of the state. It consumes about thirty percent of the CGE. Interestingly, a major part of the foreign loans, amounting to about US$38 billion, is military oriented. Quite obviously, this leaves little resources for investment in other sectors.

The dearth of resources compounded with mismanagement resulted in failure of the education system too. The absence of a sound education policy and lack of infrastructure caused the madrisahs, centers for training the religious zealots and militants, to mushroom (37).

As far as the growth of religious schools was concerned, they belong to two categories divided as follows:

(a) areas where their establishment was encouraged by the state - schools belonging to this category were found in the northern areas; and

(b) regions where these schools grew primarily due to socio-economic underdevelopment.

The schools falling in this category were more proactive in their negative contribution to militancy. The southern part of Punjab saw these madrisahs and militancy spread with a greater speed for these reasons but the former madrisahs were used to train the Taliban. Most of the Taliban were educated in these centers.

This is not to suggest that madrisahs from the later category were less problematic. Though this category was comparatively benign in terms of breeding militants, however, they encouraged sectarianism, which was well in the knowledge of the authorities. There is evidence that the establishment had all the information regarding the activities of the schools and the problems they were causing. Reports produced by the state functionaries in the early 1990s had clearly identified these madrisahs as fanning sectarian hatred and violence (38). Nonetheless, governments chose to remain silent over the issue.

In fact, funding was provided by the government because some of the prominent madrisahs were run by groups cooperating with authorities in fighting proxy wars. In any case, the government was not inclined to divert resources from defense or to cut down non-development expenditure to invest in education and human resource development.

The state policy to include non-state actors in a military war created real chaos in the poverty-stricken society. People were already extremely frustrated by stark underdevelopment, acute unemployment, sheer corruption and severe political unrest.

About 12.5 million of the population falling in the age-bracket of 15-39 has almost no opportunities to grow. Therefore, as the government started providing resources to a selected band of people to pursue a specific vocation - war, the citizens were left with no choice but to make the best use of the opportunity. The lopsided resource allocation policy, therefore, help the unemployed youth to get attracted by the militant organizations. Besides providing food and shelter, these informal military-type organizations allowed people to experience a psychological/spiritual upward mobility that the secular system could not provide.

From Moderation to Extremism and Back

Supporting radical elements in the aforementioned socio-political environment is a dangerous approach. The official support of extremism runs the risk of transforming the character of the society. In this case, it would tantamount to a negative change. Experts on Pakistan’s politics with whom I broached this issue appeared conscious of this hazard. Even common people with an understanding of Pakistan’s policymaking environment agreed that such a policy would have negative implications, particularly in a medium to long term. However, there is also an understanding that this course of action would be pursued until the military changes its approach.

The problem, nonetheless, is that the military does not appear willing to change its mindset. Unfortunately, in the inner circles of the military there appears to be little willingness to deviate from the traditional stance of using religion and militants in a tactical mode for short term political and military gains. The extremists are a cornerstone of the Army’s tactical plans on Kashmir and combating India. This does not seem to have changed drastically even after September 11th.

Although Islamabad’s official statements indicate an about turn in its approach towards non-state actors/militants, there is hardly any evidence of a fundamental change. Of course, the pressure from foreign governments cannot be ignored, however, one feels that the Army high command still believes that it could continue with its peculiar tactical approach. After all, it had managed to ward off external pressure to change its policy even before September 11th.

People like Lt. General (Retd.) Hameed Gul, who was head of the ISI during the 1980s and has strong links with the military’s intelligence agency and with groups in Afghanistan, was of the view that there is a clear understanding between the militants and the armed forces. The militants understand the need for lying low while Islamabad deals with the problem of external pressure (39).

The Pakistani government is currently engaged in a three-pronged approach:

- 1) use the threat or fear of extremism to get support for the military regime from abroad,

- 2) save militants for future use and,

- 3) use external pressure as a ploy to get rid of groups problematic for the establishment.

This approach is probably what explains the present regime’s constant backtracking from its commitment to fight militants. After having arrested about 2,000 militants, the government freed 800 of such people including some top radical leaders (40). Indeed, the policy is risky, but then Pakistan’s Army is known for its aptitude for risk-taking.

Does this mean that Pakistan has no option for a change? Can it not turn around? Of course, it would not be fair to totally disregard poverty, underdevelopment and poor governance as hampering the return to moderation, but these are nothing more than contributory factors. Improvement in economic conditions would be beneficial for the society, but that alone might not be sufficient.

The strengthening of democracy and democratic institutions is essential for any potential transformation. This would not only increase communication between different stakeholders in the state and the civil society, but would also correct the civil-military relations imbalance that, at this point, is strongly tilted in the military’s favor. Such a change would allow the political leadership and democratic institutions to monitor and control the activities of the armed forces. This may be a long term approach, but this is the sure way to ensure that the state and society remain moderate and on track without further devastation.

Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha

1- Hamza Alavi, Ethnicity, Muslim Society, and the Pakistan Ideology. In Anita M. Weiss, (ed.), Islamic Reassertion in Pakistan. (Lahore: Vanguard, 1987).pp. 21-24

2 - Anita M. Weiss, The Historical Debate on Islam and the State in South Asia. In Anita M. Weiss, Islamic reassertion in Pakistan. (ed). (Lahore: Vanguard, 1987). P. 7

3 - Hamza Alavi, Ethnicity, Muslim Society, and the Pakistan Ideology. In Anita M. Weiss, (ed.), Islamic Reassertion in Pakistan, Lahore: Vanguard, 1987. p. 22.

4 - Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution. (New York: IB. Taurus, 1994) P. 122.

5 - Ibid., pp. 29-32.

6 - Sohail Mahmood, Islamic Fundamentalism in Pakistan, Egypt and Iran. (Lahore: Vanguard, 1995). P. 273.

7 -Ibid., p. 272.

8 -P. R. Brass, Elite Groups, Symbol Manipulation and Ethnic Identity Among the Muslims of South Asia. In D.D. Taylor and M. Yapp (eds.), Political Identity in South Asia. (Surrey, 1979). P. 41.

9 - Referred to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

10 - Mushahid Hussain, Pakistan’s Politics: The Zia Years. (Lahore: Vanguard, 1990). Pp. 155-156.

11 - Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr, (New York: IB. Taurus, 1994) pp. 170-223.

12 - Sohail Mahmood, Islamic Fundamentalism in Pakistan, Egypt and Iran. (Lahore: Vanguard, 1995). P. 277.

13 - Eric S. Margolis, War at the Top of the World. New York: Routledge, 2000. P. 21. See also, Mohammad Yousaf & Mark Adkin, The Bear Trap. Lahore: Jang Publishers, 1992.

14 - Interview with Qazi Hussain Ahmed. (Lahore: 14/02/01).

15 - Discussion with Brig. (Retd.) Mohammad Yusuf. (Islamabad: 01/03/01).

16 - Ahmed Rashid, Taliban. London: I.B.Taurus, 2000. P. 86.

17 - Sohail Mahmood, Islamic Fundamentalism in Pakistan, Egypt and Iran. (Lahore: Vanguard, 1995). Pp. 275-282, 287-290.

18 - The Kashmir dispute is a remnant of the unfinished agenda of the Indian-Subcontinent’s partition that has led to three wars and numerous skirmishes between the two South Asian neighbors.

19 - Ibid., pp. 254-263.

20 - This conclusion was drawn from several interviews with members of militant groups in Pakistan.

21 - The country in 1947 had adopted an amended Indian Act of 1935 as a constitutional framework.

22 - Such a view is supported by the analysis of Pakistan’s politics given in Dennis Kux’s book. See Dennis Kux, The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000 Disenchanted Allies. (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2001). P. 54.

23 - Ahmadis or Quadiani was a Muslim sect, though not accepted by the orthodox school due to the huge difference in beliefs. The group finally was declared non-Muslim in the 1970s.

24 - Stephen P. Cohen, The Pakistan Army. (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1984).

25 - Mohammad Waseem, Politics and the State in Pakistan. (Islamabad: National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, 1994). P. 153.

26 - Interview with Lt. General Hameed Gul, February 2001

27 - Awami League was east wing’s (East Pakistan’s) most popular political party headed by Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman.

28 - Bhutto was then the leader of Pakistan People's Party, which won a majority in the west wing of Pakistan in 1970’s elections.

29 - Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha, Pakistan’s Arms Procurement and Military Buildup, 1979-99 In Search of a Policy. (London: Palgrave Press, 2000).

30 - Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in a murder case. He was found guilty of assenting the killing of a politician.

31 - Zia took over the presidency from the then retiring President, Fazal Elahi, who completed his five-year tenure.

32 - Sindh, Baluchistan and North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

33 - This claim was made by the Director-General of the ISI, Lt. General Hameed Gul during an interview with the author.

34 - Mahbub ul Haq. Human Development in South Asia, 1997. (Islamabad: Oxford, 1997).

35 - Ibid. p. 18.

36 - Mushahid Hussain, ‘Pressure put on Pakistani Spending.’ In Jane’s Defense Weekly. (X, No. 2, 16/07/88) p. 70.

37 - Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha, The Problem of Madrisahs, in Dawn, 13 December, 2001.

38 - For instance, according to the report produced by the administration of Bahwalpur Division in Punjab which is one of the areas that has the most number of religious schools, 41% of 401 madrisahs were supporting sectarian violence.

39 - Interview with Lt. General Hameed Gul, February 2001. He continues to subscribe to this idea post-911.

40 - Jim Hoagland, Pakistan: Pretense of an Ally. In Washington Post, March 28, 2002. p. A29.