The radicalization of Pakistani society, polity and its security forces is growing at a disturbing pace. The obscurantist and fundamentalist forces, having had a guaranteed free run by the successive governments, are fattening day by day. Not surprisingly, the cynicism growing out of the state's failure to protect the life and property of its citizens is also apparently going in favour of the religious extremists. This is not good augury for Pakistan, its neighbours or the world as such.
Three Developments - Three recent developments are worth taking note of in this context. One, a report by the US investigating journal Pro Publica, stating categorically that David Coleman Headley is not just a terrorist, but a ISI trained spy groomed for 26/11 Mumbai operation. Two, a report in Pakistani Daily Express Tribune dated December 31, 2010 revealing that the killing of Benazir Bhutto was planned at the home of a Pakistani Army Brigadier. The newspaper, quoting unnamed sources, reported that nine men including the Brigadier were involved in the conspiracy. Three, the unfortunate incident of killing of liberal and anti-rabid Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer on January 4, 2011 by one of his bodyguards. Taseer was vehemently opposing the death sentence to Asiya Bibi, a 45 years old Christian woman, for blasphemy.
The killing of Taseer comes close on the heels of various fatwas by hardline clerics declaring Taseer and Sherry Rehman, another liberal leader of PPP (Pakistan People's Party), as Wajib-ul-Qatl (deserving death) for their opposition to the blasphemy law. Disturbingly, after Taseer's assassination, over 500 Pakistani scholars and clerics described Taseer's assassin policeman as 'Ghazi'. Jamat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan, a group representing moderate Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims praised the Elite Force cop, Malik Mumtaz Qadri calling him 'Ghazi'meaning Islamic warrior. Thousands of facebook users praised Qadri and set up groups in Qadri's honour. The Pak media, in general, denounced the killing, a high-profile daily terming it as the 'growing cancer of intolerance' in Pakistan.
Extremists in Security Forces - As is now well known across the world, the penetration of Pakistan Army/forces by extremists and terrorist sympathisers is far too much to ignore. The process of 'Islamisation' of security forces started by Zia-ul- Haq in 1980's created a vast pool of jihadi officers and officials, who would not hesitate to strike against their own formations and colleagues in the way of religion, as they perceive. In 2003, two attempts were made on the life of General Parvez Musharaf by some junior officers of Pakistan Air Force and Army. The operations were a part of Al-Qaeda--Jaish-e-Mohammad--HuJI combine supervised by Abu Faraj-al-Libbi. On September 5, 2007, 30 persons were killed in two suicide bombings in Rawalpindi Cantonment, suspected to be undertaken by extremists' sympathizers in Pak Army to avenge Lal Masjid seige. On September 13, 2007, a Pashtun Pak Army Officer of SSG (Special Services Group) blew himself up in SSG mess at Tarbela Ghazi (100 km south of Islamabad). Nineteen SSG officers were killed. Tehreek-e-Taliban was said to be behind this operation. It is oft-repeated refrain in Pakistan that the Army and terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahiba etc. recruit from the same villages. The ISI and the Army do not have any compunction about using terrorist groups and their jihadi ideologues for their strategic objectives and for internal as well as external policy initiatives, which they consider as their exclusive domain.In April 2010, a sixty five page UN report on investigation of Benazir Bhutto's killing was tabled by a panel headed by Chile's UN ambassador Heraldo Munoz. A possible link between Benazir Bhutto's independent position on improved relations with India viz-a-viz Kashmir, and her assassination was drawn by the investigation report. The report severely criticized ISI for interfering in criminal investigations. It said that the ISI and military played a pervasive and clandestine role in every aspect of Pakistani society and undermined the rule of law.
Inferences - In this back drop, the following inferences can be drawn. One, radical/rabid influences are growing among almost all sections of Pakistani society including the liberal elite, moderate Barelvis and other hitherto positive streams. Two, Islamist terrorist organizations like Lashker-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) etc are facing no dearth of finances/ recruitment, as their support among the society has grown considerably. Their religio-social fronts like Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), enjoy a sea of sympathizers. Three, Pak Army/ISI have unofficially designated Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)/Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) as state backed proxy combatants with exclusive focus on India, especially Kashmir. Four, the use of religion to exacerbate hatred towards India by Pakistan's establishment through various devious means and projections may eat up Pakistan one day, but it would harm India in the short-run, too. Five, Pak Army/ISI has undone whatever degree of "peace with India" sentiment had been developed in Pakistan during Musharaf's regime. India is being openly projected as enemy number one and Pakistan Army is likely to use all its available assets to undermine the growing clout of India.
However, appreciating the power of the masses to bring about massive upheavals, it is hoped that the people of Pakistan, who are the worst sufferers of the times, will gather necessary will and force, to throw off the yoke of destructive religious bigotry. It is only the Pakistani society that can end the military domination of public affairs in that country. Pakistani establishment and Pakistan's people need to be seen separately and dealt accordingly. It should be an international effort to promote liberal education in Pakistan to turn the tide of obscurantism and religious intolerance. The major players of the world also need to look beyond their short term strategic advantages as regards their appeasement of Pak Army Generals. They need to realize the long term catastrophic consequences of such an approach and correct them it in the interest of posterity.
(The author is a security/ intelligence analyst)