Fighting Militancy in Pakistan

While a lot is being said and written about Pakistan’s fight against militancy, what seems to be lacking is a sort of genealogical account of the current state of militancy in Pakistan. In a way one could trace this complex genealogy to two important aspects of Pakistani history, both locatable in the late seventies and early eighties, and both inherently connected to the illegal, dictatorial rule of General Zia-ul-Haq.

During the Zia decade Pakistan got involved in two forms of state sanctioned, across-the-border proxy wars: The Soviet-Afghan war and the war in Indian-held Kashmir. To enable these two so-called low-intensity wars, a sort of vocabulary of jihad was mobilized, not just at the state level but also at the popular level. As a result, while the North West Frontier became increasingly militarized, the creation of local lashkars, often state-sponsored, to raise funds and train volunteers for Kashmir also became an acceptable practice. obviously, Pakistan had total support of the US in supporting the proxy war against the Russians, but the second front, Kashmir, was openly underwritten by the resources made available for the first one.

After the Soviet war in Afghanistan ended, the structures created to support the war were still left intact and it was only a matter of time before the so-called Mujahideen redefined their mission, and found another enemy. And that is precisely what is happening in Pakistan right now.

In order for Pakistan to really fight the militancy trends, a larger structural change in the national perception is needed. We need to train ourselves that by supporting liberatory violence in Kashmir, all we end up doing is normalizing the culture of violence in our streets and sooner or later these state-sponsored groups turn on their own supporters, as have the Laskar-e-Tayyiba and the Taliban.

A state policy linked to the actions of a group of violent, militarized youth is no recipe for building a thriving, modern, national culture. So, let us pause, and begin at the beginning: let us train ourselves to think of peace.

It is very easy to blame others for our own failures, and when it comes to Pakistan, blaming America (or AMRIKA) is often the usual mantra of the people as well as the politicians. Now, I am no imperial stooge: all my work is an open critique of power politics and I have never hesitated to criticize US policies–past and present–in the region. But there is only so much we can displace and ascribe to others. To save Pakistan, we need to encourage a politics of love and care over the politics of hate and violence. We have not done a good job of it both at popular as well as at the state level: what does it teach us about ourselves that in our nation there are groups of men–it is always men–who have no qualms about killing their own countrymen if they happen to be from a different sect, a different region, and, God forbid, from a different religion. Hate and distrust has permeated our society so deeply that we can kill without remorse, and often make it seem a holy and sacred act. Since when does arbitrary killings become a norm in Islam? And if such killings are indeed allowed, then what kind of Islam is it?

We cannot look to our leaders to show us the way: that is a fascist approach to power. We need to think of love and care of the other at popular level, make it into our mobilizing slogan, our creed. If love, in all its forms, replaces the symbolic of hate, then we will have a chance of creating a viable national culture in which everyone–regardless of their caste, class, color, gender or religion–can live in peace.