Crises That Loom beyond the Military Action
By Shireen M Mazari
Despite the very effective censorship on the media regarding the military operation in Swat, tales of despair are coming through – especially of those who have lost their families in the artillery and aerial bombardments and of those over two million still trapped in the war zone. Then there are the images of wheat crop lying un-harvested and interviews that do manage to find their way into the electronic media of IDPs in schools receiving absolutely no official aid despite having registered themselves. Perhaps the most lamentable fallout has been the reaction of the Sindh government to the IDPs alongside the PPP spokespersons like Fauzia Wahab who brazenly displayed her ignorance by comparing the IDPs to the Afghan refugees. Is she truly not aware that Swat has been a part of Pakistan for many decades and the IDPs are Pakistani citizens with the right to move freely (without registration) throughout Pakistan? Clearly the Sindh government is trying to push through a policy of racial profiling on one pretext or the other.
Such shameful treatment of our own people by the state shows the sharp contrast between the nation and its massive support for the IDPs and the state with its "ifs and buts". At this rate we will be confronting a mass of IDPs growing more frustrated and angry with each passing day – so they will present ideal breeding grounds for the extremists who prey on the dispossessed and marginalized segments of our society. But the rulers never learn and the operation has been expanded to FATA, so more IDPS will continue to flow without any provisions having been made properly for their accommodation by the state. That is one major reason why the military action will have a socially and politically negative fallout in the long run. The question is whenever the military action ends in Swat and the FATA region, what then? Will the Taliban have been finished off? What is the political strategy that the government has formulated to takeover where the military action ends? Somehow there seems to be no visible clarity on any of these counts, which again undermines the viability of the military action especially in a political vacuum.
Meanwhile, with all attention focused on the ongoing military operation, Balochistan seems to have been pushed onto the back burner which will cost us dearly. We do not have the luxury of time in dealing with Balochistan and the sense of deprivation amongst the Baloch people. The solutions for Balochistan are political and are more a matter of political will than money resources – although the latter will be required if locally-centered development is to be pushed. But it is the political will at the Centre that is lacking and sending the negative signals.
Coming back to the issue of religious extremism, one fallout of the military operation is going to be a dangerous coalescing of this brand of extremism with the political and economically marginalized segments of our society – the numbers now growing because of the manner in which the IDPs are being treated by the state and its various entities. Unless there is a qualitative change in the state's approach to this issue of violent extremism, we are not going to rid ourselves of militancy – whatever label it is given. The military action does not resolve the issue of good governance and justice. Nor does it solve the issue of the marginalized population with its youth seeing no life for itself beyond the madressah – which offers them no gainful employment. A few weeks ago, I gave details of the madressahs and their students in just one district of southern Punjab – D G Khan. And I stated that the numbers and details for Rahim Yar Khan and Rajanpur districts were on a similar fashion. That is why, in order to deal with the issue of bringing in these marginalized youth into the mainstream, the private sector would have to be involved through an "adopt a madressah" scheme. Or must we wait till the situation reaches crisis proportions and the state simply throws up its hands and sends in the military – which is no solution in the long term?
My contention is that it is not so much that all the madressahs are "jehadi" – they are not – but that the student population in most of the madressahs in these outlying areas is the poorest of the poor with no hope of a future at all. So they can be exploited as they are being already to come into the militant fold willy-nilly. In a television discussion one of the leaders of the Wafaq ul Madaris was simply not prepared to accept that madressah students were ready fodder for extremists, especially in terms of suicide bombers. However, the little data that I have managed to collate from official sources, shows that it is exactly these poor, marginalized youth often from ordinary non-jehadi madressahs who are taken and brainwashed into becoming suicide bombers.
For example, the profile of Mohammed Siddique of the Karachi Nishtar Park bombing of 11 April 2006 shows that he was 21 years old, with no formal education, but having been in a madressah could read and write Urdu, and read the Qur’an in Arabic without understanding it (Nazra Qur’an). He lived in Karachi and worked as a helper in a bookstore near Binori Town Mosque while his family cultivated five kanals of lands in Mansehra. While most of his family lived in Mansehra, one of his brothers worked as a laborer in Rawalpindi. Simple-minded, far from home and family, he was vulnerable and poor and thereby an easy prey for brainwashing. The case of Sana Ullah, resident of Akora Khattak, Nowshera, who carried out the suicide attack on Ameer Muqam on 9 November 2007, is similar. His brothers were laborers in Peshawar and Taxila and his formal education was till 4th grade in the government primary school in Kati Maina, Nowshera. Then he left school to become a Hifz-e-Quran at the Madressah Tahfeez-ul-Qur’an in the same village but in 2004 he moved on to Madressah Dar-ul-Uloom Rehmania in Swabi and then in 2006 he went on to Turangzai Madressah in Charsadda and finally left even his madressah studies and returned home temporarily. He returned to Swabi and was part of the planned suicide attack on Ameer Muqam. Once in Swabi where he met up with "friends", he told his father he had found employment in Bannu.
More information is always collated by the authorities from suicide bombers who are caught before they can carry out their attacks. One such bomber was Sohail Zeb from Khano Kal'e, Tehsil Sarokai, Tank. Born in 1979, he was one of the few bombers who was college-educated (FA) and was associated with Sipah-i-Sahaba and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi along with his Mehsud friends. He went through their organizational structures and was motivated to join the Taliban by Abid a resident of South Waziristan and went through formal training at the Kiza Phange camp in South Waziristan where the Pesh Imam was an Uzbek. From all accounts the camp was formally organized with proper martial arts and weapons trainers. Again, as in the other two instances, the potential bomber was cut off totally from his family and familiar surroundings.
Then there was the only bomber who left a simple video behind – an exception to the Pakistani pattern of young brainwashed suicide bombers. This was Abdul Kareem, 20 years old, involved in the Allama Hasan Turabi case. He was enrolled in Hanfia Madressah, Moosa Colony Karachi but left in the middle. His family had migrated from Bangladesh and was extremely poor – father was a pushcart vendor – and wanted him to become a Hafiz-e-Qur’an. The guilt built in him and in his video he declared that since he had failed his family on this count, he had decided to blow himself up and kill "infidels" so he could go to heaven.
These are just four case studies but there is a pattern – madressah-educated, poor families and, apart from the last case, away from families and familiar surroundings. All these add to the vulnerability; but what is the state doing? Will the state simply wait for things to reach a crisis point and then send in the army? Can such action actually rid us of the menace of extremism? No. There has to be a more rational approach to winning back our lost people, especially the youth.
(The writer is a defense analyst. Courtesy The News)