Maintenance of Terrorists: Long-Term Effects for Pakistan – IV
by Ramtanu Maitra on 16 Jul 2016 3 Comments

LATENT THREATS: The Case of Lal Masjid


In addition to all of these well-known groups, there are zealots who are hardening their muscles but have so far remained mostly underground. These are the latent threats. For instance, Islamabad’s decision to allow Islamists to garner street power, and the military’s use of same, poses a long-term threat to the country’s future. During Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s rule (as military ruler via a coup d’état from 1999 to 2002 and as president of a democratic government from 2002 to 2008), the takeover of the Lal Masjid by Islamists in 2007 is a case in point, which shows, in addition, how Musharraf’s decision to break the siege created a whole new bunch of organized militants.


The power exhibited by the Islamists at Lal Masjid, located in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, cannot be overestimated. While they were aided by an indecisive President Musharraf, who was afraid to take them on, the Islamist zealots demonstrated clearly the threat they can pose to the seat of power if they choose to do so. Beside the fact that the TTP was born after Musharraf launched the military operation code named “Operation Silence” to deal with the takeover, Lal Masjid had become known to the outer world as a center of radical Islamic learning, housing several thousand male and female students in adjacent seminaries (“What really happened at Lal Masjid”: Khaled Ahmed: The Friday Times: Dec. 21-27, 2012).


It was later revealed that the hardcore terrorists, many created and harbored by the Pakistani military and ISI, inside the mosque campus constituted of members of militants groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami (HuJI). In other words, those under the watchful eyes of Pakistan’s protectors had already made an alliance with the Islamists who were ready to challenge the Pakistani authorities.


In his book, The Scorpion’s Tail: The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan and How It Threatens America (2010), Zahid Hussain, a well-known  journalist with the Times of London and Newsweek, wrote about Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid, who ran the Lal Masjid seminary aggressively, targeting elements they thought were flouting the sharia and attacking the Shi’a community. Said Hussain: They “had learned their militancy from their father, Abdullah Ghazi, who was the head cleric of Lal Masjid during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and who had developed strong ties with the Islamist groups that joined in the fight. He had received funding and guidance from the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies for recruiting militants to the cause, and Lal Masjid had become a citadel of militancy. After the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan, Abdullah Ghazi became closely associated with al-Qaeda.


“In 1998 Ghazi travelled to Kandahar to pay homage to Mullah Omar, whom Pakistani radical Islamists regarded as their spiritual leader, and he took his younger son, Abdul Rashid, with him. During this visit Abdul Rashid became radicalized. He met with bin Laden alone for an hour and discussed with him issues that had troubled him for a long time. At the end of the meeting, he recounted, he picked up bin Laden’s glass of water and drank from it. An amused bin Laden asked him the reason for his action, to which Abdul Rashid replied, ‘I drank from your glass so that Allah would make me a warrior like you’ (p.112).


“Rashid’s elder brother condemned Pakistan’s Army’s decision to fight the terrorists. In 2001, he declared to a packed gathering, ‘Allah has punished America for its anti-Islam policies and the sinful life of its population.’ When Musharraf sent troops to Waziristan in 2004, Abdul Rashid led a campaign against the military operation and issued a fatwa together with a number of leading clerics declaring the military action in Waziristan un-Islamic and proclaiming, ‘Those killed in the battle against Pakistani forces are martyrs’” (p.113).


Madrassahs: Nurseries for Creating Future Terrorists


While this Islamist leadership was gaining strength by forming alliances with other terrorist groups within Pakistan and paying homage to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, Musharraf and his military watched, and in the process, allowed the threat to grow. The underpinnings for this latent threat had emerged much earlier, however, with the radicalization of the more than 20,000 madrassahs that teach the students Islamic theology. Not at all a natural process, the radicalization was deliberately carried out by Pakistani authorities for a purpose.


Soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the International Crisis Group (ICG) noted in a July 29 report that two types of madrassahs took an active part in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. The first included those created specifically to produce jihadi literature, mobilize public opinion, and recruit and train jihadi forces, such as the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Rabita madrassahs. As the ICG report stated: “The second consisted of independent chains of madrasas (sic), including those of the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI), which opposed Zia (Gen Zia-ul-Haq who had institutionalized the radicalization of Islam in Pakistan in the 1980s: Ed) politically but were a partner in the Afghan jihad. The Pakistani military, especially the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, funneled American and Arab money and was responsible for training the jihadis at camps inside Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas.


“Located in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan, which have close cultural, linguistic and sectarian affinity with Afghan Pashtuns, the schools of these predominantly Deobandi chains quickly espoused jihad. Their numbers increased rapidly with the influx of Afghan refugees, patronage of the Pakistani military and Arab financial aid.


“These madrasas (sic) did not necessarily conduct military training or provide arms to students, but encouraged them to join the Mujahideen inside Afghanistan. Madrasas affiliated with the Haqqaniya chain and the JUI faction led by Fazlur Rahman also established networks for jihad in Pakistan’s major urban centers.


“Jihadi seminaries with Afghan and Arab volunteers spread to Karachi and later to the Punjab. Central Asian, North African and Caucasian Muslims also arrived to participate in the Afghan war. Since many schools, such as the Haqqaniya madrasa (sic) at Akora Khattak, have old ties with the University of Medina and Saudi Arabia had a deep interest in promoting jihad, Middle Eastern money poured into these madrasas (sic).


“The jihadis of these madrasas (sic) also look inwards, fighting a jihad against sectarian rivals in Pakistan. Splinter Deobandi groups, such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba, emerged during the Afghan jihad. With the spread of jihadi madrasas (sic) throughout Pakistan and a massive increase in their students, sectarian strife has become endemic and increasingly violent … Jihadi madrasas (sic) have served a dual purpose for the Pakistani military: as a tool in domestic politics and a strong, active support base for its defense policy, especially against India” (“Pakistan: Madrasas, Extremism and the Military”: International Crisis Group: July 29 2002).


Since that ICG report was published many things in and around Pakistan have changed. Pakistan had a number of years of semi-democratic rule, U.S and NATO concerns about the growth of terrorism in Afghanistan eased, and Pakistan made an effort to clean up its household terrorists in order to receive benefits from China’s economic growth. Yet one may wonder whether, in fact, any effort has been made to de-radicalize the madrassahs churning out militant Islamists who want to demolish Pakistan’s sovereign nation status.


It is evident that the Pakistani authorities have not succeeded in dismantling this hornet’s nest, nor have they tried. Following the killing on Dec. 2, 2015, of 14 Americans in San Bernardino, California, by Tashfeen Malik, a former student of Pakistan’s Al-Huda International Welfare Foundation’s Multan branch, The Washington Post pointed out that with Islamic study a key characteristic of Pakistani society, government officials say they are struggling to differentiate legitimate faith-based teachings from those that spew intolerance or actively recruit militants.


The Post cited Muhammad Amir Rana, a terrorism expert who helped draft the government’s response to the December 2014 Peshawar school attack, saying that madrassahs pose a “very serious threat” because they set their own criteria for who or what should be considered “enemies” of Islam. “Terrorism has different shades,” Rana said, “but madrassahs have been the nursery” (“Pakistan is still trying to get a grip on its madrassa problem”: Tim Craig: The Washington Post: Dec.16 2015).


(To be concluded…)

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