When the government put forth the National Action Plan at the beginning of the year, the nation breathed a sigh of relief. Finally something was going to be done about those seminaries that were acting as incubators of extremism and breeding grounds for terrorists. Sadly, nothing has been done. The powers that be have been busy cracking down on secular political parties that may or may not have some members involved in petty crimes while completely ignoring the factories producing terrorists who continue to wage war against us. However, these are not the only priorities that need to be reevaluated. Madrassah reform remains a necessary action, but unfortunately we have a much bigger problem now as the extremist ideology is not only being propagated in unregulated seminaries but also in our universities.
Before I saw the headlines, someone had emailed me the poster. I wish I could honestly say that I was shocked, but it’s hard to shock me these days. Certainly ‘Shariah4Pakistan’ is not a shocking conference name. We hear this regularly implied if not expressed openly on talk shows. Terming Qaid-e-Azam as a ‘Traitor of Islam’ is stupid, but even that is sadly not surprising as religious extremism has become more and more mainstream. No, the one thing I found interesting about the poster were the names of the self-appointed Sheikhs who are invited to speak.
Omar Bakri Mohammed, aka ‘Sheikh Omar’ as he likes to call himself, is a British extremist who helped start the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Pakistan, in the UK. Omar has praised terrorism and has even been convicted of terrorism in absentia by a court in Lebanon.
Another speaker is the Londoner student of Omar, Anjem Choudary, a takfiri who condemns moderate religious groups as kufr. In 2008, Anjem declared that the Muslim Council of Britain were ‘selling their souls to the devil’ after they condemned the September 11 and July 7 terrorist attacks.
This is the group that is holding a conference in Islamabad. They are, by definition, foreign agents. And according to their own words they plan to declare Qaid-e-Azam as ‘Traitor of Islam’, the Constitution as ‘Kufr’, and they plan to issue a fatwa against Malala Yousafzai for wanting an education. And they plan to do this at Lal Masjid, an obvious scheme to open old wounds in society and incite more violence in our country.
They are, by definition, foreign agents who are planning on sowing fitnah in Pakistan. Question is, who gave them their visa? Why are these anti-Pakistan foreign agents being allowed to come into our country and incite hatred and violence?
This is more than a mere academic question. Last month, Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) Chairman Maulana Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi condemned the attack on Malala Yousafzai.
“Islam is the only religion which strictly prohibits violence of any sort in the name of religion. Our Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) has strictly directed not to harm women, children and elderly and so much so has even directed not to damage trees and crops even during the ‘ghazwat’ that he fought against the infidels. How a person calling himself to be a Muslim can resort to such acts of violence and especially against an innocent minor girl of only 14 years? The perpetrators can not call themselves Muslims and this action of theirs has nothing to do with the teachings and preaching of Islam,” Maulana Tahir Ashrafi said.
He also urged the government to take every possible step to save the life of young Malala Yousafzai and at the same time take meaningful measures to promote the true teachings of Islam which preaches love, affection, tolerance, co-existence and abhor violence.
Will Maulana Ashrafi be made a fool of by these British Osama wannabes? Will the military stand by silently while foreign agents incite attacks and undermine our national security? Why are none of the self-appointed ‘defenders of Pakistan’ asking who issued these foreign agents their visas? How can we expect America to respect our sovereignty when we allow these militant ‘drones’ to threaten innocent girls?
These are not academic questions. They are questions of survival.
There is a growing threat to national security from foreign forces. Despite common beliefs, however, this threat is not from the West. Actually, since the end of the Cold War, religious extremists in Central Asia have been growing in strength and cooperation. Public intelligence company STRATFOR explains this in its recent report “Militancy in Central Asia: More Than Religious Extremism”, and it has nothing to do with American policy:
As Central Asian countries gained independence in the 1990s, religion began to be practiced more openly, and Islamist elements operating on the margins of society were freer to come out accordingly. This created a space in which the Islamist environment grew stronger, just as the ability of the new Central Asian regimes to control and suppress Islamist movements weakened. As a result, some Islamist groups began to call for a regional caliphate governed by Sharia.
Among these groups were the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb al-Tahrir, both of which drew inspiration from the Afghan mujahideen that had fought the Soviet Union from 1979 to 1989. Despite their similarities — they both advocated ousting Uzbek President Islam Karimov — the two groups differed in a fundamental way: Whereas the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan used violence to further its cause, Hizb al-Tahrir did not. Other groups, such as Akromiya, would later adopt the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s use of violence while espousing Hizb al-Tahrir’s ideology.
Karimov clamped down on these groups in the early to mid-1990s, but the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan gained refuge in Tajikistan, which was ravaged by civil war from 1992 to 1997. Because of the resultant power vacuum and its long, porous border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan became the primary base of operations for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the group conducted attacks from Tajikistan throughout the Fergana Valley and into southern Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
This is important to an understanding of the threats to national security our nation currently faces. Remember, Brig. Ali and four other Army officers were convicted for Hizbut Tahrir links just last month. And these ‘links’ were not just subscribing to a newsletter. Brig Ali was actively recruiting military officers to join a conspiracy against Pakistan.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is also present in Pakistan. In July, an American drone strike killed six Uzbek militants in North Waziristan. Earlier this week, another Uzbek militant leader was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan.
In a message on its Web site, the group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, said that Uthman Adil, who was its leader for just a year, had died. A senior Pakistani security official confirmed Mr. Adil’s death.
The group’s Web site said that Mr. Adil was killed in April, around the time that an American drone fired missiles into a militant hide-out in Miram Shah, in the North Waziristan tribal region, killing four people. The group may have delayed the announcement of Mr. Adil’s death to first choose a new leader. SITE Intelligence, an organization that monitors jihadist Web sites, said Mr. Adil’s deputy, Uthman Ghazi, had succeeded Mr. Adil.
Actually, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has been using Pakistan as a base of operations for several years. Before Army went into clear militants from South Waziristan in 2009, they faced IMU militants that they had been fighting for years, some even having taken part in the Lal Masjid conspiracy.
The Uzbek contingent is thought to have mixed with the local population to some extent, becoming a permanent fixture of the militant scene in Pakistan’s north-western border areas.
Experts say that the Uzbeks were first targeted by Pakistani security forces in March 2007 when militants started attacking and killing Pakistani soldiers and paramilitary troops.
Since then Tahir Yuldashev’s men have been accused of numerous suicide attacks and of killing hundreds of tribal elders in Pakistan over the years.
His militants carried out attacks on Pakistani forces in the tribal belt and are believed to have taken part in the Red Mosque siege in 2007 in which dozens of people were killed.
The military say that Uzbek militants are a formidable enemy.
Pakistani security forces believe that some of the major bomb attacks in Islamabad are the work of Central Asian militants.
It is true that the nation is facing a foreign threat. However it is not from the widely accepted bogeys of CIA, RAW, MOSSAD but from a growing alliance of religious extremists from countries like Uzbekistan. These militants are by their ideology and their actions anti-Pakistan, and they must be defeated.
Parliament is about to begin debating new terms for cooperation with America in the war on terrorism, but this is issue is anything but new. Actually, it seems like everyone has an opinion on whether and how we should engage with the Americans – from the Difa-e-Pakistan chants of “Go America Go” to the reasoned calls for parliamentarians to “put interests ahead of emotions” and everything in between. But while everyone is focused on what new ‘red lines’ will define new talks with America, we may be ignoring a covert war against Pakistan happening right under our noses.
Claims that hidden hands are waging a cover war against Pakistan are nothing new. Opinion-makers writing in major newspapers and appearing on TV talk shows have been telling about this conspiracy for years. Recently, a retired military officer (naturally) wrote a typical piece in The Nation that describes the common narrative.
Ever since the US/Isaf forces ousted the pro-Pakistan Taliban government from Afghanistan, and the pro-Indian Northern Alliance dominated the government, India’s notorious intelligence agency, the RAW, has become fully entrenched in the war-torn country. Backed by the Afghan Intelligence Agency and allegedly supported by the Mossad, CIA and others, it is aiding and abetting insurgency in Balochistan, FATA and our urban centres. Their common goal seems to be to internally destabilise Pakistan to its ultimate disintegration.
Claims of a Mossad-RAW-CIA-KHAD nexus bent on disintegrating Pakistan have reliably served certain sections of society for decades. Actually, this story is so old that one can’t help but wonder if we really have anything to worry about since these powerful agencies can’t manage to get the job done.
But the fact is that we do have something to worry about because there really is a covert war against Pakistan. Only it’s not being carried out by a secret Mossad-RAW-CIA-KHAD conspiracy.
Taking place right now is a field general court martial of Brigadier Ali Khan who is accused of conspiring to topple the government, trying to instigate a mutiny within the army and planning an attack on the GHQ. These are serious charges of treason against the state. And Brig Ali was not some lone wolf who hatched a crazy scheme on his own – the allegations against him involve ties to the group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an international group dedicated to the overthrow of sovereign governments to form a new Khalifat.
Hizb-ut-Tahrir, though banned in Pakistan, is openly recruiting and plotting against the state. Recently, 21 activists were taken into custody from a meeting in Islamabad. According to Brigadier Amir Riaz, head of 111 Brigade, Hizb-ut-Tahrir “has prepared a new constitution and a shadow government for Pakistan and that the group was ready to take over anytime”.
Most people shrug off this sort of news saying that such groups are such a small minority that they pose no real threat. But what about when the Jamaat-e-Islami chief himself terms Osama bin Laden as ‘the greatest martyr’ and officials democratically elected by the people of Pakistan as ‘beasts’? Besides, small groups can have an outsized effect, as Jamaat-e-Islami has proven time and again when they take to the streets since they can’t win at the ballot box. And while Hizb-ut-Tahrir might insist that they are a “peaceful” group (though this raises the question why they are so intent on recruiting in the military), others make no attempt to hide their aims.
Last week, security forces in Bajaur Agency seized heavy weapons worth millions of rupees from secret hideouts of terrorists. People will again shrug off this news by claiming that these weapons are for killing Americans in Afghanistan, not Pakistanis. This, of course, ignores the obvious problem of where these heavily armed militants will turn once the Americans leave – a change that is getting closer every day.
It also ignores the open threats made by militant groups against Pakistan. The Jamaat-e-Islami chief is not the only extremist who sees the terrorist Osama bin Laden as a hero, and Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan openly threatened attacks against the state if bin Laden’s widows are not released from Pakistani custody.
“If the family of Osama bin Laden is not released as soon as possible, we will attack the judges, the lawyers and the security officials involved in their trial,” Ehsanullah Ehsan of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) told Reuters.
“We will carry out suicide bombings against security forces and the government across the country.”
The Difa-e-Pakistan has threatened force against the state also, threatening to “hold a siege of Parliament House” if the democratically-elected government re-opens NATO supply routes. And once again, familiar faces are making the threats.
The sit-in was addressed by Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Ameer Syed Munawwar Hassan, JUI-S chief Maulana Samiul Haq, former ISI DG Lt Gen (R) Hamid Gul, former minister Ijazul Haq, JI secretary general Liaquat Baloch and Hafiz Abdul Rehman Makki of Jamaatud Daawa (JuD).
All of this is news that should shock the public, but instead it passes almost unnoticed. You don’t have to believe in hidden hands and secret global conspiracies to make sense of this news. It’s all quite plainly laid out before us. There are militant groups who want to overthrow the government of Pakistan because the majority of people do not accept their worldview. These are the millions of Pakistanis who do not believe Osama bin Laden is “the greatest martyr” and do not support suicide bombings. They are the millions of Pakistanis who believe that the civilised people don’t threaten a siege of parliament if they don’t get their way, they contest elections and try to convince their fellow citizens with reason, not threats.
This is the tragic irony of our times. Newspapers, TV talk shows and street gossip is filled with chatter about a covert war being carried out with the aim of destabilising and ultimately disintegrating Pakistan. But we have become so fixated on fantastic tales of external enemies and their invisible foreign hands that we have failed to notice the real threat, and so we are paralysed to do anything about it.
Parliament will debate new terms of engagement with America, the judiciary will continue chasing memos and BBMs, and retired officers will continue weaving thrilling tales of international intrigue and selling them to media more concerned with ratings than facts. Meanwhile, forces are amassing against Pakistan not in US think tanks, but in dhabas and on verandas in our own cities and villages. Will we wake up in time to avert this tragedy and recognise the real enemy among us?
If questions about sovereignty were merely political weapons to be made during the KL debate, the American operation in Abbottabad has put them into start reality. The Americans may have killed their man and left, but the operation highlighted some more disturbing points such as how did the world’s most wanted terrorist mastermind get into and live in Pakistan for years without notice? And if the Americans can enter and leave Pakistan without notice, how secure are we actually?
The problem is not only that Hizb-ut-Tahrir is banned, therefore the members of this group are choosing to break the very laws they are meant to protect, rather it is something much deeper. The stated goal of Hizb-ut-Tahrir is for all Muslim countries to unify under a Khalifa. That means that supporters of Hizb-ut-Tahrir are by definition anti-Pakistan.
For all the worry about sovereignty, it is Hizb-ut-Tahrir that believes that Pakistan does not deserve sovereignty but should be subservient to a foreign dictator (Khaliph). How can members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir be soldiers sworn to defend Pakistan if they do not believe Pakistan should exist? There are some journalists and media celebrities who are defending these arrested officers and trying to claim that it is an attack on Islamic ideology, but this is fundamentally incorrect.
Neither is it simply a matter of technicalities. When the Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan spoke to the media to take credit for the suicide bombing on a police station over the weekend, he bragged that it was carried out by “Uzbek nationals”. This means that Pakistan’s sovereignty was violated once again by foreign agents crossing our borders and carrying out attacks on our security services. As usual, the Ghairat Brigade is silent on this fact.
We have sacrificed too much for this country to let it be slowly eroded away. We should be vigilant about protecting our sovereignty from violation by larger powers like India and US, but in doing so we should not ignore what is going on underneath our very nose.