Militants Divide & Conquer Strategy

The headlines have become so commonplace that sometimes they go unnoticed. “Shrine attack kills 41”. “Suicide bomber attacks Sufi shrine”. “Deadly attack on religious procession”. “Suicide attack targets Shia marchers”. Innocent Pakistanis being killed by extremist militants allegedly because they are practising some religious acts that the extremists do not approve or according to some it is because of drone attacks or some other event that has resulted in retaliation. Actually, both of these are incorrect. These attacks are part of a carefully crafted strategy to weaken Pakistan internally by creating divisions that can be exploited to undermine the cohesiveness of the state.

This is the same strategy that was used by Abu al-Zarqawi against the people of Iraq. Zarqawi’s evil idea was to commit acts of terror against religious sects so that the people would become divided on sectarian lines.

The targeting of sacred sites was condemned by Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s Kurdish President, as a deliberate attempt to foment sectarian unrest as talks continue to form a functioning coalition government.

“We are facing a major conspiracy that is targeting Iraq’s unity,” Mr Talabani said. “This new ugly crime comes as a warning that there is a conspiracy against the Iraqi people to spark a war among brothers. We should all stand hand-in-hand to prevent the danger of a civil war.”

According to former ambassador and foreign secretary of Pakistan Tanvir Ahmad Khan this same al Qaeda strategy is being used by TTP and other militant groups as a strategy to undermine the state and divide the people against each other by creating fear, suspicion, and resentment among the masses.

The insurgents have shown great ingenuity in opening new fronts and in developing new tactics to exacerbate and exploit differences. One of the relatively new frontlines is the series of attacks on Sufi shrines, a tactic with precedents in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. The South Asian Muslim shrines always attract large crowds of festive devotees on special occasions, and in Pakistan’s case, the attacks have led to horrific loss of life. The latest suicide bombing of a Sufi shrine in Central Punjab on April 4 took over 50 lives.

It should also be noted that these attacks have nothing to do with drone attacks. Whether or not drone attacks are counterproductive as leaders from all political parties have said, we must not assign everything to the same root cause. Ending or limiting drone attacks may have some positive effects, but it will not end terrorism once and for all. That is because these attacks against shrines are not retaliation for drones – no shrine is responsible for launching drone strikes – actually they are a calculated attack meant to weaken Pakistani national cultural identity.

Pakistan is dotted with shrines. Doctrinal arguments apart, they bring comfort to millions and their cultural ethos binds communities, usually cutting across the Shiite-Sunnii divide. In the present greatly stressed times, they invest people with resilience and hope. Such has been the reverence for them over the centuries that many Pakistanis are in denial about the culpability of TTP terrorists and seek refuge in far-fetched conspiracy theories. A deadly attack on a major shrine in 2005 signalled this new dimension of the terrorist’s war against Pakistan. Since then, some of the most revered shrines, where dedicated missionaries from the Arab-Islamic world with historical profiles, often very simple, sleep eternally, have been bombed. In killing people in these sanctuaries, the terrorist is not only shattering the devotees’ identities but uprooting the substratum of a 1,000-year-long history of what is today Pakistan. Destroying a shrine hallowed by time drives a deep hole in the cultural security of communities devoted to it.

Just as the Iraqis refused to be divided by this nefarious scheme and instead banded together to defeat Zarqawi and his militants to defend their own nation and culture, we must also not allow ourselves to fall prey to this same strategy of divide and conquer. Attacks against shrines and other cultural monuments are an attack on the very idea of Pakistan itself. We cannot stand by and allow this to happen.

What kind of Pakistan will we choose to become?

The Army of Irate Maulvis was yelling “Apostate!” outside the home of Governor Taseer. This was in addition to burning effigies and issues fatwas against the Governor, who took a solid, bold stand against a heinous blasphemy law. The Army of Maulvis and other far-right persons seem to present the public with two disappointing ideas of God.

1. God is evil, and He obviously wants us to vilify all non-Muslims in our country. The problem with this is that it becomes rather difficult to hate people once you get to know them, so I propose all the Muslims live underground. The funds set aside for development should immediately be routed to create tunnels and cities at least a mile underneath the surface. Otherwise, a Muslim may actually befriend a non-Muslim! Imagine that…imagine knowing that a Pakistani Christian woman has the same struggles in her life, the same hopes for herself and her family, as a Muslim woman might. Or the idea that an Ahmadi child can be as cute and funny as a Sunni or Shia.

2. Oh no! Wait a second…God also wants us to be proper Muslims…that would mean no Shias. Development funds should therefore also be used to scrub the pages of history! In this version, the Father of the Nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah cannot be a Shia. We should also set up tribunals of angry, powdered-wig wearing cranky men to investigate the bloodlines of all federal government employees…for purity’s sake, of course.

3.The other option is that God is an underachiever, and didn’t plan on having a planet with billions of people, of varying race, ethnicity, religion, and favorite ice-cream flavors.

Does this sound ridiculous yet? We have come to a point in our nation’s history where we cannot just look at the message. We have to look at the messenger. What are his or her beliefs? Do they serve the public good? Is this person or party capable of participating in the democratic process, with respect and civility?

Everyone, from all sides of the political spectrum, clamors for a functioning democracy. Indeed, whichever party is in power – be it the PML-N or PPP – hears criticism that it isn’t doing enough to create a stable democracy in Pakistan.

The critics remain willfully ignorant of one fact: successful democracy takes more than elections. It needs more than debates in Parliament, more than striking government buildings in Islamabad, more than the men’s suits and stiffly ironed dupattas of the women in government positions. It needs the public conscience and common sense to serve as watchdog over executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Democracy needs a national, rational discourse where each and every Pakistani’s rights are given due respect. That includes every Shia, Ahmadi, Christian, Hindu in our country. Pakistan, created as a place where Muslims could practice their faith in peace, must never take that right away from people of other faith.

We are not that country, and we must never be.

Aasia Bibi is accused of breaking an archaic law of blasphemy. Yet the blasphemy law itself breaks the law of common decency.

How can we accept laws – let alone, silently obey them – that go against all that we know in our hearts to be right and good?

This is where national common sense and conscience come into play. If there is anyone clamoring for blood of a woman, they are as barbaric and revolting as the law that gives hatred a legal platform.

Here is a tradition that needs to return: let us have mature intellectuals in power, like the honorable Jinnah, who seek to serve all the people of Pakistan. And also, let us have a population that values common decency and their own conscience.

Follow what I say, not what I do

There’s a lot of anger right now about how some idiots in the US are behaving. Opposition to a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks; a Christian church in Florida’s plans to go burn copies of the Holy Quran – their attitudes reek of anti-Islamic ignorance and bigotry. But do we show the same tolerance and respect to others that we demand?

The controversy over the mosque in New York City is ridiculous. There’s already a mosque in the area, in addition to over 30 other mosques in the city. While we have several beautiful Christian churches in Pakistan (I have always thought Hall Road Church in Lahore quite beautiful), when was the last time you ever heard someone complain about the laws of Saudia Arabia that prohibit church building?

Also, did you know that the plans to build the mosque were approved by New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Jew?

The ongoing dispute in New York is another reminder of how civilised societies treat those citizens who do not subscribe to the majority faith. Much to his credit, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg (a Jew, by the way) approved the project, despite opposition from right-wing groups.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan we see deadly attacks against Christians, Ahmadis, Sufis, Shias, etc. And while this might make for exciting news coverage for a day or two while we cluck our tongues and shake our heads at the shame of it all, we move on quickly to what is more important to us – has Asif Zardari bought any flats lately? What is Imran Khan wearing today?

Likewise for this disgusting controversy of burning Qurans. The US Embassy in Islamabad has called the Florida church’s plans “disrespectful, intolerant and divisive” and condemned the threat, as has the US Ambassador to the United Nations.

But after nine Christians in Gojra were killed and more than 120 homes destroyed, nothing was done to punish anyone. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports that Christians in the area still fear for their safety.

Where is the outcry from our own officials about the treatment of minorities? People are quick to condemn and quick to forget. We are more concerned with protecting the fragile egos of our cricket players than the fragile lives of our brothers from another faith.

We want idiots in America to be punished for being idiots, but we ignore the idiots under our very noses. We act outraged when some idiot in America shows disrespect for our religion, but we turn our heads and look away when minorities in our own country are slaughtered in their churches and mosques.

Just like we love to accuse American delegations of every crime imaginable, but cry foul when we are treated with the same suspicion, there is something about the national dialogue that always follows the pattern: Follow what I say, not what I do!