Violence in Permanence

Terrorists do not accept the way things are. They push on to the way things should be. Religious fascists rush in when there is a political vacuum. That Middle East has been in a state of political anarchy for long is a fact of life. That America is primarily responsible for fomenting civil wars and destabilisation in so many countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, particularly in South Asia, is also a fact of life. The White House strategists responded to the Taliban terror and brutality in Afghanistan only when their strategic interests were threatened in the region. In a sense the Islamic State (IS) was the creation of America. Originating in al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch IS grew in geometric progression taking advantage of Syrian civil war which was in reality, engineered by America to dislodge the Assad regime. The American proxy in Syrian Civil war was Free Syrian Army (FSA). And FSA is still being funded and militarily supported by America and its western allies. When IS rampaged against the Syrian opposition, Assad enjoyed the moment and the US and its coalition partners in the Syrian theatre paid little attention. Even when IS announced the end to the Skyes-Picot agreement that drew the present border between Iraq and Syria, America and its western allies didn’t take it seriously because their main aim was to destroy the Assad government. Their time tested strategy of pitting one political group, armed or democratic, against another was doing miracle in Syria. It is only since the disintegration of American-trained Iraqi army and seizure of large swaths of Iraqi territory being rechristened as the Caliphate that the Obama administration declared its open hostility to IS while engaging and supporting the Kurdish forces, particularly in Syria’s Kobani enclave, to halt the advance of genocidal IS fighters and roll back their territorial gains.

Despite their brutal face religious terrorists basically draw their sustenance from the aggrieved, from the dispossessed and state terror. Also, to dismiss the rapid spread of IS influence as reflection of the worst form of religious bigotry doesn’t tell the whole story. Their policy orientation is not without political content that unmistakably has an anti-western aspect, rather an aspect against western domination. In truth IS was a marginal force after the Arab spring uprisings. It intended to succeed by being the most vicious and repressive of state powers through outright theft, rape, butchery and all sorts of heinous acts. If more and more youths in Islamic societies are attracted to this type of extremism, it is because IS is developing as an idea. And an idea cannot be defeated simply by resorting to gun culture. The West has no idea as to how to defeat this idea politically and ideologically. Targeting them on the battlefield cannot really end the battle. As per a recent report by the renowned German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfor, who was allwed to travel extensively in the IS territory, the group is ‘‘much stronger and much more dangerous’’ than anyone in the west realises. It now has ‘‘dimensions larger than the UK’’.

From Sydney to Peshwar, what emerges is the message of desperation. Pakistan like America is now paying the price for nursing terror groups to fight their adversaries. The cycle of violence—including kidnapping, suicide attacks—has made Pakistan an ideal place for terrorist networks to thrive. Not for nothing Pakistan has been ranked No 13 of the ‘most failed states’ in the world. Pakistan government’s initial ambivalence towards different jihadist and terrorist groups who somehow maintain a symbiotic relationship despite their ‘political differences’, has just boomeranged. With every passing day the prospects of theocratic Pakistan becoming a part of greater caliphate, seem to be bright. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed the responsibility for the 16 December Peshwar attacks in which 148 people, mostly school children and staff, were massacred. It was an elite army school and the Taliban violence was an answer to Islamabad’s military operations against militants in the sensitive tribal province of Waziristan bordering Afghanistan. But it was a soft target they chose possibly to send a warning to the army that they won’t bother about principles in war.

The reaction from the international community followed the usual line—they all condemned the ghastly murder of school kids and described the Taliban act as a sheer manifestation of cowardice.

The persons in power in Pakistan never really fought terrorism politically. Nor did they ever try to mobilise public opinion against the fundamentalist forces. After all the militants were once encouraged and pampered by them to meet their vested interests.

Suicide-bombing as a weapon of the weak in unequal war first got prominence during the liberation campaign by Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka where the army destroyed the insurgency with fascistic brutality without being opposed by the so-called international community. But before going for a full scale genocide the Sri Lankan authorities were able to isolate the militants, both domestically and globally. Tigers initially thought they would get their rear in India but their hope was belied in no time and they finally lost the war very badly allowing the Sri Lankan army to execute war crimes with impunity. But it is not really the case in Pakistan. Fundamentalist position is not being questioned even by the so-called moderates, not to speak of Pakistani intellectuals, liberals and democrats. In other words dozens of extremist groups don’t really face any principled challenge from the powers that be.

And the economic angle of terrorism is being conveniently ignored, notwithstanding the glaring social inequality in almost all societies plagued by militancy, religious or otherwise. Today as terrorism is a way of life in many countries it cannot be wiped out simply by arming military and para-military forces with more sophisticated weapons. Even American missiles and drones are no answer to the ideologically diehard IS fighters. And Pakistan’s military operation ‘Zarb-e-Azab’ despite its lethal fire power has failed to liquidate the Taliban. They cannot eliminate them physically unless they destroy them politically and ideologically, which is really not on the agenda of the Pakistani ruling elite. After all they cannot dig their own political grave.

What is true of Pakistan is equally true for India where the ruling authorities like their counterparts in most troubled states, or failed states, want to solve the problem of violence by indulging in more violence.

Vol. 47, No. 25, Dec 28, 2014 -Jan 3, 2015