TEXTBOOK NATIONALISM IS PAKISTAN’S WOE

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By Samuel Baid

A “most gifted” nuclear scientist of Pakistan apparently fired by Gen Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation zeal, wrote for him a research paper to claim that he could produce electricity for the whole country from a “tamed jinn”.

Khaled Ahmed mentions this in the introductory part of his latest book “Sleepwalking to Surrender – Dealing with Terrorism in Pakistan”, to prove that the fast dwindling effect of modern education before regressive textbook nationalism is warping education people’s mind and is projecting Islam as nothing but jihad and is, thereby, promoting terrorism in the country.  This has made Pakistan a fertile soil for Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the Taliban who despite their separate identities swear by the same jihadi terrorism against the same targets: Shias, Barelvi Sunnis, Ahmediyas, Christians and Hindus. With their slogan of jihad these three terror organisations have easily established their constituencies all over Pakistan: in security forces, in the governments (federal and provinces), among political and religious parties, in media especially the Urdu print and electronic media and in educational institutions.  The government, no matter what is says about democracy and secularism is constitutionally tied to the Council of Islamic ideology (CII) which is supposed to assist it to bring laws in line with the Quran and the example of the Holy Prophet. CII, a regressive and misogynist  body of clerics and Islamic scholars which shares the Taliban’s Islamic ideology which is anti non-Sunni, anti non-Muslims, anti-modernism, banking and secular state policies and symbols but is for jihad.

The above-mentioned claim of a nuclear scientist to produce electricity for whole of Pakistan from a ‘tamed jinn’ is just one example of demining effect of education based on text book nationalism.  “Any attempt to tone down references to war as a way of life by the provincial authority is attacked by the clergy, after which the media starts growling, sending the education minister scurrying back its texts mandatory jihad for all Muslims”, writes Khaled Ahmed. Emphasis on jihad in school text books and in madrasahas has moulded the people into believing that they are not true Muslims if they are not in a state of war with neighbours and their own countrymen who do not subscribe to their view on Islam and on what they claim to be creating Pakistan.

This type of thinking was very naturally made the Army here of the country.  Gen Ziaul Haq glorified it as the Army of Allah.  Islamic terrorist organisations like the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and the Taliban found a warm welcome in a country violently confused about the purpose of its birth.  Nobody can say for sure if Pakistan came into being in the name of democracy or Islam as propaganda by the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

In 2014 Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif armed with All-Party Conference’s consent, tried to open peace negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).  The Taliban agreed but were not willing to make any concession – not even to suspend terrorist activities during the talks to make peace negotiations meaningful. The Taliban had convinced themselves that they were destined to ultimately rule Pakistan with their own version of Islam.  Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said the Taliban aspired to make their Chief Mullah Fazlullah, the Caliph of Pakistan under a suzerain in Afghanistan. It also dreamt that Mullah Omar, the Amirul Momineen of a universal state which will come into being after the Taliban’s triumphal return to the throne of Kabul. While the Taliban refused to make any concessions for the talks, the Sharif government showed signs of succumbing to Talibanisation.  Khalid Ahmed writes: “The government was getting ready for ‘real’ Islam after a Taliban takes over.  Islamabad was promising Islamic banking and no ‘usury’ in state schemes”.

One good thing that Gen Raheel Sharif’s Zarb-e-Azb, in the mid- 2014, did was to pull back the Shairf government from taking the country towards Talibanisation.  The Pakistani Taliban were the special target of the Zarb-e-Azb because of their frequent attacks on Army installations and personnel and their families, especially in the tribal areas. The Army, however, did not show that hostility to Al Qaeda which was also a target of Zarb-e-Azb, though it had also attacked military installations. The reason is that Al Qaeda has penetrated deep into the armed forces.  See how President Gen Parvez Musharraf, Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani, ISI chief Gen Shuja Pasha protected Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in his hideout in Abbottabad while telling the United States that they were searching him. In the meantime, Al Qaeda had already made inroads into the security establishment.

One reason why the Army could not act against the Al Qaeda–Taliban combine in 2012 after the near assassination of the school girl Malala Yusufzai in Swat was the fear of Al Qaeda converts in Pak armed forces.  Explaining why action could not be taken against the attackers.  President Asif Ali Zardari said besides the consensus among political parties on it, the extremists ready to side with Al Qaeda-Taliban were too strong and widespread in the country to risk challenging the terrorist blowback from North Waziristan. Khaled Ahmed writes: “Clearly, this was coming out of the briefing he was receiving from the Army Chief Gen Kayani, what he couldn’t say, although he was aware of it, was that there were difficulties being faced in purging the military of elements converted to Al Qaeda”.

What strong influence Al Qaeda had in the Nawaz Sharif government was exposed in 2011 by journalist Salim Shahzad after this terror outfit attacked the Mehran Naval Base in Karachi. Shahzad divulged that Al Qaeda-converted Pak Navy officers facilitated this attack. Shahzad had written that since 1979 (at the end of that year the Soviet troops entered Afghanistan) at least one lakh Pakistanis were active members of different jihadi cadres and several Army officers had pledged their allegiance to different jihadi spiritual leaders. Radical tendencies had become deep-rooted in Pakistan’s security services during 1979-2001. The attack on Army Chief President Musharraf in 2003 by military personnel in league with the jihadis shows how deep fanaticism had set in the Armed Forces. Shahzad, the brave investigative journalist was killed for telling this truth.

 

The Pakistan Government has often denied the existence of Islamic State (IS) in the country but its terror activities in Pakistan belie the government’s claim. On 16 February this year, a suicide attack perpetrated by IS on the most-revered religious place named after Sufi Saint Shahbaz Qalandar in Sindh killed at least 83 people. The IS proudly accepted the terror knowing it would be appreciated by Al Qaeda, the Taliban and most Jihadis in Pakistan.

It is not known how much influence the IS has on Armed forces but one thing is undeniable: their personnel are the product of the state’s textbook nationalist narrative which may harmonise their thinking with that of the IS or any extremist group. Khaled Ahmed says the Pakistan Army must delink itself from this narrative. As it is a known fact, Gen Zia promoted this narrative to perpetuate himself in usurped power and encouraged the formation of anti-Shia sectarian groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba, Pakistan  (SSP), the jihadpreaching Markez-e-Dawat Irshad (MDI) with its militant wing Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) which, when banned, called itself Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Islamabad’s Lal Masjid clerics.  They were all meant to take the country backward and the pupil’s minds with the help of textbooks Gen Zia approved initially.

Though the leitmotiv of Ahmed’s book seems occasionally missing in some chapters, but pieces written by one of the most reputed Pakistani columnist of our times are always an interesting read. This book, “Sleepwalking to Surrender – Dealing with Terrorism in Pakistan” would definitely remain a landmark study for Pakistan observers who want to learn the genesis of the prevailing obscurantism in Pakistan.

 

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