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Terrorism, Democracy And Poverty
Dr.Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: Daily Times
Dated: December 5, 2002

Combat Versus Preventive Diplomacy

The key feature of the war against terrorism that distinguishes it from war between states is that the location and some times the identity of the enemy is uncertain. Even less certain is which individual or group of individuals is going to become an enemy in future to cause the feared mega destruction. Therefore in the prosecution of such a war, military combat and preventive diplomacy are intimately linked. If in the past, war was "the conduct of politics by other means", to-day politics is perhaps essential to the conduct of war itself. Preventive Diplomacy as a complement to combat was first used in 2nd century Rome when Marcus Aurelius Caesar secured the Roman Empire through convivial economic and political arrangements with potentially hostile tribes and warlords on the margins of the Roman Empire. To-day given the peculiar nature of the war against terrorism, preventive diplomacy may be even more important than in ancient Rome.

Pakistan has played a crucial role in the combat operations conducted by the coalition forces against Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements in Afghanistan and the tribal belt along its border. Equally important is the configuration of economic, social and political forces in Pakistan to determine whether it can effectively provide the logistical and political support to the war against terrorism in the future. Therefore in examining the linkages between combat and preventive diplomacy, Pakistan may be an important case study.

Let us begin with an attempt to define what we are talking about. The term terrorism could be defined as violence designed to induce fear in the avowed enemy by an individual or group, against non-combatant members of another group within the same State or against non-combatant citizens of other States. Terrorism in many cases is rooted in economic deprivation, a sense of social or political injustice, or a narrowing of the mind induced by ideological indoctrination. The terrorist often claims that his action is an expression of his political or religious belief or retaliation against his sense of injustice.

Our definition helps in clarifying the current asymmetry between combat and preventive diplomacy in the prosecution of the war against terrorism. While an enormous amount of financial resources and effort have been spent in conducting combat operations since 9/11, the efforts required to defuse the flash points that breed terrorism such as the issues of Palestine and Kashmir, or poverty in Pakistan and Afghanistan, have yet to be mobilized. It is clear that unless the roots of terrorism in poverty, deprivation and injustice are addressed, the war against terrorism could become endless as new terrorists emerge from new breeding grounds.

Let us examine the relationship between the rise of terrorism, undermining of democracy and poverty in the context of Pakistan. In this case the socio political roots of terrorism as well as those of the current economic crisis can be traced to the Zia regime in the period 1977 to 1988. These tendencies developed further during the decade of the 1990s when a historically unprecedented growth in poverty combined with an undermining of democratic institutions. In the ensuing discussion we will analyze the interplay between the rise of militant religious groups, government policy and growing poverty during the last two decades spanning Zia's military regime and the subsequent decade of democracy.

State Policy in the Zia Regime and the Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism

In the absence of popular legitimacy, the Zia regime used terror for the first time in Pakistan's history as a conscious policy of the government. President Zia ul Haq publicly stated: "Martial law should be based on fear". In the pursuit of this policy, the democratic constitution of 1973 was set aside and draconian measures of military courts, arbitrary arrests, amputation of hands and public lashing were introduced. Pakistan's society, by and large, was historically characterized by cultural diversity, democratic aspirations and a religious perspective rooted in tolerance and humanism. This was one of the reasons why the founding father, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah conceived of Pakistan's polity as democratic and pluralistic with religious belief to be a matter concerning the individual rather than the state. He said:

"You may belong to any religion or caste or creed ___ that has nothing to do with the business of the state….. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state…. Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual but in the political sense as citizens of the state."

President Zia-ul-Haq in attempting to restructure such a state and society into a theocracy, undertook two kinds of initiatives: First, measures designed to subordinate to executive authority, institutions of state and civil society such as the judiciary and the press, which if allowed to function independently could check governmental power. In the case of the judiciary its essential powers to scrutinize the legality of martial law or the orders of military courts were abolished. The judicial protection against arbitrary detention of a citizen embodied in the right to Habeas Corpus was eliminated for the first time in Pakistan.

In the case of the press, President Zia ul Haq propounded a simple axiom: "Democracy means freedom of the press, Martial Law its very negation". In the pursuit of this policy, press control measures were introduced. The government constituted committees at the district level to ensure that articles repugnant to the ideology of Pakistan were not published. Those members of the press who had refused to acquiesce faced state repression. A number of newspapers were banned and journalists were arrested and given flogging sentences by military courts.

The second set of measures towards a theocratic state sought to inculcate obscurantist views and induce a narrowing of the human mind. It involved a suspension of the sensibility of love and reason underlying the religious tradition signified in Pakistan's folk culture.

Advocacy for a theocratic social order was conducted through the state controlled television and press. In August 1984 the government began a national campaign involving the direct physical intervention of the state into the personal life of individuals. For example the Nizam-e-Salat Campaign was launched through the appointment of 100,000 "Prayer Wardens" for rural and urban localities. The task of these state functionaries was to monitor religious activities of individuals and to seek their compliance in religious practices.

The institutional roots of "Islamic Fundamentalism" were laid when government funds were provided for establishing mosque schools (madrassas) in small towns and rural areas which led to the rapid growth of militant religious organisations. This social process was catalyzed by the Afghan war. As General Zia moved towards the construction of a theocratic state and brutalized civil society, his isolation from the people as a whole was matched by increased external dependence. He sought political, economic and military support from the U.S. by offering to play the role of a front line state in the Afghan guerilla war against the occupying Soviet army. Accordingly, Pakistan obtained from the U.S. a package of $ 3.2 billion in financial loans and relatively sophisticated military hardware. Moreover, with the support from the U.S., Pakistan was able to get additional fiscal space by getting its foreign debt rescheduled, and increased private foreign capital inflows. These official and private capital inflows played an important role in stimulating macro economic growth in this period. They also helped establish a political constituency both within the institutions of the state and in the conservative urban petit bourgeoisie, for a theocratic form of military dictatorship.

As the Zia regime engaged in a proxy war, some of the militant religious groups together with their associated madrassas were provided with official funds, training and weapons to conduct guerilla operations in Afghanistan. While they helped fight the war in Afghanistan, the religious militant groups were able to enlarge the political space within Pakistan's society as well as in its intelligence and security apparatus.

From 1987 onwards sectarian violence mushroomed in the Punjab province (which till then had been relatively peaceful) and later spread across the country. The phenomenon of large scale sectarian violence conducted by well armed and trained cadres was closely associated with the rapid growth of Deeni Madrassas ("religious" schools). While historically, such schools merely imparted religious knowledge, in the late 1980s a new kind of Deeni Madrassa emerged, which engaged in systematic indoctrination in a narrow sectarian identity, and inculcated hatred and violence against other sects. In 1998 there were 3,393 Deeni Madrassas in the Punjab alone and 67% had emerged during the period of the Zia regime and after. Between 1979 and 1994, many of the madrassas were receiving financial grants from Zakat funds. According to an official report of the police department, a number of madrassas were merely providing religious education. Yet as many as 42% of them were actively promoting sectarian violence through a well conceived indoctrination process. The students predominantly from poor families were given free food and lodging during their term at the madrassas. As poverty increased in the 1990s, the burgeoning madrassas provided a growing number of unemployed and impoverished youths with the security of food, shelter and an emotionally charged identity: a personality that felt fulfilled through violence against the other.

As the new kind of sectarian madrassas emerged and grew during the Zia regime, so did sectarian violence. The number of sectarian killings increased from 22 during the 1987-89 period, to 166 during the 1993-95 period. Thus violence against the other became both the expression and the emblem of the narrowed identity.

The mobilisation of these narrow identities involved a psychic disconnection from the well springs of universal human brother hood within the Islamic tradition. Its liberating elements of rationality and love, were replaced in the narrowed psyche, by bigotry and hatred. Violence against the "other" became an emblem of membership within these identities. Thus, civil society divorced from its universal human values began to lose its cohesion and stability. As the Zia regime backed by the U.S., prosecuted the war in Afghanistan, within the same process it also bred social forces that were to emerge as terrorism later.

This is the first of a two part article which is based on a paper delivered by the author at the international conference on "Terrorism in South Asia: Impact on Development and Democratic Process", Kathmandu, Nepal, November 23-25, 2002.

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