Books Review

THE STRUGGLE WITH MILITANT ISLAM

By YaZahid Hussain, I.B. Tauris & Co. New York. 2007. pp.213. Reviewed by: Mirza Asmer Beg

Zahid Hussain is a journalist, who has attempted to study the relationship between religious extremists and the ISI (Pakistan’s military intelligence agency) which led to the evolution of a culture of intolerant extremism in Pakistan. He has studied the geo-political significance of Pakistan to the US, in its war against communism in Afghanistan, and in its ongoing global war against terrorism.
He says that extremism in Pakistan was initially directed towards Afghanistan and Kashmir in India, but after Pakistan joined America’s war against terrorism, the State turned against the extremists, consequently inviting their wrath. The challenges facing Pakistan and Musharraf have been detailed, to bring out the various aspects of the struggle with radical Islam, as it is unfolding in Pakistan.

The author argues that when the Soviets entered Afghanistan, the Americans relied almost entirely on the ISI to allocate weapons to the mujahideen groups, this provided the ISI with almost total control over the operations in Afghanistan and made it very powerful. The resistance in Afghanistan was projected as a part of global jihad against communism. General Zia cleverly used Islam to consolidate his power and legitimize his rule. The effort to Islamise the state and society had American blessings. However, once the Soviet Union collapsed, the US lost interest
in this surreptitious game. But the immense power which the army in Pakistan had acquired, continued to haunt the democratic leaders who came to power subsequently, and whenever they tried to clip its wings, they were unceremoniously sacked.

The events of September 11 in the US, made Pakistan once again important for US policy makers in their fight against global terrorism. Pakistan was forced to join this war, and it meant that it had to fight those very forces which it had nurtured,since the early eighties. This drastic shift in policy was decided upon by Musharraf, without consulting even the junta which along with him had ruled the country since 1999, when he captured power. He slowly eased out those officers who were against this shift and appointed his loyalists in their place, and became the sole holder of power in Pakistan. He banned five Islamic extremist groups and warned that no group would be allowed to indulge in terrorism in the name of religion. This pitted Musharraf against his former clients and they became his enemy number one. However, some elements in the state security apparatus continued to clandestinely support the extremist elements.

All through the eighties and nineties, a significant difference between Pakistani extremist groups and groups like Al Qaeda, was that while the former served as instruments of Pakistan’s regional policy vis a vis Afghanistan and India, the latter had the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate as their objective. However, now some of the more radical Pakistani groups have close links with transnational terrorists.

The author has also studied the madrasas in Pakistan. He argues that traditionally they were centres of basic religious learning, mostly attached to local mosques. “Many of the religious parties operating the madrasas turned to militancy courtesy of the US-sponsored jihad in Afghanistan”(p.77)The number of madrasas also multiplied with the rise of jihad culture. Government sources put their number at 13,000, with total enrolment close to 1.7 million.(p.79). They received huge funds from Muslim countries as well as Pakistani expatriates. The US actively promoted militancy and the culture of jihad. Special textbooks were published in Dari and Pashto by the University of Nebraska-Omaha and funded by USAID with an aim to promote jihadist values and military training. Millions of such books were distributed at Afghan refugee camps and Pakistani madrasas.(p.80).

Zahid Hussain argues that religious sectarianism presented the most serious threat to internal security of Pakistan. Non-Sunni sects felt increasingly threatened by the Sunni orthodoxy propagated by the power of the state. After the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan foreign operatives fled from there and looked to turn Pakistan in a new base for their terror operations. Given this shift of the terror network to Pakistan, America had no option but to take help from the Pakistani intelligence to fight these forces. Musharraf was forced to launch an offensive against Al Qaeda fugitives. However, he was not much successful in curbing the spread of religious extremism in Pakistan, which continued to pose a threat to domestic, regional and global security. Musharraf’s close alliance with the US is another factor which has generated support for Islamic radicals in Pakistan. Musharraf’s rule, says Zahid Hussain has intensified social, ethnic and religious differences in Pakistani society, which could have disastrous consequences in the times to come. The author has also presented the story of Abdul Qadeer Khan- the father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, and his international network of secret nuclear trade, in a very interesting style.

This book contains a wealth of information. However, it is weak on analysis. The information has been presented in a narrative style, without subjecting it to a rigorous analysis. It nevertheless is interesting to read and should be of great use for researchers and students interested in this subject.

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