Violence without limits and Pakistan's challenge: HIMAL
HIMAL SouthAsian, January 2009
By: A H Nayyar & Zia Mian
The murderous assault on Bombay by Islamist militants, at least some of whom were from Pakistan, has exposed once again the grave danger that radical Islamist movements pose to Pakistan, its neighbours and the world. The urgent challenge now is for Pakistan and its neighbours, together with the international community, to work together to confront the risk of Pakistan spiralling into chaos and collapse.
Ten years ago, the political thinker and activist Eqbal Ahmad wrote that “conditions for revolutionary violence have been gathering in Pakistan since the start in 1980 of the internationally sponsored Jihad in Afghanistan.” He argued that “revolutionary violence in Pakistan is likely to be employed by religious and right‑wing organizations which have not set theoretical or practical limits on their use of violence.” He then warned that Pakistan “is moving perilously toward a critical zone from where it will take the state and society generations to return to a semblance of normal existence. When such a critical point of hard-return is reached, the viability of statehood depends more on external than internal factors.”
Pakistan’s leaders have failed for a decade to heed this warning. Sadly, the recognition of the need to act against the Islamist violence that now imperils Pakistan has come not from the terrible war that jihadi groups have unleashed on state and society, wreaking havoc from remote border areas to the heart of the capital city, targeting both the powerful and the powerless. It has come due to external pressure. The Americans demanded action against the Islamists following the attacks of 11 September 2001. The attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001, and the military crisis that followed, generated new demands for action. The 2005 attacks on London’s underground system and buses triggered further pressure. The list is long. The assault by Islamist militants on the people of Bombay in December 2008 is only the most recent, and is unlikely to be the last. All point in the same direction: Pakistan’s failure is a threat to its neighbours and to the world.
The threat facing Pakistan is broad and deep. There is on the one hand the armed Islamist groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), its parent organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JD), and similar Pakistani groups, many originating in the Punjab, but with a presence in towns and cities across the country. They are radical Islamist nationalists with a goal of turning Pakistan into a fundamentalist Islamic state. They are opposed to the democratic process. Created by the Pakistani state as a proxy army to wage war with India over Kashmir, these groups oppose any peace process with India and seek to heighten the conflict. They see the United States and its allies as a threat to their ambitions.
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