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Saturday, February 21, 2009

The war on Muslims - II; Failure of the State

 Failure of the state

Friday, February 20, 2009
By by Dr Masooda Bano

The agreement between the NWFP government and Maulana Sufi Mohammad of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat, which promises enforcement of 'Nizam-e-Adl Regulation' in Malakand division in return for promises of Maulana Fazlullah and his followers stopping taking the law in their hands does not have an easy response. True, the regulation will only lead to some cosmetic changes and Qazi courts already exist in that area. Also, the Malakand division and FATA already have many peculiarities and if the population there has a higher preference for Shariah law then the solution might be to let them have a slightly different set of constitutional rules. Finally, it has been argued that imposing the regulation will deprive Maulana Fazlullah of the moral authority that he enjoys among his recruits. This far the arguments make sense. However, what is important is that this peace agreement does not deter analysts from arguing for bigger reforms within the state that are required to check underlying causes of the mayhem visible in Swat today.

Academic research not just in Pakistan but globally on the phenomenon of Islamic militancy shows only three main causes of Islamic militancy. The first one, which often the liberals in Pakistan and the Pakistani state refuse to acknowledge, is that international jihad is supported not only by madressah recruits. Rather it primarily draws on educated and middle and upper income groups because some individuals actually are ideologically driven and want to address perceived injustices. A recent study exploring profiles of over 300 prominent figures involved in Islamic jihad shows that these individuals come from secular institutions and not from madressahs. Thus, a sense of injustice regarding Western policies towards the Muslim world does act as the primary mobilizing force for international jihad.

However, a distinction needs to be maintained between purely Islamic jihad and the domestic activities of many Islamist groups, which could also be involved in international jihad but at the same time, unlike Al-Qaeda, maintain a visible presence in the given country and engage in day to day politics and undertake social mobilization to put pressure on the state to move towards an Islamic way of life. At one end, these groups represent movements like Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East and Jamiat-e-Islami in South Asia. At the other end, especially when in the hands of relatively uneducated population, such movements become close to what is now commonly referred to as Taliban.

The process through which these groups, especially Taliban, win popular support is by providing the answers to day-to-day failures of the state. Having done extensive interviews in the Lal Masjid when under siege and having also met those residents of G6/4 who supported Lal Masjid's abduction of Aunty Shamim, it is clear that what enables the leaders of Islamic groups to gain public support is the failure of the state to deliver. The girls within the Red Mosque and the residents of G-6/4 did not talk of international jihad. They talked about the failure of the state to dispense justice to the weak on an everyday basis. It is the failure of the state to provide security of basic rights that is increasing the appeal of these radical groups within the ordinary public. These groups promise an alternative and for many in the population the promise of an alternative is more appealing than the stifling status quo. We must remember that in the initial period, it was episodes such as the one where Maulana Fazlullah and his followers rescued two abducted girls and subjected the abductors to punishment that won them popular support. Such instant justice could not have been secured through the corrupt state system

But, finally, what is also very important is to note is that research also shows that these groups can only retain their popular appeal for long if their leaders demonstrate high moral behaviour. This is where the Swat episode is very suspicious. When Islamic radical groups, start bombing girls schools or kidnapping people for ransom, they quickly lose popular support. In such contexts, it becomes very dubious whether the concerned groups are really Islamist groups or a bunch of criminals up for sale to the state agencies or outside interests to promote some vested agenda. Thus, what is happening in Swat is to be distinguished from the recruitment for Islamic jihadi groups like Al-Qaeda.

While the latter has more to do with western policies, the former is directly linked with the failure of the state to meet people's basic needs or worse it is actually a product of elements within the state that are benefitting from western aid coming to Pakistan in the name of fighting militancy. The Nizam-e-Adl Regulation will thus not address the fundamental forces driving the militancy in Swat because the resistance is not a result of ideological indoctrination; it is a result of failing state structures.

The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University. Email: mb294@

Failure of the State