Religious upsurge and terrorist violence are without doubt signs of spreading radicalisation in Pakistan but presently there is no religious group that can muster public support at the national level. Radicalisation represents a threat at several levels with the worst case scenario being the possibility of Pakistan becoming a Talibanised state, with a formal structure of a rigid Islamic state dominated by a strong religious hierarchy.
The possibility of a violent takeover by any religious group replicating the Taliban take-over in Afghanistan seems remote but there are disturbing developments visible in the country with large segments of the society veering towards radicalisation. However, if Pakistan were to become a Talibanised state, the society at large, and the ruling elite, would have to accept the religious ideology that is being propagated by certain ultra-conservative clerics; presently there is no militant cleric group strong enough to dictate terms to the powerful urban elite in Pakistan.
To examine the present trend towards radicalisation, one has to look at the developing mindset of different socio-economic ethnic groups and the army. A close study of Pakistani society shows that more than 70 million Pakistanis are below 15 years of age; it is their religious mindset that can give the best indication of the direction Pakistan society may take in the future.
Conservative and rigid religious beliefs exist in many segments of the society, besides the tribal areas that are under the infl uence of al Qaeda and the Taliban, but these do not necessarily translate into Islamic radicalism. The rich urban groups would prefer democracy and modernization even though they would like Pakistan to become a truly Islamic state. The reactions of this segment must be watched carefully to assess the present and future trends towards radicalisation of Pakistan.
Conservatism cannot and should not always be equated with extremism and terms such as radicalisation, fundamentalism and religious intolerance should be examined in relation to the religious upsurge now being witnessed in Pakistan because of the American-NATO military intervention in Afghanistan Antagonism towards non-believers, moderate Muslims, Sufism and Shiites are signs of growth of radical culture; rise of such trends in some segments of Pakistani society are clearly visible and these trends could push Pakistan into the lap of radical Islamists. Moderate Muslims, who would like the secular culture to survive and the current unrest to be controlled, have become helpless spectators in the face of increasing political chaos and coercive religious violence.
The reverses faced by the Pakistan army in its fi ght against jihadi forces indicate that there is a growing reluctance in the army ranks to fi ght its own people; a long drawn confrontation between the two may further complicate the situation. The indifferent performance of the Pakistan army in Waziristan also shows the lack of preparedness to fight a war which it is now facing, on the other hand daring ambushes and attacks against the army show the emergence of new militant groups are fully trained and equipped to challenge the army. The recent attack in the highly sanitised area of Army Headquarters at Rawalpindi revived the doubts that supporters of radical elements, opposed to the policies of President Musharraf, have infiltrated into the inner circles. These elements believe that it is their religious duty to fight the forces that are instrumental in promoting the “anti-Islamic US agenda” in Pakistan. In these circumstances, the army cannot be expected to play a meaningful role in combating jihadi-terrorism; of course, the assumption that the army is increasingly being radicalized and is a divided house now needs to be confirmed further because there are strong elements within the army who are opposed to any attempt of Talibanisation of the army or of Pakistani society. The assumption that the society at large, and the army, is veering towards radicalisation may not be justified as about 70 per cent of the population of Pakistan resides in those areas of Punjab and Sindh, where cultural traditions and economic aspirations are closer to those of moderate Indian society next door. These regions also provide 84 per cent of the officer class to Pakistan army The situation in Balochistan, Waziristan and the Northwest Frontier Province is different because tribal culture there easily translates into Islamic
fundamentalism; those who want Islamic laws to replace the secular laws in this region have an inherent advantage. The fundamentalists are helping al-Qaeda and providing safe haven to it in the mountainous and remote areas bordering Afghanistan because they think it will eventually help them in fighting the government that is maintaining close ties with Washington The peace accord with Islamic militants in North Waziristan, that sent the army back to the barracks, has collapsed, allowing al-Qaeda to spread its tentacles without hindrance.
The growing resentment against the heavy-handed tactics of the Musharraf regime has fueled violence all over the country and rule of law has collapsed in many parts of Pakistan. This chaotic situation is helping the protagonists of radical Islam; when machine-gun fire can be directed at the President’s plane in the country’s Capital, the growing support of radical elements is quite evident.
The attacks that regularly kill Pakistani soldiers in ambushes and pitched battles, inflicting heavy casualties on them, demonstrate the growing military capability of the fundamentalist forces. Many religious groups, so far favourably inclined towards Islamabad, are turning against the government and joining the radical groups.
The imposition of emergency should be seen in the light of the above developments, beside the feud between President Musharraf and the judiciary. It is too early to predict the future course of events in Pakistan even after the emergency has been lifted but imposition of emergency has certainly helped the radical groups in gathering support for their fight against the moderates and the authority of the central government has been eroded.
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