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From Islamization to Talibanization: Pakistan's drift towards 'Lebanonisation'

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  • June 11, 2010
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Prof. Satish Kumar
    Discussants: Shri A. K. Verma and Prof. Savita Pande

    Paper Summary

    The creation of Pakistan was a unique human-political experiment, in which an effort was made to create an Islamic, but sectarian-secular state in which state and religion were to co-exist side-by-side and the socio-political interaction of its subjects was not to be affected by their differing sectarian Islamic identities, beliefs, practices and commitments. It was the Barelvis of North India and the Muslim Leaguers of Central India, East Bengal and West Punjab who spearheaded the movement for creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the sub-continent. Later, they were joined by the Deobandis, to create a truly Islamic Pakistan in which the Islamic Law – the Shariat – would be supreme. The 1956 Constitution of Pakistan declared Pakistan to be an “Islamic Republic”.

    In the 1970s, the concept of Pan-Islamism encouraged by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was instrumental in building a close linkage between Pakistan’s radical Deobandis and the Saudi Wahabis. This increased cooperation had major implications for the growth of radical Islam in Pakistan in particular and in the entire region as a whole in the next decade. Radicalism received a further boost as the madarssas run by Deobandi groups like the Jammat-e-Islami (JI) and other radical Islamic right groups began to be used to brainwash and indoctrinate the youth. The next phase in radicalization of Pakistani Islam under Deobandi influence came during General Zia-ul Haq’s period. General Zia contended that since Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, it should be supreme in the country.

    In the late 1970s, the Soviet entry into Afghanistan enabled Pakistan to play the great game of espionage and subversion in Afghanistan. Pakistani Islamic parties could also operationalise a wider plan for launching global Islamic activism under Pakistani leadership. By the end of 1980, not only massive US military and economic aid was flowing into Pakistan for the Pakistanis and the mujahideen, also, over 1 million Afghan refugees entered Pakistan. They became the recruiting ground for the Afghan Islamic mujahideen groups and their Pakistani Deobandi/Wahabi supporters.

    In the 1990s, a group of 200 theological students from Pakistani Deobandi Islamic seminaries - the Taliban (Students) – mysteriously emerged and entered Kandahar from Pakistan. With clear Pakistani official directions and overt and covert assistance, they took over arms and other local assets of Afghan warlords, including those of Gulbudin Hikmatyar. Soon, except for the northern parts of Afghanistan, the Taliban brought almost the entire country under its control. They began to implement strictest Shariat as per the Deobandi interpretation. Afghanistan was declared by the Taliban as “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” in 1996 after the capture of Kabul.

    During post 9/11 period, Pakistan had to end its open support for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. It was also forced to get more deeply involved with US operations against Taliban/Al-Qaeda in return for easing of US sanctions and receiving massive economic and military assistance from it. However, these measures were either merely cosmetic, or were not taken to their logical end and remained half-hearted, designed to please western audiences.

    After the fall of Taliban in late 2001, Pakistani militants siding with them came back home to further the experiment of introducing Islamic order as per Deobandi/Wahabi precepts in the tribal hinterland of Swat and other areas of FATA. Pakistani government’s inadequacy in dealing with the Taliban became apparent in April 2009 as President Asif Ali Zardari sanctified an agreement (also known as the Swat deal) through an ordinance imposing Shariat in the Swat Valley and the surrounding areas effectively empowering the Taliban and other groups. This followed the passage of a unanimous resolution on the subject by the Pakistani Parliament.

    According to the author, the core of the problem lies in the lack of public debate within Pakistan over issues regarding how to deal with the present danger from radical Islam. He, however, believes that it would still be difficult to Talibanize the whole Pakistani society. The Taliban are likely to encounter stiff resistance from the Barelvis (constituting more than 50 per cent of Pakistani Muslims), the Shias (constituting roughly 30 per cent), Muhajirs and the ethnic Sindhis.

    The Pakistan Army and the ISI now appear to be plumping for exploiting the mass-based evangelical movement of Tabligh Jamaat (TJ) to ideologically take on the Taliban and their allies. However, if TJ begins to undercut Taliban’s ideological base, the latter may take recourse to targeting TJ leaders and cadres as it has done with Barelvis and others. That would either dissipate TJ influence as an ideological counter to the Taliban, or force it to arm itself for self-defence. If that happens, it could be the actual beginning of ‘Lebanonization’ of Pakistan. Under this situation, the country could get carved up in various pockets of militarised ethno-sectarian influences and as a consequence the reach and the role of the Government and its institutions may be truncated, creating a Lebanon-like situation.

    PK Upadhyay concluded the paper by stating that Pakistan can still overcome this serious existential challenge. For that it has to totally transform itself from what it has become in the past sixty years since independence. It has to make the tough choice of either picking up the secularist trail of Jinnah or choosing to go the Lebanese way.

    Discussion and Suggestions

    • The paper does not offer a clear idea regarding where Pakistan might be headed in the future.
    • Future impact of Islamic radicalization of Pakistan on India should be analysed.
    • The paper also needs to analyse the following questions: Can Pakistani military continue to remain united as radicalization spreads? Is Pakistani military likely to radicalize as well? If either of these two possibilities occur, what will happen to the state of Pakistan? Can the US stabilize Pakistani state? What will be the geo-political impact of such scenarios on India?
    • What are the author’s own perception regarding the three main words in the title of the paper -- i.e., islamization, talibanization and Lebanonization?
    • The paper should be contextualized in terms of how Islam works in Pakistan.
    • The debate over Pakistani Taliban and Afghan Taliban need to be analysed.
    • What are the possibilities of jihadi groups acquiring nuclear weapons?
    • Is it in India’s interest to speed up Pakistan’s drift towards Lebanonization?
    • What is the role of madrassas in spreading terror?
    • What is Pakistan’s counterinsurgency approach to dealing with jihadis?
    • If fundamental changes are to occur in Pakistan, what should be the policy India needs to adopt in the next 10-15 years?
    • As majority of Pakistanis belong to Barelvi group who follow moderate Islam, Talibanization of Pakistan cannot succeed.
    • Pakistanization of al-Qaeda can be discussed in the paper.
    • Pakistan was initially a Muslim state and not an Islamic state.
    • Role of drug money, small arms smuggling in radicalization needs to be studied.
    • The problem in Pakistan at present lies in CIA’s decision to ask ISI to deal with the mujahedeen.
    • Pakistan’s role in jihad is in tune with jihadi instincts within its people and military personnel.
    • The threat that looms ahead of Pakistan is of fragmentation.
    • The civil war in Pakistan is led by Pushtoons with Salafi ideas.

    Report prepared by Pranamita Baruah, Research Assistant, IDSA.