Many of the seminaries that have sprung up across the country (40,000-50,000) 'indoctrinate' students from countries as widespread as Nepal, Chechnya, Bangladesh, Yemen, Mongolia, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan as well as several countries from the Middle East. Given that many graduates from Pakistan's radical seminaries are the foot soldiers of jehad, governments of these countries would be justified in considering the presence of their citizens in our academies of hate a threat to their future stability when they return.
Khaleej Times (UAE)
Onus on leadership to tackle 'Is Pakistan next?' question
BY IRFAN HUSAIN (LONDON)
18 April 2003
THERE has been much loose talk of late about which country is going to be next in George Bush's gun-sights. Apart from denials from the White House and Downing Street, my guess is that the Americans have more than enough on their plate in Afghanistan, and now in Iraq.
Many Pakistanis are convinced that we are going to be the next in the firing line. Again, I doubt it very much: the Americans know that they are unlikely to find a more supportive leader in Pakistan than Pervez Musharraf, and will do nothing to rock the boat for him. But if one day in the not-so-distant future we Pakistanis do face the threat of war from an American-led alliance, let us be clear that we will have done our part in creating such a scenario.
One factor leading to this situation is our nuclear programme: both Pakistani and Indian leaders make the rest of the world very uneasy with their constant, irresponsible sabre-rattling. While nobody would lose much sleep over the prospect of Indians and Pakistanis slaughtering each other in a localised conflict, it makes people very jumpy indeed to consider the consequences of a nuclear exchange that would send radioactive particles thousands of miles, depending on wind conditions. Washington and Moscow faced each other for nearly five decades during the Cold War with their enormous nuclear arsenal without a missile actually being launched in anger. It would be a foolhardy optimist who would predict a similarly benign outcome for the subcontinent.
In this sense, while our nuclear deterrent might have given Pakistan a measure of security in our unending stand-off with India, it has made us vulnerable to attack from the West. If, for example, cruise missiles launched from somewhere in the Indian Ocean were to target Kahuta and other nuclear installations, who would we retaliate against? This is the threat General Musharraf had in mind as he justified his U-turn in Afghanistan and overnight conversion to the American cause in the wake of September 11 when he gave the need to safeguard our "nuclear assets" as one reason for his immediate positive response to Colin Powell.
Another threat perception emanating from our part of the world is the free hand Islamabad has given to the many jehadi groups that operate with impunity in and around Pakistan. Last year, the US State department placed South Asia ahead of the Middle East as a centre for terrorism. We in Pakistan have tended to largely ignore this menace, labelling the conflict in Kashmir as a 'freedom struggle' that justifies the bloody excesses being committed by various militant groups. But the rest of the world makes little distinction between terrorism and what we call jehad. In international law, the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians with a view to creating terror qualifies as terrorism.
Increasingly, questions are being asked about the presence of so many Al Qaeda suspects apprehended in Pakistan. While our government points out these arrests as evidence of its close cooperation with the American 'war on terror', the presence of these violent zealots on our soil indicates the extensive network of local sympathisers operating freely in Pakistan. Before the invasion of Iraq, a number of Western journalists had suggested that Pakistan would make a better target for the alliance as it had both Weapons of Mass Destruction as well as a track-record of supporting terrorists.
Jessica Stern, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's JFK School of government, is an expert on terrorism. In a long and revealing article she wrote last year titled "Pakistan's jehad culture" and reproduced last February in Karachi's Defence Journal, she has traced the rise of religious terrorist groups in Pakistan, and the reasons why successive governments have not only tolerated but supported this phenomenon which, according to her, is against the country's long-term interests.
These are the reasons Ms Stern gives behind the military's support for these jehadi groups: "First, the Pakistan military is determined to pay India back for allegedly fomenting separatism in what was once East Pakistan and in 1971 became Bangladesh. Second, India dwarfs Pakistan in population, economic strength, and military might. In 1998 India spent about two per cent of its $469 billion GDP on defence, yielding an active armed force of more than 1.1 million personnel. In the same year, Pakistan spent about five per cent of its $61 billion GDP on defence, yielding an active armed force only half the size of India's. The US government estimates that India has 400,000 troops in Indian-administered Kashmir -a force more than two-thirds as large as Pakistan's entire active army. The Pakistani government thus supports the irregulars as a relatively cheap way to keep Indian forces tied down."
According to Ms Stern, the American government is convinced that apart from allowing these groups safe passage into Indian-administered Kashmir, the Pakistan government also "funds, trains, and equips the irregulars". But increasingly, their agenda and the government's is diverging as these groups create mayhem among 'soft' civilian targets, further damaging Pakistan's tarnished reputation abroad, apart from weakening the image and authority of the Pakistani state by their unchecked sectarian strife.
This "jehad" has become according to the author, big business. She visited the homes of some of its leaders and was impressed by the luxurious style they live in. But more frightening is the status accorded to the families of those who have been "martyred": they are treated with great respect and in many cases, they receive financial assistance from the militant groups that had recruited the "martyr".
Many of the seminaries that have sprung up across the country (40,000-50,000 according to Ms Stern) indoctrinate students from countries as widespread as Nepal, Chechnya, Bangladesh, Yemen, Mongolia, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan as well as several countries from the Middle East. Given that many graduates from Pakistan's radical seminaries are the foot soldiers of jehad, governments of these countries would be justified in considering the presence of their citizens in our academies of hate a threat to their future stability when they return.
Perhaps the scariest part of Ms Stern's article is her assessment that for many of the jehadis, war-waging has become a way of life. Addicted to violence and danger, they cannot stop even if the government cuts off its support. According to a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen activist who spoke to the author: " ... we won't stop even if India gave us Kashmir ... We'll also bring jehad here. There is already a movement to make Pakistan a pure state ... . We want to see a Taleban-style regime here ... ."
A number of us have been writing about the real and present danger these radicals pose for years, but this and previous governments have been so fixated with Afghanistan and Kashmir that they have turned a blind eye to what is happening in Pakistan. Perhaps the invasion of Iraq will concentrate our rulers' minds. And those who ask 'Is Pakistan next?' will see why it could be.