29 Sep 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com
Maulvis and Madrasas, Terrorism and the Taliban in Pakistan – Part 1
Maulana Zahid ur-Rashidi is a leading Pakistani Deobandi scholar. He teaches at the Madrasa Anwar ul-Uloom and the Madrasa Nusrat ul-Ulum in Gujranwala, and the edits the influential Urdu Al-Shariah magazine, one of the few journals brought out by Pakistani ulema groups that seriously discusses issues of vital contemporary concern. He is a senior leader of the Jamiat-i Ulama-i Islam Pakistan, a leading Pakistani Deobandi political party. For several years he served as assistant to Mufti Mahmud, top leader of this party. He is a prolific writer, and has regular columns in leading Pakistani Urdu newspapers. In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, exclusive to New Age Islam, the Maulana talks on a range of issues: the Taliban in Afghanistan, militancy and terrorism in Pakistan, the demand for the enforcement of the shariah, the treatment of non-Muslim minorities in his country and more
Maulana Zahid ur-Rashidi is a leading Pakistani Deobandi scholar. He teaches at the Madrasa Anwar ul-Uloom and the Madrasa Nusrat ul-Ulum in Gujranwala, and the edits the influential Urdu Al-Shariah magazine, one of the few journals brought out by Pakistani ulema groups that seriously discusses issues of vital contemporary concern. He is a senior leader of the Jamiat-i Ulama-i Islam Pakistan, a leading Pakistani Deobandi political party. For several years he served as assistant to Mufti Mahmud, top leader of this party. He is a prolific writer, and has regular columns in leading Pakistani Urdu newspapers.
In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, exclusive to New Age Islam, the Maulana talks on a range of issues: the Taliban in Afghanistan, militancy and terrorism in Pakistan, the demand for the enforcement of the shariah, the treatment of non-Muslim minorities in his country and more.
Q: How do you look at ongoing developments in Pakistan, with the Taliban and other self-styled Islamist groups being accused of continuing bomb blasts across the country? What do you say about the role of the Pakistani state, intelligence agencies and the USA in all of this?
A: One cannot properly understand the current conflicts raging in Pakistan today without taking into account the intellectual crisis and conflicts that Pakistan confronted immediately after it came into being, which have led to the present predicament. Even at that time there was no unanimity as to what the bases of the Pakistani society, state and legal system should be. Those who were associated with a long anti-British or anti-imperialist tradition rooted in Islam wanted Pakistan to be an Islamic state, an ideological state based on the Islamic shariah. This tradition was associated with such figures as Shah Abdul Aziz, Shah Ismail, Haji Shariatullah, Sardar Ahmad Khan Kharral, Titu Mir, the Faqir of Ipi, Haji Sahib of Tarangzai and numerous mujahidin who participated in the anti-British Revolt of 1857. These men fought against the British, inspired by Islam and the hope of establishing a polity based on the shariah, or at least to ensure that the Muslims’ internal affairs could be regulated in accordance with the shariah. Pakistani Muslims who were associated with this tradition wanted Pakistan to become a shariah-based Islamic state.
In contrast to these Pakistani Muslims were another set who were pro-British, who had supported British rule and had studied in institutions set up by the British. They wanted Pakistan to follow in the tradition set by the British—in terms of law, education, society, and culture. They wanted to preserve the colonial framework and set-up. It was they who succeeded the departing British in 1947 as new rulers of Pakistan because in the British period they enjoyed wide influence and occupied top posts in the colonial hierarchy. They were buffeted by global neo-imperialist forces that had earlier supported the campaign for the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate and for transforming Turkey into a secular democratic state. These forces were viscerally opposed to Pakistan becoming an Islamic state, one ruled in accordance with the shariah.
The Western imperialist forces were locked for several decades in a Cold War with the socialist bloc, and felt impelled to use Muslims as pawns in their war against the Soviet Union. That is why in Afghanistan the Western imperialist forces made full use of the Muslims’ religious sentiments, particularly their enthusiasm for jihad, using them to bring down Russia. At the same time, they were careful not to let these Islamic forces succeed in their other agenda—of enforcing the shariah as the law of the land in Afghanistan or any other Muslim country. In this they received the full support of those elements in Muslim countries, including Pakistan, that were pro-West and were themselves agents of imperialism. These pro-Western elements continue to exercise an enormous control over the Pakistani educational system. They make sure that any tendencies that could critique and forcefully challenge neo-colonialism and work towards enforcing the shariah as the law of the land are quickly nipped in the bud. This is what is happening today in Pakistan.
In the wake of the creation of Pakistan, those forces which had participated in the struggle against the British precisely to establish a polity based on the shariah decided to pursue this agenda, now using peaceful, democratic and Constitutional means. They carried on in this peaceful manner through the decades, into the 1970s. This struggle was faced with numerous odds, despite having considerable popular support. For instance, soon after the creation of Pakistan, several erstwhile princely states that had now become part of Pakistan, such as Bahawalpur, Swat, Kalat and Khairpur, where even in British times shariah laws were enforceable in many matters, were forced to abandon these laws, which were replaced by secular laws. This reinforced the belief among many religious people that the intentions of the secularist forces who were involved in the creation of Pakistan and had taken control of the levers of power in the new state were suspect, and that they themselves had to shoulder the responsibility of upholding the struggle for dismantling the neo-colonial system and establishing an Islamic polity in the country.
In this context, when Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and a national liberation struggle was launched in the name of jihad by the Afghans in response, it was natural for religious groups in Pakistan to turn their attention to this new development. The aim of the Afghans spearheading the jihad was to free their country and expel the Soviets, while the agenda of religious groups and elements in Pakistan who became associated with the jihad was to help their Afghan brethren as well as to establish a polity based on the shariah in Afghanistan after the expulsion of the Soviets, hoping that this would strengthen the case for an Islamic state in Pakistan as well. Insofar as the Afghan jihad promoted the perceived interests of the imperialist countries and allied Muslim countries, they gave it their full support, cashing in on the spirit of jihad of the Afghans and the other Muslims who fought with them, but they were careful to ensure that the agenda of enforcing the shariah was quashed, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
And that is what finally happened. No sooner had the Afghans forced the Soviets to leave their country, an event that precipitated the fall of the Soviet Union, than the imperialist forces completely changed their policy vis-a-vis the mujahidin. Instead of enabling the mujahidin to establish a stable government in Afghanistan, the imperialist forces left them to fight among themselves in a deadly civil war. In fact, the imperialist forces promoted this civil war, supporting various factions against each other, thereby ensuring that they almost completely destroyed themselves and their country as well. In this way, the imperialist, advanced capitalist bloc emerged as the victor in the wake of the Afghan jihad. The jihad, which facilitated the collapse of the Soviet Union, indirectly helped bring freedom to several Eastern European, Baltic and Central Asian countries that were earlier under the Soviet umbrella. It also played no small role in bringing down the Berlin wall and uniting the two Germanys. The Soviet expulsion also relieved Pakistan’s longstanding fear of the Soviet Union expanding southwards, towards the Baluchistan coast. But all these forces that had gained so much from the jihad abandoned the hapless Afghans to their own fate after they had succeeded in their main objective—getting the Russians out of Afghanistan. And so the agenda that many Afghans who had been involved in the jihad for, and for which they had sacrificed so much—the establishment of a state in Afghanistan ruled by shariah laws—could not succeed.
It was the duty of those forces and countries who had supported the Afghans in the jihad and who later benefitted immensely from it to promote unity in the ranks of the mujahidin and to help them find a common agenda in the wake of the Soviet expulsion, but this they singularly failed to do, leaving the mujahidin without any support at all. It was thus natural that, at this juncture, the various Afghan mujahidin groups began evolving their own separate agendas. This had disastrous consequences for the entire South Asian region and beyond. This continues to be the case today. The various groups among the Taliban are a product of this context, born in the womb of these conditions. Their actions and their ideology cannot be understood without keeping this context in mind.
Q: You and the party you are associated with are known to have strongly supported the Taliban Government in Afghanistan. Looking back now on the events of the last ten years or so, how do you regard the Taliban experiment, keeping in mind the violent activities of various Taliban groups in Pakistan today?
A: The mujahidin who fought in Afghanistan can be divided into three broad categories in terms of approach and actions. A large section of the mujahidin consisted of those who participated in the jihad in order to expel the Soviets and to preserve the Islamic ideological character of the Afghan state. When they witnessed that, following the Soviet expulsion and the establishment of a government by some mujahidin factions, nothing at all was being done to promote and realise the actual aim of the jihad as they saw it—the enforcement of the shariah—and that, instead, strife, lawlessness and civil war were only further being exacerbated, they emerged in the forefront in the form of the Taliban. They managed to establish their rule over a large part of Afghanistan, where they enforced some sort of stability for a period of five years. Today, they are resisting the American occupation forces in the same way as they once did the Soviets, and they regard this war as one being waged for freedom and self-determination.
The second group of mujahidin who were engaged in the Afghan jihad consisted of several thousand Pakistani youth who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan and returned to Pakistan in the wake of the Soviet expulsion. It was the responsibility of Pakistani leaders, who had used them, to give them proper guidance on their return, to turn their energies in a proper direction, but this did not happen. Perhaps some ‘responsible’ quarters in Pakistan left them free so that they could use them in Kashmir for their own benefit in the same way as they gained from them in Afghanistan. A large number of them went ahead with their own disparate agendas and chose their respective fields of action according to their own way of thinking and analysis. Many of them spent their energies promoting sectarian and communal conflict within Pakistan, while others launched, as they had in Afghanistan, armed struggle within Pakistan to enforce the shariah.
The policies of the Pakistani ruling class actually prompted such groups to take to the violent path. For instance, when the movement to enforce the shariah in Swat began, the Taliban were nowhere on the scene. Many Swatis themselves had been demanding that the legal system in place when Swat was a princely state, before it was made part of Pakistan, be restored. This system, which was in place even during British rule, and right till 1969, was based, in large measure, on shariah laws. Many Swatis regarded this system as providing inexpensive and swift justice, and they felt it to be part of their religion, and hence more appropriate than secular laws imposed by the Pakistani state. This demand of theirs was finally accepted and an ordinance to that effect was passed by the government. But the ordinance proved to be simply a bunch of words and did not amount to anything at all. When Swatis advocating shariah rule realised this, their passions were inflamed and the situation rapidly deteriorated into the violent chaos that we find ourselves faced with in Swat and neighbouring areas today.
It is, however, true that the extremism in the name of ‘establishing Islam’ promoted by certain Pakistani groups who had earlier participated in the Afghan jihad has played a crucial role in creating this state of affairs. I must say that sensible and serious Islamic religious circles in Pakistan do not support them in this regard. Even I have very clearly condemned their actions and methods, but, at the same time, and in doing so, I cannot ignore the wider context in which all these unfortunate developments have unfolded.
The third group of mujahidin who participated in the Afghan jihad consisted of literally thousands of men from different parts of the world other than Afghanistan and Pakistan who participated in the war against the Soviets. After the Soviets were expelled, they were reluctant, for various reasons, to return to their countries, fearing that if they did so their lives and freedom would be under grave threat. They sought refuge in Pakistan, mainly in the North-West, near the Afghan border. It was the responsibility of the Government of Pakistan to formulate a clear-cut and effective policy to enable them to adjust to Pakistani society, but this was not done, and they were left to do what they pleased and to use their energies as they liked. Al-Qaeda recruited heavily from this group of mujahidin, or perhaps one can say, Al-Qaeda emerged from this group. Al-Qaeda looked upon American forces stationed in West Asia in the same way as the mujahidin had viewed Soviet forces in Afghanistan, as a grave danger to the independence of the region. Just as the war against the Soviets had been viewed as a jihad, Al-Qaeda saw the war against American and allied forces in West Asia in the same way.
In my view, the rise and spread of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the emergence of armed groups demanding enforcement of the shariah in Pakistan, and the origins and gathering salience of Al-Qaeda in West Asia are all a logical result of the many gross mistakes deliberately committed by the global powers in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. That is why it is not fair to blame only the militant groups for the state of affairs we find ourselves confronted with today. It is commonly thought that the situation of extreme conflict that we are faced with in Pakistan today emerged in the wake of the attacks of 9/11, but this is not true. Rather, and to the contrary, the attacks of 9/11 can be said to be a result of these developments that occurred in the years following the Soviet expulsion. The tragic events of 9/11 have only further exacerbated existing tensions and trends, making the situation much worse than it was before. In the wake of 9/11, American and allied forces invaded Afghanistan and put an end to the government of the Taliban. It was natural for various Afghan groups to resist this invasion of their land, and this had a major impact on Pakistan’s internal situation as well. In order to weaken this resistance, Western powers and Pakistan’s ruling class worked in tandem to divide it and to magnify divisions within it. Together, they worked to instigate the resistance forces and then, when they were forced to come out in the open, butchered them in large numbers. This has happened, and is still happening, on a large scale in Swat and Waziristan, and efforts are being made to create a similar situation in southern Punjab.
The ongoing conflicts in Pakistan in the name of religion, regionalism, communalism, ethnicity and sectarianism cannot be understood without recognising that such conflicts are, in fact, needed by certain global and regional powers and players, whose role in instigating such conflicts cannot be overlooked. This extremism and terrorism has taken the form of ethnic violence in Karachi and Baluchistan and in the form of armed groups demanding the enforcement of the shariah in Swat and Waziristan. Foreign interests are also at work in ongoing Shia-Sunni conflicts, and efforts are being made in Punjab to stoke violence between Deobandis and Barelvis
Q: Numerous Pakistani ulema groups and their associated madrasas decided to enter in the Afghan jihad. How far were their expectations and hopes fulfilled? Or did this prove, in some sense, to be counter-productive for them in the longer run?
A: In the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it was the Afghan ulema who issued a declaration of jihad. Numerous Pakistani religious groups and teachers and students of madrasas not only supported this declaration but also actively participated in the jihad. This assistance was based on the belief that fighting the Soviet invaders to free Afghanistan was the right of the Afghans and that, moreover, it was a religious duty binding on all Muslims throughout the world, particularly those who lived in countries neighbouring Afghanistan, including Pakistan. The continued hegemony of imperialist forces over Muslim countries and their resources and the denial of real freedom by these forces to Muslim peoples in large parts of the world fired them with hatred and a desire for revenge, which added to their enthusiasm to participate in the jihad in Afghanistan.
Initially, some people considered the declaration of jihad by the Afghan ulema and the support given to it by Pakistani religious groups as the dream of some mad men. They were mocked as deluded religious elements who stupidly wanted to take on a superpower, but yet these ‘mad men’ kept up their struggle undeterred. For around three years, the mujahidin waged a valiant guerrilla war against the Russian army, using ordinary weapons and leading an austere and harsh life. At that time, they had limited support from the Pakistani state and the people of Pakistan. They manufactured many of their own weapons, using whatever resources they could find, such as filling petrol and soap in bottles to make bombs to throw at advancing tanks. In this initial three or four year period, the mujahidin groups managed to captured considerable territory, using their own crude weapons. It was only then that America realised that their war against Russia could carry on for considerably longer and that it could finally result in the collapse of the Soviet Union. That is why and when America and many other countries decided to get involved in the war and began providing a huge amount of sophisticated weapons to the mujahidin.
It was at this juncture that the leadership of the different mujahidin factions committed a grave blunder by not properly deciding the limits of assistance from external sources, including the capitalist bloc. Instead of setting proper limits to this, they accepted the capitalist bloc—America and its allies—as a partner and key player in the war. The capitalist or imperialist bloc thus managed to establish its control over the mujahidin groups. I believe that had the leadership of the mujahidin groups exercised some more patience and limited external help only to the extent necessary, they would have been able to continue to control policy-making, and the consequences of that would have been entirely different from what actually happened. However, lamentably, this did not happen, although some mujahidin leaders openly opposed the decision to let the capitalist bloc take control of the jihad and the mujahidin factions. One such leader was the secretary of the joint council of eight mujahidin groups, Maulana Nasrullah Mansur, who insisted that while external assistance could be taken, the mujahidin must maintain control of formulating policies with regard to the jihad. Unfortunately, other mujahidin leaders did not listen to him, and so he parted ways with them.
Thereafter, the Afghan mujahidin kept up their struggle for their country’s freedom and to establish an Islamic government in Afghanistan, helped by thousands of youth from Pakistan and other Muslim countries who participated in the jihad. However, as I mentioned earlier, the capitalist bloc assisted the jihad only to the extent of helping to defeat the Soviets, and after this was achieved it withdrew its support. It was at this time that a major rift appeared at the level of the government in Pakistan, which had been the greatest supporter of the jihad and the base camp of most of the mujahidin groups. The then Pakistani President General Zia ul-Haq wanted the jihad to be pursued to till logical end and to enable the establishment of a stable government in Afghanistan, while Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Junejo felt that Pakistan should disassociate itself from the war now that the Soviets had been expelled. It was at this time that the Geneva Agreement was signed that clearly indicated the hypocritical stance of the world powers with regard to the jihad in Afghanistan and the Afghan people. Instead of facilitating the establishment of a stable government in Afghanistan, it paved the way for civil war and even more turmoil.
It was in this situation of extreme turmoil that the Taliban was born. The Taliban were able to provide peace and clamp down on lawlessness in some parts of Afghanistan, but were unable to establish proper priorities in order to achieve their actual mission. Obviously, the formation of a government by the Taliban was not seen as being in the interests of the agenda that world powers wanted to pursue. That is why, after remaining silent on the Taliban government for a while and also after trying to mould the Taliban to fit their agenda, the world powers decided to take on the Taliban when it was found that they would not bend. This was the same time when Arab mujahidin who had participated in the Afghan jihad began to develop their own agenda in response to Israeli aggression in Palestine, the exploitation of the oil resources of Muslim countries by imperialist powers, and the presence of American forces in West Asia. Naturally, their agenda was directly in conflict with that of the world powers.
The spheres of action of the Taliban and the Arab mujahidin were separate, but they shared a broadly similar ideology, and that is why they cooperated and collaborated with each other. Together, they were seen as a challenge to the agenda of the global imperialist forces, because protecting Israel and preventing the establishment of an Islamic ideological regime in Afghanistan were among the top priorities of the latter. This is how the war that was earlier waged between the Soviets and the Afghan mujahidin turned into a new war, this time between the Afghan and Arab mujahidin, on the one hand, and American imperialism, on the other.
I feel that, in this context, the leadership of the mujahidin should have adopted a realistic attitude with regard to its priorities, which, unfortunately, did not happen. This is why the results turned out to be quite the opposite of those that they had hoped for. Instead of getting engaged in a second war at this stage, the mujahidin should have concentrated on stabilising the Taliban regime in Afghanistan by establishing Constitutional rule and enlisting popular support for the regime and seeking consensus with Islamic groups across the world. But this did not happen.
The tragic events of 9/11 then wrought a dramatic transformation in the situation. This new situation demanded that a difficult choice be made: that either the Afghan Taliban or the Arab mujahidin sacrifice themselves for the sake of the other. I believe that had the Arab mujahidin sacrificed themselves for the sake of the Taliban, the latter would have got some chance to be able to save and stabilise their government and to enlist support from other parts of the Muslim world. But, this, too, did not happen, and the Taliban sacrificed their government for their Arab mujahidin brethren. It may be argued here that had the Arab mujahidin sacrificed themselves for the Taliban the result would have been no different. I agree with this, but intuitively I feel that had the Taliban government been granted some time to draw on the support of important forces in the Muslim world, the results may not have been so tragic as they were. Anyway, this all is only in the realm of speculation, and whatever had to transpire has happened. I am confident that the current state of affairs in Afghanistan cannot last long, and that crucial new developments are in the offing. This is why I feel the Afghan Taliban must learn appropriate lessons from their past experiences and, accordingly, prepare for the future. They must also seriously think about how to distinguish between friend and foe, and even between wise and foolish friends.
As far as those Pakistanis who participated in large numbers in the Afghan jihad are concerned, it is true that many of them made mistakes, but, yet, their decision was right. It is true that some imperialist forces have reaped the benefits of their sacrifices, but had they not done so and remained silent instead, their silence would have served the interests of another global power. It is always the case that in any war someone gains and someone else loses, and this cannot be helped. It is true that the decision of the Afghan mujahidin and their Pakistani helpers had a negative consequence—the breakdown of the then global balance of power, between the Soviet Union, on the one hand, and America, on the other, which had, till then, worked, in some ways, to the advantage of smaller and weaker countries. The decision to help the jihad led, finally, to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a unipolar world so that now the whole world is at the mercy of a single superpower. But, yet, the decision did have its positive consequences, which I have mentioned earlier with regard to the freedom that numerous countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe were able to win as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the union of the two Germanys.
Q: How capable are traditionalist Islamic groups like the Taliban, who want to establish what they regard as an Islamic state in Pakistan and Afghanistan, of dealing with contemporary issues, such as modern economics and international relations? If at all they take over Pakistan, how, with their understanding of Islam, would they deal with these and other such complex matters?
A: In this regard, the Taliban can be divided into two categories. As I mentioned earlier, the Afghan Taliban emerged in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in a context of turmoil, civil war and ideological confusion. It was in this context that the Taliban was born, and they soon took over much of Afghanistan, where they sought to impose shariah rule and establish peace. With the arrival of American forces in the country, the Taliban now see themselves as engaged in a war of national liberation and for ensuring and protecting the country’s Islamic identity, a war similar in its aims to that which the mujahidin had engaged in vis-a-vis the Soviet invaders. The Afghan Taliban reflect and represent the particular conditions and cultural traditions of Afghanistan, and believe that they have the capacity to appropriately deal with the challenges that their country faces. However, when they were in power in Afghanistan I advised to them to establish Constitutional rule in their country, and, in formulating a Constitution and legal regime, to keep in mind and benefit from the experiences of Pakistani ulema who had engaged in parliamentary struggle. I also advised them that in formulating Afghanistan’s economic policies they should seek the advice of international experts who believe in Islamic teachings and who serve in various international organisations. Now, if the Taliban once again establish their government in Afghanistan, which is something that the global media is speculating might actually happen, I would advise them the same —to establish a Constitutional government, to seek guidance from the parliamentary struggles engaged in by Pakistani Islamic groups, and to seek the advice in different fields of Muslim experts who are committed to the enforcement of Islam and are capable of working in this regard.
The second category of Taliban consist of those groups active now in Pakistan who call themselves as ‘Taliban’. My views about them are different. I consider these groups to be a reaction to the consistent hypocrisy of Pakistan’s ruling class on the issue of the enforcement of the shariah in Pakistan. I must state that the methods that these groups employ are not proper. Moreover, the benefit of their actions accrues to forces that want to create an environment of conflict, turmoil and civil war inside Pakistan, and that want that in the name of enforcing the shariah all sort of absurd and unacceptable acts be committed so that this forces people to develop a visceral hatred for the very agenda of enforcing the shariah. It is a fact that in Pakistan the Taliban factions have committed numerous such acts. It might be that some Taliban have unwittingly engaged in this conspiracy, but we cannot deny the existence of others who are very consciously doing this. I strongly believe that, whether consciously or otherwise, the Pakistani Taliban are being used for precisely this purpose, and that their actions are greatly damaging both Islam and Pakistan. In my view, the right way to work for the enforcement of the shariah in Pakistan is clearly suggested by the Pakistani Constitution and the 22-point formula developed by various ulema groups in 1950—that is to say, by using political and Constitutional means. In this regard, I would say that the various Pakistani Taliban groups and other such groups must return to the Constitutional path charted by the general ulema community in Pakistan.
Copyright 2010: New Age Islam