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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Historic Roots of Islamic Militancy in Pakistan, the Region and Current Scenario.

BY Amicus

An Overview:

This paper is a humble endeavor to look at ascendancy of Islamic Militancy in Pakistan, with a cursory glance at its historic perspective and its evolution in the sub-continent. The study proceeds on the following premise:

(i) The Islamic militancy has its origin in a strong tradition of defensive reaction to intrusion by alien culture in Muslim value-system or attempts by forces hostile to Islam at political domination.

(ii) It assumes itself to be based on the concept of retributive justice.

(iii) It has adopted methods that are not always consistent with or warranted by Islam.

After Islam established its political ascendancy in India with the foundation of the Sultanate of Delhi in 1206 AD, the principal threat it faced was philosophical and not military. This came in the form of Hindu India’s endeavor to assimilate Islam or to develop a synthesis with it, if not to out rightly devour it. Islam had spread in India largely due to the efforts of the Sufi saints, a large number of who came after the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258.

The Sufi movement was prone to accepting influences from the revived Bhakti tradition that propounded identity of religions and emphasized monism in its teachings. However, the ulema (religious scholars) did not permit any flexibility in beliefs and shariah (Islamic law) and their uncompromising attitude, it seems, rescued Islam from getting polluted and corrupted by Hindu tenets.

Occasionally some ulema called for adoption of high-handed methods against the Hindu community but the Sultans of Delhi viewed political considerations as far more important and, except when there was a military threat or armed revolt, never invoked the doctrine of jihad (holy struggle) by way of Qital (holy war which is a form of jihad) to safeguard the political interests of Islam.

The shariah remained supreme, irrespective of personal character of the Sultan (Ruler) and the religion of the majority was neither interfered with nor were forced conversions permitted.

Towards the end of the 16th century another challenge to Islam came in the form of religious policies of the Mughal Emperor, Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar (1556-1605), who endeavored to evolve a syncretic religious order in India.

Akbar was initially an orthodox Muslim and had built an Ibadat Khana (House of Worship) in Fatehpur Sikri, his new Capital, to hold discourses on Islamic issues.

The quarrels and rivalries between the Ulema (Clergy) and the ugly scenes created by them during the debate prompted Akbar to invite scholars and divines of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrians, Judaism and Christianity to make himself familiar with their views on theological questions. This profoundly influenced Akbar’s outlook on religion. He was by then, already fed up, with the Ulema’s capacity to interfere with his administration.

Akbar went on to undermine their authority by acquiring for himself the right to choose between different interpretations of shariah as ‘Sultan-e-Aadil’ (the Just Ruler), if the ulema failed to develop a consensus on any point of law.

Coercive measures of extreme nature, including executions, were employed to silence the dissenting Ulema. Akbar also wanted to expand the political base of the Mughal Empire by securing wider support of his non-Muslim subjects.

All these factors combined to make him proclaim a religious order that meant to dilute Islamic beliefs in uncompromising monotheism and prophet-hood of Hazrat Mohammad (P.B.H.U.) and to modify Islamic rites and social customs.

His religious order did not make any considerable headway but the heterodoxy reigned supreme in the court. In the war of succession, the orthodox Ulema sided with Jehangir (1605-1627), the son of Akbar, on the condition that he would take steps to restore the power of orthodoxy in the court. Shaikh Ahmed of Sirhind (1564-1624), bestowed with the title of Mujahddid-i-Alf-i-Sani (the Reviver of the Religion in the first millennium), set in motion a process that culminated in the reign of Aurangzeb Alamgir (1658-1707), the most orthodox, pious and practicing Mughal Emperor.

The Sheikhs (Divines) of the Mujaddidi order of Sufism, founded by Shaikh Ahmed of Sirhind, exercised tremendous influences on him. Not only Alamgir compiled Fatawa-u-Alamgiri, he re-imposed jizya (a tax on non-Muslims for protection under Muslim rule) that had been suspended by Akbar, destroyed some unauthorized temples and checked proselytizing activities of the Hindus.

Since the Sikhs, the Marathas and the Jats posed a formidable threat to the Mughal authority, Alamgir had no option but to resort to military means to restore the writ of the central government.

After the death of Alamgir, the Mughal Empire, faced with internal disorder, headed for disintegration. In the east, the British East India Company expanded its domain and, in the west, the Sikhs and Marathas got firmly entrenched and often devastated Muslim life and property. Indian Muslims were bewildered, demoralized and displayed all signs of decay.

It was in this backdrop that Shah Waliullah (1703-1762) launched his movement for the reformation of Muslim society and the restoration of Islam’s political ascendancy in India. A thorough pan-Islamist at heart, he invited the Muslim ruler of Afghanistan, Ahmed Shah Abdali, to overcome the growing Maratha menace. In the meantime, the Nawab of Bangal, Sirajudduallah, was defeated by the British intrigues in the Battle of Plassey 1757 and the East India Company made itself the master of Bengal. The British success in the Battle of Buxer 1764 brought the British closer to Delhi.

Shah Abdul Aziz (1746-1824), the eldest son of Shah Waliullah, was a witness to the establishment of de facto British authority in Delhi in early 19th century. Shah Abdul Aziz issued a Fatwa (Religious Decree) that; ‘since the real power was vested in the British and the Mughal Emperor was no more effective in his own domain, India had become a Darul Harb (land of war).’

The fatwa implied that it was obligatory for the Muslims either to wage jihad to restore the supremacy of Islam in India or to migrate to some place where shariah was supreme. The British were discreet enough not to interfere with the day-to-day religious observances of the Muslims unlike the Sikhs who ruled the Punjab and parts of the NW.F.P. Shah Abdul Aziz impressed upon Syed Ahmed Shaheed (1786-1831) to organize jihad against the Sikhs. Syed Ahmed Shaheed received widespread support in Northern and Eastern India for the mission assigned to him. Making the Northwestern Frontier Region his base, he waged a jihad to liberate the Muslims of the Punjab from the Sikh yoke.

The military engagements continued from 1826 to 1831 but the misgivings between his Pushtoon and non-Pushtoon, disciples made him militarily weak.

His haste in imposing, the so-called ‘puritan’ version of Islam, without taking into consideration the local customs and sectarian differences undermined his appeal in the region.

He fell a victim to the treachery of local tribesmen and was martyred by the Sikhs along with hundreds of his troops in Balakot in 1831.

At about the same time, Haji Shariatullah (1768-1840) and Titu Mir (1782-1832) declared that Bengal had become ‘Darul Harb’ (Land of War) and raised the banner of jihad against Hindu landlords who persecuted the Muslim peasants and interfered with their religion.

The mujahideen were disheartened by the failure of these movements but the spirit of jihad was not completely extinguished. During, what is known as the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the remnants of the mujahidden of north India continued their mission to inculcate the spirit of jihad spirit. The British imprisoned, hanged or sent into exile several of the Ulema to overcome the threat.

The dichotomy in Muslim response to the establishment of the British rule was very conspicuous in the aftermath of the 1857 revolt. The traditionalist ulema, who derived inspiration from Shah Waliullah and Shah Abdul Aziz, decided to reconsider their tactics.

They founded a Dar-ul-Uloom (house of learning) in Deoband, a small town in northern India, in 1867, under the leadership of Maulana Mohammad Qasim Nanawtawi with a view to impart higher learning in Islamic theology and to work for the revival of Islam’s political fortune in India.

Witness to the failure of the zealots, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan a reformist, adopted an entirely different line. He advocated to the Muslims complete and unconditional loyalty to the British, repudiation of pan-Islamism, non-involvement in politics, emphasis on learning of English language and physical sciences and fresh interpretation of the Holy Quran in the light of scientific observations. Sir Syed declared India as Darul Aman (land of peace) where Muslim life and property were secure and they enjoyed religious freedom. India being Darul Aman, neither jihad nor migration to Darul Islam was obligatory. Encouraged by the British, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was able to enlist the support of the upper class Muslims and exercised considerable influence till his death in 1898.

In the meantime, Maulana Nanawtawi, the head of Darul uloom Deoband, died in 1880 and was succeeded by Maulana Rashid Ahmed Gangohi. Maulana Gangohi issued a fatwa to the effect that in worldly matters cooperation with the Hindus was permissible provided it did not violate the fundamental principles of Islam.

In Islamic history, a notable example of cooperation with non-Muslims is the Charter of Medina 622, which recognized the composite character of the State of Medina under the Prophet of Islam. The followers of Deoband were encouraged by this fatwa to join the Indian National Congress and thereby come into mainstream politics.

The former associates of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and other conservative Muslims formed the All India Muslim League in 1906.

In 1905, a more dynamic person, Maulana Mahmood-ul-Hasan, succeeded Maulana Gangohi as the head of the Darul Uloom Deoband. Maulana Hasan was a Pan-Islamist to the core and a staunch anti-imperialist.

In the wake of the First World War, he actively involved himself in organizing revolutionary activities against the British government in India. The revolutionary methods were not something entirely new for the Indians. B.G. Tilak, a Hindu extremist leader, had employed such methods between 1905 and 1911 to compel the government to annul the partition of the province of Bengal.

The political extremists were also familiar with the techniques used by the Russian revolutionaries. The Turks and the Germans also encouraged anti-British activities and assisted the government-in-exile of India set up in Kabul under the leadership of Raja Mahendra Pratap, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi and Maulvi Barkatullah.

After the First World War ended, the terms offered to the Ottoman Khalifa (Caliph) under the Treaty of Sevres were extremely harsh. The orthodox Muslims considered the Khailafat (Caliphate) as an institution that was divinely ordained and a product of ijma (consensus) of the companions of the Prophet of Islam. The continuation of the Khailifat, therefore, was an article of faith with the Muslims and they were obliged to make a common cause with the Hindus who, under the leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, were already agitating for political rights and liberties.

In this backdrop, Jamiat-i-Ulemia-i-Hind (association of the religious scholars of India) was founded in 1919 with a membership that came predominantly from the Ulema of Deoband. In due course it assumed the role of political wing of the Darul Uloom Deoband.

The Khilafat Conference, a body exclusively formed to promote the cause of Khilafat, had a more diverse and varied membership. The Khilafat and Non-cooperation movements launched jointly by the Jamiat-I-Ulema-i-Hind, the Khilafat Conference and the Indian National Congress electrified the masses in a manner unprecedented in Indian history. Religious appeal led to mass mobilization and the British government found it next to impossible to contain the agitation. Some ulema revived the fatwa of India being Darul Harb and called upon the Muslims to migrate to Afghanistan.

After accepting a few thousand Indian Muslims, Afghanistan declined to give shelter to more. Hundreds perished due to the hardship of travel and weather. Gandhi called off the Khalifat movement when it turned violent and twenty-two policemen were burnt alive by a mob. During the agitation the Moplahs (an Arab community of peasant) of Malabar Coast proclaimed their local Khilafat and offered the Quran or sword to Hindu landlords and British officers.

The government had to deploy troops to crush the Moplah revolt. The ultimate casualty of the involvement of religion in politics was communal harmony in India with some Muslim and Hindu extremists urging the youth of their respective communities to get marital training.

In the aftermath of the Khilafat movement the Muslims League emerged as the principal political organization of the Indian Muslims and in 1940 demanded the partition of the sub-continent. It identified Pakistan slogan with Islam to capture the imagination of common Muslims and to mesmerize them with romanticism of Islam’s past glory.

A small faction of Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Hind broke away from its parent organization to support the Pakistan demand whereas the main body opposed the partition on the ground that it would divide Indian Muslims without solving the communal question.

Jamaa’ at-i-Islami was founded in 1940, by Syed Abul Aala Maudoodi, which was in many respects, inspired by the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon of the Middle East. It too opposed the partition of the subcontinent and expressed the view that the leadership of the Muslim League lacked the essential qualities required to establish an Islamic State.

After the emergence of Pakistan in 1947, the break away faction of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Hind, which adopted the name of Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam, and Jamaat-e-Islami, became the harbinger of the movement to establish Islamic theocracy in the country.

In 1957 the Jamaat-e-Islami opted for electoral politics to implement its version of Islamic system through constitutional means. Jamaat-e-Islami’s appeal remained confined to a section of intelligentsia and student community and it performed very dismally in the national elections of 1970.

It was in the wake of military action in former East Pakistan that the Jama’at sponsored militant groups, Al-Badr and Al-Shams, fought along with the Pakistan Armed Forces against the Mukti bahini (Liberation Army) and Indian aggressors. The Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam also failed to make its mark on national level and its appeal remained largely confined to the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan in the elections of 1970.

However, finest hour for the Jama’at came when marital law was imposed on 5 July 1977.

The War against Evil Empire and Islamic Fundamentalists:

The Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan on 27 December 1979 offered unique opportunity to the United States to weaken its principal adversary and to General Zia to prolong his obscurantist rule. A resistance movement imbedded with Islamic fervor appeared to be the most effective counter-measure to bleed the Soviets.

Pakistan and the Americans masterminded the formation, logistics and action plan of the mujahideen outfits. They secured services of the Jama-at-i-Islami and Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam for inculcating the spirit of jihad and recruiting rank and file to fight what was primarily an American war. Foreign elements, including Egyptians, Palestinians and Saudis, were inducted in the mujahideen groups.

The mujahideen movement thus became a meeting point for Islamic militants of Afghanistan. Pakistan and the Middle East. The United States, without any scruples, promoted and used Islamic militancy to defeat the Evil Empire. Generally the people from Pakistan and abroad, who were in the fore front of the Holy War against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, professed and practiced the Puritan Schools of Islamic Shariah, where the Jehad is a practiced article of faith.

Unfortunately, after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989, the United States consigned that country to oblivion and the Mujahedeen or Islamic Fundamentalist militants became a liability for Pakistan. With its almost entire western borders destabilized as Afghanistan was in turmoil and heavy burden of rogues.

Islam is a religion of peace but it is being projected as the principal source of international terrorism. The West must distinguish between militancy in the cause of national liberation and the use of force by states to extinguish the spark of freedom. With Muslims being persecuted, maimed and killed from Palestine to Kashmir to Philippines there can be no peace.

United States War against Terrorism:

In the aftermath of the most inhuman and barbaric acts of terrorism carried out in the United States of America by the Al-Qaeeda, it seems, that country and the civilized world at large, were jolted and came to realize that the menace had grown out of proportion and was bent upon destroying the established order.

The US led coalition, after some preparations and requisite deployments, commenced the War against Terror. Pakistan, as neighbor of Afghanistan and a supporter of the Regime in Afghanistan was in a quandary. It was not left with any options but to support the US led effort against taking out that rogue regime in Afghanistan.

It may not be out of place to mention that, even before the September 11 impasse, the threat perception within the Defense Establishment of Pakistan was going through a rethinking and re-evaluation owing the activities going on inside Afghanistan under the tutelage of Taleban Regime and the Al-Qaeda Movement and its activities inside Pakistan like elsewhere in the world.

It was not left with any options but to support the US led effort against taking out the Taleban regime in Afghanistan, albeit, owing not only being part of the Civilized Society but its own threat perceptions, emanating via the covert and overt activities of Taleban and Al-Qaeda nexus inside Afghanistan, globally and more so within Pakistan.

If anything the event of September 11 only hastened the decision making process in the Pakistani Defense Establishment in as much as the defiant and rigid posture of the Taleban Regime on the issue of handing over UBL and his coterie to the Americans, despite persuasions by Pakistan, acted as a catalyst for Pakistan to arrive at a pragmatic decision.

The rigidity, defiance and self-serving stance of the Taleban Regime had placed Pakistan at a crossroad. It had to choose between its own National Interest and its place in the comity of civilized world OR Isolation, being branded as a state that was allegedly promoting militancy and terrorism.

Having said that, it would be wrong to assume that Pakistan just caved in under the pressure from Washington. The truth would be that the pace of Pakistan distancing itself from what was going on in side Afghanistan was hastened rather accelerated. It could also be said that may be, owing conducive international environment, was fortified in taking that vital decision.

This of necessity should have translated into moral and material support for Pakistan to withstand the fall out of annihilation of Taleban regime from Afghanistan and so also imminent reaction from with in Pakistan from the segment that is sympathetic or allied with the fundamentalist forces.

The short-term objectives set out by the International coalition were attained in matter of months and the Rogue Regime along with its partner Al-Qaeda was dislodged from Afghanistan. An interim set was brought in its place, headed by Karazai.

After being dislodged, the Taleban and Al-Qaeda Forces simply melted away and blended into the local population of Afghanistan and inside Pakistan. The pro-Islamic forces within these two countries, being quite sympathetic appear to have willingly absorbed these forces on the run.

Question is, does the dislodging of Taleban government from Afghanistan and dismantling the Al-Qaeda network in that country resolve the issue? No.

The ground realities show that the safe sanctuaries for these elements, on the run, are very much intact, alive and kicking. There is no dearth of sympathetic element within Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It means that immediate and constant threat emanating from Afghanistan may have been addressed. It would be nearer home instead, to say that for now it may be comparably diluted. The capabilities of International Islamic Militancy may have been in disarray and perceptibly its connectivity may also have been disrupted. It could not be said with any certainty that it has been qualitatively contained to an extent that it has been incapacitated.

The factual position is that there has been significant damage caused to the International Islamic Militants Groups. Their safe heaven has been neutralized. An environment has been created that has made the life difficult for the militants and its leadership inside Afghanistan, Pakistan and their respective countries and elsewhere.

However, it is equally true that all these significant achievements could at best be termed as containment. It is equally true that 9/11 has rudely awakened the world to the threat of this millennium. The state of alert is there. The commitment is also there. It is also equally true that militarily the preparation is also there to meet any potential threat.

The respite, if it could be termed as such, ought have been simultaneously put to use to address the causes, which have taken the things to such an impasse that that brand of militancy and terrorism has become the greatest threat to civilized world. With due deference one dares to say that in the long run the gains so far made would be wasted and the world may wind up with the same problem with more complexities and capabilities.


Having said that, it would be in the fitness of things to peep into the History of the Puritan Islamic Movements in the South Asia, Middle East and Far East and so also in the Balkans to understand its appeal to the Muslims.

It is also of paramount importance that Islam is viewed and understood as a World Religion, side by side with Christianity and Judaism, Revelation being a common source of these religions.

There should be a concerted effort to accept, highlight and promote the pacific basis of Islam. The Sufi doctrine of Islam has volumes to offer to Muslims and World at large.

The Puritan Islamic Clergy has to be engaged via the proponents of peaceful, moderate and tolerant Islam, which abound throughout the world.

A meaningful and qualitative dialogue over World Media may be in immediate order. The dialogue being conducted in the Vatican since the early sixties should on the one hand be accelerated and on the other projected globally. Let there be meeting of the minds globally.

Merely by saying that it is not a clash of Civilizations or that it is not a war against Islam would not do. The situation on ground dictates otherwise. Isolating the Muslims and relying on the support of the governments in Islamic Countries would not suffice in the long term.

Besides, it also needs to be analyzed that time and again the West has tolerated and in some cases abetted or even promoted militancy in the name of Islam.

Wisdom of such acts at a given moment in the recent History should be called in question. It should provide a lesson for future course of action. In the case of Pakistan and Afghanistan it is the truth.

The menace or monster left by the West in the aftermath of Soviet defeat has to be neutralized and efforts made at the rehabilitation of its cadre. It has to be addressed not only through military means but more so by strengthening the moderate and peace loving citizens of these countries by giving them participatory democracy.

Bringing in qualitative and quantitative socio-economic inputs in the areas of education, health, economic opportunities and moderate, democratic and good governments in the volatile regions of Middle East, South and Central Asia is imperative.

It is a daunting task. But there are no short cuts.

Spreading the Islamic Message of Peace, Tolerance and coexistence on God’s earth could only do this. Islamic History is replete with examples of peaceful coexistence and Freedom of Faith.

Even a small allocation of funds in the area of highlighting the message of Islam that, ‘Islam literally means Peace’ could do wonders, albeit side by side with the consistent and persevered efforts at promoting the democratic values in these heated societies, where the populace is consistently being denied the means and level playing field by totalitarian regimes of various hues and colors, those are supported by predominantly vested interests of the Western Societies.

While concluding it may be stressed that unless there is realization in the comity of nations, particularly the Developed World, that in the post Bi-polar World of Twentieth Century, there is a void, a void that has left the majority of the fellow human beings in the so-called developing or
non-developed world, devoid of any meaningful and representative leadership, particularly in the regions where Muslims are concentrated.

It is of paramount importance that the volatile issues like, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya are addressed and resolved.

One may say with some degree of confidence that the threat of militancy is ever-present just below the surface. It is very much there. It is regrouping and reorganizing. It will surface with new tactics, strategies and ideology.
(The Article was originally carried by on May 4 2005)

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