Inside Story of Pakistani Schooling of Terrorists

by Ehsan Azari on 7/26/2007 · 4 comments

The showdown this past week between the al-Qa’ida affiliated Islamic militants and the government of General Pervez Musharraf in Red Mosque in Islamabad is a reminder of the potential danger posed by Pakistan’s lethal madrasa system. Though the sepulchral drama may give reason to General Musharaf to bill himself as a macho fighter in war on Islamic terrorism, many political observers remain unimpressed for his past broken promises.

The crucial question is how a major terrorist operation centre could continue to exist two kilometres from President Musharraf’s office, especially after six years of Pakistan’s commitment to the war on terror and his 2002 promise to reform the country’s entire madrasa system. How a cocktail of automatic weapons, big guns, hand grenades, petrol bombs reach the mosque and its adjacent madrasa.

Madrasa and mosque are part of an overlapping schooling complex for Islamic terrorism in Pakistan. Shortly after partition of the Indian sub-continent, there have only been 150 madrasas. But the number mushroomed into 13,000 in the beginning of 2007. In his 11-year reign, when General Zia ul-Haq began to enforce his policy of Islamisation, the state-sponsored madrasa infrastructure has been institutionalised and became part of the country’s political system. Zia armed the mullah who according to the ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, “became the sword of Islamisation.”

Pakistani military developed the top-down strategy of the expansion of the madrasa system for political gain. The prime desire for madrasa infrastructure was to mobilise and use Islamist militancy as the cheapest and most effective political tool for Pakistan’s multiple internal and external policies. With the Western disengagement from Afghanistan at the end of the Cold War, Pakistan’s military intelligence agency (ISI) found a golden opportunity to exploit the madrasa system to the great benefit of Pakistan’s security and geopolitical interests in Afghanistan and India.

The Taliban creed was a cancerous product of Pakistani madrasa incubation. Early 1990s, the success of Taliban in Afghanistan spread the ISI influence to Amu Darya in the north and Heart to the West of Afghanistan. This strategic victory for the Pakistani military was the beginning of annexing Indian Kashmir to Pakistan. Although the al-Qa’ida attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 rolled back a great deal of this strategy, the ISI still continues to sustain its covert nexus with the Taliban for the same mileage.

At the home front too, the ISI reaped the harvest. Islamic militancy was used to squash indigenous local nationalist and secularist parties for fear of luring separatist tendencies within the country’s Pashtun, Baluchi, and Sindi minorities. In 1971 the ISI desperately attempted to undermine the separatist and secularist struggle of the Bengali intellectuals by the militant mullahs. However, it has miserably failed to crush Bengali secular nationalism that led to the separation of Bangladesh, due to the weakness of the madrasa system at that time.

Ideologically, Pakistani Islamic militancy is a hybrid mix of the ultra-conservative Deobandi version of Islam in the Indian sub-continent, the Saudi desert version of Wahabism, and the Middle-Eastern revolutionary Islamic Brotherhood. Pakistani Maulana Abdul Ala Maududi and Egyptian Sayid Qutub have been the founding fathers of ultra-conservative Islam in Pakistan. Both theoreticians insisted on gender segregation, veiling women from head to toe, and denouncing music and western modernisation. They preached madrasa as an alternative to what they believed to be a “Westoxication of Muslim Societies,” to use Samuel Huntington’s phrase.

Jamiat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan are the Taliban and al-Qa’ida-linked derivatives of the Maududi and Deobandi schools that now control the provincial governments of Baluchistan and the North-Western Frontier Province by leading a coalition of religious parties called Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). The two powerful religious actors on Pakistan’s political space made it easier for the military elite to make do and mend its relation with the Taliban and other militants.

The loudspeakers of minarets in these two provinces openly propagate pro-Taliban and pro al-Qa’ida ideology, trying to promote and justify jihad, and appropriating suicide bombings against Western forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

In the tribal areas, General Musharraf has never undertaken any serious and decisive operation against the festering madrasas. Last December, Newsweek magazine reported this Pakistani grey area produced “a 12-member group of Westerners at camps in Northern Waziristan to carry out attack in the Western countries”. Moreover, one of the four suicide bombers who attacked London’s transportation system on July 2005, spent time in one of the Pakistani madrasas.

It appears unlikely that the current skirmishes between General Musharraf and radical Islamists will last long. Nor will the military dare take the battle to more lethal terrorist centres, especially those thriving in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.

If Pakistan’s history is any guide, the generals would step the familiar path of sustaining the madrasa system for future use. As has happened so often before, General Musharraf will keep lid on some selective hotbeds of militancy without touching the cause of festering Islamic terrorism. In the generals’ thinking, such orthodoxy is seen as a magic formula to guarantee Pakistan’s unity and the survival of the military rule. This is the real source of quandary.

Copyright © Dr Ehsan Azari


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{ 4 comments }

Lee July 27, 2007 at 11:02 pm

That is an awesome article, much better than the last you posted , sir.

Mark July 28, 2007 at 9:29 am

Most informative. I’ve often wondered if the WOT would ultimately needed to be ‘fought’ in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Green Views July 29, 2007 at 9:22 pm

The article has serious errors in it and is flawed in it’s logic, content and thesis. The author does not list the external factors that changed Pakistani history. Nor does he mention the tough neighborhood that Pakistanis live in, a belligerent India on the East, a fundamentalist Iran on the West and an always occupied and fighting for independence Afghanistan on the Northeast.

No one in Pakistan has heard of Syed Qutub. Moudoodi is a religious scholar and his Jamaat e Islami exists in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Pakistan’s setup is a direct result of the belligerence of India.

It was amazing to see “mighty and dynamic” eulogies for India a country that is sending terrorists to Pakistan and making problems for Pakistan by supporting the Baluchis. The world must be blind not to know about the religious incarceration of 50 million Hindu White widows, the millions of disenfranchised Dalits (Untouchables), the 150 million subjugated Muslims, and the swath of huge lands owned by the Naxalites rebels. What about the democratic rights of the state of Hyrabad (destroyed in a police action), and the rights of the Asaamese? Naxalites? Mizuram?

India’s horrid interference in Baluchistan is state terrorism and will be paid back in kind. China and Pakistan and Bangladesh will teach the lessons. India has failed her population and kept South Asia in penury. China and Malaysia have provided their citizens with a decent standard of living. Pakistanis will work out their problems. Don’t worry and don’t pontificate. The best development in Asia was NOT achieved by India, but by China, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and Malaysia. A discussion on reasons why external powers imposed leaders on small countries is well known. Perhaps it is the uneducated, illiterate, teeming millions in India that have been making stupid decision that have kept India as one of the poorest countries in the world.

For all of President Musharraf’s faults, Pakistan is forging ahead with a 7% growth rate and record foreign reserves. Pakistan is the fourth largest state in the world, and a nuclear state advancing at a phenomenal rate of economic growth. She has motorways that can only be the envy of South Asia, and is building bullet trains and huge new cities in Baluchistan and Sindh. Pakistan is attracting huge investments in automobile and technology. Just in the past few weeks Dubai based companies are investing $26 Billion Dollars in two islands. Pakistan’s FTA with China will be a boon to Pakistani and Chinese industrialists. Pakistani universities are churning out 50 times the number of doctors and engineers than Egypt. While you enjoy your life on charitable donations, Pakistan is industrializing fast. Pakistan produces everything under the planet—from tanks, to cars to planes to machinery.

What action are you recommending, creating an autocratic state like Egypt or creating a Mubarak dynasty?

Pakistan will move ahead and is moving ahead.

Green Views July 29, 2007 at 9:27 pm

Mr. Azeri’s article is full of errors and half-truths. His writings display only a peripheral knowledge of Pakistan and total lack of understanding of the geopolitical strategies on West Asia. His illiteracy about history is evident in his biased version of events.

It is amazing that a small cult with a few dozen followers makes headlines in the International press with dire warnings and admonitions of impending doom. Pakistan has now become immune to Azeri’s “prophecies of doom”. Pakistanis are sick of “do more” lectures from the likes of Rumsfeld and Cheney. Rarely have I seen such vitriol against a country that has been a US ally since the 60s.

Mr. Azeri’s elective amnesia is amazing. 2 million Muslim kids died destroying the USSR. Today, Pakistan is suffering because of the failed policies of Britain and the USA. The blowback faced by many is because of the short sighted policies of London and Washington.

Syed Qutub was supported by the USA as an antidote to Nasser’s flirtation with socialism and his worship of Socialism. No one knows Syed Qutub in Pakistan. Maluana Moudidi opposed Pakistan in the 40s, and supported the USA in her fight with the USSR and it was the followers of Maulana Moudidi that helped destroy the USSR. At the time the “mujahideen” were invited to the White House and to ranches in Texas.

How did we arrive here? Pakistan was used by the USA in the First Afghan War against the USSR. Fundamentalists were trained funded and encouraged by 52 countries to cross into Afghanistan and fight the USSR. India at the time was on the losing side of the battle and the USSR was not only defeated, it imploded.

For all of President Musharraf’s faults, Pakistan is forging ahead with a 7% growth rate and record foreign reserves. Pakistan is the fourth largest state in the world, and a nuclear state advancing at a phenomenal rate of economic growth. She has motorways that can only be the envy of South Asia, and is building bullet trains and huge new cities in Baluchistan and Sindh. Pakistan is attracting huge investments in automobile and technology. Just in the past few weeks Dubai based companies are investing $26 Billion Dollars in two islands.

The article has errors in it. Pakistan is not a new friend. Pakistan was a founding member of SEATO and CENTO (Asian NATOs), and a cold war ally that fought on the side of the US against the USSR. However Pakistan is the most mistreated “friend” in the world. It is un-American to treat friends they way the US has treated Pakistan. The USA and the West walked away from the Afghan mess and left more than 30,000 mercenary fighters that it had imported from the Arab world for Pakistan to deal with. On top of that sanctions were imposed on Pakistan right after the Afghan war, and Pakistanis felt like used “Kleenex”. The world owes Pakistan a big debt for the destruction of the USSR.

In the past few years more than 1000 Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives fighting the Taliaban and the Al-Qaeda. Several hundered Al-Qaeda have been sent to the USA for trial including KSM (Khalid Sheikh Muhammad), who President Bush mentioned as the mastermind of the 911.

The Taliban was a construct of the CIA and was armed by the CIA, ISI and the Saudis as a counter to a resurgent Russian-backed communist party and an antidote to the civil war in Afghanistan. Pakistan supported the Taliban in conjunction with the CIA who were arming it right up till 2000. The Taliban were visiting Governor Bush’s ranch in Texas.

I need to point out the fact that Pakistani pleas for sanity in Afghanistan were ignored in 2001. Those who want to understand the irked Pakistani must know that the in 2001the US installed a non-Pashtun, anti-Pakistan government in Kabul. The must also know that NATO allows the puppet Karzai government to continue to bark at Pakistan. The Pakistanis also know that despite being clod war allies for 50 years, Pakistan was threatened with annihilation in 2001. They also remember that $450 million paid for F-16s was never returned. Neither were the planes ever delivered. The delivery of Soya beans does not make up for paid-for but undelivered F-16s. Pakistanis also remember that the world and Afghanistan abandoned 2 million refugees in Pakistan. The Pakistanis also note that the world does not support the liberation of Kashmir.

When an anti-Pakistan government was installed in Kabul, surely Pakistanis were not happy. The geo-strategic interests of Pakistan have to be taken into account. Neither the government, nor the people of Pakistan have signed up for indentured servitude to carry on the follies of a broken foreign policy that supports an incompetent and corrupt non-representative government in Kabul. The NATO troops are teething on annihilation by the anti-occupation insurgent (wrongly labeled as “Talibaan”). All this has created immense problems for Pakistan, and Pakistanis are not too happy fighting Pakistanis, either in NWFP, FATA or in Islamabad……neither Musharraf nor anyone else supports Pakistanis fighting Pakistanis. NATO and America needs to build peace by wining the hearts and minds of Afghans not by cluster bombs and missiles.

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