The Monster of Religious Extremism

The Pakistan Army has taken a strong notice of the recent comment by the Amir of Jamat i Islami Pakistan, Syed Munnawar Hasan, where he had called the slain Chief of the TTP a martyr. The Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) released a press note expressing the Army’s deep disappointment over Syed Munnawar’s statement. ‘’By terming a terrorist a martyr, the JI chief has insulted the sacrifices made by the Pakistan Army’’, said a statement by the Inter Services Public relations (ISPR). “Syed Munnawar Hassan has tried to invent a logic based on his political convenience. Strong condemnation of his views from an overwhelming majority leaves no doubt in any one’s mind that all of us are very clear on what the state of Pakistan is and who are its enemies,” the ISPR press release further stated.

So far so good. But has the Pakistan Army really learnt its lessons? Pakistan Army has been playing with fire for about 30 odd years now. It has created a monster for itself when it backed religious extremism of almost every kind to serve its interest and use the religious parties as its strategic assets. It has held these elements in tight embrace and now the chicken have come home to roost. On its part the Jamat said it stands by the statement of its Amir and has accused the Army of political interference. The most interesting as well as ironic thing in this entire episode is that the JI is pulling one back on its old mentor, the Pakistan Army. It is using the same narrative that has been created by the Pakistani State for decades now. This entire episode wouldn’t have turned so ugly had the ruling political establishment in Pakistan taken the JI head on vis-à-vis this statement and denounced it for siding with the enemies of the State. But knowing Nawaz Sharif and his party’s stand on the problem of terrorism plaguing Pakistan, expecting denouncement from PML-N against  Munnawar Hassan’s statement was actually a huge ask.

Munnawar Hassan not only called Mehsud a martyr, but also questioned the martyrdom of the Pakistan army men who have been killed by the TTP and like minded extremist groups. Had such a statement been issued by a non religious, secular party like PPP, all hell would break loose. No doubt, many in Pakistan have reacted strongly to the JI Chief’s statement, but one would still think that Jamat being the custodians of holiness is getting away with it. 

What is happening in Pakistan today is the result of its follies of yesterday. The Pakistani State and the Army has played with fire for too long and it will be difficult and very painful for the Pakistan Army and the State to disembark from this dragon. In a way this statement from the Amir of Jamat e Islami, should not come as a surprise for people who have watched the developments in Pakistan over the last 2-3 decades. Right from the days of Gen Zia, the Pakistani State has cultivated religious extremists for carrying out its various proxies. Not long ago in early 2011, Mumtaz Qadri, the official body guard of the then Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer killed him. The lawyers in Lahore garlanded him and the religious parties held huge demonstrations in his support. In Oct 2012, Malala Yusufzai was shot in the head by TTP gunmen. She suffered serious injuries but survived the dastardly attack. Rather than condemning the TTP, who took the responsibility for the attack, most people in Pakistan especially the religious parties labeled it as a conspiracy. To add salt to the injury, Malala was dubbed a ‘foreign agent’. 

If the Pakistan Army and the State is serious about reigning in the monster of religious extremism it has so long patronized, it must make sure that it should no more treat such outfits with kid gloves. Its words should be matched with proper action. To get things in order will be a painful process, but one which is long overdue.

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