A few hours after a suicide bomber hit a Church in Peshawar on Sunday last, a six-year-old, chubby boy was struggling to get out of the clutches of two youngsters in a crowded Rawalpindi bazaar. Weeping and crying it was clear that he did not want to be with them. But with all the force at their command, they were dragging him while scores of people were watching the scene and some of them even giving incongruous smiles. When the boy, probably of Pathan descent, clutched to a tyre of our vehicle, I asked the duo as to why they were dragging him like this. “Yeh Madrassey Sey Baag key Aaya Hey” (he ran away from the madrassa), was the curt reply.
I could not pose another question, as they finally managed to shoulder him and he was soon out of sight. A friend who accompanied me sarcastically remarked “He is being taken to factory and may be one day he will emerge like the bomber who carried out an attack today”. ‘Factory’ is the expression used for Madrassas in Pakistan, which churn out ‘Jehadis’, who have now been targeting Pakistan for more than 12 years.
I asked my friend what if the child just gets the usual religious education in the madrassa instead of joining the militant ranks. He replied: “May be he is spared, but boys like him are caught at such a young age that it does not leave much of an option for them but to go by the direction they are given.”
The threat of extremism has been eating at the vitals of Pakistan, especially after September 11 attacks on United States of America and then the so called “war on terror”.
With anti-American feelings reaching a crescendo, the extremist groups did everything to destabilize Pakistan and continue to do so. More than 50,000 people have been killed in 12 years and thousands were injured and there is no let up, even as the democratic government has been in power for over five years now. If the Pakistani Army was the irritant for such forces, since they believed that they were partners in the crimes committed by US, then a space should have been given to the democratic leadership. But that is not happening. In the past few years these forces have virtually put the state on backfoot. They have twice attacked Parvez Musharraf, while he was in office, killed the future Prime Minister of Pakistan (Benazir Bhutto) and not even spared the General Headquarters (of Army), Naval Base, many more sensitive installation and on the top of it the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) office.
The web of Madrassas in Pakistan has become an uncontrollable thing with more than one factors mixing together. Anti-US feelings, bitterness with India and the reprisals against militants, whom Pakistan prefers to call terrorists have conjured up to make a societal sanction possible for such forces. With Pakistan facing more than one problem, the influence of these Madrassas is not waning. Necessarily all the Madrassas are not responsible for providing fodder to the organisations which have targeted Pakistan for instability. But generally they come from these seminaries only. This trend is also attributed to collapse of public education system. In last 65 years, large swathes of Pakistan’s territory have remained outside the control of federal government. It ranks 113th of 120 countries in literacy, with a combined men and women rate of 55 percent. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader and Member National Assembly Shafqat Mehmood told me that it was wrong to “bracket” all Madrassas in that category. “Not all Madrassas are Jihadi factories. Our party is in the process of creating a common syllabus in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to bridge the gap between different types of education systems,” he noted with confidence.
According to an estimate, there are nearly 24,000 registered madrassas in Pakistan and the number of unregistered ones is growing. The number of students enrolled in these madrassas is estimated to be around 3 million. The mechanism to regulate or modernize them has failed, as they believe it was an attempt to dilute their agenda of carrying out their religious duty against the “evil”. But if the Jehad is against the evil, does Pakistan really fit in that category, as it was the nation created in the name of Islam. For many reasons, those for whom Mohammad Ali Jinnah fought to have a separate nation have turned against the same. Disdain in Pakistani society is mostly because the country could not keep its date with democracy and Army emerged the most powerful organ of the state.
When the militants carried out two attacks in Jammu on Thursday and all the TV channels were asking question as to why Pakistan was not reining in the “terror’ camps, I was amused. The government which cannot save an officer of the rank of Major General, is disempowered to stop an attack on Church, is facing daily attacks on the parts of establishment, how can it rein in such people, if at all they had come from the same stock. In Nawaz Sharif’s 108 days rule in Pakistan, militants carried out 109 attacks and the number is increasing. Only in two weeks time at least 170 people were killed in these deadly attacks. In a shocking incident on Sunday, 17 members of a family were among 40 killed when a bomb went off in a busy Peshawar market. This time, however, a slight change in rhetoric on Indian side was that the attacks in Jammu were not directly linked to have been patronized by Pakistani government.
Today Pakistan is in bad shape. Despite being soft on terror in past one year, which resulted in marginal 1.45 percent decline in fatalities in 2012 and Nawaz Sharif’s keenness to open up dialogue with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the umbrella group of militants, situation continues to remain grim. But at political level there is support for Nawaz on handling it both ways.
“Whatever the Madrassa may or may not teach, it is the ground reality in Pakistan and Afghanistan that is the determining factor regarding violence. Extremism bordering on bigotry exists in almost every country, when it takes a violent turns, as is happening in Pakistan, then the State has to act. Promoting peace via dialogue and protecting the people from acts of violence have to go hand-in-hand,” Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed told writer. Mushahid, who is chairman of Defence Committee, says: “Democracy is our destiny, irrespective of forces inimical to it.” But there are voices, which advocate a tough posturing.
“The proposed talks are unlikely to succeed unless the government gives a clear indication to the insurgents that it would not tolerate its writ to be challenged by anyone. We have prevaricated for too long and allowed the insurgents too much room,” a former diplomat, who has worked in Afghanistan, said arguing that a tough message needed to be sent.
As of now Nawaz Sharif’s carrot and stick policy is facing a bumpy ride, but in case all the organs of state are determined, it may succeed. However, after the recent attacks, the voices of opposition to dialogue are growing louder asking the government to retaliate. Next few months are crucial for Nawaz Sharif as he will have walk a tight rope of pushing for dialogue and also to ensure that less number of civilians are targeted. Really a testing time for Pakistan and Sharif.