The path of least resistance


The ‘gifts’ this Ramazan: Kabul, Istanbul, Dhaka, Iraq and finally Medina. What would break your heart if this didn’t? What other motivation do we need to build resolve to purge ourselves of the poison flowing through our veins?

In this age of terror, there are no holds barred. But each time a red line is crossed we churn out the same hackneyed arguments. Why would anyone attack Data Darbar? No Muslim, however callous or misguided, would attack mosques and funerals. Who would consider killing little children to settle scores or pursue ideology?

And now Madina! Whether or not you are a practising Muslim, if you identify with Islam, the reverence for Madina and Mecca is inimitable. How can a Muslim ever dishonour Masjid-e-Nabvi by planning an attack around it, our apologists ask. So vile are these acts that adherents of Islam can’t possibly be involved, the blinkered assert. This can only be the handy work of the evil West, they claim, the sole object of whose existence is to destroy Muslims. And any misguided Muslims employed in the service of terror are Western proxies, they declare.

The West is funding terror to instigate infighting within Muslims in pursuance of the age-old divide-and-rule strategy, argue the apologists. The problem with the argument is that those perpetrating terror within or beyond Muslim states take pride in and accept responsibility for their acts of terror and further claim that in doing so they are motivated by their understanding of true Islam. Their worldview closely resembles that of the apologists; both see the West as the ultimate enemy, and subjugating it ought to be the life goal of a spirited Muslim.

In achieving that eventual goal, terrorists see the takeover of Muslim states and transformation of ‘misguided’ Muslim societies (ie the rest of us) to their way of ‘true Islam’ as the first necessary step. And if in the process mosques run by ‘misguided’ Muslims have to be destroyed, funerals blown up, soldiers fighting in the name of Muslim states pursuing the West’s agenda killed, sinning civilians not challenging their pro-West rulers maimed and their children slaughtered, this is all collateral damage in the pursuit of a higher noble goal and thus acceptable.

In other words, terrorists and apologists reject the nation state system within which is rooted the current world order. Their religious identity trumps their national identity. The pursuit of a ‘Muslim Ummah’ or a Super Islamic State comprising Muslims across the globe that dominates and rules the world is their true calling during life on earth. To realise this goal, assuming control of Muslim states is imperative – and for that morally corrupt elites need to be ousted and Shariah enforced to oblige society to live in accordance with ‘true Islam’.

The point of divergence between the terrorist and the apologist is tactical ie the means to achieve these goals. The terrorist seeks to employ violence and the apologist believes that all is doable without spilling much blood. Both employ a distorted form of history to sell their worldview. Both present simplistic solutions devoid of necessary details ie enforcement of Shariah, as panacea for resolution of complex social, political and economic problems confronting states and societies in the 21st century.

This anachronistic narrative has penetrated our national consciousness and social fabric because the state has implicitly condoned it and our power elites have employed it to legitimise themselves. Who is articulating the contrary worldview in Pakistan today? That Pakistan’s interests must trump the interests of the ‘Ummah’, that the state’s foremost business is to protect and defend its own citizens and design and pursue policies guided by the object of providing for their basic needs as opposed to getting consumed in conflicts of other states?

The regressive worldview of terrorists and apologists has become the dominant view in Pakistan because the state has cultivated a sense of disempowerment and absence of human agency within the populace as a means to justify its own failures. What is the best way to deflect bitterness and anger rising up against a non-performing state and power elite? A conspiracy theory – ie the masses are in a pitiable condition because the state is too weak to assume control of their fate and future because global powers-that-be won’t let it. How do you disprove such conspiracies?

The West may be evil incarnate but it is honest to itself. Whether on the ‘war on terror’ or lately on Brexit, policies are subjected to candid critique driven by conceptions of national interest. Whatever game the US played in Afghanistan in the 80s was not to defend Afghanistan but its own interests in the region. When its interests changed in the post-cold war period, it receded. That is how rational states behave: on the basis of cold calculation of self-interest in a world driven by realpolitik. What have we been doing in Afghanistan since the 80s – and why?

Who was holding a gun to our heads when we chose to become the frontline state, patrons and foot soldiers in the Afghan Jihad in the 80s? And if that was a mistake, why have we done nothing to rectify it since? From 2009-13, while the Haqqanis were lounging in Waziristan and we didn’t wish to clean up the terror sanctuaries, our narrative was that we couldn’t begin an operation because: (i) there was no public support due to the perception that the Americans were pushing for it; and (ii) we couldn’t tackle all terrorists simultaneously because we couldn’t handle the backlash.

But in 2014, with a new commander in charge and without any talk of building public opinion (with politicos still busy playing peace with the TTP), Operation Zarb-e-Azb commenced. Post-APS, we decided to launch operations against terrorists of all hues. There has been no talk of blowback since then. Until last week of course when Sartaj Aziz declared that we can’t take-on the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqanis at this time, because we may not be able to handle the blowback. Will we be told soon that we can’t do so also because the public might think we’re acting under US pressure?

When the Saudi regime, our friends and benefactors, funded the spread of Wahabi ideology that cultivated sectarianism and intolerance in Muslim societies such as ours, were they acting as proxies of the West? When the Saudis staunchly opposed reconciliation between the US and Iran, were they promoting Western agenda? When Turkey, our friend, joined hands with the West to sponsor the proxy war against Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and Iran, also our friend, joined hands with Russia to defend Assad, were both pursuing interests of the West?

The point is that consequences of our flawed policies and those pursued by our brotherly Muslim states have, like chicken, come home to roost. We can continue in our state of denial and keep digging. Or we can stop, indulge in introspection and opt for course correction. But course correction won’t be easy. For decades the state has brainwashed its people and trained them in the art of denying responsibility for the consequences of their actions. We are caught in a vicious cycle now: a society once radicalised curtails elbowroom for the state.

Even for the benefit of those who can only be motivated by hate for the West and not the need for self-preservation, in this age of technology, information, science and ideas it is not possible to defeat a developed West through machetes and suicide bombers. Supporting anarchists will not help the cause of Muslims in any way. If we seek honour and ascendency we will need to return from fantasyland to the real world. We will need to teach ourselves that prayers alone won’t get the job done. We will need to assume the burden and responsibility of human agency.