The changing mindset

The changing mindset

By Tahir Ali

The frequent terror strikes seem to have caused visible shifts in public opinion. Militants and their political supporters are loosing popular support in the backdrop of an emerging anti-private jihad consensus in the country. But the fact is people are afraid of the invisible enemy and most avoid making open hostile statements against the insurgents for fear of reprisal. And that it is still a long way to go to achieve that terror/retaliation free environment in the country.

Analysts say there are several positive signs. The security establishment has shunned its earlier policy of appeasement or support to the militants. Much of the political leadership has also given up its familiar reluctance to act against the militants. Religious-political parties, forced by the heat of anti-extremist sentiments, have reconciled their strategies and abandoned their Jihadi tones. There is increasing support to the security forces in militancy-hit zones. Jihadi charity boxes have disappeared from markets. Religious scholars avoid Jiahdi sermons. Most of the illegal FM radio stations, the biggest tool of extremist propaganda, have gone silent and so on.

Until recently, New Year nights’ programmes, cinema houses and billboards with women pictures were attacked. Music functions were forcefully stopped. Students were openly enticed to volunteer for ‘Jihad’ first in Afghanistan and then in Kashmir. Picture and video shows were organised profusely to attract youngsters to ‘Jihad’.

However, situation has changed now. Religious parties that once talked of hoisting national flag on the Red Fort of Delhi and threatened suicide attacks against foreign naval ships avoid similar outbursts. New Year nights and night-clubs are no more attacked by baton-wielding workers. ‘Kashmir has been left to the Kashmiris’. Religious parties don’t run any Jihadi training/fund raising campaigns any more.

“Save a minority comprising a few right wing/religious parties, majority population is no more interested in the Jihadi rhetoric and culture. This could be the beginning of a new era in Pakistan marked by more tolerance and moderation,” argued a political activist wishing not to be named.

Renowned analyst and religious scholar Dr Mohammad Farooq Khan said it was a happy development that around 99 per cent of population and military and political leadership were on the same frequency on how to tackle the threat.

“We had been advocating since the last 15 years that private jihad is not only against Islam but is also a dangerous strategy. We are happy that finally the establishment and religious parties have realised it. They have practically given up their practical support to jihad though the latter would hardly accept it. No doubt they have done so after bad practical experiences and were late to do that, it is a welcome development anyway,” he said.

“Musharraf and the previous MMA-led NWFP government had shown criminal negligence vis-à-vis the Taliban in Malakand which made things difficult for the coming government. But happily the operations- ‘Rah-e-rast’ in Swat and ‘Rah-e-Nijat’ in Waziristan- have been the most successful ever operations of the world history,” Khan added.

Former chief secretary FATA and security expert Brigadier Mehmood Shah agreed that an anti private jihad consensus was developing in society. “Swatis are now openly supporting the government but the situation in Waziristan is not that encouraging. There is general fear amongst the people there militants might come back in the area.”

“But one thing is for sure that people have overwhelmingly turned against the misuse of religion for political motives. It is in this back ground that the religious parties have shunned militant approaches. They simply cannot go against the tide. To save society from the threat of extremism and terrorism, a civil society movement like the one for restoration for judiciary is needed. Live media has exposed the religious parties to the nation. The religious class in simply unable to lead the nation. Modern religious scholars and intellectuals should take the interpretation of religion from them,” he commented.

Dr Begum Jan, chairperson tribal women welfare association, didn’t see any positive outcome any time soon. “We are just harvesting what we had sown years ago. Security situation is worse despite claims of victory in Malakand and I think the announced surge in US troops in Afghanistan would just add fuel to fire.”

“But one development is encouraging to see. I saw in 2001 when Mullahs agitated against the US invasion in my area that they were given generous donations for onward supply to Afghan Taliban. But if these Mullahs ask for funds today, I am afraid the people would beat them either,” she said.

Begum Jan said the people of Waziristan and other agencies had suffered badly and they would never ever support the mullahs.

“Now we should save our children in the given scenario from religious seminaries and offer them religious education at home. The government should bring FATA at par with rest of the country through fast track and corruption free development schemes. It should provide jobs to the youth in the region to save them from extremists who give them lucrative offers in return for support,” she said.

Militancy hit areas like parts of Malakand division are experiencing shifts in general perceptions. Security agencies are having the greatest ever popular support.

Former federal minister and nationalist leader Afzal Khan Lala said people had supported the militants not out of love but for fear because they killed their opponents. “They may give even more support to army and the government if they are emboldened and ensured of safety. There is not yet hundred per cent support to security forces. For example, one of the two main tribes in Shah Dheri Kabal has formed a lashkar against the militants but the other is reluctant to do so. The security forces have more communication and interaction with the general public,” he opined. Lala also chastised the religious parties for not opposing militants. He praised Army for getting the area rid of insurgents.

Amir Muqam, president of the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) NWFP and a parliamentarian, said how the nation could support those who killed their children, brothers and destroyed their businesses.

Muqam said that the army had established writ of the state for which the nation stood indebted to it. “But this now will have to be maintained by the civilian forces. Basic amenities would have to be provided and problems solved. There should be a sound plan to deal with the post-operation situation. There still fear of return of militants. Militants after all have not been eliminated altogether. The government must safeguard those who side with it,” he said.

Sadullah Khan from Buner said the army has won us the area back. “It has done that in Swat and Wazristan too. The notion of invincibility of militants has been buried for ever.”

An old man from Kabal Swat, wishing anonymity, said Swatis followed the extremists because they talked good. “They disappointed us when they took over the area. We will never support them and would rather support the government. Let us hope that it would be the old tolerant Buner and Swat where different religious groups have lived peacefully for centuries,” he said.

The man narrated a family of Syeds in his area commanded respect. “We always accepted their arbitration in our controversies. But the family joined the Taliban. And the people of the area then killed several of them with their own hands,” he said.

US president Barrack Obama also alluded to the fact in his last address.  “In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who have argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight. But in recent years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, public opinion has turned,” he said.

There is a growing national pride. “The tragedy was huge. The state acted like a mother. Had it not come up to the expectations, the tragedy would have been more devastating. The militants wanted to create disbelief but miserably failed,” argued Shakir khan, a former IDP from Swat.

There were frequent desertions from the army and police in initial days. Around 80 percent personal in Swat and Buner had deserted for fear of militants. That trend has reversed. And recently there has been a new urge in the youngsters to join the security forces.

“When enemies are bent upon destroying the society, why should I lag behind? Though I didn’t want to join army or police in the past, I now am for it. I want to fight Pakistan’s enemies and take them head on,” declared Saeed Khan, a college student in Charsadda.

Collection of donations by jihadi organisations has also declined. There are indeed Chanda boxes in shops and markets but these are of Sahara Trust, Shaukat Khanum memorial hospital and other genuine humanitarian organisations.

“The phenomenon has weakened for various reasons: People don’t like to give donations as they did in the past. They are fed up of mushroomed growth of Jihadi outfits. Poverty is also a factor. They avoid it for fear of arrests too,” said a shopkeeper in Mardan who wished not to be named.

Swat Taliban also collected huge sums through donations given by the people especially women. Jehnazeb from Mingora Swat said they didn’t know they would buy arms with their alms.

“They were given generous alms to build, as they had promised, mosques and madrassas. But look! Where did the money turn out at the end? We had no idea that they would buy arms with our money to wage war against Pakistan and kill our children,” he added.

There were numerous FM channels were in the air before the latest onslaught against the extremists in Malakand and the tribal belt. These were blatantly used for anti-state and extremist propaganda. Almost all of these stand closed now.

However minorities living in the Malakand and tribal belt have also been severely affected by the ongoing tensions. Buner and Swat had a sizable presence of Hindu and Sikh people. Atleast 15 families, including some known professionals, have migrated to India of late.

Ashok Kapoor, the general secretary of the Hindu-Sikh Sudhar Sabah, said though the violence was not specific to them, minorities have suffered badly. “We know how the minorities could be safe when majority was not. But that ensuing lack of security and slump in businesses has led to migration of quite a few of them to India is agonising to say the least. Jagdesh Lal, the son of Bhajan Lal, was kidnapped in 2003 but he is yet to return homes. Tilak Raj left Mingora for India when his brother was killed last Ramazan and his own life was endangered. The family of Dr Mohen Kumar, a notable doctor from Buner, has also shifted to India insecurity. Dr Jian Parkash, also from Buner who ran a big hospital there, also plans to go because of his brother’ murder. Others are also considering departure which would be a tragedy if materialised. Pakistan is our country. We want to live here.”

Kapoor said the mainstream population was very caring for their community. But community needs motivation, support and coordinated efforts on part of district administrations, NGOs and security forces to change their minds from leaving the country.

Siraj-ul-Haq, former senior minister and ex-amir of Jamat-e-Islami however declined to accept that Jihadi culture had weakened and that new developments had forced them shun Jihadi tenors.  “Jihad continues in Afghanistan. We think that US interference there and in Pakistan is the root cause of the problems. We have started our jihad against the USA- the go America go campaign- by organising political rallies and train marches.”

Haq said JI believed in political and constitutional means. “JI never had any military wing. We don’t believe in under ground activities. If any one thinks JI is a B-team of agencies, he should remove this misconception.”

(tahir_katlang @yahoo.com)

Advertisements

About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: