Friday, 30 January 2015

Terrorism is a major threat to peace in South Asia, speech of Dr Shabir Choudhry in a conference on terrorism in Vienna on 30 Jan. 15

Terrorism is a major threat to peace in South Asia, speech of Dr Shabir Choudhry in a conference on terrorism in Vienna on 30 Jan. 15

Mr Chairman, friends and colleagues aslamo alaikam and very good afternoon.

Topic of this conference is ‘Terrorism and its impact on the region of South Asia’. Before we say anything else it is imperative that we try to define what constitutes terrorism. It is sad that despite loss of so many innocent lives, human rights violations, up till now there is no agreed definition of terrorism.
There is an old saying: one person’s freedom fighter is other person’s terrorist; and there is a lot of truth in this statement.

It is generally agreed that when people commit acts of violence with intention of killing civilians or non combatants; or take people hostage with intention of inflicting fear in public or killing them, it is referred as terrorism. The culprits are called terrorists. The motives of terrorism could be different in each case; but in each terrorist act people are killed, intimidated and rights of ordinary people are violated.

Cynics say, when jet fighters or some flying machines are employed to kill people it is not called terrorism, because that is covered under counter terrorism measures even though that also inflict fear and seriously curb civil liberties. Because all governments have obligation to protect life and liberty of all the citizens, it is generally agreed that governments whether they are democratic or undemocratic have a legitimate right to use force, kill people and violate certain human rights.

Terrorism could be further divided in to the following:
1/International (or Transnational) Terrorism;
2/ Non State Supported Terrorism;
3/ State Directed Terrorism;
4/ State Supported Terrorism.
International (or Transnational) Terrorism: Terrorism has become a ‘business’ for some; and it is no longer confined to boundaries of any one country. Terrorists have very complex international network and terrorism transcends national boundaries.  Its planning can take in one country and its execution could be in other countries thousands of miles away. This kind of terrorism attracts wider publicity and help terrorists to promote their demands and cause.
In order to combat this kind of terrorism a sincere and concerted international effort is required. 
Non State Supported Terrorism.   Terrorist groups which are highly organised with their own finance and infrastructure; and good command and control system with sophisticated system of communication. They, by and large, operate autonomously without receiving any significant support from any Government.
State Directed Terrorism. This class of terrorist groups operate as agents of a Government and act as a proxy to a government to advance interest or cause of that government or a cause which is mutually beneficial. They receive substantial intelligence, logistic and operational support from the sponsoring Government.
State Supported Terrorism.  This class of terrorist groups have somewhat independent existence with their own resources and their own agenda; but at times they receive help, support and guidance from one or more Governments.
Right of expression
Mr Chairman
Right of expression is a fundamental human right. Value of this right must be respected and protected. But is it not strange that when a Black person is insulted, he is protected under racism laws; when a Jew is insulted he is protected under anti Semitism laws; when a woman is insulted she is protected under equality laws; when a gay is insulted he is protected under homophobic laws; but when Almighty’s best creation, and last prophet Mohammed PBUH, who is followed by more than a billion people is insulted, culprits are protected under cover of Free Speech.
Free Speech should have some responsibilities as well? Right of expression should not be taken as a licence to ridicule others, especially faiths of others? Jammu Kashmir International People’s Alliance strongly believes that we should work to promote free speech with some sense of responsibility. We should oppose intolerance, extremism and terrorism. We should respect all religions and must not insult religious beliefs of other people.
However, if some people abuse right of expression and insult another religion, it does not mean that followers of that religion should behave irrationally and commit terrorism. This is against teaching of Islam and practise of Prophet Mohammed PBUH. In his life the Prophet Mohammed PBUH was insulted and even beaten up. When he came to power he forgave all of them. And those Muslims who commit terrorism are clearly going against his practise.
An Indian writer, Rakhshanda Jalil, in her article published in Indian Express on 14 January 2015, wrote that Charlie Hebdo previously published as Hara-Kiri since 1970. It was shut down by the French government for making fun of Charles de Gaulle. No one at that time protested that closing of Hara Kiri was against free speech. 1
The magazine resumed its publication in 1992 with a new name of Charlie Hebdo; and apparently claimed the right to offend Islam and Muslims, and offend with impunity. However, it must be remembered that one of Charlie Hebdo’s staff member, Maurice Sinet, was sacked in 2009 for being anti-Semitic. Sinet had mocked then President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son for marrying a Jewish heiress for her money; he was lambasted by the French intelligentsia and pressure was brought upon the newspaper’s editor to fire him since he refused to apologise. Strangely, no one protested that right of Free Speech was suppressed in France. 2

Islam and terrorism
Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood. It also promotes free speech, tolerance and equality. Prophet Mohammed promoted moderation and kindness. He Said: “I do not want extremism and disenchantment to be seen in your religion (Baihaqi).”

The Qur'an declares:  "Let there be no compulsion (or coercion) in the religion (Islam). The right direction is distinctly clear from error." (Qur’an 2:256)

Almighty God says: “Whosoever kills a person without any reason (of murder or mischief in the earth); it is as though he has killed all the people. And whosoever saves a single life, it is as though he has saved all the people.” (Surah al-Maaida, 5:32)

Despite this unambiguous message of Islam, illogical acts of some misguided people not only create more problems for embattled Muslims, but they also defame Islam and its message of peace and brotherhood. British government established a Task Force in 2013 to help to formulate policies to tackle Radicalisation and Extremism. In its report the Task Force defines Islamist Extremism as:

‘An ideology which is based on distorted interpretation of Islam, which betrays Islam’s peaceful principles, and draws on the teachings of the likes of Sayyid Qutb.’  3

So one can see even the British Task Force acknowledge in its report that Islam is a religion of peace. Problem, however, emerge when some Muslims with their myopic view of the world and Islam commit acts that are contrary to the teaching of Islam. Islam teaches peace, tolerance and respect for other faiths. These misguided Muslims, on the other hand, promote intolerance, hatred and violence.

It is clear from the above that Islam and overwhelming majority of Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism; but we have to acknowledge this bitter fact that some misguided people use name of Islam to advance their agenda and defame Islam and create problems for Muslims. To blame Islam for terrorism, or to assume that these misguided people are representatives of Islam is similar to claim that the Ku Klux Klan is representative of Christianity.
Some causes of terrorism
Mr Chairman
We need to look at some causes of terrorism as well. One narrative is that extremist views and beliefs can lead people to commit terrorist actions or become accomplice. Those who support this discourse recommend that extremist views must be challenged and promoters must be apprehended.

Another narrative is that people with extremist views should not be prohibited to express 
their views, as that will build anger and frustration which could lead to violence and terrorism. Instead, they should be allowed to express their views; and they should be countered logically, and efforts should be made to engage them in dialogue and make them part of the system rather than alienate them.

This policy will help to either educate potential terrorists or neutralise them; or at least provide them with an alternative view point which runs counter to their beliefs. People who are in a position of power must make efforts to ensure that these people are not alienated and frustrated, because those who are excluded from the system are more likely to be influenced by the radicals and terrorists.

On one hand these fanatics and misguided people promote hatred and intolerance; and propagate that the West has unleashed a war on Islam; on the other hand people belonging to far right and Neoconservatives wrongly assume that it is extreme religious ideologies which create a mindset that commits terrorism. They tend to focus on acts of violence where culprits are Muslims, and conclude that Muslims and Islamic teaching is responsible for acts of terrorism.

By adopting this approach they intentionally or otherwise, leave out other forms of terrorism, and provide justification for their actions against Muslim states and Muslims. They tend to ignore other forms of terrorism, for example, political and ethnic terrorism or terrorism in general. In many places acts of terrorism have been committed where there were no religious motives, for example, in America (and in some other places too) where individuals killed school children or other people and then committed suicide.

People in this category could have some psychological problems, or they may have some personal issues with individuals or with some institutions. People could have had very rough and unfair treatment in life and he/she holds society or some sections of the society responsible for their miseries. In some cases people are deprived of fundamental human rights, and what they rightly deserve to own and enjoy. This deprivation and discriminatory treatment builds anger and frustration, which can, at times, lead people to take drastic measures to satisfy their anger.

As a result of accumulative anger and frustration, they strongly feel that culprits or those associated with them must be taught a lesson. These lone angry wolves can go to any lengths to do what they think is right. So it is not prudent to associate all kinds of terrorism with some ‘poisonous extremist ideology’ or some religious ideology.

In view of the above argument, terrorism should not be perceived as an issue related to any religion or a nation. It is an international problem and must be seen in a wider context. Furthermore, terrorism should not be seen as a product of Islamic culture; or that Islam is anti West and anti modernism.

Many Muslims strongly feel they are victims of inequality and unfair treatment by the West. They believe that because of their superiority in new technology and arms they victimise and exploit the Muslims around the world. At times, their frustration and sense of helplessness manifest in adopting extremism and violence.

It must be noted that more terrorist acts have been committed against Muslims rather than non Muslims; so it will be wrong to say that Muslims who commit terrorism do so because they are anti West, anti Christians or anti Jews etc. I am sure there could be other reasons why people commit terrorism. For example, some people believe that poverty, inequality and discrimination at home together with other degrading treatment could create fertile conditions in which extremism can flourish. The Western exploitation of Muslim resources and military misadventures could inflame sentiments and can encourage people to become violent.
In Western countries, violence is generally attributed to Muslim fundamentalism, fanaticism, clash of cultures and lack of education. While asserting this, they tend to forget that overwhelming majority of Muslims condemn acts of violence against innocent people. However, some people urge writers and thinkers and media people of the West to understand the rationale why some people happily sacrifice their lives.
Supporters and promoters of terrorism
No terrorist organization can exist and function in a ‘vacuum’. They heavily rely on local support which could be from powerful religious, ethnic or regional parties; or in some cases directly from a State which uses its organs to support and train these terrorists. People generally only talk about the terrorists who commit violent acts; they overlook the fact terrorists cannot be successful without a considerable support provided to them. There is someone there to provide them logistic support. Someone sitting in a safe place who plans the action; and there is someone who provides funds for such actions. There is someone who preaches violence; and incites people to commit such drastic actions which not only kill other human beings; but also seriously endanger their own lives and lives of friends, colleagues and even their own families. So, to eradicate terrorism, it is imperative that these states are identified and pressurised to stop their support for terrorists.

It must also be noted that terrorists are hungry for publicity. They need media attention to reach out to people to promote their objectives or their mission. So there could be people in media who are their hidden allies.

In some cases, some governments directly or indirectly promote extremism and terrorism. They help to set up groups which apparently provide religious teaching or provide welfare support; but their actual role is to prepare extremists and terrorists who could be used to advance the cause of that government.

Whether we like it or not, Islamic Republic of Pakistan is regarded as ‘epic centre of terrorism’. Extremism got a big boost in Pakistan during the military government of General Zia Ul Haq. Under the government patronage and with help of the American dollars and Saudi support religious schools flourished with aim of producing Jihadi warriors to fight the Soviet Russia.

New brand of Islam, which is now known as radical Islam or Wahabi Islam was promoted to advance a political agenda. Extremism and terrorism became an industry which made many people rich and powerful. These people with help of this petro dollar influence and newly acquired power dominated the civil society; and to some extent, made the government and society hostage. The ordinary people of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir are still paying the price for this selfish and erroneous policy with their blood and suffering.

Various governments of Pakistan, for many decades, used these extremist groups to advance their agenda. These people were known as strategic assets of Pakistan. These Jihadi warriors were successfully used to keep India engaged in Jammu and Kashmir, of course, the policy resulted in death of tens of thousands of innocent people of Jammu and Kashmir; and immense suffering for the people of the divided State of Jammu and Kashmir.

These Jihadi warriors were also successfully used against the Soviet Russia in Afghanistan. Pakistan continued to call shots in Afghanistan even after the Russian withdrawal. This policy continued even when Pakistan was an ally in the war against terrorism; and many experts regarded Pakistan as a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.

In this regard, Carlotta Gall in her book, The Wrong Enemy asserts that ‘Pakistan army plays a double game by supporting the terrorists while enjoying the status of an ally with the United States and NATO... “Pakistan, not Afghanistan, has been the true enemy.” 4

Mr Chairman
This is not to say that Pakistan has not suffered from terrorism, but problem is, despite so much suffering they have not learnt any lessons from their drastic policy. They continue to patronage or ignore some extremist groups, and their infrastructure is still intact; and they are still regarded as assets of Pakistan. Despite much publicised operation against terrorists the concept of ‘good terrorist’ and ‘bad terrorist’ still exists.

They need to understand that they cannot win a war against extremism and terrorism by being selective; or by just trimming branches of terrorism while the whole tree is left intact. They need to seriously look at their policy regarding religious schools and regulate them.

Apart from that the government needs to look at role of some English medium schools as well, because some militant outfits have established English medium schools to equip their ‘students’ with the modern technology that they can use it to advance their agenda.
Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the US, in his article, Our Jihad Addiction makes very serious observation, he wrote and I quote:

Pakistan’s jihadists are already exercising virtual veto over Pakistan’s relations with India. The Mumbai attack proved Lashkar-e-Taiba’s ability to undermine the initiatives of a civilian government for normalization of India-Pakistan relations. They could, in future, force the Pakistani military’s hand in a similar manner...Over the decades, Pakistan has managed to evade crises and failure status primarily because the international community has bailed it out. But now the rest of the world sees Pakistan as Jihad Central. Camps nestled in the tribal areas have trained and equipped militants who have gone on to fight in the name of Allah in different regions of the world. Foreign fighters trained in Pakistan have reportedly been in action in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria and China’s Xinjiang region. It is no longer possible to keep Pakistani jihadists as a strategic reserve “only to cause damage to India.”  Unquote 5  

Another Pakistani writer and famous journalist Marvi Simed, in her daring article, Death of Dissent, questions Pakistani establishment’s intentions with regard to war on terrorism, she wrote, and I quote:

‘When are the arrests going to be made for Haqqani network leaders? Has the Quetta Shura been abandoned from Pakistan’s soil? Have they been ousted from Para Chinar and Kurram? If not, are they going to be arrested? Is a new military offensive in the offing in Kurram? With thick clouds on the current military operation and without any independent reporting on it, one wonders what method the Army implies to identify those killed in aerial strikes as terrorists? How come there is no collateral damage, which was trumpeted out of proportion in the case of (much more precise) drone strikes?’  Unquote 6

Mr Chairman
I want to conclude by saying that the Pakistani establishment and government must realise that their wrong policies of promoting extremism and terrorism have come back to haunt them. You cannot nurture forces of extremism and violence, and hope that they will not harm them, especially when these extremists have an agenda of their own. I want to conclude by a quote of Khawaja Asif, Pakistani Minister of Defence, who On 16 December 2014,  said: “There is absolutely no doubt about it, that the Taliban the extremists are the biggest threat to the peace in this region, to the peace in Pakistan to the existence of Pakistan”. 7

If Pakistani government and establishment do not change their erroneous policy of playing a ‘good cop and bad cop’, while apparently fighting terrorism and extremism, they will miserably fail in fight against terrorism; and Pakistan will suffer immensely. This wrong policy will not only result in more bloodshed, but it will seriously endanger future of Pakistan. END

2.    Ibid
3.    HM Government, Tackling Extremism in UK: Report from the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism, December 2013, Pages 1-2

5.     Our Jihad addiction -, Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the U.S., is Director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute. Jan 10-17, 2015, issue.
6.      The Nation, Tuesday Jan 20, 2015

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