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There is no commonly accepted definition of "terrorism". Being a charged term, with the connotation of something "mo...

Friday, June 26, 2015

Left wing, right wing, broken wing: Short history of Terrorist Groups in Pakistan

Most major operations of the Pakistan Military in the last decade or so have almost entirely concentrated on such groups stationed in the tribal areas near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and also in certain more well settled parts of the region, such as Swat.

The immediate rationale behind the emergence of extremist groups in these areas has to do with the permissive policies of the Ziaul Haq dictatorship (1977-88) that allowed the proliferation of non-conventional religious groups across Pakistan during the war that erupted between Afghan insurgents and the Soviet-backed government in Kabul in the 1980s.

Pakistan played the role of a facilitator in the war, channelling the funds and arms received from the US and Saudi Arabia to various insurgent groups who increasingly saw their battie against the Kabul regime as a holy struggle.

Pakistan also provided indoctrination facilities to these groups. The indoctrination was largely undertaken by radical clerics who till the late 1970s had been on the fringes of society.

It is correct to suggest that such manoeuvres by the state of Pakistan were instrumental in turning large swaths of Pakistan`s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province into areasthat became increasingly infested by a number of religious militant outfits (many of which eventually turned against the state of Pakistan).

But there are some political scientists who suggest that the anti-Soviet insurgency in the 1980s was just one reason that triggered the appearance of religious militancy and insurgencies in KP.

They suggest that some of the earliest fighters (from Pakistan) who joined the Afghan insurrection at the start of the anti-Soviet insurgency in early 1980 were actually first radicalised by certain militant leftist groups that had been active in KP in the 1970s.

In Beyond Swal (edited by Magnus Marsden), anthropologist Charles Lindholm in his paper based on his on-field study in Swat in the 1970s suggests that young men in Swat com-ing from less well-to-do families were first radicalised by the socialist message of former prime minister and chairman of the PPP, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Lindholm informs that young Swatis voted in droves for the PPP in the 1977 election (that were declared void by the Zia dictatorship after that year`s military coup).

These young Bhutto enthusiasts worked actively against religious parties and non-religious conservative groups whom they accused of being in league with the landed elite of Swat.

Interestingly Lindholm then goes on to inform that in the 1980s, when polities based on religious populism began to peak and was welded with right-wing militant groups that had begun to crop up during the Zia regime, young men from Swat`s working and lower-middle class backgrounds who had been radicalised by Bhutto`s populist and leftist rhetoric, started to colour their angry stances with an equally angry `Islamist` point of view. Lindholm saw this trend unfold during his stay in Swat between 1977 and late 1980s.

There is weight in this observation.

Because ever since the 1980s incidents have come to light in which some early recruits of religious militant outfits in Swat once had links with either polities of the radical left or with the equally radical Pakhtun nationalist tendencies.

One of the most prominent examples in this respect is of the renegade leader of perhaps the most belligerent factions of the Pakistani Taliban, Mullah Fazalullah.

As a teen in Swat in 1990, Fazalullah is reported to have been attached to the politics of the student-wing of the Pakhtun nationalist party, the Awami National Party (ANP), whereas other reports claim that he was associated with the youth wing of the PPP.

On the surface this may suggest an inherent extremist moving from one extreme to another.But in his study, Lindholm treats the phenomenon (in Swat), as being about a generation that was made aware (by Bhutto) of certain overpowering economic and political discrepancies and it expressed its discontent through an idea that was at the time promising radical change (socialism). But sections of this generation then moved to another promising idea (militant faith) once the earlier idea withered away from popular imagination.

If so, then those discrepancies are still present. And recently with the kind of battering the second radical idea has suffered (after it turned against the state and eventually on itself with its anarchic violence), what shape has the shifting radical tendency that (according to Lindholm) has been present in Swat since the 1970s, taken now`? Something similar also happened elsewhere in KP. For example, most scholars on religious militancy in Pakistan points to the fact that one of the first Pakistani recruits to volunteer to take part in the Afghan conflict of the 1980s, were members of the student wing of the right-wing Jamaat-i-Islami (JI).

Indeed, but what gets missed in this regard is the fact that some of the very early recruits from Pakistan who joined the conflict were actually men who had first taken up arms against the government in the early 1970s.

Between 1969 and 1974 the hilly Hashtnagar area in KP was the scene of several peasant uprisings and insurgencies against landlords (Khans). The insurgency was initiated and led by the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP).

The MKP was a far-left/ Maoist outfit that had broken away from the mainstream left-wing party, the National Awami Party (NAP) in 1968.

MKP cadres travelled to Hashinagar with Urdu and Pashto translations of radical Marxist and Maoist literature and then with light weapons. They began a programme of indoctrinating the poorest peasants of the area, and then trained them in guerrilla warfare.

A number of landlords were driven out and their lands occupied by MKP led peasants. However, by 1974 the movement was crushed when it began to spill into villages of (South) Punjab.

Dozens of young peasants who had taken part in the fighting (under a red flag), then became some of the earliest Pakistanis to join the first Afghan Islamic insurgent groups who were allowed set up shop in KP soon after the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet forces.

In 2002 when American planes began bombarding the Taliban-held Afghanistan, I happened to bump into one Ilyas in Islamabad. Ilyas, a Pakhtun living in Peshawar, was distributing posters of Osama Bin Laden (along with his cousin), and protesting against the US bombing. He was then in his early 40s and claimed to have fought for MKP in 1973 as a young man.

He told me that after the MKP movement collapsed, he was befriended by a group of young clerics (in 1980) who sent him to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets. He returned in 1984 and vowed to fight for an `Islamic revolution` in Pakistan.

In 2002 he told me he was again preparing to go to Afghanistan. In 2006, I managed to meet his cousin again who now claimed that lllyas did go to Afghanistan, but this time did not return. 
By Nadeem F Priacha Dawn.com