Terrorism is the political headline of Pakistan. All known forms of terrorist activity (religious, sectarian, ethnic, nationalist) is taking place in the nuclear armed- country and some scholars have gone as far as to indicate the fast approaching breakdown of the State. How much such claims may sound exaggerated, but it is true that not a single eye glancing the country’s landscape will miss flashes of explosives, maimed bodies and destroyed infrastructure. The onslaught of Islamist insurgency in the Tribal Areas after US invaded Afghanistan is recent, albeit the deadliest, addition to terrorism history that goes as far as back to the time of the creation of the State itself.
Since the present article talks about terrorism in Pakistan, it is pertinent to define at outset what exactly the term terrorism means. Although it’s a contentious issue and there is not a single mutually agreed definition of the term that exist. But two important features are generally accepted as hallmark of terrorist action. Number one is the use of violence to pursue a politically motivated agenda. Second is the scope of the message which is intended for an audience that goes beyond the immediate victim to larger community that the targeted individual(s) belongs to. If this definition is followed, then after the bloody events that took place during the partition, the first noteworthy episode of terrorism in Pakistan is the riots against Ahmediyya community spearheaded by Islamist radicals such as Ahrar-Islam, to force the Government to designate the community non-Muslim. Another important demand of the agitators was to exclude the Ahmediyya community from Government jobs. Incidentally, this agitation took place when four months prior to it, constituent assembly in its final draft of Objective Resolution, a collection of rules which were to guide the future constitution, reserved the seat of Head of the State as exclusively Muslim domain. I come back to this historical incident to support the framework, outlined below, to understand terrorism in Pakistan.
State has monopoly over the means of violence. This sheer imbalance between State and Society in their capacity to exercise violence is a political reality embedded in the contemporary political order of the world and for many ordinary mortals a natural uninteresting fact. The psychological consequences of this which shape the political understanding of the masses is obviously, since the imbalance feels natural and necessary, that the only violence that makes sense is the violence of the State. Any other actor emerging from the society which tries to violate this imbalance is considered brute and its violence senseless. There is also tendency in the society at large, and of course led by the State in such enterprise, is to deprive the brute actor of all the entitlements associated with how national-society defines itself and are dubbed into such categories, as media describes as “radical” “non-Stat actors” “ foreign funded miscreants” etc. The attempted abstract division of “Us” and “Them” is smoke screen that State and Society consciously or unconsciously create to elude the uneasiness that arises due to realization of the crisis and the contradictions within. For it exposes the weaknesses, and in the “nations” will to power, weakness is a crime!
Observers who frequently survey the domestic politics and social dynamics of Pakistan are likely to approve of the country’s rampant attempts at such “elusiveness”. Mostly, the terrorists are some unknown strange violence perpetrators running on dictums of some internationally hatched conspiracy to destroy the country. However, once the smokescreen is lifted with a stroke of dispassionate observance, the picture that emerges of terrorism in Pakistan is a bloody clash for power and influence between different groups of society. Terrorist violence seems to be a one political strategy among many others to negotiate power and influence whose very frequent use indicate the level of entrenched divisions and lack of possibilities and will for political compromises between various actors involved. The ongoing bloody turbulence in Tribal Areas is essentially a question of power, that who should have the power in the region. The inflow of Al Qaeda militants into the area after US launched operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan precipitated Pakistan army to respond and cleanse the area of militants. Historically the region has not hosted army personnel. So as the army moved into area, should such bloody eruption of Tribalist be defined as out of time insurrection of some antique religious fanatics or power hungry actors competing for power they deem too precious to lose?
The ethnic rivalry in the port city of Karachi is again a battle between different groups negotiating power and influence through the use of violence. The agenda of the Baluch nationalist is the control of the regional resources which they claim are being unfairly exploited by the ruling elite who does not represent them. It should be clear that representation of terrorism in this manner is not meant as an apology for terrorists who use violence against the people but quite oppositely to instigate a different framework, which transcends any moral idealization and sharp categorization of the victims and perpetrators, for understanding terrorism in this part of the world.
This framework follows State centered approach, where the State is an institution that monopolizes the means of violence, an unchallenged power to adjudicate, and a gargantuan capacity of social transformation through its all pervasiveness and command of technology. Its attraction rests in the fact that the above mentioned features gives it a brilliant capacity to generate rents from the economy and itself serves as an incentive for political mobilization. This mobilization can take violent form once its peaceful manifestations are not accommodated. State power is a constant incentive and its ability to change the nature of the classes make fight for it’s a fight beyond the class war.
Numbers of features unite post-colonial states in their common political heritage. One is the obvious history of being colonized by the European power. The second is the exogenous institutionalization of the modern State in this part of the world. These States were not formed through evolutionary process like in Europe where changes in productive relations brought the ascendancy of Bourgeois over the Feudal Class and who, after ascending the feudal lordship, eventually succeeded in replacing the absolute monarchy with constitutional one and parliamentary form of government. This was accompanied at popular level with the emergence of unified nations, which again capitalism, as Benedict Anderson reveals, had role to play through its printing revolution, information dissemination and standardization of language among many other factors. This all happened in the background of Renaissance where religious/sectarian identities loosened grip on individual and from idea of rationality, emerged the idea of modern mode of constitutional government, theorizing everyone as equal before the law. To a large extent, every western nation State, though with some notable exception, seems to incorporate within its jurisdiction the majority of the same nation it claims to represent. These historical features however are missing in the State formation in this part of the world. The Europeans brought with them the concept of modern State, institutionalized where they rule, with no corresponding process taking lead in society at large that could knot fate of the diverse communities into the idea of one nation.
As power is concentrated within one institution, while solidarity at social level is more pronounced at group level for example as religious/ sectarian community, caste, tribal etc, rather than in society as a whole, this unleashes a “scramble for power”, as groups within society compete for the State control. One of its classic examples is the idea of separate country for Muslims in India for it was born out of the fear of not being able to secure adequate representation in the power corridors. Pakistan was established on 14th August 1947, however, all it served to do was to narrow down the arena of fight for power and rents between the communities inhabiting the area of the new country. The religious identity was not the only identity that could serve to produce a homogenous nation. Rather, once the State was formed, other identities came into action for mobilizing the communities in their claim for power.
The party which led Pakistan movement was Muslim League whose elite cadre hailed from Hindu-majority province of UP (United Province). This elite group was relatively more educated among Muslim community, and for that reason, were the ones more conscious of the competition that they faced from majority Hindu community in securing government jobs. Hamza Alavi term this community as Salariat which depended on government jobs for its economic survival.
After the creation of the State, this Urdu speaking community migrated to Pakistan and settled mainly in Karachi and Hyderabad, in Sindh province. Due to its experience in government jobs and training in Western education, this community, despite making 4 percent of the total population of the new country, occupied most of the position in State bureaucracy. The interest of this community was therefore to preserve its status and privileged position in power corridors and the easiest way to do this was to privilege the means that gives this community a leverage in keeping its hold on the power. Urdu, the language of this community, and English were made National and State languages , thus tilting the power balance in this community’s favor.
The first reaction to such attempted exclusion from power came from Bengal and then from Sindh. The economics behind the was comparative disadvantage non-Urdu speaking community would face in accumulating necessary human capital, due to language handicap, to build up adequate credentials to claim the share in power. Urdu being national language also entitles it to be the language of curriculum, along with English, and thus making gains in higher education and possibilities of socio-economic advancement contingent on it. Bengal seceded from Pakistan in 1971 to form Bangladesh.
The fight for power in Sindh was going to take more deadly form in the coming years. One of the first preludes to the coming storm was the boycott of exams in 1958 by the Sindhi students. This imbalance of opportunities which State education program promoted served to create a division rather than producing nation united along linguistic lines. The ascendancy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a Sindhi politician, opened a new chapter in this struggle for power. His government reserved 60 percent quota for government jobs for the rural Sindh, inhabited mainly by Sindhi speaking people and made Sindhi, provincial language alongside Urdu. This was now resented by Urdu speaking community, for it hurt their privileged access to power and resulted in massive language riots in 1973. Another factor that contributed to tensions in the province was increased migration to Karachi of other ethnic groups such as Pashtuns, and easy availability of arms in the wake of Afghan Jihad.
The point that I intend to emphasize here is that ethnic terrorism was not due to one group or the other emerging from within society and spontaneously starting using violence as political tool rather the usage of the violence as political strategy, i.e. terrorism, was determined by the degree of exclusion that it faced in its bid for power. This degree of exclusion makes terrorism an attractive political strategy whose overall incentive is provided by the State itself, through its power to generate rents.
It was in the interest of the ruling regime in earlier years to make the language that they speak the language of power and promote it through its education program. But that merely served to sharpen the ethnic divisions for what it actually meant for indigenous communities was handicap in securing government jobs and power. The likely consequences of such policy is the political mobilization of a community to pursue its interest and, since that naturally means, soaring community consciousness, it further served to entrench ethnic divisions. Terrorism in this case is one strategy among others through which the community negotiates its interest with the power group running the State and rest of the communities.
The negative externalities of Afghan Jihad, such as weapons and drug flow, is blamed as one of the factor that contributed towards ethnic terrorism in Pakistan. This is true but this should not be mistaken as the root cause of terrorism since Afghan Jihad merely served as an exogenous factor which made violence less costly through the easy availability of arms. The role of language is excluding the Baluch people from power is evident from the fact most of the bureaucracy to run the provincial administration has be imported from outside the province.
The rise of religious militancy can also be studied in present framework where State privileged a certain religious segment of the society through certain sets of policies and established its exclusive claim to power and rents. The roots of Islamization in Pakistan are in the objective resolution which directed the constitution making in Pakistan to follow “Islamic” principles. The defense for this can be formulated by stating that the constitution, the rules of the games, were to be developed within the parameters of the ideology the majority population adhere to. But this goes against the sectarian as well as cultural diversity of Pakistan. The first to react against this was the non-Muslim community. A motion was forward against the “religious” bias of the Objective Resolution draft by Prem Hari Barma, a non Muslim member of constituent assembly. This was defeated by 21 votes (all Muslims) to 10 (all Non-Muslims). The tilted the balance in share for power in favor of Muslim community. Thereafter, the contest became “intercommunity” and Ahmeddiya were eventually elbowed out and consigned to title of non-Muslim, and since State claims to be “Islamic”, that compromised their claim to power as well. The self-identification of State as Muslim and the consequent diversity of Muslims at social level are well explained by the fact that after agitation against Ahmeddiya, a commission was set up to investigate the disturbance. The report of this commission, known as “Munir Commission” report after interviewing numerous religious Ulema came to conclusion that not two Ulema agreed to one definition of Muslim. This stance of the State where it becomes party to one community generated incentives for the groups within the community to compete for power. The interests of elite in the group is in keeping the divisions intact and rather sharpen it more which supports their exclusive claim to power.
This sectarian scramble for power became more conspicuous during the regime of Gen Zia ul Haq which spearheaded a massive campaign to Islamize society. This was to develop a constituency of support in domestic as well as international political arena. After toppling Bhutto government, Gen Zia allied with religious right to use religion as legitimizing tool for his unconstitutional rule as well to rally support for Jihad in Afghanistan. The international community, particularly United States and Saudia Arabia provided diplomatic but most importantly financial support to Gen Zia regime in the form of higher international rents, i.e. the aid. This Islamization enterprise had clear cut sectarian bias and the constituency of support to the regime was essentially of Sunni religious groups. The domestic imperative of this bias was that Pakistan is Sunni majority country and for that obvious reason the main support could only come from this community and its religious heads. Secondly, the international financier like Saudia Arabia had an ongoing strategic fight with Iran after Ayotallahs take over of the State in 1979 revolution and had an interest to bring “Sunni” regimes within its orbit of influence.
The alliance with regime provided these Sunni Islamist groups higher accesses to the rents in the form of aid and was encouraged to Islamize society using education and popular media. Along with higher funding their graduates were given special opportunities in the government jobs. The direct consequence of such policy was that the State created another violent actor contending for power, influence and the rents. It also legitimize the overt use of religion in politics which is likely to encourage local religious figure, facing sectarian competitors, to politically mobilize along sectarian lines thus further entrenching the divisions within society. One observes in ethnic politics, that the rise of Sindhi during 1970’s was resented by Urdu speaking community as threat against its established interests. Similarly, now in the current period the very same State which introduced sectarian actors in its legitimate political arena, tries to exclude them from the power and thus facing violent backlash from the affected parties.
The case of tribal areas fits within this framework as well. Tribal leaders resisted the control of Britian during its heyday of colonial rule in India for subjugation of community hurts the established interest of the ruling tribal leaders. Of course the culture plays a strong role in motivating a community to resist foreign control but the ultimate motivation comes from threat of losing the power. In post 9/11 period, after the US launched operation enduring freedom in Afghanistan, and as the Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters moved into tribal areas, Pakistan army launched the operation to cleanse the area of the militants. One way of describing the situation is to term tribal people as followers of as irrational ideology threatening the mainstream society. Another look to the situation reveals that as State tries to penetrate the areas which have been historically only under its nominal control, its arrival also disturbs the established economic and political systems which is resented by the actors who benefit from it. So far the State has functioned in this region by appointing Political Agents who theoretically and, to quite an extent practically, holds dictatorial power in the region. But the current phase of penetration means the transformation of the local order on much wider scale as to put the current beneficiaries in state of loss. For example, if State tends to transforms the process of adjudication in the area, that ought to make tribal leader irrelevant in adjudicating dispute. Similarly, if State tries to manipulate the economic system by influencing the flow of good across the borders, this ought to produce some affected parties. The interests of these parties are therefore to fight to sustain the current order intact. Imtiaz Gul sheds indirectly sheds light to economics behind the conflict that Arab fights fleeing from Afghanistan into tribal areas also brought the money with them whose sum outweigh the amount a particular tribal leader could secure from the State thus providing incentive for these leaders to support the militants.
Therefore, what one sees in Pakistan is the diverse array of social groups fighting each other to secure power and the rents. The State and its power to generate rents is the ultimate incentive for these groups to compete with each other in taking its complete control or share of it and thus unleashes a scramble for power. The idea nation-state, where a State secures allegiance of the its citizens through constitutional consents, seems to be missing in politics of Pakistan and perhaps in this part of the world. The State is not the projection of the collective will of the society but is seen as instrument to secure the interest of ones community or group whose interest is to sustain its rule by supporting its constituency and blocking opportunities for the others. If this theory is assumed to be correct, it seems like that the State, as manifested in its policies, itself is a generator of divisions rather than social cohesion.
To support the above mentioned framework, I recently completed a study (unpublished) on the causes of terrorism in Pakistan. The empirical results show a positive impact of per capita education expenditure by the state on terrorism in the country. The above discussion has tried to show that how education, by privileging the national language or through its sectarian biases, benefits particular community to attain higher human capital and consequently higher jobs. The obvious reaction to it has been from the communities and sects which are left out in competition for power. Another interesting result is the positive impact of per capita law and order expenditure and terrorism. Police and other law enforcement agencies are long understood to be used by the group in power to pursue their political ends. Even the religious groups have penetrated the police to secure their sectarian agenda as the report “ The State of Sectarianism in Pakistan’ by International Crisis Group reveals. The conflicts therefore are in the very failure of the State in absorbing the diverse communities into national polity. The quest for developing one identity out of many has back-lashed by lowering the chances for those groups, whose economic competitiveness is harmed by the policies set up by the State. All the violent actors that we see fighting in Pakistan may be different in their outlook, methods of terror but share the quest for power in common. Power, concentrated within the State is the ultimate incentive to supply terror to secure it. Stronger the concentration of power is, and stronger are the impediments to have share in it, it is expected to lead to more violence. It works like in self-perpetuation cycle, where higher concentration of power through higher incentive to secure rents, and blocked political opportunities, to lead to more violence. This further entrench the divisions as communities become more inward. This also gives opportunity to the State to assume more power to contain this violence and thus further fuelling the incentive of terrorist to supply it as well. The policies that leads to more decentralization should be seriously reconsidered as long term solution to contain the level of violence, for it is expected higher inclusiveness of communities in power domain would lead to lower preference for violence to claim it.