When Soviet forces entered Afghanistan, religious factions had already found a foothold in Pakistani politics. The religious parties gained strength from the 'benevolence' of the United States, which invited true believers from all over the world to unite against the threat of communism posed by the Soviet Union. Many religious leaders in Pakistan welcomed the call and, declaring the Afghan war to be a 'Jihad', began to send young men to join the cause.
There is a large number of religious groups/Islamists/Jihadi parties with considerable potential for destabilizing Pakistan. Pakistan, over a period of time, has become the hub of fundamentalists, which poses a major threat, fraught with grave consequences. Trained and motivated militants, having experienced Afghan and Kashmir Jihad, are available to various groups/sects. These fanatic groups are also exploited by opposing political parties to their advantage, which is adding to internal security problems. The influx of arms/ammunition and the alleged Iranian, and Saudi financial/material support to these organizations have accentuated the malaise.
The major cause of sectarian violence and other associated problems in the country is the interpretation of Islam by various scholars. These scholars invest in madrassahs to promote and spread their own philosophy of waging jihad against non-Muslims and against other Muslims sects to whom they consider as Kafir. A recent survey of religious educational institutions revealed that only 60 percent of the students in Deobandi and 49 percent in Barelevi madrassahs expressed readiness to accept the existence of other sects. For the students of these schools, jihad against members of other sects is as much a religious duty as jihad against non-Muslims.
Some extremist madrassahs propagate a culture of violence and preach Jihad with the aim to recruit and train the individuals who can later take part in the holy war against the enemies of Islam. Those who study these curricula for ten to fifteen years cannot be expected to behave in any other way. These new schools so-called madrassahs, tend to teach a more extreme version of Islam than what had been propagated before. Madrassahs target a lower class of society, unemployed youth, and refugees to brainwash their mind and train them for militant activities within and outside the country.
The foreign policy of Pakistan revolves around the Kashmir dispute with India. Pakistan wants to avoid a full-blown military confrontation with India as it would be disastrous for both countries but still wants to liberate Kashmir. To achieve this goal Pakistan supports various Jihadi groups who are fighting the Indian army in Kashmir valley. Pakistan very effectively uses these mujahideen groups to inflict heavy losses on the Indian army personnel and remind India of Pakistan’s claim on Jammu & Kashmir. Instead of committing Pakistan’s army men to fight the Indian troops it uses this low cost strategy to subdue the enemy and at the same time avoid any loss to the Pakistan’s regular army. As a military planer this would seem like a very viable strategy, which is in the interest of Pakistan and its army. However when we see the repercussions of Kashmir jihad on Pakistani society we see a very different picture.
The co-option of Isalmist parties as Jihadi arms of Pakistan Army in Afghanistan sent out a clear signal that waging Jihad was a legitimate political activity. All sorts of Jihadi formations sprouted out of the existing Islamist parties. This has resulted in transforming Jihad into the sectarian differences, thus turning it into social and political conflict, which had dangerous implications for civil society and governmental authority in Pakistan.
After Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Jihadis now posses a serious threat to the internal security of Pakistan. Firstly, because thousand of madrassah–trained students filled the ranks of Taliban leadership and military. Now that the Taliban and Afghanistan are no longer viable outlets for Jihadi militancy, it is unclear in what form Jihadi ideology will be propagated. Isalmist/Jihadi aggression could indeed be internally focused or changing the sociopolitical dynamic of Pakistan. These Jihadi elements strongly feel that it is their principle responsibility to liberate Kashmir and play a dominant role in other neighboring regions, i.e., Afghanistan, etc. The Jihadis perceive that the Pakistan government has caved in due to the pressure of U.S. and India, against cross-border terrorism. The Pakistani government is now forced to deal with the internal pressure that have compounded since 9/11. Secondly, these radical groups follow the successful model of replacing government institutions with ones linked to their own groups.
The Kashmir cause is the primary motivation of most of Jihadi organizations. The continued illegal occupation of Kashmir by India, its refusal to honor the solemn pledges for a plebiscite, the UN’s failure to implement its resolutions, and the indifference of world powers to the sufferings of the Kashmiri people, served as an incentive for Jihad in Kashmir. Another dimension to the same problem is that even a most viable solution to Kashmir problem is not acceptable to these Jihadi organizations. No peaceful solution falls in their grand philosophy of Jihad. The only plausible way to address the Kashmir, as per Jihadi perception, is to wage Jihad.
The Jihadi groups have also contributed to the rise of militarist and chauvinistic tendencies in the country. Regardless of how sacred is the cause for which they have been raising funds and procuring arms, their emergence on country’s political scene amounts to having all manners of private armies coming up to pose a challenge to civil society. The rise in the power of these Jihadi groups can be well understood from the fact that they do not feel any hesitation in entering into an armed conflict with the government if their interests are threatened.
The reasons behind the growing political and religious influence of Islamist and Jihadi groups in Pakistan are complex mixtures of internal and external pressures. The first of these is the eternally insufficient government sponsored education system. This has allowed Jihadi organizations to educate the poor and dispossessed in an increasingly militant and fundamentalist manner out the controlling oversight of the central government. The proliferation of armed religious fundamentalists, Jihadi groups created a countervailing military force that challenged and undermined the unique role of armed forces and the law enforcement agencies. Its internal dynamics are the rise of sectarianism, deteriorating law and order situation and poor economy.
At the external front this has painted a picture of Pakistan as a country, which is exporting terrorism all around the globe and has resulted into strained relations with the West in general and neighboring countries in particular.
Religious intolerance, sectarian problems and rise of religious extremism and militant groups are significant factors responsible for increased unrest and law and order problems in Pakistan. Sectarian threats feed on the failed education system in Pakistan and allow religious clerics to interpret Islam in the manner that exploits unemployed and raw youth. The need of the hour, therefore, is for our national security planners, be they politicians, bureaucrats or those in the services, to take a holistic approach to the issue and set in motion the processes by which a long term and coherent solution to combat the dangers arising from anti-national activities under the garb of Islamic jihad can be sought.