Afghanistan: nightmare continues
By S P Seth
Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau
The state and justice
By Zahid Hussain
March 9th, 2016
EVENTS over the past week have laid bare the predicament of a divided nation. While the execution of Mumtaz Qadri signifies the assertion of state authority, the glorification of a convicted murderer exposes the ugly face of religious extremism that is so deeply rooted in our society. The turnout of tens of thousands of mourners at Qadri’s funeral may be a testimony to the growing fanaticism here, but it does not fully define the country’s other realities.
Notwithstanding the liberal argument against capital punishment, the execution symbolises a unity of the state institutions in the face of an existentialist challenge. First, it was the landmark Supreme Court ruling that broke the state of fear and gave courage to the executive to implement the verdict. The apex court not only upheld the death sentence of a self-professed murderer, it also rejected the notion that demanding a change in the blasphemy law was itself an act of blasphemy.
Surely that would have been a routine verdict, but not in the prevailing environment where the judge of an anti-terrorism court had to flee the country after awarding the death sentence to Qadri. Such was the fear that only a handful of people dared to attend the funeral of the slain governor of the country’s most powerful province. The state seemed to have virtually vanished, as a murderer was turned into a cult figure encouraging others of his ilk to kill in the name of faith. The apex court verdict was an attempt to restore the supremacy of the law.
It was essentially the weakness of the state that allowed zealots to turn a murderer into a saint.
More surprising, however, was the swift execution of the convict by a government with a strong conservative ethos. Even some senior members of the ruling party, including the prime minister’s own son-in-law, had reportedly condoned Qadri’s action as a religious duty. Some of them later joined the funeral. Few had expected the president to sign the death warrant so quickly in this situation. But it did happen.
It may not just have been the Supreme Court ruling that gave the Sharif government the spine to take action; perhaps it was also to do with the military’s backing for the National Action Plan to counter terrorism and violent religious extremism. This high-profile execution could not have been possible without all the three institutions being on board.
Also significant is the tacit approval of the execution by all mainstream political parties barring the Islamic groups. Pro-Qadri leaders must have been aware of that consensus that perhaps restricted them from not taking on the state as a whole; instead, they confined their attack to the Sharif government.
It was, indeed, a show of strength by some Barelvi groups, and one that has been marked by a significant rise in recent years. Elements within civil society and the security establishment tried to project them as the ‘soft face of Islam’ in an attempt to counter Taliban militancy. The West too conveniently bought this discourse and reportedly provided financial support to some groups that have been at the forefront of the pro-Qadri campaign.
Interestingly, the same outfits have supported the military operation against the Taliban and other militant groups. Not surprisingly, many leaders would make it a point to pledge their support for the military leadership perhaps to cover their flanks.
While it had essentially become a Barelvi cause, the Qadri issue rallied other sects too. Some Deobandi clerics also backed the protests against the hanging though not so actively. The position of the Jamaat-i-Islami on the issue has been quite intriguing. The party that had so far kept itself out of the sectarian divide joined the JUI and other Islamic parties in openly defending Qadri’s action. A plausible explanation is that these parties wanted to use the issue to regain their shrinking political space.
The Qadri protests coincided with these parties’ campaign against the women’s protection bill passed by the Punjab Assembly. It is not surprising that the Islamic parties want to revive the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal in the aftermath of Qadri’s hanging.
It is quite evident that the state can take difficult actions if it shows some resolve. It is surely capable of dealing with the consequences of its actions as was seen in its handling of the situation after Qadri’s execution. It may have been among the largest gatherings in the nation’s history, but there was no incident of violence.
It was essentially the weakness of the state that allowed zealots to turn a murderer into a saint. No action was taken against the lawyers who garlanded Qadri when he was produced before court after the incident. No effort was made to stop the glorification of a criminal. It may not have been easy, but there was no will to confront the challenge largely because of political expediency. Now finally the state has acted.
Many among the liberals opposed Qadri’s execution on the principle that the state has no right to take away the life of anyone no matter how heinous the crime. One may agree with the basic argument, but since the law regarding capital punishment exists there is no justification of it being set aside in a particular case. Any dithering would have had far more serious consequences. It would have reinforced the belief of Qadri followers that the government would not dare execute him.
It may be true that the demon of extremism is so deeply rooted in our society that it cannot be exorcised by hanging one person. But the inaction of the state would have provided greater impunity to those who justify violence in the name of faith. It was indeed state patronage that allowed religious extremism to flourish in this country and produce a culture where murder in the name of faith was glorified. Now it is the responsibility of the state to cleanse the country of the evil that threatens its own survival. It is certainly going to be a long haul.
Zahid Hussain Is An Author And Journalist.
Afghanistan: nightmare continues
By S P Seth
March 09, 2016
There seems a palpable shift in thinking in the US, which would suggest that the US might be in Afghanistan for the long haul. President Obama had come to office to disengage from Afghanistan and Iraq, making sure that in both countries the new political order would be able to sustain itself with their newly US-trained and equipped armed forces. When the US forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, its government under then prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, backed by the country’s American-equipped and trained forces, were somehow believed to be equal to the job in the post-Saddam phase of governance. Now we know that this was not the case. Indeed, what it did was to further accentuate the country’s bloody sectarian divide, out of which has emerged IS. In Afghanistan, the US is following a phased process of disengagement while continuing (with some of its coalition partners) a limited presence of several thousand military advisers, aerial support, enemy surveillance, and, at times, actively engaging to push back Taliban advances and even to help smash an occasional al Qaeda training camp. It was reported some time ago that a company of elite US Rangers helped Afghan forces destroy an al Qaeda training camp in November. This would seem to rekindle memory of similar al Qaeda training camps and 9/11 scenario, which led President Bush to declare a “global war on terrorism.”
But between Bush’s global war on terrorism and Obama wanting to end this “idea of endless war”, the US is still not able to flesh out precisely what to do with the situation in Afghanistan, where the Afghan government do not look like dealing with the enemy on its own. As one senior unnamed Pentagon official was quoted to say, “What we’ve learned is that you can’t really leave [Afghanistan]. The local forces need air support, intelligence and help with logistics. They are not going to be ready in three years or five years. You have to be there for a very long time.” This may not yet be the official policy but a realisation is dawning that any definite cutoff point for US military involvement in Afghanistan is not workable. The fear, though, still not articulated loudly, is that Afghanistan (and the region bordering Pakistan) could easily turn into a vast camp/sanctuary for terrorist operations.
This was what Brigadier General Wilson Shoffner, a military spokesman, seemed to have in mind when he talked about recent joint US-Afghan operations to destroy an al Qaeda training camp in a “fierce fight” that lasted several days. He reportedly said, according to American news sources, “No matter what happens in the next couple of years, Afghanistan is going to have wide ungoverned spaces that violent extremist organisations can take advantage of.” And he pointed out that, “The camp that developed in south-eastern Kandahar is an example of what can happen.” And in this context of “wide ungoverned spaces”, one cannot rule out an expanding role that IS-inspired and aligned elements in Afghanistan’s somewhat fractured extremist scene might carve out for themselves.
It is early days yet but it would seem that the US might find itself drawn into a long term, yet undefined, commitment to underwrite the Afghan government against Taliban and other extremist elements. In this respect there is already some talk of a US commitment and involvement on the lines of its military presence in South Korea. Whether or not this can be sustained is another thing. However, a US military presence around the present 10,000 number mark might not be too onerous financially, considering the stakes that the US perceives to keep Afghanistan afloat. Of course, a more durable course is a peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban. So far, the fitful efforts in this direction have not come to much because there are obvious difficulties. One problem is that any internal resolution, as far the government and the US are concerned, has to be, by and large, within the ambit of the existing constitution that legitimises the government and the system. The Taliban, somewhat fractured after the news of their leader Mullah Omar’s death was hidden for two years, are averse to dealing with a government that they consider is illegitimate having been installed by the US-led foreign occupation. They would like the US and its coalition partners to quit Afghanistan allowing the country to solve its own problems. Which, in effect, means for Taliban to once again rule the roost, possibly also creating a sanctuary for all sorts of extremist elements like al Qaeda and eventually even IS, emerging out of a fractured post-Mullah Omar Taliban.
It is believed, however, that Pakistan can play a useful role in facilitating a peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban. It would appear that Pakistan has leverage with elements of the Taliban and might be able to lean on them to be more responsive, especially as its leadership has largely been functioning from its sanctuary in Pakistan after they were hunted out of Afghanistan following the US invasion in October 2001. Now that China has come out in support of a peace dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, there should be greater momentum for this. China obviously has its own interests arising out of ensuring stability on its border with Xinjiang, wracked by a low level insurgency by its Uighur Muslim population to maintain their cultural, religious and ethnic identity. Because of Pakistan’s close relationship with China, it should be particularly susceptible to Beijing’s persuasion/pressure.
It would seem though that in, so many ways, Pakistan itself has become a victim of its support of Taliban. It found itself becoming part of President Bush’s global war on terror after 9/11. And that was the result of Afghanistan’s then Taliban regime hosting al Qaeda. Another disastrous consequence for Pakistan has been the emergence of the Pakistani version of Taliban, with its army constantly engaged in trying to snuff it out, unsuccessfully though, from the borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan. At the same time, because it has links and influence with the Taliban operating from its sanctuary, its relationship with the Afghan government is marked by great distrust. In the circumstances, any peace process starts with doubts about Pakistan’s sincerity.
In other words, with Taliban staging a comeback and Afghan military force weak and ineffective, the Afghan government would continue to need US backing to hold back the Taliban. Whether or not US military involvement can be sustained over a longer period is another question. The prognosis, though, for Afghanistan, with or without US presence, is continuing instability with invitation for all sorts of extremist activity, including IS-inspired and aligned elements.
S P Seth is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia.
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