The relationship between the Pakistani military and extremist groups is contentious and rooted in a complicated history. I asked Imran Khan, head of counterextremism training and strategic communications for Khudi Pakistan, a Pakistani civil society organization, to provide a view from the ground to help us understand the state of the military-jihadi relationship today and what it might mean for Pakistan moving forward.
As skeptical as I was about the Pakistani military establishment’s policy toward jihadi and sectarian organizations operating in mainland Pakistan, I thought that slowly and steadily the state—having suffered at the hands of jihadis, its own creation—was disengaging from militants that had been involved in fighting in Kashmir. However, the launch of the Defense of Pakistan Council (DPC), an umbrella body of forty jihadi organizations, has left no doubt in the minds of liberal Pakistani activists like myself that the military is still counting on jihadi forces for its geostrategic objectives vis-à-vis India and the United States. Launched against the backdrop of deteriorating Pakistani-U.S. ties following the November 2011 NATO attack on a Pakistani army border post which killed twenty-four military personnel and fueled anti-Americanism in Pakistan, the DPC comprises a myriad of jihadi outfits and Islamist political parties.
Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), allegedly a charity front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, is a part of the DPC and so is Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), an avatar of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a sectarian terrorist organization accused of killing thousands of Shia Muslims. Along with these jihadi organizations, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the main Islamist political party of Pakistan, is also a part of the DPC, testifying to the presence of a symbiotic relationship between political and militant Islamists.
The participation of former director general of the ISI, Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, and other stooges of the establishment such as Ijazul Haq and Sheikh Rasheed, gives credence to the analysis by some leading Pakistani journalists that the military establishment is backing the DPC. Analysts argue that it would not have been possible for the DPC to organize mammoth gatherings without the support of the intelligence agencies.
So far the DPC has organized five large rallies in major Pakistani cities—Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi, Multan, and the latest in Islamabad on February 20—attracting hundreds of thousands of people. Hafiz Saeed of JuD, Ahmed Ludhianvi of ASWJ, Hamid Gul, and JI leaders have delivered fiery pro-jihad and anti-American speeches at these rallies.
The agenda of the DPC is to “defend Pakistan against the United States, India, and Israel,” to stop the government from ever restoring the NATO supply route to Afghanistan, and to force the government to withdraw trade concessions to India. The launch of the DPC must be seen in the context of rising anti-Americanism in Pakistan, ongoing civil-military friction in the country, and the government’s efforts to improve relations with India by granting the latter the status of “most favored nation” for bilateral trade relations. It seems that the military establishment wants to use the DPC to intimidate the United States, India, and the Pakistan People’s Party government. For more on this, read Cyril Almeida’s recent article.
The launch and the subsequent success of the DPC has left many liberal Pakistanis enraged at the apathy of the state apparatus on the jihadi issue. Just when we had begun to make small steps toward developing a consensus for democratic culture and pluralism in our society, jihadis reemerge and our work goes down the drain. Civil society efforts for counterradicalization in Pakistan cannot make a difference unless state-supported radicalization stops.
The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of Imran Khan. He can be found on Twitter @imranmohmand.