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Religious extremists:Filling the gaps created by the state

By Kamal Siddiqi
September 18 2012




We are at a stalemate in our war against terrorism. In our fight against the religious extremists, we are getting next to nowhere. It is a frustrating and unending conflict. A war without boundaries. When we notch military successes in the tribal areas, another front is opened in our cities when suicide bombers wreak havoc. The Taliban famously once said to the Americans: “You may have the watches but we have the time.” Maybe it’s true for us, too.

How do we move forward? Politicians like Imran Khan suggest we talk to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This was done earlier in the Swat accord but with disastrous results. After our unsuccessful political adventure, we then had to resort to the military solution. The question that arises is should we should enter into another agreement and, more important, whether either side would be able to live by it.

Another school of thought suggests the ‘Rajapaksa approach’. This is the stance adopted by Sri Lankan President Mahendra Rajapaksa. No compromise with the militants. No negotiation, no surrender. And most important, no interference from a third country. This interference can be in the form of support to the militants, or as peace negotiators. Such a strategy worked to defeat the Tamil Tigers, till then considered one of the world’s most sophisticated and dedicated militant organisations. Will it work with the TTP?

Possibly not. Because the war that the TTP is waging has been largely misunderstood. Many Pakistanis do not see it as a religious conflict. They see it as a class war. The TTP are focusing on the weaknesses of democracy in Pakistan and winning over supporters in the process.

At the heart of the conflict in our country is the fight for justice and the rule of law. In present day Pakistan, the judicial system is unable to provide quick and cheap justice. Thanks to a corrupt and inept police system, coupled with an equally inefficient and exploitative justice system, the average Pakistani has no option but to bribe the people that matter to get any justice.

For the rule of law, the courts must be backed by the state. If a court gives a decision, it must be followed through by the government. This, too, is not happening at the lower level where despite getting a verdict in their favour, litigants are unable to get the police to act.

In many instances, the poor Pakistani does not approach the courts to redress his grievances. He usually ends up at a tribal jirga that dispenses quick justice. But this justice is now also being seen as warped. The jirga is usually headed by an influential landlord, who keeps this system in place to protect his interests and prolong his hold on power.

In our democracy, most of these lawgivers are also lawmakers. They dominate parliament and stop any move by other quarters to address social problems of our society. In one startling wake-up call, a deputy head of the Senate justified an incident in which women were buried alive as a punishment in Balochistan. He said it was tribal custom.

Most bills that address issues like women’s rights, violence against women or human rights issues are ignored. Despite its progressive credentials, the ruling party is also dominated by the feudal gentry. They all band together, irrespective of their political affiliations, to protect their interests.

These people call the shots. They give justice, they control the police, they provide employment and they milk the system to their advantage.

In this equation comes the TTP. In Swat, its first targets were landlords. The TTP provides the justice that the government should be providing. Their courts are quick, cheap and effective. Their leaders live simple lives. People have started to flock to them because they can also enforce. There are now such courts operating in Karachi as well. So wide is their reach.

Given this situation, possibly, we are fighting the wrong war. Unless we address our problems of crime, corruption and an ineffective justice system, we will see certain quarters trying to fill the gap. One day, they will be all that we have left. That’s the frightening possibility.

Originally published by Tribune Pakistan

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