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Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XVII)

During Benazir Bhutto’s second term, “The US placed Pakistan on a terrorist ‘watch list’ following increased violence in Occupied Kashmir and in India’s East Punjab that was somehow linked to Islamabad. Pakistan was implicated in terrorist incidents in Europe and the US, which suggested an Afghan mujahideen connection” (Ziring, Lawrence, Pakistan: At the Crosscurrent of History, Oxford: Oneworld, 2003, p. 235). Benazir thus toed the pro-jihad line of the establishment. She tried to ease tensions between Pakistan and the US. She was under considerable pressure from the US to freeze Pakistan’s nuclear programme, but she was unwilling to do so in order to avoid confrontation with the military. She did manage to convince the US to ease the sanctions imposed in 1990 because of Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

On the Afghan front, Benazir Bhutto’s policy of attaining ‘strategic depth’ proved to be a disaster in the long run. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was tilted towards Gulbuddin Hek…

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XVI)

After Zia’s death, the military top brass decided against imposing yet another martial law and opted for holding elections and transferring power to a civilian government. One thing that the establishment did not want though was to compromise on a civilian government going against its wishes, especially against its Afghan policy. Since it was apparent that the 1988 elections would result in the victory of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto, the military united all the right-wing parties under the leadership of Zia’s protégé, Nawaz Sharif. Thus the Islamic Democratic Alliance (IDA), more commonly known as the Islami Jamhoori-Ittihad (IJI), with an Islamist agenda, was formed and pitted against the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) manipulated the elections in such a way that despite winning the majority of the seats in three provinces, the PPP was unable to form a government in Punjab, the most important province. Benazir Bhutto did m…

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XV)

The period in which religious extremism grew the most in Pakistan was during the time of General Ziaul Haq. He began his ‘Islamisation’ process long before he seized power. After becoming the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Zia not only changed the motto of the Pakistan army to iman (faith), taqwa (piety), jihad fi sabil Allah (war for the sake of God), but also “urged all ranks of the army during his visits to troops as well as in written instructions, to offer their prayers, preferably led by the commanders themselves at various levels. Religious education was included in the training programme and mosques and prayer halls were organised in all army units” (Khan, Lieutenant General Jahan Dad, Pakistan Leadership Challenges, Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 158).

When Zia toppled the Bhutto government through a coup d'état, the religious parties strongly supported his move. This gave him an opportunity to legitimise his rule. Despite assurances to Bhutto that new ele…

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XIV)

Pakistan’s new president, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, became the hope of what was now left of the country in 1971. The fall of Dhaka had burst the bubble of ‘Muslim brotherhood’, which was essentially the basis for the creation of Pakistan. The fallacy was evident even before 1971. The bloody partition had left behind a major chunk of Muslim population in India, while the birth of Bangladesh pierced through the remaining mirage of Islamic nationalism. Despite this evidence, the Islamists were still reluctant to admit the bitter truth and instead reverted to their age-old claim that the ‘enemies’ of Islam wanted to divide the Muslim Ummah. They justified this claim by arguing that the non-Muslims were afraid that if the Muslims got united, nobody would be able to stop them from ruling the entire world, as at the time of the Islamic Empire.

Since Bhutto’s major opposition came from religious circles, he tried his best to appease them in various ways. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) defined it…