Emergent threats of militancy in Pakistan

If not managed properly and in time, the current wave of terrorism might become even deadlier

By MUBASHIR AKRAM — As of June 2017, terrorists have killed nearly 70,000 Pakistanis in direct acts of violence since 2003. Nearly 11 per cent of the casualties are personnel of the civil and armed forces.

The State Bank of Pakistan reported on November 19, 2016 that Pakistan has suffered economic losses amounting to US$ 118.3 billion due to terrorism since 2002. The report mentioned that apart from causing immeasurable human suffering, including casualties and mass displacement, the war on terror drove away foreign investment, stalled domestic investment, froze exports, and slowed down trade.

Terrorism is not just about creating fear. It is also about destroying societies and economies, and does not happen in a vacuum or without a reason. Terrorism is both a threat and a strategy: threat to Pakistanis and the strategy of the terrorists.

Over the past four decades, Pakistan has essentially transitioned from one wave of terrorism to another. A nation divided on sectarian lines, Pakistan constantly kept looking the other way whenever it came to discussing militancy.

Most sects in Pakistan have aligned their religio-political and social causes with either an explicit or implicit desire of overpowering other sects. Violence has been both a strategy and a tactic. Nearly 3,000 Pakistanis have been killed in attacks on mosques alone since 2000.

If not managed properly and in time, the current wave of terrorism might become even deadlier. This wave would be manned by Pakistani-origin fighters who are waging Jihad in Syria.

The Pakistani Shiites are seemingly fighting for the promised Wilayat, while the Sunnis are pursuing their dreams of a pan-Islamic Caliphate. Both are proxies of two “brother Islamic” nations who would keep their hands and societies clean once these young militants have served their purpose.

The exact number of Pakistani Sunni and Shiite fighters in Syria might be unknown but even estimated numbers are scary. David Kenner in 2013 observed that a leading Muslim nation wanted to raise two brigades of 5,000-10,000 Sunni fighters for Syria.

The existence of the Shiite Zeinabiyoun brigade is also a reality with the number of its fighters growing steadily. Ali Alfoneh in April 2017 exposed the clandestine connections of the Pakistani Shiites militants with another “brotherly” Muslim nation for over 15 years.

These connections were pivotal in establishing the Zeinabiyoun in 2015, and the first batch of recruits comprised of 50 Pakistani youths. The brigade is waging its war in Syria with nearly 1,000 “active-duty” militants.

Both sects demand their fighters be between 18-35-years, offer a 45-day training program, and advance war training for the willing and committed recruits. Shiites beat Sunnis in the war economy: their fighters are paid US$ 1,100, while Sunnis get around US$ 600 per month. Reason: the latter are more in supply than the former. There is also a US$ 3,000 joining bounty for Shiite fighters of the Zeinabiyoun.

Not every Sunni or Shiite who is fighting in Syria will be killed. They are very organized and come to Pakistan on “rotational holidays”. What would happen to Pakistani society if and when these battle-hardened sectarian militants start waging their wars in the streets of Pakistan?

There is a dire need to ask these pertinent questions and acquire logical answers from our political and security establishment. Of course, not all will be divulged to the public about such security matters, but we need to know what exactly is being done to a) stop this mindless sectarian recruiting from Pakistan, b) to forecast and mitigate the danger, and c) to prevent the fallout from this?

As a citizen of Pakistan in the 5th decade of his life, I am utterly sick and tired of the violence and extremism that I started witnessing since I was seven years old. I do not wish to see yet another beginning of the bloodbath that I have seen all my life.

We as Pakistanis need to condemn, dissociate ourselves from, and reject all forms of violence. No matter whatever the religio-political interpretations are, sectarian militancy is poisonous for us. Violence is a beast that eats all, and eats indiscriminately. Remember this.

The writer is a social entrepreneur and a student of Pakistan’s social and political challenges. Twitter: @mkw72

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