May 1, 2009

Deadly social change

By Ayesha Siddiqa

The swat model could come to be replicate in other parts such as south Punjab: Ayesha Siddiqa.
A LOOK at today’s Pakistan does not inspire confidence in the state. In addition to the Talibanisation threat in some parts of the country, there is chaos in other areas like Balochistan where people are dissatisfied with what the state has to offer. Then, there are those areas where there is no conflict but that have begun to look at other options because the state has little to offer. In fact, in places like Gilgit sections of the people are beginning to look north, towards China in fact, which now appears a more attractive proposition. The state and the establishment have little to offer by way of explanation except that this is a conspiracy to destroy the state. This is not to imply that the Pakistani state does not have enemies. However, this kind of a mindset is not likely to discover solutions to the numerous problems the state faces. The establishment, the government and its functionaries are not prepared to accept that years of an unstable sociopolitical system are unlikely to have better results than the ones we see in the form of Talibanisation and political radicalisation. Owing to space constraints I will concentrate on the threat of Talibanisation which seems to be growing beyond the Frontier province and is present in south Punjab as well. It would not be surprising to see Swat’s domino effect on other parts of the country in the grip of similar sociopolitical circumstances. The influence and victory of the TNSM in Swat was due to a combination of factors such as the long absence of social transformation in the region, stagnation of the political power system, which the TNSM now claims to have changed, and the inability of political representatives to honour the mandate given to them by the public in last year’s polls. It is tragic that those who were not voted into power by the ordinary Swati are ruling Swat today. The ANP has surrendered its powers. This model could come to be replicated in other parts such as south Punjab. For many, this area, ranging from Mianwali to D.G. Khan and Bahawalpur, should be the least likely area for Talibanisation. A closer look shows that it is not. First, it has remained a favourite breeding ground for numerous militant outfits especially those linked with the Kashmir struggle. There was not much effort to mop up this area besides superficial measures such as banning some outfits that nevertheless resurfaced under other names. Second, this part of Punjab is prominent in terms of large landownership and a feudal lifestyle. This is also an area where feudal institutions in terms of economic power merged with political and spiritual power. So, many prominent political families are not just significant due to their wealth and political power but because they are connected to the shrines as well. The gradual institutionalising of the power of the shrine has strengthened them rather than giving some breathing space to ordinary people some of whom are moving in the direction of rabid religious ideologies. So, it is lack of understanding of this background that leads people to show surprise that south Punjab, which was considered a hub of Barelvi Islam, is moving towards Deobandi and Wahabi ideologies. A closer look, in fact, shows that a lot of Barelvis have shifted towards other ideologies and are part of the jihad industry without abandoning their original ideology. The gap between the Barelvis and Deobandis has narrowed most peculiarly in south Punjab. Is it because of the hundreds of madressahs that mushroomed in this belt especially in the 1980s? The answer is yes and no. Yes because the new madressahs, which were different from the traditional ones in the area, introduced a more dramatic curriculum that nurtured in the students an appreciation of sectarian and ideological differences. Hence, the sectarian violence in the region, which predates the current shift, dates back to the 1980s and 1990s. The radicalisation, including sectarian violence, represents an urge for social transformation because some prominent landowners in this area are Shia as opposed to the underdogs most of whom are Sunnis. The growing radicalisation in southern Punjab shown up in the inability of the state to carry out land reforms and shift the socioeconomic and political power structure from a pre-capitalist society to a capitalist one will have its consequences in the years to come. So while the proliferation of madressahs is part of the problem it does not explain the social development in its entirety. Not to mention that southern Punjab as a sub-region has suffered due to the gradual, reverse migration of the elite to other parts of the country creating a power vacuum that is ready to be filled by another lot. The movement of the youth towards jihad, hence, is a warped form of social transformation in which the dispossessed youngsters have suddenly found a source of empowerment. The promise of a better life in the hereafter in which they will get hoors, a crown of jewels and have 70 individuals forgiven is something that they cannot expect in this life. Not to mention the monetary compensation their families get from militant outfits for their sacrifice. What is dangerous is that none of this is being voiced as part of social transformation. When a change takes place the bulk of the people will remain sacrificial lambs while others will replace the existing power elite as in Swat. Sadly, no one wants to talk about Punjab because the current leadership is too engrossed in its political pragmatism to touch militant outfits. The bulk of the PML-N leadership does not have the vision to mop up the province while there is time to do so. If it were not for the political narrow-mindedness of the political elite, a clean-up in Punjab would require a well-planned police operation to be followed by the arduous task of social reconstruction.

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