“Pakistan shows characteristics of a mafia state,” said the Zurich-based scholar and security analyst, Dr Prem Mahadevan while introducing his new book ‘Islam and Intelligence in South Asia’ at the India International Centre in New Delhi. In an hour-long discussion, he explored the issue of Pakistan and the international threat to terrorism bringing to light the difference between jihad and jihadism.
While stating that the book is predominantly meant for an international audience and is an attempt at addressing the “pools of ignorance” that have been working to Pakistan’s advantage, he urged the audience to think about the reason why Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden chose Pakistan as their base despite them being outsiders.
He observed that Western scholars often reduce India-Pakistan conflict to Kashmir, as there is still a lack of understanding that Pakistan is subsumed by radical Islamist ideas both internally and externally.
The most interesting part of the discussion was the author’s interpretation of jihad. Referring to the 1857 revolt (known as the first war of Indian Independence where soldiers revolted against the British for the first time) and the role played by the ulema in defending the rights under colonial oppression, he said, the word jihad had a positive connotation. This interpretation changed to jihadism which is essentially terrorism falsely named after two events of First World War. The first was the fatwa issued by the Ottoman Empire to Britain, France and Russia which gave rise to the concept of Pan Islamism and the second was the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 where one of the five transnational pillars of jihadi thought was developed.
Elaborating further, he traced the journey of the Pakistani Muslim philosopher Abul Ala Maududi who set up the idea of political Islam wherein he propagated that only God has the power to steer destiny as opposed to man. Mahadevan opined that it was from here that the idea that the jihadists are always fighting oppression in a religious sense emanated.
He then turned his focus on the post-independence period and said, “In Pakistan Zia-ul-Haq (the sixth president and former army chief) only reinforced the link put in place by Ayub Khan (the second president and former army chief) to reestablish the diasporic identity of Pakistan.”
Referring to the presence of Arab militants in Pakistan who came to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, he said, Pakistan’s domestic polity started getting split due to their presence. He opined that such sectarian terrorism helped the Deep State in expanding its own power and splitting the local communities along religious lines and preventing their unity.
Mahadevan also threw light on how Pakistan reacts differently to attacks within its borders and terrorist activities carried out by Pakistanis elsewhere. By giving the case of Ajmal Kasab (the Pakistani terrorist who carried out the Mumbai 26/11 attack and was later hanged by Indian authorities) as an example, he said Pakistanis will never criticize their citizens and pointed out that many in Kasab’s village believe that his actions were warranted against an “infidel country” like India. This is in sharp contrast to how India showed solidarity with Pakistan when the Peshawar attack took place.
He then went on to discuss the powerful role played by the military in Pakistan. Pointing to the September 30, 1988 massacre in Hyderabad where around 250 people were killed, he recalled how Benazir Bhutto had at that time accused the military of preemptively destabilizing her government by orchestrating the attack.
An intriguing observation that Mahadevan made in his speech was how Pakistan decided to support the Taliban in 1994 to deflect domestic militancy outside the country’s borders which was in line with what Saudi Arabia did. But Pakistan failed at this miserably as it did not have the money or political stability that Saudi Arabia had.
The last part of the discussion focused on Pakistan weaponizing information flows. He said, the Deep State ensures such compartmentalization of information, wherein they blame India for all attacks domestically but accept the presence of terrorist organizations within the country internationally is maintained.
“The coexistence between terrorism and establishment has happened due to information manipulation,” he said while referring to the radicalization of media channels.
In his concluding remarks, Mahadevan said “Pakistan will drift more and more towards political violence. While India and Afghanistan will not be able to stop it, they can prepare themselves for it.”
Ambassador T C A Raghavan, Director, Indian Council of World Affairs who chaired the session pointed out that there can be two views on Pakistan – the structural one looks at a genetic defect in Pakistan that goes deep back in history and the contingent one will help to find explanations for its deeply deviant behavior like the effects that the nature of partition and the excess weight that Pakistan’s military had on the state’s creation.