The recent remarks by the US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the presence of links between the ISI and terrorist organisations should not come as a surprise to anyone. This is certainly not the first time this “accusation” has propped up: the idea has been circulating since a leaked British Ministry of Defence document alleged in 2006 that the country’s premier intelligence agency has been involved in supporting terrorism across the globe, and again in the same year when the country’s then-President, Pervez Musharraf admitted that certain retired ISI personnel might be aiding the jihadist movement in Afghanistan.
However, the notion’s recent bout was initiated by an unusual source: in April this year, a mysterious organisation by the name of World Muhajir Congress was reported by certain Indian media outlets to have alleged that Pakistan is a safe haven for terrorists, and that the city of Karachi, specifically, is being radicalized by the armed forces, especially by the ISI, who are generally facilitating terrorism within and without the country. This new organization and its claims did not see much coverage in the Pakistani mainstream media, however, the Indian media had covered the development extensively. A google search returns precious little information, the highlight of which is a Facebook page sporting a picture of Altaf Hussain – a proof of the origins of this “Congress”.
Although Altaf Hussain and his ex-party, MQM, has, through the years, been marred by allegations of connections with the Indian premier intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), and has a very deep history of militancy, itself, their newest brainchild’s idea does seem to be gaining a lot of currency across the globe. Except, of course within Pakistan – which is where the problem’s roots lie.
The worldwide acceptance of the idea that Pakistan is not only internalising but mainstreaming militancy and terrorism should not surprise Pakistanis at all. Ours is a country where a convicted terrorist like Hafiz Saeed is not only allowed to run his own “charity” (Jamat-ud-Dawa), he is also allowed to form a political party (Milli Muslim League) as an extension of this charity. And it does not stop there: creation alone is not enough, Saeed’s party is also winning votes, as evidenced by the performance of its candidate, Muhammad Yaqoob Sheikh, in NA-120, who managed to win 5,822 votes in the recently conducted by-poll. This, importantly, was over four thousand votes in excess of what the liberal Pakistan People’s Party managed in the constituency, indicating the shift that has occurred in the mindset of the common Pakistani over the past three decades or so.
Pakistanis, thus, must ask themselves: whom are we trying to fool when we refuse to accept that our country’s armed forces, and we, the people, ourselves, are involved in safeguarding terrorists and terrorist organisations? The country has repeatedly yielded global most wanted criminals, dead or alive. Leaving aside the controversial assassination of Osama bin Laden, the likes of Egyptian terrorists Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali and Saeed al-Masri, Saudi terrorist Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah, Libyan terrorist Abu Laith al-Libbi and American terrorist Adam Yahiye Gadahn were all reportedly killed on Pakistani soil.
This, coupled with the protection given to the now-under-house-arrest, Hafiz Saeed, raises huge question marks over Pakistan’s stance on global terrorism: are we fighting terrorism or helping it fuse into our society?
One of the allegations leveled by the ambiguous World Muhajir Congress against the Pakistani armed forces in the letter to US’s The House Foreign Affairs Committee, was: “We are afraid as Jihadi outifts are getting stronger with the support of ISI, important port city of Karachi which is the supply line of US and NATO could fall into the hands of these terror groups […] We fear for the safety of Karachi, Muhajir Nation and especially children, as these jihadi outfits are kidnapping/abducting young poor children and after brainwashing turning them into suicide bombers, jihadis, and religious fanatics.”
Barring the irony of the fact that this statement comes from an organisation spearheaded by a former terroriser of Karachi, do the concerns raised by it not sound valid? Do we Pakistanis truly believe that the existence of certain religious seminaries who recruit and brainwash innocent children, also a myth? Do we deny their part in radicalizing our society and playing a role in normalising, nay, propagating violence?
The open involvement of radical, militant organisations – both religious and non-religious – in the political scene of Pakistan is a very natural outcome of what the establishment of the country has made it and its citizens go through for the past two decades and beyond. It is by no means just an “indicator” of the mass radicalisation of our society – it is its living and breathing, long-due product. And the longer Pakistanis stay in criminal denial of this development, as well as their own complicit role in it, the worse and more violence-prone the country’s social and political environment would become.