Pakistan: Islamists vs Army

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 15, 2013 13:26 hrs

Recent developments in Pakistan after the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in a drone attack by the US on 01 November 13, exhibit the growing radicalisation in Pakistan.

They have brought to fore the growing fissures between the Islamists and the Army which has traditionally nurtured them.

Hakimullah's killing elicited a very strong anti-US reaction from Pakistan's interior minister, who criticised the US for sabotaging the on-going peace talks with the TTP.

He completely overlooked the fact that Hakimullah was a proclaimed offender and the government had a 50 million rupee price on Hakimullah's head.  

Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) is competing with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to occupy the rightist political space in Pakistan went a step ahead and threatened to block the NATO supplies, as the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa is headed by his party.  

However, it was Syed Munawar Hassan, Jamaat-e-Islami leader, who took the cake when, he declared Hakimullah to be a martyr.  

For a time there was lull and a sense of mourning prevailed, but subsequently, many political parties and commentators criticised Munawar's statement, some of their own volition and others at the instigation of the Army.  

However, Munawar stuck to his guns and went on to add that those fighting the US war cannot be termed as martyrs, a direct affront to the army.

In a deeply conservative society, from where bulk of the Army's recruits hail, this sort of distinction could be disastrous. Consequently, there were strong reactions from the service men, ex-servicemen and elements close to them.  

The provincial assembly of Sindh passed a resolution against Munawar's statement, but Jamaat and Munawar have refused to back down.

Jamaat after its initial opposition to the idea of Pakistan became the darling of the army, when it declared 1965 War to be a jihad.  In 1971, Jamaat actively supported the Army and opposed the liberation of Bangladesh.  

Since then Jamaat and the other religious parties have by and large stood by the Army, which in turn used them to counter Pakhtoon and Baloch nationalism.

In fact these religious parties subsequently provided legitimacy to the government of General Zia and to a lesser extent to General Musharraf. The Islamists, in fact supported and did the Army's bidding when it was not directly ruling the country.  

Consequently, organisations like Difa-e-Pakistan (Defence of Pakistan) came up overnight to oppose the grant of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India and vanished subsequently, when the government caved in.  

Even when the Army needed to prop up non-state actors to pursue its agenda across the borders, these religious parties readily obliged and provided the ideological frame work and the recruits for undertaking operations in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

However, the Jamaat leader's outburst has now pitted the Army against the Islamists and needs to be viewed in conjunction with various other developments in Pakistan.  

The most significant development has been the selection of Hakimullah's successor.  Of various contenders including many who were considered pro-ISI and pro talks, Mullah Fazlullah, who was the most fiercely anti-Pakistan was elected the leader and that too with Mullah Omar’s intervention.

For long many analysts with western glasses have tended to treat Afghan and Pakistani Taliban as two different species, which had nothing in common.  

They have refused to see that Mullah Omar remains the Amir-ul Momin (Commander of the Faithful) not only for TTP and Afghan Taliban, but also for Al Qaeda and its affiliates.  

However, the recent intervention of Mullah Omar in selection of TTP leader has clearly shown the linkages.  It appears that Mullah Omar and his associates feel that with the eventual withdrawal of the NATO from Afghanistan, they are under no obligation to maintain a friendly facade towards Pakistan.

Even the trusted Haqqani network, which in the past, has been used as the veritable arm of the ISI has followed the Amir-ul Momin and appears to have moved away from ISI.

Consequently, Dr Naseeruddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani was killed of all the places in Islamabad to clearly exhibit ISI's displeasure with the outfit.

TTP under Fazalullah has not only spurned talks and talked of revenge, but is also believed to have despatched suicide bombers to Islamabad to target the Pakistani Prime Minister and the US Embassy.

As it is with Ashura, the security apparatus is overstretched and this could result in major attacks by the TTP on high value targets.

Nawaz Sharif, who had not been given any respite, ever since he came to power, by continuous turbulence on the Line of Control instigated by the Army and Islamist combine, may now breathe easy.

The differences between the two have now given him a window of opportunity to not only select an Army Chief, who is loyal, but also to independently give shape to the policies for the future of Pakistan. His recent visit to the GHQ, where he laid wreath on the martyrs' memorial was an attempt to soothe the frayed nerves in the Army, while showing that he was in control.   

After recent developments, talks with TTP are virtually impossible; however, these may allow Nawaz to pursue better trade relations with India for mutual prosperity.

Alok Bansal is the Executive Director of the South Asian Institute for Strategic Affairs (SAISA)

More from Sify: