Monday, March 9, 2009
Feudal Punjab Fertile Ground for Pakistani Jihadists?
The conventional wisdom holds that Pakistani jihadists come mainly from the radical Wahabi madrassas that proliferated in Pakistan's tribal belt near the Afghan border during the US-Saudi-Pakistani supported campaign against the former Soviet Union. Most of the world attention has, therefore, been focused on the efforts by US and Pakistan to try and contain the influence of NWFP's Deobandi Islam. Some of the madrassas have been forced to shut down while others have been attacked by US and Pakistan. As part of the effort to improve economic opportunities, Pakistan has set up FATA Development Authority and the US and international financial institutions are planning to fund reconstruction opportunity zones (ROZ) to deny recruits to the Jehadist outfits.
In addition to Shia Islam, which accounts for 15-20% of the population, there are primarily two schools of thought among Sunni Muslims in South Asia. Barelvi and Deobandi. Barelvi, or Ahle-Sunna, is a movement of Sunni Sufism that was founded by Ahmed Raza Khan of Bareilly, Rohilkhand India (hence the term Barelvi). Barelvis are a sizable portion of the Hanafi Muslim communities in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa and the United Kingdom, besides having a presence in other places around the world. Deobandi is a Sunni Islamic revivalist movement which started in India and Pakistan and has more recently spread to other countries, such as Afghanistan, South Africa and the United Kingdom. The name derives from the town of Deoband, (Uttar Pradesh) India, where the school Darul Uloom Deoband is situated. Deobandis follow the fiqh of Abu Hanifa and the Aqidah of Abu Mansur Maturidi. Deobandi Islam is quite similar to the Wahabi Saudi Islam.
Punjab, the largest province in Pakistan, is considered the home of the followers of the sufi saints who taught a tolerant, loving version of Barelvi Islam. Deobandi Islam (patterned after Saudi Wahabism) is not common in Punjab's rural landscape. But Mumbai attacker Ajmal Qasab's story, published in March 16 issue of Time magazine, suggests that the rising expectations of young Pakistanis and the deprivations they suffer in feudal Punjab are helping the mainly NWFP-Deobandi-inspired Jihadi outfits in their recruiting efforts. Here's an excerpt from Time that implies feudalism drives young men like Qasab to join the terror outfits:
"Faridkot is not the hardscrabble village conjured up by common perceptions of extremist origins. It straddles a paved road about 2 1⁄2 hours' drive from Lahore, and two new gas stations mark the village boundaries. Beyond those are factories and fertile farmland. There is even BlackBerry service. But it is, undeniably, the sort of place that fosters frustration. Feudal landlords own the farmland, and villagers feel trapped by the status they are born into. The good life is tantalizingly close, yet for most residents still unattainable. For men like Qasab, one of the best ways out is jihad. "In a developing country, youngsters who are sensitive, concerned, they talk about 'How do we change what is going on here? How do we get rid of corruption?'" says (Pakistani psychologist Sohail) Abbas. "And if in some sense you find that jihad can help you in those aims, then why not?" It's a convolution of the adolescent craving to stand out. And Pakistani society, steeped in nihilistic passions fostered by the state sponsorship of jihad, condones it."
Like Ajmal Qasab, other unskilled and barely literate workers from rural Punjab are trying to find ways to escape the hard life under their feudal rulers. Some, like Qasab, go to major Pakistani cities in search of a better life and come in contact with Jihadi outfits like LeT. Others try and find employment in the Arab world, particularly Saudi Arabia. Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy describes the impact of exposure to the Arab world as follows:
"Villages (in Punjab) have changed drastically; this transformation has been driven, in part, by Pakistani workers returning from Arab countries. Many village mosques are now giant madrassas that propagate hard-line Salafi and Deobandi beliefs through oversized loudspeakers. They are bitterly opposed to Barelvis, Shias and other sects, who they do not regard as Muslims. The Punjabis, who were far more liberal towards women than the Pukhtuns, are now beginning to take a line resembling that of the Taliban. Hanafi law has begun to prevail over tradition and civil law, as is evident from the recent decisions of the Lahore High Court."
It appears that the radical Islam is now spreading beyond its traditional home in NWFP and FATA to Pakistan's heartland of Punjab. It is also clear that the new generation of Pakistanis do not want to accept life under a feudal or tribal system that denies them basic human dignity.
While the efforts to create and fund reconstruction opportunity zones (ROZ) in FATA are desirable and welcome, what is really needed is an international Marshall Plan style effort toward transforming Pakistan from a feudal/tribal to an industrial society. Such an effort will face major hurdles from the feudal leadership of the major political parties in Pakistan. However, if it is successfully implemented, new opportunities will open up for the nation's young population to offer them better alternatives to joining Jihadi outfits or seeking work in countries like Saudi Arabia.
Qasab's Journey in Time Magazine
Feudal Shadow in Pakistan Elections
UN Millennium Goals in Pakistani Village
Saudi-ization of Pakistan
Pakistan's FATA Face-off Fears
FATA Reconstruction Opportunity Zones
Pakistan Power Centers: Feudals, Clergy and Military