War Against Militant Islam- The Ideological Frontiers
It all started in 1979 when the then Soviet army invaded Afghanistan. The US, the rival superpower, engaged the local traditional Muslims and many others who volunteered from outside Afghanistan to fight the invading army to throw them out. In the process they trained the local people in the art of modern military warfare, equipped them with military hardware, and called them the Afghan fighters of the holy war (Afghan Mujahidin). The US achieved its purpose of ousting USSR from Afghanistan culminating in the collapse of the Soviet empire. Both parties, the US and Afghan Mujahidin, were supremely confident that since they had defeated a super power, they had become invincible. In this war, they were ably supported by Pakistan who provided them the ideology, the manpower and the training ground for these Mujahidin.
The Afghan Mujahidin did not fight the Soviet army for the love of Americans. Their fight was a holy war for them which had its roots in their religious narrative that urged them to fight non-Muslim enemies until the entire globe was conquered for establishing the political authority of Islam. Not long after the collapse of Soviet Union, the Taliban established the first model of what they thought was the ideal Islamic state in accordance with their narrative. When a group of people caused 9/11 to happen and the US invaded Afghanistan on the plea that the alleged chief instigator, Osama bin Laden, was given protection by the Taliban government, the religious narrative was challenged. The Taliban took it as a further opportunity to realize their ideal. From then on, they are fighting, going by their religious understanding, the Kafir Americans who conquered their land and destroyed the Islamic regime in Afghanistan. Their first goal is to oust the Americans from Afghanistan and the next, bigger one, is to convert the entire globe into an Islamic state by invading it through Jihad (holy war). The fallout of that war in Pakistan is not coincidental. TTP is the Pakistani version of the group inspired by the same ideology.
The narrative the Afghan Taliban and their Pakistani counterparts are striving to realize is taught in the religious seminaries of Pakistan in a way that the Muslim world is described as Darul-Islam (or Darul-Salam, the land of peace) and the rest as Darul-Harb (the land of war). This war will continue according to the narrative until all territories of the world are subjugated and made Darul-Islam. A similar narrative was forcefully presented by Mawlana Maududi and his followers and Dr Israr Ahmad in the later half of the twentieth century. They quoted verses after verses from the Quran to show that the purpose of a believer’s life in this world was to ensure supremacy of God’s law over the entire globe. His task would remain incomplete until that goal is realized. Neither of them wanted their narrative to be realized through military adventurism of such devastating proportions as the TTP is doing. In fact, Jama’at e Islami decided after the creation of Pakistan to achieve that goal democratically. Dr Israr Ahmad resigned from the Jama’at in protest, declaring it as a deviation from the ideal Mawlana Maududi himself presented. No matter what these scholars had in mind, military adventurism of the Taliban has its ideological roots in their works.
The soldiers who are fighting for TTP are therefore convinced that what they are doing is the noblest of the causes their religion has taught them. They are engaged in a holy war (Jihad). But the narrative is not believed in by the Taliban alone. A substantial number of religious Pakistanis are influenced by the same approach. The non-combatant sympathizers are put off sometimes by the barbaric killing of the innocent civilians by the Taliban. Many of them also disagree with suicide bombing as a tactic for achieving this goal. Some also dispute their strategy of achieving their end by fighting fellow Muslims. But the ideal of ensuring supremacy of Islamic law one way or the other is shared by many as an undisputed ideal.
The war against the Taliban is therefore not going to be a simple affair. It has both military and ideological dimensions. The latter too has to be fought resolutely by presenting convincing arguments to show that the concept of Darul Harb is absurd, dangerous, and un-Islamic. It needs to be clarified that the battles fought against the non-believers at the time of the Prophet alaihissalam were mostly divine punishments for the people who rejected the messenger of God despite knowing him to be the true representative of God. The Quranic verses referring to those battles have nothing to do with later times. It also needs to be clarified that the task of introducing Islamic Shari’ah is not the direct responsibility of the masses. The elected representatives need to introduce it through mutual consultation. Muslims need to be convincingly reminded that fighting against Muslim rulers is not Jihad (a holy war); instead, it is fasad fil ard (mischief on earth). And above all, they should be made to realize that killing one soul is as big a crime as killing the entire humanity. Arguments for all these ideas are firmly rooted in the Quran.
If the outcome of the war against TTP is to be positive, it will have to be fought as much on the ideological frontier as it needs to be fought on the military front. No army can fight a war convincingly if it is fighting an enemy who enjoys considerable sympathies of many of its own soldiers and civilians.