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Deadly Kashmir Suicide Bombing Ratchets up India-Pakistan Tensions
Deadly Kashmir Suicide Bombing Ratchets up India-Pakistan Tensions
Report 216 / Asia

Islamic Parties in Pakistan

Religious intolerance, sectarian violence and radical Islamic parties threaten to undermine the democratic reforms on which Pakistan’s stability depends.

Executive Summary

The ability of Pakistan’s radical Islamic parties to mount limited but potentially violent opposition to the government has made democratic reform, and by extension the reduction of religious extremism and development of a more peace­ful and stable society, more challenging. This is a reflection of those parties’ well-organised activist base, which is committed to a narrow partisan agenda and willing to defend it through violence. While their electoral support remains limited, earlier Islamisation programs have given them a strong legal and political apparatus that enables them to influence policy far beyond their numerical strength. An analysis of party agendas and organisation, as well as other sources of influence in judicial, political and civil society institutions, is therefore vital to assessing how Pakistan’s main religious parties apply pressure on government, as well as the ability and willingness of the mainstream parties that are moderate on religious issues to resist that pressure.

These parties’ ability to demonstrate support for their various agendas is an expression of coherent internal structures, policymaking processes and relations between the leadership and the rank-and-file. These aspects of party functioning are, therefore, as critical to understanding their role in the polity and prospects of influencing policy in the future as in understanding their relationship to the state.

The Islamic parties that are the subject of this report might operate within the current political order, but their ultimate aim is to replace it with one that is based on narrow, discriminatory interpretations of Islam. They have also taken equivocal positions on militant jihad: on the one hand, they insist on their distinction from militant outfits by virtue of working peacefully and within the democratic system; on the other, they admit to sharing the ideological goal of enforcing Sharia (Islamic law), while maintaining sizeable mad­rasa and mosque networks that are breeding grounds for many extremist groups.

Moreover, belying their claims of working peacefully, the major Islamic parties maintain militant wings, violent student organisations and ties to extremist groups, and have proved more than willing to achieve political objectives through force. After parlaying military support during the 1980s into significant political and legislative gains, and even absent military support and the electoral assistance that entailed, the parties have still been able to defend earlier gains through intimidation and violent agitation on the streets. In response, faced with their opposition, the mainstream moderate parties have often abandoned promised reforms while in government, or even made further concessions, such as the National Assembly’s constitutional amend­ment in 1974 declaring the Ahmadi sect non-Muslim.

Such compromises have not offset the pressure of the ulama (religious scholars), as intended, but only emboldened religious hardliners.

The success of the six-party Islamic coalition, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), in the 2002 elections in Northwest Frontier Province and Balochistan was initially perceived to be testament to the Islamic parties’ power if they were unified in a single bloc. This result, however, was in fact due to massively rigged polls by the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf, which sought to sideline its main opposition, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Furthermore, the alliance, as reflected in its subsequent breakup, arguably revealed more about internal differences between the parties – particularly between the two largest and most influential, the revivalist Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the orthodox Deobandi Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) – than about their unity. Deprived of the military’s support in the 2008 polls, the MMA was routed by the PPP, PML-N and Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP).

Although the Islamic parties support the enforcement of Sharia, they represent different schools of thought, and their resulting acrimonious relations have resulted in intra-religious violence and created splinter factions that have weakened the original party or, in some cases, made it defunct. This has also diminished the likelihood of a restored alliance in the next general election. Nevertheless, the Fazlur Rehman-led faction of the JUI (JUI-F), the JI and smaller Islamic parties remain relevant due to their relative internal coherence; a committed hardcore base, including youth recruited through madrasas and, particularly in the JI’s case, university campuses; and the ability to leverage state institutions.

Their prospects for access to meaningful political power, however, still depend on military patronage. Should an ambitious high command decide to disrupt the current democratic dispensation, as in the past, it would likely rely on the Islamic parties to counter the mainstream moderate opposition. In a sustained democratic transition, however, the ability of these parties to influence the polity will depend on the effectiveness of the mainstream moderate parties to consolidate civilian rule and mobilise support for political and legal reform.

Discriminatory religious provisions and judicial and political structures such as the Federal Shariat Court and the Council of Islamic Ideology remain on the books and in frequent use. In the current climate, if the government is to fulfil earlier pledges to repeal discriminatory legislation, the mainstream parties, particularly the PPP and PML-N, will have to exploit their far greater and moderate popular base and create consensus on restoring and defending fundamental rights and equality for all citizens. Their success in rallying nationwide mass support against the Musharraf regime in 2007, ultimately effecting its ouster, demonstrates their capacity to do so. Building on the gains they have made with the return to civilian rule, both major parties should, adopt a policy of zero tolerance toward all forms of religious intolerance and extremism as a fundamental element of their efforts to stabilise a still fragile transition the success of which is vital to the country’s stability. But it will require far more active engagement with party activists and grassroots organisations to implement that policy.

Islamabad/Brussels, 12 December 2011

 

People shout slogans during a protest against the attack on a bus carrying Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel in south Kashmir, in Jammu 15 February 2019. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta
Q&A / Asia

Deadly Kashmir Suicide Bombing Ratchets up India-Pakistan Tensions

A 14 February suicide attack by Pakistan-based militants was their bloodiest strike in Indian-administered Kashmir in over three decades. In this Q&A, our Asia Program Director Laurel Miller warns that even a limited Indian retaliatory strike could spark a sharp escalation in conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbours. 

What happened in the Pulwama attack and how has India responded?

A 14 February suicide car bombing claimed by the Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed killed more than 45 security personnel in Indian-administered Kashmir’s Pulwama district, some 30 km from the state capital Srinagar. The attack, which targeted a convoy of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPC), was the deadliest terror incident in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) for over three decades. Vowing revenge and accusing Pakistan of complicity, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has warned Islamabad that support for jihadist proxies will no longer be tolerated. Threatening to isolate Pakistan diplomatically, Modi has called on the international community to take united, concrete action against terrorism and those who spread it. New Delhi has recalled its high commissioner (ambassador) from Islamabad and withdrawn Pakistan’s Most Favored Nation trading status. Islamabad also withdrew its top diplomat from New Delhi, accusing India of making allegations without investigations and denying any role in the attack.

As an already-tense relationship worsens, so too do the risks of conflict between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. With Indian general elections approaching this spring and emotions running high, the BJP government is likely to give its security forces an even freer hand than usual in squashing dissent in Muslim-majority, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The resultant alienation could lead more Kashmiri youth to join the ranks of militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Is Pakistan culpable for the Pulwama attack?

Rejecting Indian allegations of culpability, Islamabad claims that it has banned Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is led by Masood Azhar and is included in the UN Security Council Resolution 1267 sanctions list. Alongside Lashkar-e-Tayyaba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa, it is one of the most important anti-India Pakistan-based jihadist groups. Pakistan formally banned Jaish-e-Mohammed in 2002 following a December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, but the group re-emerged under a changed name. Although Pakistan has taken actions against Jaish individuals responsible for internal attacks, such as on military ruler Pervez Musharraf in December 2003, the al-Qaeda linked organisation continues to operate freely – recruiting, fundraising (including through madrasa networks and charity fronts), and planning and conducting attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir. The permissive environment Pakistan has created for Jaish activities directed toward India can legitimately be seen as deliberate policy, regardless of whether specific attacks can be proved to be linked to Pakistani decision-making. 

Was Kashmiri homegrown militancy responsible for the Pulwama attack?

The 14 February suicide attacker, Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Adil Ahmad Dar (also known as Waqas Commando), was a young man from a village close to the attack site who had joined the group last year. His father claimed he had joined Jaish after Indian troops beat and humiliated him. India’s militarised response to growing local alienation and disaffection in J&K has resulted in an exponential rise in homegrown militancy and local support for the militants. The July 2016 killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, a young charismatic Hizbul Mujahideen militant, accelerated these developments.

This lack of autonomy and political freedoms, combined with the heavy-handed security response, will likely lead to more violence and unrest in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

Rampant rights abuses amid a climate of impunity, highlighted in the June 2018 UN report on Kashmir, and draconian laws such as the Armed Services Special Powers Act serve as recruiting tools for both Kashmiri separatist groups and Pakistani jihadist outfits like Jaish-e-Mohammed. Clearing operations by Indian security forces such as “Operation All Out”, launched in mid-2017, led to 2018 becoming the bloodiest year in J&K in a decade. Around 500 people were killed in Kashmir’s conflict-related violence, including militants, civilians and security personnel. Although more than half of those killed were militants, many non-combatants were also killed, injured or disappeared in military operations, resulting in more support by local communities for the militant cause.

How will the Pulwama attack shape New Delhi’s policy toward Indian-administered Kashmir?

Domestic outrage at the killing of more than 40 security personnel by the Kashmiri suicide bomber with admitted links to a Pakistan-based jihadist group has further vitiated already tense relations between Hindus and Muslims in India. In J&K’s Hindu-majority Jammu and elsewhere, particularly in northern Indian states, Kashmiri Muslims have been harassed and attacked. Although failing to rein in such sectarian violence could further increase support for the militants in the J&K’s Muslim-majority areas, as elections approach the BJP will want to appease the sentiments of its hardline constituency that wants to avenge the Pulwama dead.

While security sweeps and arrests of scores of alleged militant sympathisers are further exacerbating tensions within J&K, there are few political avenues to assuage Kashmiri dissent. New Delhi has exercised direct rule in J&K since the governor dissolved the state assembly in November 2018. Although Kashmiri separatists want either independence or merger with Pakistan, even moderates are alienated by the gradual erosion of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which provides for a special status of greater political autonomy for J&K and the abolition of which the BJP has strongly supported. This lack of autonomy and political freedoms, combined with the heavy-handed security response, will likely lead to more violence and unrest in J&K, which in turn will likely result in more efforts by New Delhi to forcibly suppress Kashmiri dissent.

Will Pakistan rethink support for anti-India jihadist proxies?

A Pakistani rethink on the longstanding policy of backing jihadist proxies, including Jaish, depends on a shift in its powerful military establishment’s internal and external cost-benefit analysis, which as yet appears more tactical than strategic. Since 2016, following attacks on the Pathankot military base in Indian Punjab and security personnel near J&K’s Uri town – which India attributed to Jaish – India has refused to revive its bilateral dialogue with Islamabad unless Pakistan takes decisive action against all such jihadist groups. Following the Pathankot and Uri attacks, India claimed to have launched surgical strikes on terrorist targets across the Line of Control dividing Indian and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Though Pakistan denies that such strikes took place, there are almost weekly violations of the 2003 ceasefire line by Pakistani and Indian troops, claiming scores of lives of civilians and security personnel each year.

“We will give a befitting reply; our neighbour will not be allowed to destabilise us”, said Prime Minister Modi, giving his security forces “permission to take decisions about the timing, place and nature of their response”. While offering to cooperate with New Delhi in investigating the Pulwama attack, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan warned that his country would have no choice but to “retaliate immediately” if India attacked.

Concerned about heightened tensions, the U.S. has urged Pakistan to act decisively against all terrorist groups “operating on its soil”. However, Pakistan’s strategic location and the role it could play in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table could lead the U.S. to lower its pressure. Islamabad’s closest ally, China, which has thus far blocked Indian efforts in the UN Security Council to designate Jaish leader Azhar a “global terrorist”, is also concerned about the outbreak of armed conflict between India and Pakistan. However, it is unlikely to pressure Islamabad given Beijing’s unwillingness to damage its relationship with Pakistan.

If New Delhi were to opt for even a limited military strike across the Line of Control or the international border with Pakistan, that would increase the risk of conflict spiraling rapidly between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.