Tolerance is a fine thing. However, there are limits that any sane society must prescribe, and the presence of autonomous, unaccountable entities that in all likelihood present a danger to the lives of citizens and the security of the state cannot be tolerated. Recently reports have emerged that in the event that peace talks fail, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) allies at religious seminaries in and around the capital, Islamabad, are ready to support the terrorists and help attacks on the city. The TTP strategic aim of inculcating fear in people is well served by these reports. However, these fears are not baseless since the capital’s security has already been compromised by two bomb attacks in the last 30 days that claimed upwards of 40 lives and left scores more people injured.
The reports point to two seminaries run by clerics known for advocating violence and sectarianism: Azizur Rahman Hazari reportedly runs a madrassah that ‘brainwashes’ and prepares candidates for suicide bombing and terrorism, while Fazlur Rahman Khalil reportedly provides weapons training at his seminary.
Khalil is on the US terrorist watch-list for signing Osama bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa (decree) declaring war against the US. He also founded the now banned Harkatul Mujahideen in 1985 and police believe his current group, Ansarul Ummah, is a front for the banned outfit, despite his denials. No judges are willing to prosecute him, police say, for fear of their lives, and both men are believed to have provided logistical support for the TTP attack on army headquarters in Rawalpindi in 2009. The reports were corroborated by security officials. The Wafaqul Madaras, an umbrella organisation for Deobandi seminaries, has resisted calls for madrassah reform or registration, claiming it is interference in their affairs, and successive governments have backed down in the face of blackmail by religious leaders, who threaten to bring their supporters out on the streets. However, with Pakistanis being blown to pieces daily, it seems there is little more that they can do that the government should be afraid of, which raises the question of why nothing is being done about seminaries that pose a direct threat to the capital and its citizens.
The questions are pertinent: is there an investigation of these seminaries underway? Are the links confirmed? Even if unconfirmed, security agencies can hardly ignore warnings of this nature given the fact that religious seminaries are proven parts of the militant training programme. The connection between religious seminaries and militant organisations is common knowledge in today’s Pakistan. For the past 30 years, seminaries provided the ideological and practical training for militants, terrorists and suicide bombers in Pakistan, after first being used for that purpose during the Afghan war in the 1980s. The link is undeniable and established; jihadi organisations that operate with their own agendas and in opposition to the interests of the state and people of Pakistan use seminaries as factories for their fanatical foot soldiers. The techniques involved include brainwashing from childhood, coupled with physical abuse to ingrain the brainwashing deeply, followed by practical training in the use of explosives and weapons at other madrassas or terrorist training camps in the tribal areas. The government and security agencies are aware of this link; indeed they created it as part of the programme to use religious proxies to fight the USSR in Afghanistan, then India in Kashmir, and to impose order in Afghanistan in the form of the Taliban.
The question that remains is are the authorities blind to the threat religious seminaries pose, or are they wiling to allow Pakistani citizens to die in order to further delusional visions of dominating Afghanistan or ‘conquering’ Kashmir? Let us put the argument in context: conquest is no longer a legitimate means of taking territory. In the 1960s, before global norms negated the practice, our attempt to integrate Kashmir by force failed. Continuing support for jihadi proxies is another strategic miscalculation that has cost thousands of Pakistanis their lives. The military establishment and the government must drop their visions of grandeur and immediately shut down religious seminaries that pose a threat to citizens, without fear of what the terrorists may do since they are doing their worst already.