Editorial: Fatwa against suicide bombings
A powerful group of clerics has gathered in Lahore and issued a fatwa against a freewheeling concept of jihad and the use of suicide-bombing in Pakistan. As if in exchange, it has also asked the government to stop military operations in the Tribal Areas and conduct “negotiations” with the terrorists there to end the state of militancy that has laid Pakistan low. The Mutahidda Ulema Council statement has asserted that “only the state has the authority to call for jihad (holy war), and individuals or groups are not authorised to do that”.
The conference that issued the statement was attended by all the important schools of clerical thought in the country: Jama’at Ahle Sunnat (Barelvi), Ahle Tashayyo (Shia), Ahle-Hadith, Jama’at-e Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (Deobandi), and the banned Sipah-e Sahaba (Deobandi). Therefore, on the face of it at least, the factions that endorsed the Council call comprised all the jurisprudential brands of Islam known in Pakistan. Also present were “renamed” versions of the banned militias known for their past jihadi activities.
The venue was Jamia Naeemia, known for its extremely stringent verdicts on the religious backslidings of the state, presided over by its firebrand leader Maulana Sarfaraz Naeemi. This was meant to show that the fatwa was not being issued by “moderate ulema” who are no longer in vogue in Pakistan but a Deobandi-Ahle Hadith consensus that was not known in the past to issue such religious verdicts. In fact, when in 2005 a group of moderate ulema led by Mufti Munibur Rehman issued a fatwa against suicide-bombing, the group was condemned and also threatened by other radical ulema and their militant followers.
The gathering also put forward other views that can fall in the category of demands. Apart from the crucial demand that military operations in the Tribal Areas should be stopped forthwith, the ulema put forward other “items of the agenda”: they want General Musharraf’s pacts with the United States to be made public, Iran to be made an ally in place of America, and that for Iran’s case to be brought up at the OIC. Along with other angry references to America, the US-India nuclear deal was also condemned and deemed dangerous to Pakistan.
The big demand was the ceasefire in Bajaur and Swat. But it is the other demand, the stricture on suicide-bombing, which has been welcomed by the Interior Adviser, Mr Rehman Malik. Assuming that there are two respondents to the Council’s call, it is now up to Islamabad and those who run the campaign of terrorism to step up and comply with their pledges. It goes without saying that the Council, while reviewing the results of its call, will condemn Al Qaeda and the Taliban only if the government in Islamabad calls off the operation in the Tribal Areas.
The heavyweights at the Council gathering in Lahore also have electoral and “power” stakes in the Bajaur Agency, which is under pressure from a rather successful military operation. The local population has to endure the fallout of the ongoing battles while a number of tribes have formed their own lashkars against the terrorists to indicate some measure of actual success achieved by the army. The Council demands, while putting the onus of doctrinal abstraction on Al Qaeda and Taliban, require the Pakistan Army to retreat in concrete terms.
What will be the outcome of this two-sided position adopted by the Council? Will the army stop operations and even withdraw if suicide-bombings cease for some time? Will the terrorists or militants first see the Army stop operations before they announce their own acceptance of the Lahore fatwa? This process has been observed in the past. Both sides have resumed hostilities after accusing each other of bad faith and breach of agreement. All “deals” have so far made shipwreck and have been followed by more fierce attacks by the terrorists.
The past record of conflict tells us that whenever a ceasefire is agreed, it has redounded to the advantage of the terrorists by giving them the breathing period in which to regroup and renew their assault. Innocent populations are thereafter converted through intimidation in a hiatus of state power which has withdrawn under a ceasefire agreement. The ulema at Lahore have expressed their resolve to tour the affected areas to see the state of the conflict for themselves even though all the parties present have their representatives in the affected areas, all of them aligned against government action.
There are signs within the agenda of demands that certain institutions of the state may have helped in the organising of the Council in Lahore. This can be a useful underpinning but it can also blunt the state authority’s action to come to the defence of the people. At worst, it may point to the presence of many streams of state policy running in parallel and not always in harmony. *
Second Editorial: Unrealistic expectations from China
The official visit of President Asif Ali Zardari to China has given rise to exaggerated expectations that may negatively affect the final assessment of the visit after it is over. The president is already under fire for not visiting China first even though the Chinese themselves may have preferred him to visit New York first during the United Nations General Assembly session. The expectations are especially invidious as they imply a pulling out of the stakes of alliance from Washington and pitching them in Beijing. The other unhelpful speculation relates to the kind of money China is supposed to dish out to Pakistan and the kind of “nuclear deal” it is supposed to offer to offset the deal made by the US with India earlier.
A mixture of all the above can certainly happen but may not meet the wild assessment of tens of billions of dollars in grants that some amateur economists have come up with. Pakistan will clearly have to make the best effort, after which a lot of countries and institutions may rally round to strengthen its position. It is true that China has large foreign exchange reserves and can spare some dollars for Pakistan. Its reserves are going to reach $3 trillion by the end of next year. But without a proper understanding of how China manages its linkages with the world economy it would be unrealistic to pin large hopes to President Zardari’s visit. *