Former federal interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, just before leaving his duties, disclosed that multiple threats were faced by the country and they are so grave that national solidarity and the state’s integrity was at stake. He did not elaborate upon the nature of the threats but stated that they were extremely serious. To date no one has elucidated the threats either from the government or military. However, this does not mean that Nisar Ali Khan was wrong; indeed, there are certain serious threats to the country and there is some realization within the powers-that-be about them. But it is another matter whether the political will or vision is there to take on these threats.
The foremost threat in this regard is the large-scale extremism in the name of religion within the country. The government knows that there are innumerable groups and individuals, who have been a part of, or are a part of extremist enterprises. The government may have launched some large-scale successful military operations against terrorists and militants. However, the extremist organizations, institutions and networks, which have been behind these terrorists and militants, are still very much intact. Against this backdrop, the statement of Chaudhry Nisar bears weight. Otherwise he would not have stated that multiple dangers were looming over the state despite the conduct of extremely successful offensives against armed groups. The magnitude and strength of extremist organizations and networks is such that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for the state and its agencies to dismantle them.
A very important aspect of the extremist networks in Pakistan is that they have developed very complex command, control and support system. The command of the extremist networks is generally faceless in the sense that it is very difficult to identify. This is either because leaders of the extremist groups do not consider themselves as pejoratively fundamentalists or fail to realize the negative effect of their activities on state and society. In this case when the leaders of extremist networks do not realize their operations as detrimental with adverse repercussions for the state and society, it is very difficult for the state and its apparatus to convince them to stop their activities. Because these extremist leaders regard any government action against them as “illegal”, rather a hurdle in their “religious” duties. This situation is, indeed, explosive because these heads of fundamentalist networks have a huge social influence and public following. Any corrective action by the government is often portrayed as an action against religion, in order to exploit public sentiments. Due to this profound sensitivity of the situation, the government often choses not to take action against leaders of extremist networks. This has been the case with successive federal and provincial governments and other state agencies due to which extremist networks have been growing in scale and scope without inhibition.
On the other hand, even if the leaders of radical religious groups and networks are cognizant of the anti-state and anti-social nature of their activities, they have been keeping themselves involved in them primarily because of the economic and social benefits. Most of the leaders of the extremist networks have come from modest economic backgrounds and whatever fortune they have made has been due to their extremist activities. Therefore, they are not at all ready to give up their economic base, or sources of sustenance. The fact of the matter is that most of the leaders of the extremist religious networks joined these webs in search of occupation; therefore, they won’t leave them easily. These leaders have also been acting boldly and with impunity due to government consistent inaction.
Most of the extremist networks are controlled by bodies of individuals who have close relations with one another often in the shape of teacher-pupils. These networks of individuals in turn are controlled by a high profile social, political, economic and, above all, religious elite. The social elites use extremist religious networks for their respective vested social, political and economic interests. The social elite, particularly religious elite’s control of the extremist networks is profoundly significant. Due to the elite say in the legislative business at different tiers of government, any law dealing with extremist groups and networks is very difficult to make. Consequently, the state and government are found tending to negotiate with the fundamentalist enterprise. Another very important aspect of the control edifice of extremist networks in Pakistan is that they are not only dominated by the local social elites, but the latter also have links with power structures in other countries. This makes the structure extremely complex and difficult to negotiate. Because power structures in many so-called friendly Muslim countries of Pakistan have links with extremist organizations of Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistani authorities due to fear of estranging friendly Muslim countries have been desisting from taking action against extremist networks.
The biggest ground level support to extremist webs comes from the conservative sections of society, which assume the genuineness of the agenda and argument of such organizations. As this section conslitutes the largest part of Pakistani society, extremist groups capitalize on this support. This support is critical for the survival and growth of extremist groups. The support does not only come in the form of moral or political backing, but also, more importantly, in the shape of cash and kind. Without this money and material support extremist organizations could not even think of operating. It is important to note that the support in cash in kind is both voluntary and enforced. Another very important support from ultra-conservative and poverty-stricken sections of society to extremist groups comes in the shape of dedicating sons and wards to these organizations. This dedication of sons and wards to extremist organizations by families is largely due to their poverty and their religious sentiments. Both these are exploited by fundamentalist organizations to replenish their ranks.
Apart from Pakistan, over decades the financial support to Pakistani extremist groups from foreign countries has increased manifold and so much so that they are no longer dependent on local alms. As the foreign money came with strings attached, the recipient organizations would also follow the sectarian agenda of the donors. This has played an instrumental role in sectarianism.
Seeing the deep destabilizing effects of extremist organizations on Pakistani state and society, enemy states of Pakistan also started funding these organizations indirectly, and even directly, by buying individuals within them. The indirect financial support from enemies of Pakistan to our fundamentalist organizations was easily managed by using illegal and unofficial money transfers mechanisms like Hawala and Hundi from Arab-Gulf countries to Pakistan. So nobody in Pakistan exactly knows the scale of financial investment by foes of Pakistan in the country’s radical religious outfits. However, according to reserve estimates it is huge. The matter is made tricky due to refusal by extremist organizations to open their accounts for official audit and government lack of political will to go about checking their accounts.
The extremist enterprise in Pakistan has become so huge and dangerous that it is the single most potent threat to our social cohesion and state survival.