Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Interview with Asma Jahangir

"Who dares?", Pakistan's Independence day wallpaper, Tribute to Pakistan's Armed Forces.  (Ĵǡƕǻǹžəβ/Flickr)

"Who dares?", Pakistan's Independence day wallpaper, Tribute to Pakistan's Armed Forces. (Ĵǡƕǻǹžəβ/Flickr)

On a similar theme, an April 2005 International Crisis Group report argued that, "Sectarian conflict in Pakistan is the direct consequence of state policies of Islamisation and marginalization of secular democratic forces. Co-option and patronage of religious parties by successive military governments have brought Pakistan to a point where religious extremism threatens to erode the foundations of the state and society. As President Pervez Musharraf is praised by the international community for his role in the war against terrorism, the frequency and viciousness of sectarian terrorism continues to increase." Could you comment on this, in particular on how military governments have strengthened sectarian forces in Pakistan?

I read this International Crisis Group report and I agreed with every part of it, with the whole sense of it. We have identified particular patterns in Pakistan. When the government wants to divert attention, for example, there are immediately sectarian killings. This is something that columnists have commented upon and people have noticed. Other than that, there is patronage that comes from outside the country for many of the Islamist groups with the knowledge of the government and its intelligence agencies. We should not make the mistake of thinking that this patronage and funding takes place without the intelligence agencies of Pakistan being aware of it. These intelligence agencies are among the most competent intelligence agencies in many ways - in a very negative way. So they know what is happening. This is also why it is not the Islamic political parties, but it is these lashkars and other groups which are not even registered, which crop up once in a while and are involved in these attacks. There are more too. Each leader has only a few followers, but they have a lot of arms and they have a lot of money, and the government has done nothing to disarm these people so far.

But why is it that the report says that successive military governments have done this in ways that democratic governments have not?

The point of course is that the Islamists don't depend on democratic governments. They know that if there is genuine democracy, they are only going to lose their power and their importance in power politics. It is ultimately the military that is their friend.

But do they continue to work with the military even during democratic governments? Is this what they have done?

Well all indications are that they do continue to work with the military even when democratic governments have been in power. You can see how the military has used the Islamists against democratic forces and against leadership that has come in through democracy. Bhutto is a prime example of that.