‘Mainstreaming’ of Terrorism


The Peshawar blast of March 14 was one of three prominent incidents owned by the hitherto unknown Ahrar-ul-Hind. Analysts and media outlets have started probing the whereabouts of the terrorist outfit. Conflicting reports might start pouring in, leading to another spell of ambiguity and obfuscation.

In the domain of political economy, it is not only the construction of the discourse that produces ‘control’, ‘authority’ and ‘influence’ to subjugate a community but also making the existing discourse ambiguous. This process is manifested in several complicated socio-political processes. We can see it in extremist violence that has granted a previously unimaginable share of power to the religious right, observed especially in cultural, political, economic and legal frameworks.

After the construction of the discourse using the concepts of khilafat sans frontiers, jihad and shahadat, the religious right, in connivance with the militant network, has used all communication modes and sources at its disposal to create contradictions in the logic of the discourse. It has been able to accomplish the task through its consistent effort to create ambiguities in the mind of mainstream Pakistan, consisting primarily of Punjab’s middle-class, educated youth. One can describe various phases of such obfuscation in a fairly precise manner.

The first phase of obfuscating the discourse started with the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban in which the common components of the discourse constructed by militant networks across the globe were consciously overlooked and downplayed. The electronic and print media were used to glorify groups fighting in Afghanistan and Kashmir. They were termed as ‘good’ Taliban.

The Afghan Taliban were glorified as freedom fighters and later depicted as the upholders of Pakhtun nationalism. The colonial model of Pakhtuns as ‘valiant’ ‘ungovernable’ and ‘independent’ was reconstructed and allowed to permeate mainstream Pakistan.

The ‘good’ Taliban were then identified with the code of Pakhtunwali. This part of the discourse achieves significance as one observes that much of the destruction was, in fact, inflicted on the Pakhtuns’ culture, society and polity. Pakhtun singers and artists were either killed or forced to flee. Their heritage was destroyed. Their social institutions were smashed. Their language and history were badly affected.

Despite all that was perpetrated on the Pakhtuns by militant networks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the media continued to harp on the narrative of a Pakhtun backlash in the guise of extremist violence.

When terrorist activities increased and the terror network went on a rampage, the ‘foreign hand’ theory was cooked up. Anchorpersons, analysts and researchers assured the public that Muslims could not be cruel enough to inflict this kind of destruction. Religio-political parties blamed Blackwater, a foreign, private security agency, and refused to accept the existence of militant networks, especially the TTP.

Though responsibility for these attacks was taken by the militant network, the ‘foreign hand’ theme continued to resound in the mainstream media. Strangely, no such ‘foreign hand’ has so far been caught and brought before the Pakistani public and international media.

Meanwhile, academia and civil society groups remained engaged in making education, poverty and culture responsible for such kind of barbarism. The most intriguing aspect is the culture specificity regarding the terrorist network. All other ethnic outfits including the Arabs, Chechens, Chinese, Punjabis, Sindhis, Brahvis and others were ignored and the Pakhtun genetic make-up held responsible for terrorism.

The third phase in the discourse of ambiguity began when the militant network started contacting media persons. Spokespersons and the leadership of the militant network gave interviews, issued and disseminated videos and got themselves snapped by various media outlets. This time the discourse of ambiguity manifested itself in the ‘theory of revenge’.

Rightists in the shape of the PTI and the Jamaat-i-Islami started claiming that militant groups avenge drone strikes and the presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan through the bombing of Pakistani markets, the killing of Pakistani security personnel, the murder of political workers and the targeted killing of teachers and maliks.

We now see the fourth phase of the discourse of ambiguity. It is apparent in the mantra of denying responsibility and of the latter being claimed by hitherto unknown groups. The latest in the series is Ahrar-ul-Hind. It is interesting to note that tactically its attacks resemble those owned by others in the militant network. All three attacks were owned on the basis of jihad. All three attacks achieved the same results – perpetuation of fear and retreat of state – as had all along been intended by the militant network.

-the writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar

-by arrangement with dawn.com