Discarding Sectarianism

Published in Hilal English Jan 2014

Written By: Brig Dr Muhammad Khan

Extremism and terrorism are the biggest threats to the state of Pakistan. These internal threats have grown over the years and now a stage has reached where this menace is challenging the national integrity and social harmony of Pakistan. Apart from the terrorist activities of the TTP, the growing trends of sectarian divide have emerged as the most pronounced and real challenge for the state and society of Pakistan. Unfortunately, every new day brings yet another and a unique security challenge to the state as well as the people of Pakistan.

In the Holy Qur’aan, (3:103), Allah Almighty clearly ordained the Muslims to, “Hold tight to the Rope of Allah (His covenant that is our allegiance to "La ilaha ill Allah Muhammad-ur-Rasulullah", all together and be not disunited among yourselves.” Elaboration of this directive is found in the Hadith of Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who said, “Shall not I inform you of a better act than fasting, alms and prayers? Making peace between one another: Enmity and malice tear up heavenly rewards by the roots.”After having received clear directive from Allah Almighty and his last Prophet (PBUH), there should not be any ambiguity, as to how Muslims should spend their lives. There is no basis of division or any difference in the basic teaching and belief in Islam.

According to a survey of sectarian violence in Pakistan, from 1989 to 2013, in total 2847 incidents, 4652 people have been killed and 9030 people got injured. In 2013 alone, 106 incidents of sectarian violence took place in various parts of Pakistan, which resulted into killing of 467 people and injuring of 753 people. During first quarter of year-2013, Hazara community of Quetta remained on the hit list of opponent extremist groups, certainly based on sectarianism. Besides, there have been sporadic incidents of sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan and other parts of Pakistan. In the past, there have been bomb blasts and suicide attacks on mosques, imam barghas and processions / religious gatherings.

The recent incident of sectarian violence that took place in Raja Bazar, Rawalpindi was unique in a manner that it provoked people not only to harm each other but also to damage public property resulting in millions of rupees losses. Since judicial investigation of the incident is underway, therefore it is premature to say whether it was a planned violent activity or otherwise. However, this was addition in the already list of incidents of sectarian violence happening for many years. This incident was coupled with violence which is a new trend and certainly a very dangerous activity in the twin cities.

The unfortunate incident that took place in Rawalpindi on 10th of Muharram was a signal that there is a potential for such happenings within the society of Pakistan. The real issue, however, is the menace of sectarian violence and its rapid growth rate is fast swallowing the traditional peace and harmony that once existed in the Pakistani society with Shia and Sunny schools of thought living with great concord and respect for each other, and in many cases, even conducting intermarriages. Why that social connection was allowed to erode and subsequently degraded to the current level? Whereas, a class of so-called Muslim clerics (having made various schools of thoughts on the wishes of few to serve their personal motives) is busy in propagating and projecting their own form of Islam. Why the successive governments have allowed these elements to grow to this intolerable level? At the level of Government we can learn from our brother Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, who do not allow any such type of activities on their soil. Even people committing a minor anti-state crime, involved in sectarian divide or drug smuggling, are given exemplary punishments, death penalties in most of the cases. While taking a lead from these countries, should Pakistan tolerate these activities on its soil?

There is a need to carryout re-evaluation of ourselves before blaming external forces for causing the sectarian divide. This is a reality that many political parties have linkages with these religious organizations which in turn act as the vote bank for them. In Pakistan, these sectarian outfits belonging from any school of thoughts are involved in undesired activities. If someone is not directly sponsoring extremism, it indirectly supports militant groups of their own school of thought. At least every sectarian outfit is busy in creating a divide among the people for their own interests. These outfits are rapidly widening the cracks in Pakistani society through motivation or by use of force.

For Muslims, since Allah is one, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is one, Holy Quran is one, then should we stand divided in various religious groupings? These sectarian outfits do not serve any good for Pakistan and Muslims? It is about time that government should put a ban on such activities, causing religious divide and hate speeches against each other. Rather marching through streets and roads, creating security hazards for ourselves, why cannot we perform our religious rituals in mosques centrally?

Even at this belated stage of our history, where we have already lost too much, let us take correct decisions for: a secure, peaceful, socially knitted, economically prosperous and politically stable Pakistan where there is no internal rivalry and no external conspiracy permitted. This can be done through sincere, selfless, devoted and dedicated leadership, which can stand-up at its own feet; without the help of mislead extremist religious forces and without foreign sponsorship. Anything short of this will allow the current state of affairs to continue unabated, risking the very survival of the state.

In one of his Hadith, Prophet (PBUH) said, "Do not envy one another; do not inflate prices; do not hate one another; do not turn away from one another; and do not undercut one another, but be you, O servants of Allah, brothers. A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim: he neither oppresses him nor does he fail him, he neither lies to him nor does he hold him in contempt. Piety is right here-and he pointed to his chest three times. It is evil enough for a man to hold his brother Muslim in contempt. The whole of a Muslim for another Muslim is inviolable: his blood, his property, and his honour." (Sahih Muslim)

The Father of Nation, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah has given us a clear motto of: 'Unity, Faith and Discipline'. As a nation, we have to understand that, “United we stand, divided we fall.” It will be easy for our rivals to destroy us if we are split. Since sectarian divide is the worst and most dangerous of all other forms of extremism, therefore, let us discord this menace at all cost for a united and strong Pakistan.

The writer is the Head of International Relations Department at National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Public Opinion and Counter–Terrorism Strategy

Published in Hilal English Jan 2014

Written By: Lt Col Ali Raza

In democratic political settings, public opinion is essence of governance which not only facilitates rulers in implementation of their policies smoothly but can also remove irritants in political spheres. In the words of William Shakespeare, “public opinion is the mistress of success” and according to Blaise Pascal, “it is queen of the world.” Though its formalized tabulation can be traced back in the history of city-states of ancient Greece but term 'public opinion' was firstly coined in the Seventeenth century, when coffee-houses and subsequently in 18th and 19th centuries gentleman clubs played pivotal role in making and shaping the public opinion in the politics of England. Now with the invention of mass and social media, the concept of public opinion has completely revolutionized – without favourable public opinion every action of the state bound to have negative repercussions.

A critical relationship has developed between state policies and public opinion – public opinion is the true reflection of political dispensation. Abraham Lincoln has also emphasized that public opinion is everything, with it nothing can fail, without it nothing can succeed. Terrorism is ideologically driven conflict with political objectives and being fought between State Actors (SAs) and Non-State Actors (NSAs) right in the public-yard. Public has become critical stakeholder in fight against terrorism and with increasing casualties and losses of people vis-à-vis SAs and NSAs, their opinion have acquired key role in the counter-terrorism meta-narrative, because an army may win thousands battles in counter-terrorism regime but cannot win the war without winning the public support.

Positive and negative perception both have significance in combating terror. Both adversaries can develop epistemic justification for launching their vilification campaign to tarnish the image of their opponents. Counter-terrorism meta-narrative has to address negative aspects which are having potentials of spoiling the image of SAs and picking up exploitable themes generated by NSAs to expose their face in the public. Ingredients of Public Perception

Centre of gravity of counterterrorism campaign rests in public opinion and NSAs' leadership, but the public opinion has relatively more significance. In counterterrorism meta-narrative, non-kinetic efforts should aim at building a favourable public opinion whereas kinetic efforts should focus on NSAs' leadership. Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Ex Ambassador and, Dr Shabnam Fayyaz, professor at Quaid-i-Azam University and expert on counterterrorism policy, have also endorsed the significance of public opinion with the unique words that the positive public opinion helped Pakistan Army to launch successful operations in Swat and South Waziristan Agency, and it is going to be precondition for extending operation to North Waziristan Agency.

Speech of Sufi Muhammad, Supreme Leader of Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) about disregarding the Constitution of Pakistan, flogging incident of a girl in Swat and Malala's episode proved to be catalyst incidents in the war on terror. These incidents discredited the NSAs and the public opinion swung in favour of SAs. Public opinion has catalyzing role in War on Terror (WOT). This war cannot be won unless the public divorce the NSAs and distance itself from their narrative. This can help to dry up the bases of NSAs including sympathizers and support groups who are living in the masses and playing significant facilitating role in conduct of terrorist activities.

Cultivation of perception including making, shaping and maintaining favourable public opinion has become herculean task in obtaining antagonistic milieu. Military planners and strategists often overlook this aspect during the planning phase of operations and are unable to measure up the effect of public perception on kinetic efforts truly. Realistically, public opinion rests in justness of the cause, either of opposing forces can turn the public opinion on their side provided they can convince the masses about justness of their cause.

Sequentially, justness of the cause is linked to legitimacy of acts of state/ NSAs and legitimacy is connected to transparency in actions. These relations are fundamental in developing the public perception because it bolsters moral ascendency for winning the hearts and minds of masses. Securitization process can play a pivotal role in developing, shaping and maintaining positive public opinion before initiating kinetic prong against the NSAs. Securitization process can keep the counterterrorism effort and masses on same wavelength which should become punch line of counterterrorism meta-narrative.

Practically speaking, kinetic prongs are initiated against the NSAs and subsequently a psychological campaign is launched to win the hearts and minds of the people for building favourable public opinion.

This is a gross blunder in counterterrorism planning regime. Psychological campaign including securitization process for winning the hearts and minds of people must precede the kinetic prongs. Perception of masses ought to be managed before it is mystified by NSAs propaganda. NSAs can only win, if they are backed by public opinion because militarily they are far inferior to their adversaries. Idealistically speaking, time and space of kinetic prong against the NSAs should be determined by the public – only on their demand. However, it can also be manipulated through securitization efforts. Collateral Damage and Public Perception

Another sour point in counterterrorism regime is 'Collateral Damage' which is embedded in any type of kinetic efforts against NSAs, particularly in built up areas and directly influences the public mood. A kinetic prong without precise intelligence will be counterproductive because any military / police operation without tangible results like arrests, killings of terrorists or recoveries etc will alienate the public owing to collateral damages. It is extremely impossible to avoid collateral damages in such police/ military operations in buildup areas against NSAs. Collateral damage is catalyst in swinging the public opinion on either side.

Victims of collateral damage need prompt response which can be in shape of sympathies and compensation. A quick compensation of collateral damages should be part of military strategy and it must be made before NSAs sympathize / compensate the victims of operations. Delays and shallow promises for compensation of collateral damages will help to broaden the base of NSAs networks and it acts as catalyst in their recruiting phenomenon.

Hearts & Minds

Battle for hearts & minds can only be won, if law enforcing agencies respect civil liberties and principles of good governance. The Constitution of Pakistan has guaranteed the fundamental rights of people, which include freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of information, freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and the right to bear arms etc, which must be upheld in the fight against terror, because real security can only be achieved through respect for human rights.

SAs are far superior militarily, and during conduct of operations, may violate the fundamental rights of citizen unintentionally which provides justification and opportunities to NSAs for exploitation and helps in gaining sympathies. Violation of fundamental rights of people causes narcissistic injuries and such humiliation instigate the victims to take revenge. Vengeance promotes violence hence SAs should be careful during all operations. Respect for fundamental rights help in crafting conditions for perpetual peace in the society.

Mass Media

Mass media plays a significant role in cultivation of public perception; shaping public opinion on a variety of important issues, both through the information that is dispensed by them, and through the interpretations they make out of this information. They also play a large role in shaping modern culture, by selecting and portraying a particular set of beliefs, values, and traditions, as reality. That is, by portraying a certain interpretation of reality, they shape reality to be more in line with that interpretation. This overwhelming penetration of mass media in human lives has bolstered the role in cultivation of public opinion and reinforcing their religious and social believes. Even media can dictate the people, what to buy, wear, think, read and eat etc.

This role of media in daily lives of people can be used to mitigate the violence from the societies and promote culture of peace. Obtaining support of media should become fundamental ingredient of counterterrorism strategy for cultivation of perception to support the kinetic efforts of SAs.

Way Forward

WOT is unconventional war which has to be fought unconventionally – relatively more reliance on unconventional means than conventional tools. The public has become a major stakeholder because this war is fought right in the public-yard. Both SAs and NSAs need favourable public opinion to turn the table on their opponents, but public opinion would swing in the favour of those who convince for justness of the cause, legitimacy of acts and transparency in actions.

NSAs cannot win this war because militarily they are far inferior and only public support can strengthen their position. In democratic settings this war should be fought legitimately and despite of NSAs coercive and brutal activities, SAs should exercise strict restraint in violating the law of the land. Public support will extend morale ascendency and helps to curtail the period of violence.

Counterterrorism meta-narrative should focus on the aspects for cultivation of public perception favourable for keeping the public and SAs at same frequency. The SAs should hold regular briefings on conduct of WOT and share all the atrocities of NSAs with the public upfront. A regular press briefings on conduct of counterterrorism campaign and sharing all the details of operations conducted, arrests made and activities of the NSAs will greatly help to cultivate the positive public perception to win the hearts and minds of the general people.

The writer is a PhD scholar (Peace and Conflict Studies) at NDU, Islamabad.

The Nation Comes Together

Written By: Rasul Bakhsh Rais

December 16, 2014 will be remembered as the blackest days in Pakistan’s history, both for the tragedy of East Pakistan, and, for the massacre of our children that the Taliban terrorists committed at the Army Public School in Peshawar. Tragedies, sorrowful days and setbacks are part of every national history; some end up having more of them than others. No nation state, particularly in a challenging security environment of multiple wars and globalization of terrorism can expect to live in an ideal paradise. Ours is one of the most insecure nation come2region with internal and external states and non-state actors playing dangerous games. Afghanistan is and has been the epicenter of so many ‘great’ and not so great games. The state and security vacuum of Afghanistan for decades and its internal wars and external interventions have gravely impacted on Pakistan’s national security conditions, both internally as well as in relations to other countries. The Taliban terrorism is born out of these conditions and supported by powers and forces with ill intentions of weakening and destabilizing Pakistan.

We should have realized the challenge of Taliban terrorism much earlier, before what happened in Swat, the moment they began to group and raise militia to destabilize the political and social order of FATA. Sadly, there was ambiguity, ambivalence in thinking of some of the religious and mainstream political parties. The religious parties belonging to the same sectarian denomination as the Taliban defended them tooth and nail, in the media and in the public rallies. All such movements either create political fronts of their own or have some tacit alliances. Few religious parties tacitly or out of their own religious and political convictions gave too much of support to them by deflecting criticism on the Taliban and justifying what they were doing to the Pakistani society. They were however not alone. A good number of media persons made sure that those who defended the Taliban and terrorists from Lal Masjid episode to all other ugly incidents were represented in their shows. Nation as a whole was divided and the governments kept vexing eloquence in making distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban.

The media at large and the indecision of the then Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and federal government in a crucial phase when this monster was raising its ugly head kept the nation confused, disunited and indifferent when a branch of Taliban had taken over Swat. It was a video of public flogging of a girl that awakened the nation to the danger of extremism and terrorism. The population of Swat paid a heavy price for liberation of their region, and so did the security forces and the nation.

Once again, we see the Pakistani nation standing together against the Taliban terrorism. The ultimate sacrifice of our children has touched every soul in this country and every human in the larger world who values human life and has love for children. What this unity should mean and where we go from here? The national solidarity against terrorism means that government has full support of the nation to take every measure that it deems necessary to end terrorism in the country. Without doing this, stability, prosperity and improving Pakistan’s global image will remain a distant dream. There is no room for wavering in resolve or losing the target, which is ending terrorism from every group nation come3disregarding its motivation or geographic location. As to where we go from here, three things are of crucial importance for Pakistan in this defining moment in our history. First, we must rethink of the national narrative—what kind of Pakistan we want. We have deviated far too long from the vision of our founders, which was a democratic, moderate, liberal, pluralistic Pakistan, integrated with the world community on the basis of mutual interest. In a globalized world, isolation is a curse that our external enemies, terrorists and their ideological warriors wish to impose on us. A country which is secure for every citizen no matter what his ethnicity, faith, or particular religious pursuits are and in which every citizen of Pakistan has an opportunity to grow, prosper and realize his or her dreams. Pakistan must be conceived as a nation state which is pluralistic in its composition and its basis is citizenship – all are equal. Redefining Pakistan is a monumental task which cannot be done in short time but what is important is a resolute determination and its pursuit no matter who governs the country. A modernist vision and a true interpretation about the creation of Pakistan, which undoubtedly was for advancing and protecting the political and economic interests of the Muslims must get the space in our curriculum design for the educational institutions, social and political discourses in the media and must be the mark of every public policy. Without changing narrative about the vision of Pakistan we may not be able to recover the real Pakistan – the Pakistan our founders had imagined and struggled for.

The second important task before the governments, both provincial and federal, is to start reform programme of every institution where public money is spent. State institutions have been on decline for decades. They are not delivering the services and goods that they are intended for. Among them public utilities, development agencies and public entities like Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) must be restructured, reformed, and better off-loaded from the back of the government. Where in the world a public or a serious government that is committed to public interests would allow hundreds of billions of wastage every year for which the public has paid for. More important are reforms of the legal and judicial system that fails to punish the criminals from those robbing public exchequer to murdering our citizens. Laws against hate speech are of immense importance to control sectarianism. Largely, it is collapse of the institutional power of the state in some of these critical areas that has created social conditions for militant minds.

Thirdly, we must educate our children, provide professional skills to our youth and give them hope that Pakistan is the place where they can grow, develop and find opportunity. An atmosphere of hopelessness and lack of educational opportunities pushes young people into the fold of terrorist organizations.

Fourthly, we must be tough with the countries that are providing sanctuaries to the terrorists or those providing funds to the organizations for development or religious education. We have been too soft, too porous and too relaxed about what other countries do inside our society and in our proximate neighbourhood. Peshawar and the Army Public School will not be the same. The lesson of this tragedy is that Pakistan should not be the same. Must it revert back to the founding vision.

Finally, the task of defeating the extremist mindset and terror networks with global links, cannot and shouldn’t be left to one institution. It is a shared national responsibility of the society at large, the state, all state institutions, political parties and the media. The practical meanings of national solidarity against terrorism is that every one of us and every institutions of the state from the Parliament to executive, judicial branch and the social forces play a role in recovering Pakistan from the hold of extremist ideas and defeating every militant force in the country that has taken up arms against the state.

The writer is an eminent defence/political analyst and regularly contributes in print/electronic media. Presently he is on the faculty of LUMS. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

After Volvograd: Thoughts on Russian Islam, Terrorism in Russia, & What It Means for Pakistan

Published in Hilal English Feb 2014

Written By: Didier Chaudet

For the last few years, more or less regularly, there had been terrorist attacks in Russia. The terrorist attacks in Volvograd were only the last example of a security-related problem that has been around for a while. The international media talks about it, and later forgets about it, until the next attack, making the situation difficult to understand, at best. At worst, Russia is described as “islamophobic” by some Western analysts, as a force eager to destroy its Muslims. Of course, there are tensions between the Russian Center, which is traditionally Orthodox Christian, and a periphery, North Caucasus, which is overwhelmingly Muslim. But somebody reading Western analysts on Pakistan can know all too well how they can over-simplify issues, to say the least. And for the author of this paper, it is clear that Russia is suffering from the same biased Western approach. And analysis on Russian Islam is just a collateral damage of such fact.

What is the situation of the Muslim minority in Russia? First, one should know that the main Muslim minorities in Russia are not Chechen or Dagestani (from North Caucasus) but rather Tatar (the 2nd ethnic group in Russia, and a third of the Russian Muslims) and Bashkir (the 4th ethnic group in Russia, 11% of the Muslims). Indeed, they have been conquered by a Russian state dominated by Christian Slavs. But one should keep in mind that before Russians could dominate them, they were dominated by those Tatars, Bashkirs, and other Muslim populations included in what was called the “Golden Horde”.

Traditional History focuses too often about conquests, victories and defeats, without taking into account the cultural and people’s histories. And when one takes this more modern approach, it is possible to follow the point of view of one of the most important Tatar intellectuals (and an advisor to the first Tatar President, Mintimer Shamaiev), Rafael Khakimov: he analyzes the Russian state not as a Slav project, but rather as a Tatar-Russian one, born already from the time of the Kipchak Khanate (another name of the Golden Horde). At first the Eurasian area was dominated by a political structure that had chosen Islam as its state religion by 1313, under the reign of the Khan Uzbeg. Then the Tsars, their former vassals, imposed their suzerainty. But such historical issues are far away from modern Russian Muslim minds. Nowadays, when one talks to a Muslim Tatar or Bashkir, or to a Christian Slav, what matters is not the rejection of the “Tatar Yoke” by Ivan III, but rather the memories of the “Great Patriotic War” (Second World War), when all of them had a grandfather fighting and often dying in the Russian/Soviet war to the death with the Third Reich. As the Russian saying goes, “Scratch a Russian and you will find a Tatar”… Muslims, at least outside of the North Caucasus, are indeed seen as 100% Russians by the vast majority of the population.

It may be linked to the fact that actually, differences in terms of religiosity and ways of life are not that important. The issue is not any given religion in Russia, but rather the lack of it. Russian Christians and Muslims are both strongly secularized. Indeed, if official numbers talk about 80 million Orthodox Christians, the real numbers, according to specialists, are closer to 40 million Russians being still linked, one way or another, by this religious tradition. As for the Russian Muslims, in 2010, they were 16.4, after being 14.64 million in 2005. This is indeed a substantial minority, but again here, one could talk about Islam as a tradition for most of them, rather than as a strong religious way of life. After all, according to a 2007 study from Gallup, 50% of the Russian Muslims drink alchohol, 27% eat pork, 46% do not know how to pronounce the Shuhada, and 49% never pray (66% for the younger generations). Hence, for better and for worst, Russian Muslims and Orthodox Christians are culturally and religiously very similar.

Hence, if there are tensions, it is less because of a specific “Islamophobia” than related to an all-too-real “Caucasophobia”. Mainly because North Caucasus has a pretty different history from the other Russian Islamic territories. It was conquered in a colonialist fashion at the end of the 19th century. But it was a difficult conquest of proud people with a natural rejection of control of by a far-away centre. Between 1940 and 1944, the Chechens and their North Caucasian cousins, the Ingush (together they known as the “Vainakh” people) rebelled against the Kremlin, hoping the Second World War would destroy the Russian/Soviet state. But it did not work, and North Caucasian people were punished, like others, for “collaboration” with the Third Reich. The Chechens were condemned to an exodus to Central Asia that killed 100,000 of them. It is no surprise that after the fall of the Soviet Union, they were very eager to gain their independence. They won a de facto recognition of their independence after a first war against Russian troops (1994-1996). But for obvious reasons such situation was unbearable for the Russian Federation. The USSR had already fragmented, and for the Russians as well as numerous other post-Soviet people, it has been a trauma, as it has meant the loss of an important international status and well as of a state that was providing schools, hospitals, and other advantages to the average citizen. All of this was replaced by a weaker state, more corrupted in the 1990s than it was before, with oligarches and criminal groups taking over the economy of the country.

With the end of the First Chechen War, the formerly mighty Russian Army felt humiliated, and the Russian political elites began to fear another partition of the country. The former Interior Minister A. Kulikov summarized the feelings of numerous Russians when he said in 1999 “a state inside the Russian Federation's Borders (which) does not recognize Russian federal law… does threaten the integrity and security of Russia”. Vladimir Putin has built his political ascent as an answer to those national fears. When some jihadist groups decided to influence warlords in Chechnya and to use their country as a safe haven to strike elsewhere in North Caucasus, he did not hesitate to start a second Chechen War. Militarily it had been a success: the Chechen independent state had been conquered. But at what cost politically? During Yeltsin's presidency already, the Kremlin had done everything possible to isolate the independent Chechnya diplomatically, making sure it does not get the economic means to work as a normal state. Doing so, it made life difficult for the moderate nationalists who were in power… giving the more extremist ones, influenced by radical foreigners like the jihadist Ibn al-Khattab the means to get more influence politically. The Second Chechen War, from 1999, was the final stroke against the moderates in the Chechen separatist side. Now the ones controlling the rebellion in the North Caucasus are the most extreme kind of nationalist, associated with jihadists having the dream of a Clash of Civilizations.

It is a well-known fact that some have been fighting in Syria on the side of the rebels. Their ideological vision of their political fight makes compromise impossible now. Indeed, they represent only a minority of people in Chechnya and North Caucasus. But it is exactly why they do not limit themselves to Chechnya anymore: they have been using local nationalisms of the different people of the region, as well as the regional exasperation with local corruption and with the violence of the local security forces, to find new recruits. Because of a political approach being only based on repression, the Russian state has been losing the war for the hearts and minds of the people in North Caucasus. It makes the Kremlin even more dependent of the local satraps who are the main source of the discontent of the people. This political vicious circle explains how rebellion against the Russian state can still exist 15 years after the Second Chechen War already began… But besides the need to better understand a situation one can hear about on the news, why is it of interest for Pakistan to follow news related to Russian Muslim populations?

First, it is important for Pakistani policy-makers to get their own understanding of Russia as a whole. If they rely only on analysis from abroad, mainly in English, coming from the United States and the UK, they will only get a dark image of the Kremlin, and the idea that Russia could only be seen as an enemy of Islam. As we have shown here, relations between Russia and Islam are much more complex, and the same way this country considers itself as a bridge between Europe and Asia, it is in more ways than only a cultural and religious bridge, from a historical point of view, between Christianity and Islam. To see Russia this way, and not only as a European country, can help make relationships easier and more natural between Pakistan and Russia; it could be interesting to build a people-to-people relationship, with Pakistani religious scholars invited to Russia to see the Islamic specificities of the local Muslims, understand their history, and their life in a non-Muslim country, while Russians from religious institutions (with a priority for Muslims of course, but also Orthodox Christians) could be invited in Pakistan to discover a world much more diverse religiously and culturally than what they would think. Because the same way some Pakistanis can think that Russians are “islamophobic”, the Russians can have a dark image of Pakistan because of information they are getting… mostly from American and English newspapers. It is time for Pakistan and Russia to discover each other by themselves, and a good way for Pakistan to do that is through an interest in Russian Muslims, and through relationships with Russian Muslim institutions. Over time Islamic institutions and personalities from Russia could be a natural bridge between Moscow and Islamabad.

Second, the issues that Russia has to deal with in North Caucasus and the ones Pakistan has to deal with in FATA, if they are not totally similar, are not without commonalities. In the two cases, it is a security problem based on tensions between a political centre and its peripheries. It is linked to local rebellion, radical “jihadism” as it is called in the West, with possible manipulations coming from overseas. Hence the military personnel from the two countries could learn from each other, from their experiences, and indeed, also from their mistakes. Maybe the mistake the Russians made in North Caucasus was always to use repression first as the main reaction to terrorist attacks. Seeing the work the Pakistani Army is doing in the FATA area, or in Balochistan, not only to oppose rebels, but also as a nation builder, could be an inspiration for them. Over time, military-to-military relations could help bring the two countries closer, diplomatically and in terms of trade related to weaponry and military affairs. Last, but not the least, Russia and Pakistan can be seen as two states having, now more than ever before, common interests in the fight against transnational “jihadists” who should rather called “miscreants”, the terrorists inspired by Al Qaeda. This is the same ideology that is targeting the state in Russia and in Pakistan, the same targeting the Muslims who do not accept their theological/ ideological points of view. This is the same destructive and non-Islamic approach which could find some safe haven in Afghanistan after 2014 and target the FATA through the TTP, post-Soviet Central Asia, hence Russia's “Near Abroad”, through IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), the main Central Asian terrorist group, close to the TTP and other Central Asian jihadists, and may be even Russian territory itself. The last two years, there have been more articles in Pakistani press talking of a diplomatic rapprochement between the two countries. But such vision has been too often based on wishful thinking and does not take into account the old links between India and Russia.

To build better links with Moscow, even making it an ally after some time (to some extent: difficult to imagine a relationship that would be as strong as the one with China), there is a need to find common ground, areas of common interest. Economically speaking, it would be difficult for Pakistan to compete with India. But from a political and security-related angle, it is possible: Islamabad and Moscow have a common interest in the fight against Al Qaeda and with stabilization in Afghanistan. Clearly Pakistanis have a better knowledge of Afghanistan, its regional environment, and of the extremists being a threat for peace there. After 2014, Pakistan can initiate a diplomatic friendship based on common interests and the need of stability in this part of the world, offering to the Russians an understanding that for now limits itself to the good relations they have had with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Indeed on security-related issues, Russia could not find a better ally than Pakistan in the region. More broadly speaking, such a rapprochement could mean seeing Pakistan, over time, being part of the Russian strategy to get more influence in its foreign policy towards the Muslim world. After all, if the Kremlin wants to be heard there (which clearly seems to have been Putin's strategy since he arrived in power), what could be better than to befriend one of the most important Muslim nations on Earth? This is something that Pakistani diplomats could explain to their Russian counterparts if a solid security dialogue exists between those two countries.

The writer is a Visiting Research Fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). He is in charge of the Programme on Iran and South Asia at IPSE (Institute for Prospective and Security in Europe). This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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