Activist Islam in Pakistan: Post 1

I promised this series quite some time ago, but didn’t get around to doing it. I’ll use Al-Muhajabah’s “A field guide to Islamic activists” as a jumping-off point (Yes, I remember mentioning it earlier and promising a critique of its Pakistan-related items.)

Taliban also need to be understood as a product of the situation in Pakistan. This is not the place to go into a detailed history of Pakistan. We can, however, look briefly at two factors in the creation of the Taliban. First, it helps to understand that the western parts of Pakistan (which were formerly called Baluchistan) are home to the same Pashtun ethnic group that forms the majority of the population of Afghanistan (if you will pay very, very close attention to the reports of unrest in Pakistan in fall 2001, you will find that the rioting took place almost entirely in Baluchistan, not across the whole of Pakistan.) This has a lot to do with why Pakistan is so involved in Afghanistan.

Pashtuns are actually the majority in NWFP (North Western Frontier Province) and the exclusive residents of FATA (Federally administered tribal areas). FATA is basically an area inhabited by Pashtun tribes and ruled by tribal laws, rather than Pakistani laws, on the border with Afghanistan. NWFP and FATA form the northern part of Pakistan’s western border. There are also a large number of Pashtuns in Balochistan (especially its northern part), Pakistan’s largest province in terms of area but smallest in population. The exact number of Pashtuns in Balochistan is disputed but they are probably somewhat less than a majority. Balochistan has a border with Afghanistan as well as with Iran. (In fact, 2% of Iran’s population is Baloch as well.) According to CIA World Factbook, Pashtuns number about 8% (12 million) of Pakistan’s population and about 44% (12 million) of Afghanistan’s. However, Taliban were almost exclusively Pashtun.

Pakistan’s Pashtun population is one reason why Pakistan and Afghanistan have been so much intertwined for a long time. There are others as well. Historically, the Muslim rulers of India usually entered India (which obviously included Pakistan) from Afghanistan. A number of those rulers ruled over parts of Afghanistan as well. When the British ruled India, they finally decided a border between India and Afghanistan, known as the Durand line. After Pakistan was founded on August 14, 1947, the only country that opposed its entry into the United Nations was Afghanistan because it claimed the Pashtun areas of Pakistan and considered the Durand line to be an artificial border and wanted to change it. Hence, the relations between Pakistan and Afganistan (under Zahir Shah until 1973) were never good. The situation was further complicated by Pashtun nationalists in Pakistan who were all over the spectrum from more provincial autonomy to a land for the Pashtuns. Bacha Khan, mentioned here by Al-Muhajabah, is considered a Pashtun nationalist in Pakistan.

Another reason is (you guessed it) India. After all, no discussion of Pakistan can be complete without India. Not India itself really, but Pakistan’s perception of it as an enemy and the number of wars both have fought since independence. Since Pakistan is quite narrow in width, military strategists came up with the hairbrained idea of “strategic depth.” It relied on having a friendly government in Afghanistan. That is why when Zahir Shah was overthrown by Sardar Daud in 1973 and some conservative Pashtun groups (later to be part of the Afghan mujahideen) came to Pakistan, Bhutto offered them help. However, it remained a very small effort until the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and Pakistan became a frontline state with a lot of help from the CIA. Somewhere in there though the idea of strategic depth through a friendly regime morphed into one with a client regime.

Since this post has gotten long, I’ll continue later with the actual discussion of the Islamic activists in Al-Muhajabah’s article .

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


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