The adviser to the prime minister on Interior Affairs, Mr Rehman Malik, on Monday held a detailed meeting with his Chinese counterpart and State Counsellor, Meng Jianzhu, in Beijing and expressed condolences for those who lost their lives in recent explosions in the province of Xinjiang, China. He assured him that Pakistan would not relent in its resolve to fight terrorism as a frontline state and explained to him the strategy Pakistan was employing to remove the centre of international terrorism located in its Tribal Areas.
This was in order. Not many months ago, President Pervez Musharraf had himself informed the nation that among the foreign “Islamist” terrorists undergoing training in the Tribal Areas were also a number of Uighur rebels from Xinjiang. Subsequently it is believed that China had reason to be satisfied because Pakistan undertook to apprehend the said terrorists and eliminate them. Adviser Malik’s expression of assurance was also timely because Xinjiang was once again made a target of violence by the terrorists twice in one week before the beginning of the Beijing Olympics on August 8.
The spread of “Islamist” terrorism in China’s neighbourhood in part inspired the setting up of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) five years ago. The countries that joined it included China, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, all victims of terrorist violence. The SCO consults on extremism and irredentism in the region and evolves strategies of resistance against it. But the pattern in the region of these states differs from the one prevalent elsewhere. The group contains states that are either non-Muslim or are ruled by Muslim dictators. Apparently, both categories are better able to confront the phenomenon of “Islamist” terrorism than Muslim-democratic states.
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have been targeted by “Islamist” groups turned violent with outside help coming mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the draconian methods employed by President Karimov in Uzbekistan and President Rakhmonov in Tajikistan have prevented the terrorist groups from achieving any success. This observation, however, has to be qualified by the significant fact that movements for democracy in these states tend to be on the same side of the barricades as the Al Qaeda-supported groups.
In Russia, the “Islamist” terrorists have not succeeded because of the revulsion that the non-Muslim population feels for these acts of violence. In fact the population of Russia has voted overwhelmingly for the political order created by President Putin to defeat the terrorism which spread as far as Moscow with the help of the Chechens in the south of the Russian Federation. China, too, comes in this category, but it is located too close to ground zero of terrorism where Al Qaeda is located these days and therefore needs to be more vigilant. To some extent, India belongs in the same category.
America and Europe were the prime targets of “Islamist” terrorism, not the Muslim states. In both the regions the populations supported the legislation of tough laws and institutional vigilance to pre-empt attacks after they peaked in 2005. Now the aftermath of these tough measures is being borne by expatriate Muslims there. At the cost of changing their quality of life, however, the non-Muslims populations have supported their states in confronting the individuals who infiltrate and attempt acts of violence. But the pattern is unfortunately different in the Muslim states with majority Muslim populations.
In Pakistan and Bangladesh, a growing trend in favour of “Islamism” reflects sympathy for the terrorists groups. In both cases, the military has been dominating the political system and the terrorists lean to the convenient strategy of becoming a part of the struggle for democratisation. Thus two trends conjoin to form a prodigious political force in favour of the consolidation of the terrorist groups. It is an irony that in Pakistan the man who fought the terrorists, President Pervez Musharraf, is being impeached while an ascendant Al Qaeda, which should have been on the run, puts forward its own charge sheet to supplement the one being brought up in parliament against him.
It is not only Iraq in the Middle East but all of Asia which is in the grip of “Islamist” terrorism. In Indonesia, the pattern is the same as in Pakistan and Bangladesh. There are religious parties and groups which insist that Al Qaeda is no threat and that a delay in the enforcement of sharia might lead to more rather than less violence in the country. Only in the Philippines is the Abu Sayyaf group — named after a warlord of Afghanistan who is now in the American camp — growing because of the jungle conditions in which it survives and because of outside help.
Finally, “Islamist” terrorism is a phenomenon that attacks and destabilises the Muslim states which are struggling for democracy. Because of the quest for sharia in Muslim societies, the terrorists find a higher level of popular acceptance of their cause among the Muslims who ironically are also killed in their suicide-bombings. Significantly, however, when they kill people in non-Muslim states, they invariably meet resistance they can’t cope with. *