PAKISTAN: Gendered Role, Perceptions And The Impact of The War On Terrorism

The recent surge of religious extremism along with the phenomenon of suicide bombing is relatively new to the people of Pakistan. A gradual increase in the radicalization of society has been witnessed since the 1980s; however, at that time it was not accompanied by the same level of political violence and brutality which is currently evident in suicide bombings across the country. According to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) security report in 2006, 657 terrorist attacks took place, leaving 907 people dead and 1,543 others wounded. Pakistan faced 60 suicide attacks during 2007, which killed at least 770, besides wounding another 1,574 people; in 2008, the country saw 2,148 terrorist attacks, which resulted in 2,267 fatalities and 4,558 wounded1. In only the first six months of 2009, 465 people were killed and 1,121 wounded in 36 suicide bomb attacks2. People are trying to make sense of this new reality of terrorism/religious extremism and crafting the meaning of the phenomenon within their own broader understanding of politics at the global, national and local level.

Pakistan‟s decision to become an ally and the front line state in the war against terrorism declared after the 9/11 terrorist attack on World Trade Center and the Pentagon in USA, turned the country into a central stage where the war on terrorism is now being fought. Pakistan had to take a u-turn on its policy of support to religious Jihadi groups under the extreme pressure and threat of „with us or against us‟ from the United States. Subsequently when the government tried to bring these militants under its control, it triggered a reaction among the religious groups and jihadi organizations (who had been enjoying the support of the establishment in the past) and pitched them against the government and its security forces. They started challenging the writ of the government by attacking civilians and security forces through the use of suicide bombers. The militants belonging to various groups and ideologies started networking with one another on the face of pressure from the government to stop cross-border interference. Nearly forty Taliban groups formed Tehreek-e-Taliban under the leadership of Baituallah Mahsud on 14th of December.3 Those militants identified themselves as Taliban claimed that their main objective was to expel the American and NATO forces from Afghanistan and to enforce Sharia in Pakistan. In response to the government‟s effort to stop their involvement in cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan and providing protection to foreign militants, Tehreek-e-Taliban unleashed a reign of terror in the country and claimed the responsibilities of many suicide bombing incidents in which thousands of people were killed. Taliban are normally equated in public perception, with terrorism in Pakistan.

Pakistan‟s role in War on Terrorism has serious social, economic, and political implications for the country.

Pakistan is paying a huge price in human and economic terms for playing a role of a frontline state in the war on terror. There is hardly any systematic count available to assess the total loss of human lives (combatants, civilians, and security forces). However, in the response to a parliamentary question, the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik informed the National Assembly that in the year 2008-2009, 2,686 people were killed in 1,367 terror strikes4. This number does not include the estimated loss of human lives, (terrorist and civilians) caused by the military operation. Also this does not include those got injured and disabled as a result of terrorist and anti-terrorist encounters. The life of people living in conflict areas has been totally disrupted. As a result of the government‟s decision to conduct military operations against the militants, more than 30 million people were forced to leave their homes from the conflict ridden areas of Malakand. The local community and political structures in these areas have been completely dismantled due to the political hold of terrorist groups. The economy of the country has also lost momentum and suffered an estimated loss of US$ 35 billion since 2001-2002.5

Any conflicts whether natural or man-made have multiple and differential impacts on men and women as their experience of conflict is mediated through their gender. Women are socially positioned as subordinate to men. They do not have equal access to opportunities, resources and power. Due to their lower social and economic position, they are more vulnerable have the least capacity to cope with the impact of conflicts, human and natural disasters. It is well documented by researchers from the experiences around the world that women‟s vulnerabilities are exacerbated in conflict situations. Women face much harsher conditions during displacement and in camps due to various forms of gender based violence i.e. trafficking, kidnapping, forced marriages and sexual harassment.

Several research studies conducted in the areas of peace, conflict and wars across the world show that not only the impact but the perceptions and perspectives of men and women of conflicts are also fairly gendered In general, women are perceived as passive victims of wars/ conflicts who do not play any active role in initiating or participating in wars and conflicts. However there are plenty of examples that show that women are not only the victim of wars and conflicts but they also play an active role as combatants and supporters of wars and political violence.

In Pakistan, women are the neglected category in the analysis of the War on Terrorism and the growing religious extremism and militancy.. Men and women both are affected by growing militancy/Talibanization in Pakistan, however, thjeir experiences are distinctly different from each other. There is hardly any significant effort is being made to document the gender differentials of the impact of the war on terrorism. Since the impact of religious militancy is different on men and women, therefore, it is likely that the understanding and prescriptions for counter-terrorism may also be different.

Presently, the only reference to women is made when girl‟s schools are destroyed by militants in FATA and Malakand District or when a video was shown on the electronic media in which the Taliban were flogging a woman. Women are viewed as passive victims of Talibanization. It is generally ignored that women are capable of playing the role of both an active agent in resisting Talibanization as well as the promoters of Talibanization in the country. The incident of Lal Masjid is a case in point where women played an active role as front line soldiers to promote a radical religious agenda. Women are being actively recruited to madrissas by various religious political outfits. It is important to understand the social and political conditions in which women move towards joining radical Islamist groups and under what circumstances they oppose radical politics.gendered role, perceptions and the impact of the war on terrorism.


The current phenomenon of religious extremism/terrorism/Talibanization in Pakistan is often traced back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Pakistan, as a front line state of the US, supported „jihad‟ by setting up training camps on its soil, inviting Islamist militants from all over the world and facilitated them to wage a war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. These militant religious groups who received immense training and financial support from the Pakistani establishment later on emerged as a force on its own with its own political agenda. Our assertion is that the phenomenon of Talibanization in Pakistan is not mono-causal and cannot be explained through the singular exogenous factor of Soviet-Afghan war alone. It is a multi-causal phenomenon and must be seen and understood in its totality. It is imperative to investigate what was the ideological base that existed in the country prior to the Soviet-Afghan war and 9/11 on which the US was able to build a jihadi culture/infrastructure. What was the ideological and political motivation of Pakistani militants and the state, willing to fight America‟s proxy war in Afghanistan?

To understand the multifaceted nature of terrorism/Talibanization in Pakistan, we need to go back into the history of the sub-continent to uncover the roots of radicalization in the region in general and in Pakistan in particular. Only the more informed understanding of the nuances and complexity of the phenomenon of radicalization will gave us the conceptual tools to develop an effective counter terrorism strategy.

Root of Radicalization in Indo –Pak Sub-continent

Islamist movements have been using the notion of Jihad and Muslim Ummah around the world to promote their political agendas. The concept of Jihad in Islam is fairly complex. It essentially works at three levels. Jihadun Nafs is about purifying one‟s own soul, the second level is the Jihad against injustices through words and lastly physical Jihad in the cause of Allah. The latter concept of Jihad is called Jihad al-asghar while the former two are included in the category of Jihad al-Akbar. Throughout Muslim history the latter form of Jihad has been invoked for different political reasons in different contexts.

Aysha JalaI maintains that in the first century of Islam, Kharajites were the first who propagated physical Jihad against enemies of Islam. Umayyad (661-750) and Abbasid (750-1258) also used the concept of Jihad as armed struggle to justify wars they fought for temporal gains. She argues, “Muslim exegetes, legists, theologians and historians in different times and places have distorted the meaning of Jihad in the Quran”. (Jalal 2008)

In South Asia, Islam touched the shores of India for the first time in 712 A.D. The predominant religion in India was Hinduism that evolved in the sub-continent after the arrival of Aryans thousands of years ago. Hinduism is a combination of different sects, each sect having its religious texts and gods and goddess. Hinduism was not a centrally structured religion. However, Brahmans, the clergy of Hinduism, weakened this by dividing Hindu society into different strata. At the bottom of the caste system was the Shudder (untouchables) who had this subhuman status for many generations. This intolerant caste system was against social mobility.

Monotheistic Islam was introduced in the sub-continent by Sufis who came with Muslim conquerors from the North, Central Asia, Persia and Afghanistan. The Sufis presented a tolerant Islam that attracted thousands of people from the Hindu religion to Islam, especially the untouchable caste. Those who did not convert remained disciples because association with the saint was not based on religious identity. These saints brought a message of love and peace for humanity. This was the type of Allah that was introduced to India by Sufis (Ahmad, 2002:96).

During the sultanate and the Mughal eras (from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century), the spirit of accommodation of non – Muslims was high, coming to a climax during the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar (1556 – 1605), who brought a policy of peace for all (sulhe-kul). Akbar‟s treatment of his subjects was free of oppression and persecution. He never tried to impose his faith upon his subjects. Karen Armstrong writes (2002) that Akbar‟s policies were wise because persecution could have led to revolt of the Hindu majority. Hindus were accommodated in armies as well in civil administration. Akbar‟s policies of accommodation went further and he abolished jizya tax and he himself turned vegetarian in order to avoid hurting the sensibilities of the large Hindu population. “Akbar was respectful of all faiths. He built temples for Hindus, and in 1575 set up a “house of worship” where scholars of all religions could meet for discussion” (Armstrong, 2008:125). Akbar‟s pluralism was different form the parochial communalism developing in some circles of orthodox ulema. Initially he was close to the ulema, but his interest was more in Sufism and falsafah (philosophy), than in Sharia, Akbar‟s rejection of all types of orthodoxy and policies of religious reconciliation earned him the wrath of a segment of the Ulema led by Sheikh Ahmad Sirhandi who accused him of being an infidel.

Sirhandi felt that Akbar‟s pluralism was derived from Ibn-al-Arabi‟s philosophy and was thus dangerous (Jalal, 2008: pp 373-8). He believed that only through the path of Sharia could unity with God be achieved. Sirhandi‟s views did not impress many Muslims in the first part of the seventeenth century. Shahjahan followed in the foot-steps of his Grand father Akbar. The Taj Mahal was the continuation of Akbar‟s policy of creating harmony between Hindus and Muslims. Hindu poets were part of Shah Jahan‟s court and books were translated into Sanskrit.

Ahmad Sirhandi was of the opinion that Akbar‟s policies were weakening Islam. He believed that both the religions were incompatible with each other and thus there could be no reconciliation. Sirhindi was strongly opposed to friendship with infidels, who should be “kept at arm‟s length like dogs”; and he also stressed that “no relationship should be established with Kafirs” (Jalal, 2008:38).

Before Akbar‟s policy of reconciling both faiths and his great grandson Dera Shikoh‟s efforts to amalgamate Sufism and the mysticism of Hindu religion, Sufis found Advaita Vedanta fully compatible with Islam. Aysha Jalal maintains that the pain taken by the Sufis to enter into dialogue with Hindus and to study and understand their religious traditions, won them the ire of the followers of Sirhandi, known as Shahudis. The exclusionist approach of Sirhandi was their only method to overcome the fear of being swallowed by the ocean of Kafirs. Sirhandi allowed the use of temporal power for implementing his Sharia – more of a sectarian nature – and phrased the slogan that “Sharia can be fostered through the sword” (Jalal, 2008: pp 31-32). Those influenced by Sirhandi‟s thinking justified waging war against kafirs while those opposed to his philosophy – wajudis – opted for tolerance and universal humanity and preferred Jihad-i- Akbar instead of Jihad Asghar (fighting with one‟s sword).

Muslim rulers have always used religion to solve their own problems of legitimacy and never hesitated to use the clergy to provide them justification whenever the temporal necessity was in clash with sacred law. Despite Muslims being a minority in India, India under the rule of the Muslims was considered as Dar-ul- Islam (an abode of peace where Jihad cannot be waged). It was only in the eighteenth century that Muslims began to see India as Dar-ul-Harb (abode of war) instead of Dar-ul-Islam due to the fear of the loss of Muslim sovereignty.

Several sultans of Delhi cultivated Ulemas and recognized their juristic authority in the face of stern opposition by the Sufis who contested these narrow interpretations of Islam. The Sufis were against despotic rulers in the Arab and Muslim world. When the opposition became stronger, Muslim rulers introduced a new class of clergy to counter the powerful influence of Sufis that previously had no prominence in Islam. Aysha Jalal argues (2008) that this was a beginning of “lucrative collaboration” between state power and the Ulema who entered into state employment.

During Aurangzeb‟s reign (1658-1707) when the Mughal Empire was in decline, he used religion as a card to solve his legitimacy problems and also to arrest the ever loosening grip of the Mughals on political sovereignty. He re-imposed Jizya along with double taxes for Hindus; their religious festivals were not attended by Aurangzeb. Their temples were razed to the ground. His sectarianism and intolerance manifested itself in his banning Shia celebrations in honor of Hussain (Armstrong, 2000:p.128).

While the Mughals had been successful in creating harmony between Hindus and Muslim in mainland India in the eighteenth century, the Sikhs and Hindus in the north of India were still fighting against the Mughals. Also in the North West, the Afghans tried to establish a new empire in India. This made the Muslims more apprehensive and insecure. This was the period in which the Muslim thinker Shah Wali Ullah made recourse to the philosophy of Sirhandi. He drew upon the position of Sirhandito address the new sense of Muslim insecurity about being governed by a majority of infidels. Shah Wali Ullah‟s views were a turning point in the history of Indian Muslims and continued to impact Muslims in the subcontinent well into the twentieth century. The influence of Abdul Wahab of Arabia on the teachings of Shah Wali Ullah is immense (Jalal, 2008:64). His adoption of the strict interpretation of Sharia turned Shah Wali Ullah into the founder of Sunni orthodoxy in India. His bias in favor of Arab culture and language made his particular interpretation of Sharia more exclusivist and narrow.

Shah Wali Ullah was of the view that the downfall of the Mughal Empire after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 was a result of Shia and Hindu connivance against it. He was sternly opposed to the Hindu and Persian influences upon the Mughals (Jalal, 2008:41). Wali Ullah attacked the polytheistic influence upon the Indian Muslim Mughal court. Thus he rejunevated an orthodox Sunni version of Islam. Following Sirhandi, Shah Wali Ullah also advocated the deployment of state power to create Islamic order in the Indian sub-continent. A powerful Muslim polity was a necessity to purge all the social evils which were, according to him, opposed to the basic tenets of Islam. He thought of a military struggle against Marathas and Jats as supreme for the survival of Islam in South Asia. He also wrote letters to Muslims rulers and notables of eighteenth century India. .

In order to arrest the decline of Mughal power, Wali Ullah wrote to Najib-ud- Dawla and told him to embark on Jihad. The temporal power of the Mughals was receiving blows of a fatal nature from Marathas and Jats. By inviting Ahmad Shah Abdali to attack India in order to purge the ideas of Jihad with military expedition for temporal purposes (Jalal, 2008:54) Although Shah Wali Ullah draws on some facets of Sirhandi‟s philosophy yet he introduced many variations due to the Wahabi influence upon his thoughts. Wali Ullah is a point of reference for many as far as Jihad is concerned. He is also termed as the father of Muslim modernism. Aysha Jalal maintains that “Wali Ullah left an intellectual legacy that casts a long shadow over all subsequent explications of Jihad in theory and attempts to translate it into practice” (Jalal, 2008: pp15-16). She argues that later Islamic fundamentalist and Islamist movements were greatly influenced by the philosophies of Sirhandi and Shah Wali Ullah. Sayyad Ahmad Shaheed and Maulana Ismail Shaheed‟s movements against Sikhs were highly influenced by these ideas. The notion of Jihad had also been invoked on and off by Indian Muslims when fighting British colonialism.

Role of the Establishment in the Rise of Extremism in Pakistan

Role of the Establishment in the Rise of Extremism in Pakistan

Pakistan became independent from British colonial rule in 1947. With independence it inherited the disputes in Kashmir and the Durand line and thus the animosity with India and Afghanistan. Also it needed a unifying factor that could keep the ethnically diverse country together. So the state elite conveniently found Islam as a unitary factor and pro-state Islamists could promote their political agenda in the region. The Pakistani establishment started supporting militants fighting in Indian held Kashmir and provided them training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan was also seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan. Therefore, it has always been the policy of the establishment to patronize religious parties. This policy was at its peak during the Afghan Jihad (Hussain, 2005: 171).

In the fall of 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in order to support and rescue the fragile communist government of Afghanistan which was growing weak due to internal strife between the Percham and Khalq factions and the external resistance it was facing from certain deeply religious and conservative sections of Afghan society. The new agrarian, social and educational reforms introduced by the communist regime were deeply resented by the traditional Afghans.

It was a period of the cold war era when there was a struggle between two hostile super powers to contain and counter the influence of each other in every region of the world. Using regional powers for their own interests was part of the Cold War strategy. When the USSR invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Eve in 1979, the US immediately decided to help the resistance fighters to avenge what the Russians did to them in Vietnam. America wanted to make the Soviet involvement as costly as possible. They started supporting the Afghan resistance to the communist regime by providing them money and arms. In order to play this role in the region, the US desperately needed Pakistan to be on its side to fight its proxy war in Afghanistan. The Zia-ul-Haq regime that needed political legitimacy and American aid, decided to side with the US.

As part of the war strategy, the United States and its allies started encouraging Muslims from all over the world to join the Jihad in Afghanistan. Thousands of Muslims who were motivated and inspired by the religious works and views of Mohammad ibne Abdul Wahhab and the Egyptian Islamic radical Sayyed Qutb who was executed in 1966 for advocating his secular government‟s violent overthrow, left for Afghanistan to help the Afghan Mujaheedins in their fight against the Soviets. The US encouraged Islamic countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf States and also the Chinese to assist them, both in a propaganda campaign and in covert action campaigns.

Pakistan became the hub of Jihadi activities during this period. Training camps for militants were established on its soil. Money and arms started flowing into Afghanistan and Pakistan. Foreign Arabs were not only busy fighting the Russians but were also bringing in a lot of money. As early as 1984, the CIA and its Saudi counterpart the General Intelligence Department (GID) were providing $200 million each respectively. With the passage of time it increased, “the CIA was giving $630 million in aid to the Mujaheedin in the fiscal year 1987, not counting the matching funds from Saudi Arabia (Rashid, 2008:113).

With adequate supplies of money, arms and zealous religious warriors at large, the only missing factor was proper training and religious indoctrination, which would have psychologically helped them to overcome the might of Soviet military power. The Pakistani intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was to provide both the training and brain washing propaganda. Jihadi literature was produced in abundance and religious seminaries were used to ideologically brainwash and prepare students for Jihad. Thousands of madrissa students joined the Afghan Jihad. To acknowledge the critical role of religious madrissas in producing Jihadis for the Afghan war, tremendous financial support was given to them that resulted in the mushrooming of religious seminaries all over Pakistan in places like Peshawar, Akora Khattak, Mansehra, Muzaffarabad, and Balakot and in various places in South Punjab. “In 1971 there were only nine hundred madrassas in Pakistan. By the summer of 1988 there were about eight thousand official religious schools and an estimated twenty five thousand unregistered ones, many of them clustered along the Pakistan- Afghanistan frontier and funded by wealthy patrons from Saudi Arabia and other gulf states.” (Coll, 2004:151). The Jihadi groups such as Jaish-e-Muhammad (JEM), Harakat ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) were given easy access to money, arms, military training etc. and they enjoyed full state patronage and support.

Thousands of Madrassa students trained and radicalized fought along side the Afghan Mujahideen. Equipped with American weapons and aided by Gulf countries they were able to defeat the USSR. After the withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Jihadis who came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria and Pakistan, returned to their own countries where they became a threat for the secular regimes as well as for the conservative monarchies. They branded them as Americans stooges and un-Islamic. They wanted radical Islamic ideology to be implemented, which was their main source of inspiration. Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA), Abu Sayyaf Group and many more believed in the revival of Islam and establishing a Muslim theocratic empire in the world. Freelance terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Aiyaman al Zahawari, Mir Aimal Kasi, Youssef Ramzi and Osama Bin Laden were also inspired by the ideologies of these groups. Afghan Jihad according to Kohlmann (2006) provided a golden opportunity to global Islamists for the“unification of thought, purpose and infrastructure” Some of these Islamist fighters started operating independently, others joined existing organizations and some were able to make their own organizations. Al Qaeda was one such organization, created in 1988 by Abdullah Azzam and Osama Bin Laden. The latter masterminding one of the world‟s deadliest terrorist attacks on

the twin World Trade Centers.

After the 9/11 terrorist attack, the US government started pressurizing Pakistan to sever its links with militant organizations. Although Pakistan agreed to become a US ally in the “War on Terror” however, it continued to be reluctant to eliminate militants due to its own misperceived strategic interests.

In order to understand the reluctance of the Pakistani establishment in reversing its strategic depth policies, we need to understand as Ahamed Rashid asserts the genuine sense of insecurity; Pakistan suffers as a nation state. Pakistan is surrounded by hostile powers. With the exception of China to the north, Pakistan has Afghanistan and Iran along its western border and India to the east. All three states are not on good terms with Pakistan.

As mentioned earlier, Pakistan inherited the Kashmir dispute at the time of partition in 1947. Pakistan and India have fought two wars over the disputed territory of Kashmir. There is a strong Muslim resistance within Indian Kashmir which is opposed to Hindu rule. The Pakistani establishment has been encouraging and supporting some of the Jihadi organizations such as Harakat ul- Mujahideen (HUM) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JEM) to fight along with Kashmiri insurgents.

Similarly Pakistan‟s Afghan policy has been based on denying India any advantage in Kabul. Pakistan, for almost a decade was able to block Indian influence in Afghanistan through the Indian hating Taliban. The Taliban, who were ethnically Pashtuns and were funded by Pakistan, provided a safe western border to Pakistan. After the American invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban, the Northern Alliance emerged as the victorious party, which was supported by the US as well as by all of Pakistan„s regional rivals such as India, Iran and Russia. India immediately seized the opportunity to support Karzai. Ahmad Rashid maintains, “… India supported Karzai, established a lavish diplomatic presence in Kabul, funded aid programs, and according to Pakistani intelligence, sent Indian agents to train Baloch and Sindhi dissidents in Pakistan. Kabul had suddenly become the new Kashmir-the new battleground for the India- Pakistan rivalry. The Americans, obsessed by their hunt for bin Laden, could not understand the larger strategic picture, which was changing before their eyes” (Rashiud, 2008:110). Post 9/11, within the passage of few months Afghanistan turned from friend to foe for Pakistan. A strong and stable Afghanistan is always perceived by the Pakistani ruling elite as a threat to the very existence of Pakistani Pushtoon territory and one which was responsible for the Pashtunistan movement.

Pakistan has always made a policy of supporting insurgencies in both India and Afghanistan to protect its own strategic interests. Militant Jihadi organizations are viewed as strategic assets who have been fighting proxy wars for Pakistan in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Therefore, in post 9/11 Pakistani establishment was reluctant to take a u-turn on its previous „strategic depth‟ policy due to a change in America‟s policy.

After the US launched its war against terrorism, Pakistan was no longer in a position to openly fund and support Jihadi training camps and extend support to different extremist groups. It started working on a two-track policy. On the one hand Pakistan was helping the Americans in chasing Al Qaeda operatives and on the other they were trying to protect their beleaguered valuable strategic asset namely the Taliban. There is an abundance of evidence that shows that the ISI were allowing, harboring and protecting Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives in Pakistan.

However, when the Pakistan government moved against militant Jihadi groups under massive US and international pressure, they realized that these militant groups had become a force in their own right and had gone beyond their control. Various groups of the Taliban openly challenged the writ of the government, took the law in their own hand and started imposing their morality on the local population in tribal areas where they had political control. On the face of increasing pressure from the state to restrain their activities, these militant groups became united under the banner of Tehreek-e-Taliban led by Baituallah Mahsood. These extremist religious groups may have different motives but they all share the lust for political power and the aspiration to take control over the state. They were not ready to give up on their religious-cum-political mission willingly. This has finally led the government to launch a military operation in Swat, Malakand and FATA region that has resulted in the displacement of nearly thirty million people from the conflict zones.

Historical narrative helps in better understanding to tt the contemporary phenomenon of terrorism/Talibanization in Pakistan. However, the over emphasis on the exogenous factors at the expense of ignoring the internal the factors of poverty, poor governance and the structural weaknesses of the state that have contributed to the rise of Islamist‟s insurgency in Pakistan will not give us a holistic picture to counter terrorism/Talibanization effectively in its totality.


Gendered Perceptions of Terrorism/Talibanization in Pakistan

The surge of terrorism/Talibanization as a result of the War on Terror waged by the US post 9/11 is viewed differently by various sections of society in the country. These views are primarily determined by the ideological positioning of people whose identity as Brohi maintained is“…increasingly contested within newly vitalized groupings of traditionalists, revivalists, revisionists and Islamic modernists, Islamic feminists and so on” in Pakistan (Brohi, 2008:138). Some of the religious political parties (Jamat-e-Islami, JUI and Tehreek-e- Insaf) and certain sections of the electronic media are sympathetic to Taliban on political and religious grounds. They maintain that Talibanization is a reaction to US neo- imperialism/terrorism and to the unjust war that the US has waged in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also they believe that the Taliban are fighting for the implementation of Sharia in the country. This perception is actively promoted by the conservative section of the electronic media which has emerged in the recent past as an extremely powerful tool in shaping public opinion. The lack of understanding of the nuances and complexities of the phenomenon of terrorism combined with the lack of political maturity of media managers and anchor persons who conduct discussion programs in various electronic channels has created tremendous confusion among the nation on the subject. The way questions are framed in a dichotomous manner such as “Is this war on terrorism ours or America‟s war” does not allow people to think beyond the false dichotomy of War as Theirs/Ours.

Our assertion is that the vast majority of people rejects Talibanization and condemns the terrorist activities of militant groups. However, this assumption can easily be challenged as there is no research based evidence to prove or reject our claim. There is a paucity of sociological research which could inform us about the profile of those who support or reject Talibanization/terrorism in Pakistan. Similarly, there is no research on the gender differential in public opinion on terrorism/Talibanization. The study explores how men and women perceive the phenomenon of terrorism/Talibanization and understand its politics. People‟s support or resistance to counter terrorism/Talibanization actions depends on how they perceive the religious militancy.

The on-going war in the country against terrorism/Talibanization can not be allowed to be protracted as this will have disastrous effects on the social, political and economic life of the country. The government needs to establish its writ and rule of law in Taliban controlled areas. However, the war against extremists/terrorists can neither be fought nor won by the government alone without the full support of the entire nation. In order to win the hearts and minds of people, the government, first of all, must have a much deeper understanding of people‟s perception on the war on terrorism/Talibanization. What do people think of the terrorists? What are the gender differentials in men and women‟s perception of terrorism/Talibanization? How do they propose to counter terrorism? Understanding people‟s perceptions of the phenomenon of terrorism is a first and a necessary step in order to develop any national strategy that leads to build a public consensus on counter terrorism policies and strategies. Men and women may propose different solutions to combat terrorism/Talibanization due to gender differential in their experience of terrorism/Talibanization thus leading to gender differential in their perceptions and proposed solutions to restore peace in their lives.

As mentioned earlier there is a great deal of difference in the general public on the politics of terrorism/Talibanization. The varied public opinion falls mainly into two opposite categories. There are those who are sympathetic or support the Taliban. They view them either as Islamists fighting for the implementation of Sharia in the country or as a genuine anti-imperialist force or as representatives of oppressed classes who are challenging the dominance of the khawaneen, the landed classes in tribal areas. Hundreds of Maliks and Khans were killed and their properties were attacked by the Taliban in Waziristan, Bajaur and Swat (Riport, 2007:20).

Those who oppose the Taliban believe that the Taliban are not interested in Islam, they are a political force that is using Islam as a tool to capture state power. Some of them view Taliban as criminals and barbarians fighting for money and political power. These opposing views are expressed in the public domain through electronic and print media; however, there is no gender breakdown of those holding both positive and negative points of view on the Taliban.

We do not know where women stand in terms of viewing the Taliban and Talibanization?

Is there any gender differential in viewing the politics of terrorism/Talibanization?

Do women perceive terrorism/Talibanization as liberation or an oppression movement? These are some of the questions, this study endeavors to explore from a gender standpoint to fill the existing gap in knowledge.

Gender differentials in men and women‟s perception of terrorism/Talibanization was explored through asking quantitative and qualitative questions in the semi- structured interviews and in FGDs conducted with male and females from conflict areas.

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