Wages of terrorism as state policy

Book: Coming Blowback: how Pakistan is endangering the World Author: Wilson John Publisher: Rupa and Co in collaboration with Observer Research Foundation Year of Publication: 2009 Pages: 296 Price: 595

Pakistan, since its creation, has been mired in relationships with the Super Powers of the time and during the last decade of the Cold War, Pakistan openly sided with U.S.A against Soviet Union in the war that was ravaging in its backyard in Afghanistan which U.S.A won ultimately resulting in the breakup of Soviet Union and the world becoming unipolar with Uncle Sam assuming the status of the sole Super Power of the world. Pakistan was benefited from being the ally of U.S.A as billions of dollars were given in aid and a huge cache of arms and ammunition was frequently flown to Pakistan to keep the war front hot, but Pakistan’s then dictator Ziaul Haq, his henchmen and Policy Makers were too myopic in their vision about bringing U.S.A’s war to their soil and had hardly anticipated its long term ramifications or could prophesize the Coming Blowback.

The book under review by a political analyst, commentator and authority on Pakistan affairs, director of Observer Research Foundation Wilson John, deals with this Blowback which Pakistan is witnessing currently. Describing the purpose of his current book John in his Preface writes, “What has so far remained unaccounted for is how the civil society, at least significant part of it, either knowingly or otherwise, has encouraged or actively participated in radicalizing the country. There is indeed no denying the active role played by the State in promoting such activities in schools, colleges and civilian institutions of governance. Coming Blowback in that sense is one of the few attempts to study the covert attempts of the State to create a radical constituency within the civil society to justify its overt use of terrorist and extremist elements against its adversaries”.

The book keeps the promise which John makes in the Preface and is divided into seven chapters. In the First chapter titled “Battleground of Ideas”, provides the reader a glimpse of the diehards about whom the author writes and describes how music remains banned, even books are banned because they spread obscenity, vulgarity and immorality and women are supposed to cover up in veil, and there is a desire to replace English language with Urdu as English is thought of as an Infidel language thus the card of language politics is played too. Providing a glimpse of the cadres in the battleground who have a deep-seated factual resentment against their exploiters, John writes, “Education, one way or the other, leads to awareness, however limited or narrow it may be. The madrasa education made students keenly aware of their underprivileged status and the reasons for it. The schools thus became germinating grounds for a potent mix of underprivileged classes resentment and religious sentiments, often expressed through movements, against the traditional elite– the feudal landlords, most of them Shia or Brelvi Sunnis particularly in Southern Punjab”. (P-25) Thus he traces the violence against Shias by organizations like Sipah e Suhaba Pakistan (SSP) to this resentment mired with exclusivist religious interpretation.

Lack of educational facilities in the government run schools and institutions, is providing a space for the “Ghost Schools” to fill the void, and the second chapter deals with the chain of schools run by Hafiz Saeed under Markaz Dawat wal Irshad, and how the youngsters sign up for Jihad and how they are trained in handling and use of arms and ammunition. They also impart education and always preach hatred for the adherents of other faiths and always claim that Islam is under threat by Christian missionaries whom they hold responsible for spreading evil and vice. Wilson cautions about the Hafiz’s educational mission as “What makes Saeed’s group more dangerous than other Jihadi groups in Pakistan is not its strength or ideology. It is the far sighted and insidious methodology for capturing the minds of the young and gullible through an elaborate network of schools and colleges. Within a cocoon of modern subjects and outlook is ensconced the worm of its real intent– inculcating the ‘virtues of Jihad’. The educational curriculum of these schools and colleges are guided by Hafiz Saeed’s philosophy, that to achieve jihad, his students must not only imbibe the great values of Islamic principles, but also be adept in Science and Technology”. (P-58) For achieving this goal even the textbooks are distorted, in the same fashion in which Saffron Brigade attempted in India.

John then describes the spread and wide reach of these terrorists and deliberates on the dirty nexus between Terrorists and Nuclear Scientists and how the Jihadi organizations are hand in glove with the State Apparatus and how they survived the severe crackdown in the aftermath of 9/11. John is disturbed by the spread of Terrorism in Pakistan as the recruitment of foreigners in Terrorist organizations is increasing, new methods are adopted for recruitment and training of future cadres through Internet and women suicide bombers are too entering the fray, plus the army in Pakistan is clandestinely supporting Taliban and Terrorists.

John vividly elaborates the role of ISI which is responsible for the making and breaking of governments and whosoever tries to wrestle the real power from the hands of ISI is shown the door and in a separate chapter on “Musharraf’s Legacy” John describes that Musharraf was fast losing face in public due to his role in the Lal Masjid crisis (which is also taken in account in the book) and in Waziristan, as well as his removal of Chief Justice Ifthikhar Chowdhary and the lawyers agitation made Uncle Sam pressurize him, “In 2007 as Musharraf lost his hold on the domestic situation, the US began pressing him to negotiate with Bhutto, an ardent critic of the army and its oligarchic agenda, to settle for a Political deal”. (P-239) The US always had a clandestine hand in the Politics of Pakistan and former Pakistani Army Chief Mirza Aslam Beg is on record having said “No change takes place in Pakistan without the blessings and wishes of the US”.

The Intra State Strife too is taken account of, which is often fuelled by the Ideological conflict and Ethnic Polarization and there are links between Terror and Sectarian outfits, and now that Terror has been directed against the State and Pakistani army especially by the ethnic minorities and terrorist organizations and John retorts that “What proved wrong was the calculation that the tribal leaders would cooperate with the army once it was monetarily seduced or failing which militarily subdued. The army tried both, but to no avail, all because it failed to understand that the tribal leaders would go just so far and no further, when it came to the question of their age old traditions and ethnic affiliations”. (P-180)

Overall the book is worth a read, and John’s analyses are deep and rich to understand what went wrong with Pakistan, but the closing chapter “Impact on Pakistan and India” though surmises about the spill over of Talibanisation to India, sharpening the communal divide as well as the attacks on economic institutions of India but it seems to be hastily written, with many serious mistakes and conclusions which underestimates the worth of the book as well as questions the academic integrity of the author, by describing Hurriyat Conference as Terrorist organization floated by ISI (P-253), ascribing creation of Dukhtran e Millat (DeM, Daughters of Faith) to ISI, (P-253), though DeM was in existance since 1981 much before the armed militancy for securing the right to self-determination initiated in the Valley, as well as unleashing the series of attacks witnessed since October 2005: Delhi Blasts, Bangalore (2005), Varanasi (2006), Mumbai (2006), Malegaon (2006), Samjhauta Express (2007), Hyderabad (2007), Jaipur (2008) (P-269) wholly and solely in the lap of jihadi organizations whereas now it has been proven beyond doubt after the confessions of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Colonel Purohit and Swami Assemanand that many of these blasts were carried out by Hindutva terrorists only to make Muslims the scapegoats in these attacks and make them targets of State wrath, because of which innocents are still languishing in jails without a fair trail. Also on P-122 Maulana Abdul Aziz is described to have died in the Lal Masjid assault whereas in realty his brother Ghazi Abdul Rashid was killed in the army action. Hope these mistakes will be rectified in the next edition of the book.

Hope that the book will help the layman as well as researchers to understand the contemporary issues, concerns and challenges which the Pakistani society is presently battling with as John rightly describes that “Terrorism in Pakistan is much more than tackling Al-Qaida and the Taliban or LeT for that matter. It is about changing the mindset, not only of the soldiers and officers of Pakistan army and its intelligence agencies but also of the religious preachers, bureaucrats, students, shop-keepers……ordinary men and women who were born and brought up to believe in killing the non believers in the name of Islam”. Hope this book proves to be a ray of hope and becomes a source of change for head and heart.

The reviewer is a writer-activist based in Srinagar and can be reached at