Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s religious parties…

Two sides of the same coin

Speaking in the National Assembly on August 13, the interior minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat, asserted that Al Qaeda was being supported in Pakistan by the ‘religio-political’ parties. He said that “all the Al Qaeda operatives arrested recently were picked up from their regional headquarters”. His reference was clearly to the religious parties in the opposition MMA…[DT]

The man singularly responsible for bringing the MMA from the madrassa alley to the environs of real political power was General Musharraf. In the most Orwellian of ways, he gets to be called a frontline ally against terrorism.

The Daily Times correctly challenges the Pakistani government to put its money where its mouth is and bring the MMA to book. That though, will pit a powerless entity called the Pakistani ‘government’ against an all powerful institution called the Pakistani military establishment. The men in khaki stand behind the MMA’s mullahs who in turn stand behind the jihadi foot-soldiers who are close allies of al Qaeda. In spite of what the Economist’s optimism, that chain remains connected strategically, tactically, ideologically and functionally.

Though persuaded by America to lambast al-Qaeda nearly three years ago, Pakistan’s military government has been slow to reject the local jihadi groups where the outlawed militants often find support. Indeed, the generals have traditionally fostered such groups, to furnish themselves with a proxy force to stamp on secular opposition parties at home and to prosecute wars in neighbouring Afghanistan and Kashmir. One such group, originally named Herkat-ul-Jihad-I-Islami, which has close ties to al-Qaeda, has twice re-emerged under a (slightly) different name since being banned two years ago.

But a spate of recent terrorist attacks, including two attempts on the life of Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president, in the past year, may be stiffening the government’s resolve to break with its pet jihadis. Pakistan’s secret police could not have grabbed Mr Ghailani, for example, without confronting the local militant group that will certainly have been giving him succour. “The government has tended to look after ‘its’ militants and ban others, instead of recognising that all militancy is bad for Pakistan,” says Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group, a thinktank. “Hopefully these arrests signal a new commitment to dismantling not only al-Qaeda, but the entire network.”[The Economist]