Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s address to the nation on July 22 — as the people of London reeled from a second series of blasts at underground train stations — betrayed a sense of anxiety, a clear shift to address the Islamic community and an unwitting admission of failure in the war on terrorism.
Gen. Musharraf’s position on terrorism is worth analyzing in the present context. At a time when Gen. Musharraf, who claims to be in the forefront of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, should have been extending his helping hand to British authorities, he took great offense at British charges of Pakistani connections to some of the bombers who struck London July 7. His sharp remarks betrayed his weak position on terrorism.
The tone and tenor of the rest of his speech, which mainly dealt with terrorism and madrassas, only proved that he had not taken any action against jihadist elements despite his Jan. 12, 2002 commitment to the international community that he would do so.
Gen. Musharraf openly admitted that “militancy and Kalashnikov culture permeate into our society.” He said al Qaeda has penetrated Pakistan and dozens of mujahedeen organizations have “mushroomed in cities which recruit the people openly, train them, collect donations and publish and distribute jihadi literature.” This is a clear admission of his failure to control the jihadist organizations and elements despite his oft-repeated promises to do so. In his 2002 address to the nation, Gen. Musharraf said: “The government has banned Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Any organization or individual would face strict punitive measures if found inciting the people to violence in internal and external contexts.” In the three years since then, Jaish has been involved in, among other terrorist incidents, the two assassination attempts against Gen. Musharraf.
There has been a similar problem with the status of Lashkar-e-Taiba. After the 2002 speech, the group changed its name but not its spots. Lashkar leader Hafiz Saeed publicly announced his resignation and the appointment of the new leadership. It was nothing but a ruse, something the security agencies in Pakistan knew. For several months, Mr. Saeed was not arrested and remained free to spew venom about India and the United States. He was subsequently arrested but not charged with terrorist activities; instead, he was charged with violating a maintenance of public order law that has a maximum punishment of three months. Mr. Saeed has since been freed. Today, he openly conducts prayers from a Lahore mosque every Friday. His sermons, published widely in the Urdu press, have been replete with calls for jihad in Kashmir and elsewhere in the world.
Since January 2002 Lashkar has been expanding rapidly by setting up new training centers in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Sind and Punjab provinces. There has been no letup in Lashkar’s recruitment and training. Lashkar’s fund-raising activities have also been on the rise. More important has been Lashkar’s widening global network. Lashkar cells were not only found in India but also in Australia and the United States, and now in Britain.
Interestingly enough, Gen. Musharraf has not made any commitment on containing terrorism in his country. He has not outlined any plans to stop the terrorist activities. He has also shied away from admitting that these terrorist groups have been running terrorist training camps in different parts of the country.
On madrassas or religious schools, which are increasingly under global scrutiny, especially after the London blasts, Gen. Musharraf could only bring himself to say: “I request the owner of these madrassas [explain] why don’t they support me.” This is in dramatic contrast to what he said in January 2002, when he announced that all madrassas will be governed by a new madrassa ordinance: “The ordinance will be issued in a few days … all madaris will be registered by March 23, 2002, and no new madrassas will be opened without the permission of the government … if any madrassa is found indulging in extremism, subversion, militant activity or possession any types of weapons, it will be closed,” he said, adding that “any foreigner wanting to attend madaris in Pakistan will have to obtain required documents from his/her native country and [approval] from the government.”
None of this, however, has materialized. The number of madrassas have, in fact, increased in Pakistan without any registration and monitoring. Foreign students have been visiting them, as the London bomber case proves, without any check. Several madrassas have proven time and again to be epicenters of terrorism.
Gen. Musharraf’s speech last week clearly betrays his hesitation to take a decisive step against jihadist madrassas and terrorist groups operating in Pakistan.
Wilson John is a senior fellow with Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, India.