Pakistan Under Siege | Madiha Afzal

Summary of: Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State
By: Madiha Afzal


Delve into the thought-provoking book, ‘Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State,’ as author Madiha Afzal confronts the complex issues of radicalism, terrorism, and the state’s role in this intricate web. This summary will examine the primary terror groups and their ideologies, the opinions and beliefs of Pakistanis towards these organizations, and the origins and consequences of the Islamization of Pakistan. You will gain insights into how the nation grapples with the challenges of extremism and the continued influence of Islamist political parties, as well as their impact on Pakistan’s relations with the United States and India.

Pakistan’s Complexity

Pakistan is often portrayed in the West as a failed state breeding terrorism. While it is true that terrorism is a problem, the country’s complexity is often overlooked. Pakistan has a population of 200 million, and views on extremism are more nuanced than imagined. Despite sympathy for jihadists’ beliefs, the relentless terror attacks have led to a widespread rejection of extremist violence. A 2004 survey found that only 41% of Pakistanis believed terrorist attacks were never justified, but by 2013, 89% saw terrorism as unacceptable, even when committed in the name of Islam. Pakistan’s endemic poverty, corruption and ineffective government do provide fertile ground for terrorism, but the narrative that Pakistan is a cradle of radical Islam is an oversimplification. The complexity of the country and its people must be considered for a fuller understanding of the situation.

Terror Groups in Pakistan

Pakistan has been plagued by four main terror groups – the TTP, Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Al-Qaeda. While each group operates independently, they share common features in ideology and have been known to share resources. Despite disapproval from the Pakistani population, these groups continue to operate. The Pakistani military’s relationship with these groups is complex and influenced by geopolitical considerations. However, as Pakistanis experience the effects of terror firsthand, their support for these groups has decreased.

From Secularism to Extremism

Pakistan’s journey from a secular nation to a state entrenched in religious extremism can be attributed to former military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule from 1977 to 1988. Zia injected religious material into Pakistan’s school curriculum, criminalized acts that were considered as blasphemy, and wiped out freedom of speech and religion. This led to the injustice of well-meaning citizens and the eventual growth of terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. Pakistan’s involvement in the fight against India and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan further fueled the spread of extremist religious ideology. Today, Pakistan is known for draconian measures such as executing blasphemers and state-backed extremism.

The Paradox of Pakistan’s Islamists

Despite controlling only 17 seats in the National Assembly, Pakistan’s Islamist parties have an outsized influence. They oppose reforming the school curriculum and demand iron-fisted measures like blasphemy laws. However, they differ from violent extremists as they don’t seek to destroy the Pakistani state. Being stridently anti-American, their opposition to the West is seen as overlapping with extremist views, but they have competing interpretations of the faith. The harsh rhetoric used by Islamists doesn’t necessarily protect them from extremist attacks, as seen when twenty people were killed in an assault on a Jamaat rally and two prominent members of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl were murdered by the Pakistan Taliban. The state has never engaged in open dialogue with its citizens about terrorist groups targeting the country, which creates a lack of education and understanding about these groups.

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