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South Asia

Madrassa Outcry: A Victim of Its Own Fundamentalism

Brian Hughes

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The Pakistani madrasa has become a deeply troubling aspect of Islamic education to Western politicians and public. The images of religious teachings that focus on deep anti-Americanism, terrorists ideologies, and methods of jihad have dominated this space in Western conscience. There’s a certain amount of ambiguity inherent in these schools that has been replaced, not with answers, but estimates and false conclusions. To understand the most fundamentalist of Islamic education in Pakistan, there’s a need to examine the Deoband school of India, the foundation in which the modern Pakistani madrassa was built on.

The Deoband school began in roughly 1857, but its curriculum is based on the eighteenth century Dars’I Nizami, a set of thirteen core texts that are used in Deobandi institutions over 6-8 years. After a failed revolt against British India in 1857, the ulema formed madrassas under a perceived threat of Hindu religious pressure, Western influence, and Christian missionaries. They believed they were under siege in their own country and formed a close knit educational culture that was self labeled as an “educational jihad.” Run without state funding, registration, or curriculum review, India’s Muslim’s were forming a small protective culture around their believers as the larger Indian society evolved around them.

When Pakistan was established in 1947, many Deobandi ulema travelled to Pakistan and erected madrassas to sway the country from falling into secularism or foreign religiosity. The Pakistani Deoband schools are still considered the most fundamentalist, the most likely to inspire young jihadists, and the madrassas most likely to be targeted by reformists. Yet, these schools are historically misunderstood and the reasons for the once venerable institution to fall into jihadist influence are many.

At the height of the Cold War, the United States saw an opportunity in Afghanistan that represented the Soviet Union’s ‘Vietnam’ moment. While the weapons supplied to the Mujahideen has been well documented, the amount of persuasion that Washington extended to the Mujahideen reached into the madrassas, many of which were of the Deoband tradition. Textbooks were created by the University of Nebraska at Omaha for $50 million and distributed, predominantly to the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), that distorted the words of the Koran to focus on the lesser jihad, defeating outward evil – communists in particular. This strategy largely succeeded in the FATA and the Mujahideen proved more than formidable for the Soviet Union, allowing the United States to quickly abandon the region. Developments in the madrassas and Pakistan after those events have created an environment of fundamentalist Islamic education unprecedented in history.

Since 1988, the number of madrassas in Pakistan have swelled from 3000 to over ten times that number. In 2005, the number stood at 35,000 and recent estimates show some leveling off, with about 40,000 today, but does not include the unregistered Deobandi schools in the FATA. This was achieved not only by US dollars entering the FATA and Pakistani government, but by the complete failure of the Pakistani state controlled public education system, with parents doing whatever they can to receive a decent education for their children. Contemporaneously, the Pakistani population burgeoned phenomenally in this period, from 34 million in 1951 to nearly 200 million today. With little educational development from the state, including the building of woefully needed schools, the madrassa filled the immense void. Additionally, once the Soviets packed up and left the area to the ongoing civil war that has yet to subside, the United States paid little attention to Central Asia until September 11, 2001.

In the wake of September 11, the US made a push to alter fundamentalism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Armed with a belief that the madrassas were essentially weapons of mass destruction, producing and training jihadists, the US demanded closing madrassas possibly linked to terrorism, changing the curriculum, and pushing children to attend public school. Nearly a quarter billion dollars were given to Pakistan to reform the madrassas. To change the very core of Islamic education was not in the clerics interests and push back was considerable. Furthermore, many madrassas refused to accept money if it jeopardized their autonomy. There was little accountability for where the money went and most scholars can find little trace as to what it was used for.

Madrassa educators believed that the West was targeting the foundation of Islam, to eradicate Islam, to forever alter it in a way that only benefits the West. While this is evident anti-American sentiment, the sentiment extended to the Pakistani government, who are seen as Western collaborators. Washington attempted to change the madrassas by enlisting Islamabad, but failed to take into account that both entities were highly criticized within the madrassas for meddling in their religious affairs. By attempting to reform the madrasas, change curriculum, and push public education, this belief was only strengthened. Thus, US policy focused on changing the Pakistani educational culture into a pluralistic state governed public educational model. However, this does not take into account how the madrassas, or even the people, function within the governmental model. Madrassas rely on autonomy and non-interference from foreign agents to teach Islamic fundamentalism unencumbered. Not only do many madrassas not accept money from the state, they openly do not trust Islamabad. As Pakistan sways on what to do with the madrassas, they’ve lost the trust of the people in the areas where militant madrassas most likely exist.

After September 11, Pakistan reorganized and reformed the madrassa framework with a 2002 ordinance. Interestingly, President Musharraf attempted to pass a similar bill in August of 2001, but was unable to do so. After the passing of the bill, Islamic scholars described a crisis of confidence between the government and madrassas and spoke of corruption and lack of consistency in government policy. With no support from the madrassa, the reorganization and reforms failed. Then, in 2010, Islamabad reversed course by adopting an 18th amendment to their constitution and increased autonomy among its providences, noticeably in its curriculum and religious leanings for madrassa. Pakistan has long attempted to gain more control of the madrassas, especially as their burgeoned in the 1980s and then again after September 11. However, with the passing of the 18th amendment, Pakistan recognized the ineffectualness of such policy. However, when terrorist attacks occur in Pakistan, the state retaliates often by striking at the FATA. A single 2006 madrassa retaliatory strike killed 82 students in Burjh, heightening distrust and hostility between government and Islamic educational leaders. Therefore, the process Pakistan has deployed has had little cohesion, leaving those in the FATA and poorer areas with little trust and comprehension of what might policy the next government may enact.

The United States policy has centered around greater Pakistani control of madrassas scholarly materials and US aid to build more public schools. This has also come at a time when drone strikes have established themselves as the future of warfare. Not only do clerics and poorer provinces mistrust their own government, but they actively suspect corruption and collusion between Washington and Islamabad, a difficult combination to win trust or deploy soft power by building schools. Conversely, Pakistan has made token attempts to follow the United States’ demands, while periodically striking the FATA and madrassas when terrorists threats in Islamabad become more severe. This bifurcated policy builds distrust, suspicion, and resentment among Pakistanis. Since September 11, the narrative has read as us vs. them, secularism vs. fundamentalism, state-sponsored vs. local, modern vs. traditional, the West vs. Central Asia. This narrative has only led to a protectionist culture within a greater society of perceived threat that has produced only polarization and harsher policies. There is a need to not discount religious communities and allow them to function within the state as citizens, with both sides recognizing that some schools produce terrorists. Without trust and remedying the cultural segregation, the ‘jihadi schools’ will continue to function hidden by a blanket of polarization that is pitting thousands of historically distinguished fundamentalist madrassas against its own government.

Brian Hughes is currently a student in the International Security and Intelligence Studies program at Bellevue University in Omaha, NE, USA.

South Asia

Breaking Down the South Asian Dynamic: Post Pulwama attack & Saudi Prince’s visit

Uzge A. Saleem

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The political and strategic activities of the South Asian region have been on a high for the past week or so. The region faced a very unfortunate incident on 14th February, 2019 when 40 Indian soldiers were killed in an attack in Pulwama, India. The already torn region of Kashmir faced yet another blow and has been in turmoil since the attack. The 14th February attack somehow translated into more violence against the innocent civilians of Kashmir. Not only Kashmir but other cities of India have also been actively involved in hate crimes against Muslims, particularly Kashmiri students. BBC news reported the violence against students from Kashmir in various universities across the country and how they were being thrown out of their residences.

The attack has been condemned by all alike, however, the Indian nation has assumed Pakistan to be behind the attack. The Prime Minister Nirendra Modi has given his two cents on the matter and his words seem to be clearly motivated by his desire to cash this unfortunate incident for a win in the upcoming Indian general elections. India’s highest Diplomat in Pakistan has also been called back and the action has been reciprocated by Pakistan as well. As we break down the current rush of hostilities between the two nuclear neighbors there are mainly two theories revolving around. The Indian theory is short and bitter, it claims Pakistan is responsible because it is an irresponsible state that provides safe havens to terrorists. The group linked to this attack has also been declared close to Pakistan’s agencies on many occasions. The theory is evidently childish and sounds like it is being repeated for the 100th time with no solid proof or credible information yet again. The mere allegations have brought no good but unfortunately India’s higher names are set on fueling the age old fire for their petty gains.

We have a theory from Pakistan’s side as well. Although it is not an official theory nor has it been discussed by any of the higher leaderships publicly but it is nonetheless doing the rounds in the policy circles. It claims Indian officials themselves were involved in not only the Pulwama attack but the less spoken of, Iran attack as well. Both the attack were significantly close to Pakistan’s Eastern and Western borders. This is something the state of Pakistan would not bring upon itself at such a crucial time when the security situation of the state was desired to be at its best for the arrival of the Saudi crown prince, Muhammad Bin Salman. The visit was not only a remarkably significant diplomatic achievement for Pakistan but was also very significant for the South Asian region and Muslim countries around the globe. In times like this when the state of Pakistan was consumed in making preparations for the arrival of the Prince it would be a rather immature strategic move to involve itself in something so disastrous and fragile at the same time. However, some believe Indian officials planned this to create unrest in the region as an attempt to halt the Prince’s visit.

The visit, however, took place anyway and was a rather successful one. Not only were MoU’s signed between the leadership of Pakistan and the Royalty of Saudi Arabia but mechanisms to implement the MoU’s were also chalked out. The spontaneous release of 2107 Pakistani prisoners from Saudi prisons n the request of Pakistan’s prime minister was a clear show of the blooming Saudi-Pak relations. It not only took the friendship and trust between the two nations to new heights but created a new sense of love and respect for the Prince amongst the general public of Pakistan which has not been seen so evidently before. The prince being awarded with the highest civil award of Pakistan marks the utmost success of the visit which did not settle well with many of the self-proclaimed key players of the region.

The prince has plans to visit India as well where it is expected that peace between India and Pakistan would be suggested as a key desire. It can also be expected that India’s leadership would take this opportunity to trade peace in return of other favors from the Saudi delegation. Regardless of the absurd reaction from the neighboring country, Pakistan has remained calm and acted with utmost maturity during the entire blame game. Regardless of knowing very well how capable the Pakistani army is, the state has made no loose remarks and has also recorded its reservations against India’s escalating remarks in a letter penned down by the Foreign Minister of Pakistan to the General Secretary of the United Nations. Pakistan always has, still does and always will promote peace and prosperity in the region.

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South Asia

The Pulwama Attack and India’s rhetoric

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The Attack which occurred in the Pulwama District of Jammu and Kasmir was indeed a horrific event. The attack took place on India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). The suicide bomber triggered the car bomb while 78 vehicles with over 2,500 CRPF men were on the Srinagar-Jammu Highway. Pakistan’s Foreign Office was quick to condemn this unfortunate event. According to the statement released the attack occurring in Pulwama District was a matter of grave concern.

India was however very quick at pointing fingers towards Pakistan. Within an hour or so of the incident, while even the basic on-site investigations weren’t completed, India blamed Pakistan for the Pulwama Attack. Pakistan’s Foreign Office rejected any claim linking the attack to Pakistan without proper investigations. The Pulwama attack no doubt is a tragedy, but the way the attack unfolded and India’s knee-jerk reaction has raised quite a lot of doubts and questions in Pakistan, India as well as the international community.

Questions Pakistan asks

First of all, on what pretext did the Indian authorities blame the Pakistani State for the attack? The suicide bomber named Adil Ahmed Dar was a native Kashmiri, the car used in the Suicide attack was a Mahindra Scorpio (non-existent in Pakistan). How can Indian authorities deduce Pakistan’s hand, with this little information, in such a less time?

Secondly, Adil Ahmed Dar has been named as the suicide bomber by the Indian Media. According to the Kashmir Times story published on 9th October 2017, Indian Security forces had apprehended a Kashmiri named Adil Ahmed Dar. The news quoted the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of police for Southern Kashmir, S P Pani that the militants belonged to Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Now, this is conflicting news because Indian media claims the attacker to be from Jaish-e-Muhammad. There are also news reports that the attacker never came back from police custody. Without proper investigation, no one will know whether he escaped from the authorities or he was made to film the confession statement under duress.

Thirdly, Indian authorities have claimed that 350KG of explosives were packed into the car which rammed into the CPRF bus. How 350Kg of explosives could be accumulated in the most heavily militarized regions of the world right under the nose of the heavily armed Indian Army. The stretch on which the incident occurred had been cleared earlier in the morning, and authorities have termed this as a “serious breach” of security. Doesn’t this point to the incompetence of the world’s largest buyer of military hardware?

Lastly, who is the beneficiary of the attack, especially from a timings point of view? The attack happened just a day before Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman was due in Islamabad to announce billions of dollars of investment, while on the other hand, Modi wants some political leverage against his opponents. His Pakistan bashing is really popular in his BJP vote bank and this could also be an effort to woo his supporters back to him.

Kashmir: A humanitarian issue

The Kashmir issue has been the bone of contention between the two South-Asian neighbors. It has been the prime reason for hostilities between India and Pakistan. There exists a UN resolution demanding for a plebiscite in Kashmir, for seeking the will of Kashmiri people to weather join Pakistan or Kashmir. India, however, refuses to implement the UN resolution in their true letter and spirit.  Pakistan has been asking India for a dialogue on a peaceful settlement of Kashmir Issue, but India has not only turned down Pakistan’s offers but has kept its heavy-handedness in suppressing the people of Kashmir.

Last year, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report on Kashmir. The report made startling revelations about Indian atrocities in Kashmir. The UN reported the use of pellet-firing shotguns against violent protesters resulting in deaths and serious injuries. Official government figures list 17 people as being killed by pellet injuries between July 2016 and August 2017. In January 2018, the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister told the state legislative assembly that 6,221 people had been injured by pellet guns. The Human Rights Watch stated that Indian security forces “assaulted civilians during search operations, tortured and summarily executed detainees in custody and murdered civilians in reprisal attacks”; according to the report, rape was regularly used as a means to “punish and humiliate” communities.

The Pulwama attack is purely a domestic issue and blaming Pakistan is just a way for diverting attention from the Indian Army’s atrocities in Kashmir, its incompetence and the BJPs failures. BJP is facing an election defeat visibly and the upcoming elections could most likely mean an end to Modi’s political career. Fore-seeing his future, he is using the one card which plays in India well “Pakistan Bashing”.

Prime Minister Modi has openly threatened revenge on Pakistan. He has to understand that peace in the region is the ultimate prize. Peace and stability in South Asia is a combined responsibility and that such irresponsible remarks are a direct threat to stability.  The Indian media should also tone down the warmongering and hysteria in their content. In these times when information travels with the speed of light, any misunderstanding could have disastrous effects.

Pakistan has offered India times and again to solve all issues including Jammu and Kashmir through peaceful dialogue. In Pakistan, India-bashing has never been an election slogan. Anti-India fanatics do not come to power and the common people do not buy into their anti-Indian rhetoric. Isn’t it high time for India to shun this pointless and baseless habit of pointing fingers at Pakistan for every wrong which happens inside it, and instead address its internal issues through dialogue, at least this is the way civilized nations resolve their issues?

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South Asia

What Can the Afghan Government and Taliban Learn from Colombia’s Peace Deal with FARC?

Hamidullah Bamik

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The experience of Colombia’s peace with FARC has always been the subject of Western experts working on the war in Afghanistan due to the characteristics of Afghanistan’s war akin to Colombia’s war.

It is argued that the insurgent movement with a political rivalry to mobilize dissenters to enter the community is a substitute order that rebels attempt to fundamentally change the infrastructure of society. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Afghan Taliban insurgents can be put into such socio-political context.

The FARC, with the full name of Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (in Spanish was formed in the 1960s as the armed wing of the Communist Party of Colombia. The FARC officially separated from the Communist Party of Colombia in 1980 but continued its guerrilla war against the Colombian government. The war between FARC and the Government of the Republic of Colombia lasted 55 years and left dead approximately 250,000 people.

Colombia’s Peace Process

The Government of the Republic of Colombia has made three major and important attempts to build peace in the last thirty years, especially in the mid-1980s and late 1990s, but all failed. But peace efforts that began in Havana, the capital of Cuba in 2012, came to fruition five years later. Ultimately, these efforts effectuated in to the signing of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC on November 24, 2016.

The Colombia’s peace agreement with FARC was rejected by less than one percent in a referendum on October 2, 2016. The results of the referendum showed that 50.2 percent of voters opposed the agreement. But later, many Colombians who were anti-FARC rebels became their supporters. To strengthen further the peace and stability in Colombia, the Colombian government allocated 10 seats to FARC in 2018 and 2022 in the Colombia’s Congress elections.

The success of the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of Colombia and FARC is derived from their mutual agreement on key issues. First, they reached a reciprocal agreement on development of rural areas, especially those areas that were damaged more than other areas during the conflict. Second, they talked about the elimination of drugs and reducing high poverty rates in the peace process and agreed mutually. Third, the Government of the Republic of Colombia concurred with political participation of FARC members in the political process. Hence, they could successfully end their chronic conflicts that took many Colombians’ lives.

Afghanistan’s Peace Process

In November 2001, the Taliban regime was overthrown entirely by the United Nation forces led by the US. Subsequently, the Afghan government and the international community stepped up their efforts to support various plans to undermine the expansion of insurgents and ultimately bring them to the peace process. These efforts include programs such as Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR 2003-2006), United Nation supported Afghanistan New Beginning Programs (ANBP) and its successor the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG 2005.

When US President Barack Hussein Obama put forward the idea of looking for moderate elements among the insurgent groups in March 2009, the official peace talks in Afghanistan became more important. Unfortunately, all the above peace efforts have not been effective in stabilizing Afghanistan and failed to pursue a meaningful engagement of the involved countries in Afghanistan’s war in the peace process.

Recently, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan declared two truces with the Taliban to encourage them to join the peace process. But unluckily, the Taliban groups not only did not welcome the Afghan government’s ceasefire, except the first truce but also responded with atrocity and intensifying their insurgency. Political experts are inclined to argue that the experiences of the Colombian government’s peace deal with FARC insurgents can aid Afghanistan in reaching a permanent peace deal with the Taliban groups.

The Similarities of Afghanistan’s and Colombia’s War

According to Foreign Policy, the current Afghan war is reminiscent of the Drug War in Colombia and requires a Colombian plan for its termination. The insurgency in Afghanistan is nurtured by an ideological war that is being conducted to bring Afghans under the banner of religion. Conversely, in Colombia, FACR fought with the central government for lucrative sources of money and ways to smuggle drugs. However, it is argued that despite having ideological roots, narcotics is the main financial source of Afghanistan’s insurgent groups.

In 2016, the Global Witness reported that the warlords and Taliban’s earnings from a small Badakhshan region are equal to the total income of the Afghan government’s natural resources sector. The report adds that in 2014, armed groups from two mining areas of Deodarra in Kuran and Munjan districts in Badakhshan province earned about $20 million. It echoes that the ongoing war between the Taliban and the Afghan government is also a war on controlling natural sources like the war between FARC and the Colombian government. Thus, the experiences of the Government of the Republic of Colombia in its peace talks with FARC can help the Afghan government in its peace talks with the Taliban.

The Afghan Taliban groups like the FARC in Colombia, are dwindling in Afghanistan. They still have their local supporters in Afghanistan. Theo Farrell, the professor and executive dean of law, humanities, and the arts at the University of Wollongong, Australia argues that the availability of social resources and the elements that drive and enable military adaptation were the main reasons of Taliban’s successful resurgence after 2001. It projects that still, Taliban groups have a large number of adherents among the Afghan communities. Undoubtedly, they will support the Taliban if the group joins in peace talks with the Afghan government and forms its political faction as did the FARC in Colombia.

The FARC opened negotiations with the Colombian government after decades of armed conflicts. Many of FARC insurgents like the Taliban groups did not believe in the usefulness of the talkswith the Colombian government at the beginning. But they tested their trust and succeeded in this regard. Likewise, the best option for the Afghan Taliban to put into practice their demands is joining the negotiating table with the Afghan government.

The Colombia’s Peace Process Takeaways for Afghanistan’s Peace Process

Perhaps the most important innovation to come out of Colombia’s peace process has been the inclusion of victims. Delegations of victims from both sides of the conflict were invited to come to Havana to recount their experiences. In other words, the Colombian peace process was the first in the world that included a formal role for victims of the conflict—they got to interact directly with the negotiators. The inclusion of victims gave the Colombian government’s peace process its best chance of success. Likewise, Afghanistan’s government can emulate a similar way to succeeding in the peace process with the Taliban. The Afghan government should invite the representatives of the victims of war to the negotiating table so that they can share their stories and gain confidence that their voices are heard in the peace process. 

Ultimately, the need for a comprehensive and lasting peace in Afghanistan requires creating a national and international consensus on the peace process with the Taliban. This is what Colombian President; Juan Manuel Santos did about peace with the FARC rebels. Initially, a national consensus regarding the peace deal was created inside Colombia. Then the Colombian government reached an international consensus for peace with the neighboring countries, the regional and international powers. Similarly, the Afghan government should reach a unanimous agreement on peace talks with the Taliban inside Afghanistan, then with Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, regional and international powers. Doing so, the Afghan government might be able to close the war and insurgency chapter of Afghanistan’s modern history.

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