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Terrorism Remains Pakistan’s Chief Export

By Sreeram Chaulia
The disclosure by Chinese authorities that the hijackers of a domestic airplane who were thwarted earlier this month came from Pakistan confirms terrorism to be the prime export item of this volatile country. It is the latest shred of evidence in an unsavoury track record for which Pakistan has gained international notoriety as the cradle of extremist Jihad.
If one performed a word count from the list of reports about failed and successful terrorist attacks around the world in the last decade, the term ‘Pakistan’ makes a ubiquitous appearance. In January 2008, Spain revealed that it had foiled a terrorist plot to blow up Barcelona’s public transport system and jailed ten suspects, nine of whom were Pakistanis and one an Indian Muslim. All three suspects of a terror cell who were nabbed by German investigators in September 2007 had been trained in Pakistan and were launched on “direct orders to act from Pakistan.” The botched ‘Trans-Atlantic Air Plot’ of August 2006, which aimed to detonate liquid explosives on board several aircraft travelling from the UK to the US, involved many persons of Pakistani descent and training.
Two of the fifteen suspects in the ‘Toronto Case’ of June 2006, arrested by Canadian police before they could launch major terrorist attacks in southern Ontario, were migrants from Pakistan. Three of the four suicide bombers who killed fifty two persons in the 2005 London terror strikes were of Pakistani origin and the trail of their mission went back unmistakably to Al Qaeda camps in Karachi and Lahore. Last but not least, the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US in 2001 were masterminded and financed from Pakistan by individuals of Pakistani descent- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Omar Saeed.  
The dossier is incomplete without mentioning the scores of successful and forestalled terrorist attacks across India for more than half a century that have credible provenance in Pakistan. While Pakistan’s jehadi activities in India carry the imprint of the former’s state apparatus, the waves of Pakistan-linked terror plots and attacks in Europe and North America lack the official hand of the government in Islamabad. They are free expressions from militarised segments of Pakistani society rather than a premeditated foreign policy strategy of the Pakistani state.
Islamabad has no strategic motive or benefit for abetting carnage on the streets of London or Berlin. To the extent that the jihad paraphernalia within Pakistan has grown mighty with state connivance and encouragement, one can argue an indirect culpability of the Pakistani state in exporting terror to far flung parts of the world. But the linkages forged by terrorist cells in Europe and North America with Pakistan-based Islamist seminaries and training camps have more to do with the amount of jehadi human capital that has accumulated in Pakistani society.
The manpower, money and technological inputs Pakistani society has pumped into Islamist terrorism worldwide are second to none, even outdistancing Saudi Arabia. Pakistan’s 20,000 madrassas educate an estimated 1.5 million students per annum. The vast majority of social institutions programming future jehadis are beyond the control of the Pakistani state. They are financed through voluntary charity of Pakistani businessmen who believe in earning Islamic piety. A network of Saudi Arabian and Iranian donors also bankrolls Pakistan’s jehad factories in the guise of humanitarian service.   
International terrorist plots with the invariable Pakistani hand draw upon this rich resource base for jehad that has taken roots in the social system of Pakistan. It is in recognition of this reality that Newsweek magazine commented that “no other country on earth is arguably more dangerous than Pakistan, where militancy is woven into the fabric of society.”
Following Pakistan’s parliamentary elections in February 2008, attention was devoted to the defeat of radical parties that espoused an Islamist worldview. Many commentators in India and the West toasted the results as vindication of the basic moderation in Pakistani society and a rejection of violent jehad. Nothing can be more erroneous than to conclude that an electoral defeat of right wing Islamists implies that fundamentalism is on its way out. Hardly thirty percent of Pakistan’s electorate exercised its franchise in the recent elections, a figure that does not justify using poll results as barometers of moderation of the whole society. Moreover, the party that spearheads extremism in the country, the Jamaat-e-Islami, boycotted the elections and its militant strength lies outside the electoral arena.
Even the minority that did come out to vote overwhelmingly for centrist parties can be seen as delivering a verdict against President Musharraf’s misrule rather than against fundamentalism per se. It is easy to get confused about an electorate that was responding with brickbats for a detested military dictator and with sympathy for centrism after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. In a World Public Opinion Poll conducted in September 2007 (three months before Benazir’s assassination), between sixty and seventy six percent of Pakistanis favoured expansion of the role of Sharia in the country’s legal system. Is it logical to maintain that the same Pakistani society was somehow transformed overnight in barely four months to favour moderation and secularism in the elections?
If the election of February is a beacon that extremism is on the wane in Pakistani society, there should be a concomitant decline in terrorist attacks within the country. If moderates have prevailed in Pakistan, the uncovering of ever more international terrorist plots with ‘made in Pakistan’ logos should become passé. Neither of these logical next steps have transpired. Lacking deep transformation, Pakistan continues to be the world’s leading exporter of Islamist terror.            

Sreeram Chaulia is a researcher on international affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship in Syracuse, New York. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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