Will Change Until Musharraf Closes Pakistan's Militant Madrassas
July 23: In her first thriller, At Risk, Stella Rimington,
the former head of MI-5, writes about a Pakistani militant who
arrives by ferry boat in Britain to blow up the commander of a
US-British air force base in the Fens. His main helper is an English
girl who has converted to Islam and has been in a training camp
in Pakistan, while MI5 misses several signals that an attack is
surprisingly, when you are reading a novel by someone who has
spent 35 years in the secret service, fact and fiction merge.
The suspected Pakistani mastermind of the July 7 bombings is believed
to have arrived by boat to trigger the four bombers, then left
the country a day before the attack. Yesterday's bungling bombers
seemed to lack such foreign expertise.
"There is no way you can
deal with this menace [of terrorism] except head-on," said
Prime Minister Tony Blair. Yet the truth of the matter is that
neither government has tackled the issue of Islamic extremism
Until this month, terrorist attacks
were long-distance events for most British people, but not for
Pakistanis - 1,000 civilians and the same number of security personnel
in that country have died since September 11 in terrorist and
Britain has allowed militant Muslim
preachers freedom to preach their message of hate in the mosques,
the meeting halls and the sitting rooms of British Muslims. Literature
and videos promoting extremism have been allowed to spread deep
into the Muslim community. While some outsiders saw this as typical
British eccentricity or liberalism, foreign intelligence agencies
have been furious with British laxity for some years.
four July 7 bombers did not have to enroll in a Pakistani religious
school or madrassa to learn about Islamic extremism, because it
was available in Yorkshire. Experts now think it unlikely that
the three London bombers who came to Pakistan last year enrolled
in a madrassa to become ideologised. Instead, they arrived fully
brainwashed and probably used their time making contact with Al-Qaeda
and Pakistani militant groups to train in explosives.
And every Pakistani who saw the
TV pictures of how British Pakistanis live in Leeds was shocked
at how no attempt has been made to integrate them. The Leeds suburbs
looked like ghettos or a typical poverty-stricken Punjabi village,
except in red brick.
British Muslims also must share
a great part of the blame for failing to speak out against the
extremists living in their midst, refusing to integrate or agree
to mixed marriages, and insisting upon bringing prayer leaders
from their home villages - men who are either totally ignorant
of the world or are extremists.
Immigrants are traditionally torn
between their traditions and the modernity offered by the host
country, but no group has more rigorously spurned modernity then
Asian Muslims, which is a crying shame.
At the same time, the overwhelming
anger that more than 60 per cent of Britons feel about Blair's
policies in Iraq - according to a Guardian poll - is felt far
more strongly in the Muslim community. The truth is that Blair
will have great difficulty countering extremism among Asian Muslims
while continuing to pursue the same Iraq policy.
military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, has done even less
to curb extremism, despite the daily hemorrhaging of his citizens
on the streets of Pakistani cities due to terrorist attacks. On
Monday, the general gave a tub-thumping speech to a youth conference,
wagging his angry finger at the madrassas and repeating for the
umpteenth time that banned militant groups were forcing their
ideology on others.
This week, more than 250 militants
have been arrested and, in a speech to the nation last night,
Musharraf again asked the public to join him in a jihad against
Islamic extremism. But since September 11, such crackdowns have
taken place frequently, and those arrested are invariably freed
after 90 days in jail.
Pakistanis now respond to such
speeches with a wave of the hand and a bored look, commenting
that it is all for the gallery of Western onlookers. Since September
11, the general has been through this routine so many times that
people have lost count and interest. Despite all the political
pressures on the military from the West since September 11, all
the debt forgiveness by Western countries, the lavish foreign
aid - $3 billion from Washington alone, new weapon systems and
intelligence equipment and the rush of cash to reform the madrassa
system - nothing much has changed.
Last night, Musharraf still failed
to order the closure of madrassas controlled by extremist groups.
The promised reform in 2002, which Musharraf pledged at meetings
with Bush and Blair in Washington and London, has not been implemented.
Until the London bombings, neither leader had bothered to ask
Musharraf why not, although both have given funding for education.
controlled by militant Pakistani groups who work for Al-Qaeda
continue to function freely. One of the largest extremist groups
in the country, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, has members who have helped
Al-Qaeda It now operates under a new name and has even changed
the look of its largest madrassa complex to become a model it
can show to the Western press. It's like the Earls Court motor
show without the short-skirted models.
The enormous Islamic extremist
infrastructure that the military maintained before September 11
to fight its wars in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and Indian
Kashmir have not been broken up, only put to temporary sleep while
clandestine training camps still spring up at new locations. Some
militant groups have been banned three times, only to re-appear
under different names.
failure of the West since September 11 has been to conduct its
entire relationship with Musharraf in secret, as though that would
give him the time and space to do the right thing. What is needed
is a heavy dose of public diplomacy that would force the military
to act rather than to deny and fudge. At the same time, Britain
needs to wake up to the new post-July 7 world in which it will
have to do far more to integrate its Muslim minority than it has
done so far. - Daily Telegraph, London