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Pakistan under Siege: Extremism, Society and the State-Book Review

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The book “Pakistan under Siege: Extremism, Society and the State”, is written by Madiha Afzal. She is an economist and a fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings. Her work is mainly focused on the U.S.-Pakistan relationship and extremism in South Asia. In this book she strived to address the question that terrorism is the manifestation of Pakistani society or not? And whether Pakistan itself is a victim of it? She elaborated the western narrative against Pakistan in the wake of terrorism and the role of the Pakistani state along with the impact of education and law in the incubation of extremism and terrorism. She dealt adeptly with all these topics with quantitative study based on surveys and interviews of common masses, different organizations, and institutions.


The writer gave a comprehensive outlook of terrorism, its true semantics and sentiments. In first chapter, she answered the question that whether ordinary Pakistanis are radical, or they support terrorism or not by conducting surveys and polls. Along with it, she gave the brief overview of terrorist organizations, elucidating their motives and the societal factors that provide the breeding ground for them. For instance, TTP is anti-democratic that operates in Pakistan and targets governmental bodies. It upholds the notion that only sharia should be professed in Pakistan. Afghan Taliban do jihad to reclaim their state sovereignty along with the intention to impose Islamic law in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda has anti-western agenda and Lashkar-e-Taiba is an anti-Indian movement that strives to liberate Indian Occupied Kashmir. However, as a matter of fact, these organizations provide sanctuaries to one another because of ideological overlap.


Moreover, by enunciating the western definition of terrorism that is “the use of violence against civilians”, she concluded her research that a common Pakistani opposes terrorist organizations and vilifies their mode of action, even though they agree with the objectives of one or more organizations like Le-T or Al- Qaeda grounded in their anti-American and anti- Indian sentiments that are sarcastically built by the government and army. State of Pakistan often stir the anti-Indian sentiment to justify the creation of Pakistan and to justify war as jihad against India. Therefore, according to her, state’s politics and policies aligning with the religious contours to achieve political leverage cannot be neglected at national and international arena.

Anti-American perspectives are rooted in people because of hypocritic policies of America towards Pakistan, for instance Raymon Davis case, Drone attacks, exploitation of Pakistan in Afghan Jihad and throwing the sole blame of terrorism on Pakistan in War on Terror.


In the next chapter, writer explained how the religious ideologies are exploited for political gains that gave boom to extremism, as 1979 Afghan war was to contain communism, but it was given the name of Afghan jihad and people fighting voluntarily were entitled as Holy Warriors. Even after the war, this jihadi mindset did not vanish, which found solution of every problem in war. For instance, lack of facilities and legal right led to the emergence of TTP from tribal areas. But when these warriors targeted America in 9/11 they were designated as terrorists. Thus, the ideological shift after 9/11 resulted in enlightened moderation of Musharraf era. But the American drone attacks on Pakistan sympathize common people with Al-Qaeda.


Moreover, author explicitly traced the role of Islam that had been used for political gains since the inception of Pakistan. It is ironic that the elite who were diving Pakistan movement pivoted it around Two Nation Theory based on Islam despite their own secular lifestyles. Moreover, religion was a last haven for unity because of multilinguistic and multi-ethnicity in Pakistan. However, the secession of East Pakistan was a big question mark on religion-based unity and the Two Nation Theory.
Writer critically discussed the repercussions of Objective Resolution, Zia’s Islamization process, anti-Ahmadi law and blasphemy law in exaggerating extremism, sectarian violence and intolerance in Pakistan. She also criticized the state of Pakistan for not giving an explicit narrative against terrorist organizations to counter their ideologies, because terrorists are not only armed with guns, but with ideologies as well. To counter their rhetoric of Islam, Pakistani state should clear the blur line between valid Islamic laws and the religion professed by terrorists. She also highlighted the impact of education especially in madrassas that inculcate intolerance and extremism in young minds.


She also held Pakistan Armed Forces under her scrutiny that always portrayed India as an enemy. Moreover, it had connections with Lashkar-e-Taiba on the cause of Kashmir and army used this movement in Kashmir as a proxy element against India.


Because of the writer’s purely secular orientation she suggested in the end that it is the need of hour to sever Pakistan’s ideology from religion as religion has nothing to do with state and after living together for more than seven decades, Pakistani people now share a long common history that could unify them despite religion.

Moreover, she also proposed that now state should stop using the conspiracy theories that propel the politics in Pakistan and military should tear off the cloak of insecurity from India and abandon the use of Islam for the justification of war. She also advised academicians to promote critical thinking in student so the cycle of sheep following could be disrupted and madrassas should be reformed based on tolerance. Additionally, she put forward that, to curtail the anti-American view in Pakistan, America should play fair and square and value the interests of Pakistan and particularly promote democracy instead of military regimes that suits to its own interests.

Afiya Shafaqat
+ posts
The writer is Undertaking graduation in International Relations from Quaid-e-Azam, University.
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