Roots of conflicts in developing societies Part II

Roots of conflicts in developing societies Part II


By Chris Odinaka Nwedo

On the subject of conflicts, what distinguishes Pakistan from other South Asian countries, however, is an easy and abundant availability of weapons, the control of the state by Punjabi-Mohajir elites in the country’s early phase that led to ethnic tension with other provinces. Other considerably significant factors in the persistent phases of hostilities and crisis include: the failure of economic growth which made the state more dependent on Islam as a binding force. This increased ethnic tension as regional groups began to assert their cultural and nationalistic agendas. In fact, the failure of successive regimes in fulfilling any of their stated governmental agendas led to a basic legitimatization of crisis. To obtain the trust and the confidence of the people in the streams of many failures, regimes after regimes disproportionately promoted Islam in the affairs of the state.

This policy continued further with the leverages given to Islamists to take control of the Pakistani Army. The Islamists were promoted and encouraged to take the control of the security forces during the regime of Gen. Zia. These were comparatively aberrations considering the principles of the Pakistani founding father, Jinnah. According to Mohammad Waseem, ‘at the time of independence, there was no conflict between Islam and the kind of secularism and democracy espoused by Jinnah. However, the preeminence given to Islam was in supposition that it was the only visible means of national integration in Pakistan composed of five main ethnic groups, the Punjabis, the Sindhi, the Pathans, the Balochis and the Mohajirs.1   The imprudent mucilage of Pakistani state around a complex waist of Islam and smart exploitation of religious sentiment brought the inexhaustible energy and commitment in the violence and unrests in Pakistan.

 For Waseem, Islam was unable to integrate effectively the diverse groups into one nation due to existence of provincial identities. ‘Despite the fact that Punjabis and Mohajirs continued to uphold their Islamic identities, their domination of the civilian bureaucracy, the military and the economy was detrimental to the other ethnic groups. All legitimate grievances of the lesser privileged and lesser developed ethnic groups were dubbed as anti-national and subversive activities. This is an important factor that caused sectarian conflicts.2 Secondly, the wars and destructions in Afghanistan and the determined moves towards Islamisation of the state empowered orthodox brands of Islamism in Pakistan. ‘This also brought into Pakistan a more codified and strict Wahabi Islam from Saudi Arabia. The role of Pakistan as a frontline state, serving American interest in the war in Afghanistan against former Communist USSR, led to major problems for Pakistan and its society.3 Again, the American withdrawal of active support in the fight against the growth and export of heroine, in the wake of larger strategic interests which had a catastrophic impact on Pakistan society was a real boast to violence. The withdrawal of support encouraged influx of drug users. Drug users in Pakistan stands above 3.2 million. It is believed that this is ‘one of the offshoots of active involvement in the Afghan crisis and the Pakistan’s decision, in the early 80s to be a conduit for Western weapon bound for the war in Afghanistan.4

Sectarian conflicts in Pakistan revolve around the Shia-Sunni divide. Paradoxically, sectarian leaders do not typically represent their followers in the main stream politics. In political matters, Pakistanis follow their local or tribal leaders. The militant sectarian activists themselves represent only a minority groups which draw inspirations from Madarsas and shrines. It is significant that funds are provided to them by the commercial middle class.5 It is believed that demand for basic services, equity and fairness including demand for provincial autonomy, were important factors in the rise of Islamic assertiveness and eruption of sectarian violence as there are steady influx of fundamentalists views from the Islamic worlds outside Pakistan particularly Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, Pakistani involvements in Afghan wars fostered persistent violent internal conflicts in some of the following ways:

  • ‘The migration of Afghan refugee groups to major urban regions of Pakistan added to the antagonisms within the Pakistan society especially in Karachi where ethnic strife increased.
  • Pakistan supported pro-Islamic elements in Afghanistan. These elements provided needed motivation for fundamental Islamists in Pakistan.
  • The establishment of a powerful network of militant Madarsas originally set up to train volunteer ‘Student’-Taliban for the war in Afghanistan. These Madarsas combined weapon training with fundamentalist and violent interpretation of Islam. The ‘victory’ of the Taliban in Afghanistan freed substantial number of these ‘students’, as well as their motivators and mentors; who are now progressively turning their attention to other areas of conflict, including Pakistan itself.
  • Drug trafficking which was encouraged for the short-term motive of financing the Afghan resistance movement became transformed into the most important source of finance for most militant groups’.6

 According to Ekaterina Stepanova ‘talibanization and cross-border violence in Pakistan originated in Deobandi madrasas in the areas of Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan, where it became the de facto government in 1996.  In addition, following the US-led intervention in 2001 and disintegration of the Taliban regime, many Taliban fighters found refuge in the Pashtun-populated border areas of Pakistan. However, the Taliban’s  revival in Pakistan went beyond the regrouping of the remnants of the Afghan Taliban.7  Again in 2007, a new generation of Pashun  Islamists often referred to as ‘neo- Taliban’, were active in the Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, they controlled northern and southern Waziristan and expanded their influence into North-West Frontier Province.  For Stepanova, ‘talibanization’, the spread of Taliban presence and influence, was as much a domestic problem for Pakistan in 2007 as the Taliban insurgency was for Afghanistan. The neo Taliban movement is rooted in radical Islamism merged with Pashun tribalism. This combination filled the vacuums created by the erosion of traditional tribal structures and stimulated their further transformation.8

Apart from sectarianism on religious grounds, the other major divisive issue has been the position of Islam in the constitutional and political life of Pakistan. Although, Pakistan has considered itself an Islamic Republic, since the promulgation of 1956 constitution, there are large and influential segments of the elite society which are committed to secularism. These secularist-modernist groups made attempts to accommodate some demands of the Islamist lobbyists and became diluted in the course of political and constitutional practices. This has resulted in the Islamist lobbyists being given prominence in public life that their electoral base would hardly justify.9  Unfortunately the surreptitious  state support for teaming militant groups who were meant for possible external threat potently turned  to endanger the Pakistan establishment as they acquire relative autonomy over the years.10

In addition, the authoritarian character of the state whose formation and later development led to the concentration of the institutions of the state in the hands of a select elite, where all dissents meet with violent suppression, fuelled violence in the society.11  For instance, ‘the crushing of the Baluch insurrection in 1973, with the use of overwhelming force, is a dramatic example of this military response…The air Force was used in these operations bombing a large number of villages.12  Between 2007 and 2013 Pakistan witnessed active and steady proliferation and integration of various forms of violent groups, some of which have significant cross border and transnational implications. This naturally led to determinations by Pakistani military to intervene in order to limit the influence of the radicals and control spate of violence in the country.

For Rubin, B.R. (2007)  while much of ‘the violence in the major armed conflict in neighbouring Afghanistan was linked to the instability in Pakistan’s border areas, it would be wrong to view the complex web of tribal, Islamist, inter and intra-sectarian and other armed violence in Pakistan only in the context of the situation in Afghanistan. The political and religious violence in Pakistan has its own sources and dynamics.13 Ordinarily, one is irresistibly tempted to simply say that in Pakistan violence and destruction have turned esteemed fun such that the enthusiastic perpetrators are incensed by anything to start butchery of fellow citizens. Friday May 2011 was a day of remarkable sadness, pain and death as a pair of suicide bombers attacked paramilitary police recruits killing 66 of them. About 80 people met their untimely death in suicide attack and more 120 Pakistanis ‘providentially’ escaped death with ranging injuries. The scene of the bomb blast according to eye witnesses was littered by debris of glass mixed with blood and flesh and about 10 transportation vans were destroyed.

According to Taliban former spokesman, Ahsanullah Ahsan, who claimed responsibility said the attack was in retaliation for the death of Osama bin Laden killed by Americans. Ahsan maintained that the killing was a punishment against Pakistan authorities for failing to stop the unilateral American raid into Pakistan territory that killed the chief terrorism grandmaster, Osama bin Laden. ‘Some 350 lawyers sympathetic to the Islamists attended a special prayer for Bin Laden on the premises of the provincial high court in the eastern city of Lahore on Friday. The lawyer cursed May 2nd raid chanting down with America.14 It will be recalled that since the start of the war on terror in Afghanistan 2001, Taliban and al-Qaeda affiliates have killed many thousands of Pakistanis and up to 3000 of the Pakistani security forces because Pakistan is an ally of the US in the fight against the Islamist extremists in Afghanistan.

That conflict is well rooted in the Middle East is an assumption many willingly give in to. Besides the six days war between Israel and Arab nations collectively, today as in the centuries past, history recorded many sorts of wars, violence and destruction in Middle East.  There has been habitual violence, wars and intermittent deadly confrontations between Israel and Palestinian several militants and radicals. Israel and Hezbollah elements in Lebanon clashed continuously resulting in hundreds of deaths and literal obliteration of many Lebanese cities bordering Israel. Syria fought, conquered and imperialized Lebanon for many years. In Lebanon, there has been countless politically or other ideologically motivated killings, assassinations and instigated violent destructions in the country fractionalized by extraneous forces competing for greater influence in the country. Syria and Iran are often accused of pulling the strings of violence and strife in Lebanese polity. Among Palestinian groups’ skirmishes, bloodbath and disquietude are remarkable features of the relationship between Fattah and Hamas factions in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

On the other hand, ethnic theorists tend to show that ‘it is not territory, politics, or economics that prevent achievement of peace between Israeli and Palestinian peoples; instead, it is a deep-seated hatred of one another that neither can overcome. The failure of most attempts at fostering a lasting peace is a clear example of how ethnocentrism can prevent success.15  The theorists suggest ‘that the primary source of conflicts within a state or between two states is when a deeply rooted animosity is present between the various ethnic groups.16 Thus they defined an ethnic group as ‘a large group of people who share ancestral, language, cultural or religious ties and a common identity, nations are often created from an ethnic group that feels that it  wants to, and is capable of controlling itself separately and politically.17 When two ethnic groups with historical animosity live in close proximity to one another, it is likely to expect the formation of in-groups which in turn, yield to feeling of ethnocentrism. Under these circumstances, each group maintains air of superiority and often dehumanizes each other to the point where conflict resolution and cooperation are seemingly impossible.18 These conflicts have always escalated to the point where the actual reason for the conflicts  are almost completely forgotten even by the participants. Each group in the conflict believes that when one gains, the other loses automatically. Similarly, when one group compromises, it is a loss. This is particularly difficult when it involved religion; because groups will not compromise their beliefs and ethnic loyalties….19  This has in significant part been the rationality behind many Middle Eastern crisis that remained defiant to real solution.

In July 11, 2000, the hope of forming lasting peace between Israel and Palestine brought Ehud Barak, former Prime minister of Israel, and late Yasser Arafat and the former President Bill Clinton to a meeting at Camp David in United States. It was during the presidency of Bill Clinton. Sadly, this attempt to bring about peace ended in disappointment, and sent both leaders home discouraged. The receptions of the two of leaders in their respective countries were remarkably different. Arafat, who did not give in to the Israeli and American pressure for mutual compromise, was greeted as a hero, while Ehud Barak returned to an unsatisfied, unstable government.20

In 2008, under President George W. Bush, a similar reconciliation meeting was arranged in Annapolis, United States of America in the regime’s desperate effort to strike the last heavy harmer on the challenging crisis. Agreements were signed and concessions made between the then Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian former fractional President, Mohammed Abbas. The frustrations are that until now peace has not materialized instead, there is pitiable escalation of conflicts and violence in the region. The well-publicized reconciliation conference was objected to and boycotted by some Arab countries who believed that instead of peace and reconciliation of the parties in the conflicts, Israel is better wiped out of the map.

In fact, Annapolis peace endeavours were ‘affectionately’ acknowledged by firing of rockets into Israel by Palestinian militants, and Israeli Army as a reprisal rolled armored  tanks into the Gaza Strip crushing on the way man, animal and every other thing without consideration. Annapolis conferences were really global efforts to bring the two sides together to negotiate their differences, however, the negotiations and efforts failed immediate positive tests, in spite of the confidence built that the last heavy harmer was the most timely and appropriate. ‘Although territory has been the main issue between the warring nations, it seems there is something more deeply rooted with the people and the leaders preventing achievement of a final peace. Perhaps this is inflexibility, or irrationality, but more likely, it is as a result of thousands of years’ animosity culminating in a seeming impossible agreement.21

The Israel-Palestinian conflicts, the Arab world in invasion of Israel, and many Israeli related conflicts were not the only problems in the volatile Middle East. The Lebanon and Syrian wars laid permanent underground pipes which actively supply ‘cogent’ reasons and logistics for animosity and unrest within the conquered territory. Before the departure of the imperial Syrians from Lebanon, violence, car bombs and targeted killings in Lebanon were meant to shrink anti-Syrian voice. Car bomb explosions were regular events at the height of the crisis in cities especially Beirut and as long as deadly clashes between Lebanese forces and Sunni militants in Northern Lebanon continued  without moderation by common sense. However, there are other militant groups whose occupations were violence and fanning the embers of death and bloodshed. A case in point was ‘bombing at a popular Beirut shopping mall by a Syria’s politically motivated jihadist-oriented group known as Fatah al-Islam.22  Violence was intensified following an action taken by Lebanese authorities to confront  proliferating rebellious groups. The Fatah al-Islam militants were well organized for all sorts of violence and were prepared for long-lasting confrontation with Lebanese army with the supports of machine guns and grenades. The conflicts with the various violent groups had tremendous tolls on Lebanon because the security forces lacked of intelligence, equipment and appropriate coordination.

  1. Waseem Mohammad cited in Book Review by AlfredK.David ‘conflict and violence in SouthAsia: Bangladseh,India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka’, edited by K.M.Silva. Ethics Studies Report, vol.xviii, no.2 July 2000 online@conflict and violence in south asia/palash/ 3/3/2009)
  2. Quoted in Nwedo C.O. ‘Concept of Political Responsibility’cit
  3. Ibid
  4. Waseem Mohammad cited in Book Review by AlfredK.David ‘conflict and violence in SouthAsia: Bangladseh,India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka’,0p.cit.
  5. Quoted in Nwedo  C.O. ‘Concept of Political Responsibility’cit.
  6. See Ekaterina Stepanova in SIPRI Yearbook 2008: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, Oxford University Press
  7. Ibid
  8. see Book Review by Alfred K. David ‘conflict and violence in South Asia: Bangladseh,India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka’, edited by K.M.Silva op.cit.
  9. Quoted in Nwedo C.O. ‘Concept of Political Responsibility’cit.
  10. Ibid
  11. See Rubin, B.R. (2007) ‘Saving Afghanistan‘, Foreign Affairs, vol. 86, no.1 January/February in Ekaterina Stepanova op.cit.
  12. Saturday Life May 14 2011, p.49
  13. Wow Conflict in the Middle 3/3/2009
  14. Ibid
  15. Ibid
  16. Ibid
  17. Ibid
  18. Ibid
  19. Ibid
  20. Lebanon:ASyrianHandinpoliticalinstabilityMay21,2007@Stratfor’

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