HISTORY JANUARY 5, 2011
by Ayesha Jalal
Harvard University Press, 400 pp., $19.25
The vision, at the end of World War II, of a world of sovereign nation-states, legitimate powers of law and order with a monopoly on the use of force within recognized boundaries, was a long shot. Some regions proved resistant to the formation of functional states, and it happens that many of those incompletely formed or failed states are in the Muslim world. Generally, the challenge came from the imbalance between resources, population, and the quality of institutions. Libya, Nigeria, and Iraq had too many resources; Yemen and Somalia too many people. Central Asia suffered from the Soviet legacy; Afghanistan from its geography. For Pakistan, it was history.
Pakistan is not just any failed state. With a population just under 180 million, it has nationals well qualified in sciences and the professions; a large and relatively prosperous expatriate community; and it stands out as one of the few countries that completed independently a nuclear weapons program. But Pakistan is also fragmented, with multiple sects and ethnicities, stark regional differences, and ways of life that range from rural tribalism to urban and professional. Literacy is uneven and education inadequate; GDP per capita stands at $2500; inequality is vast. Pakistan is not so much a nation as it is a satellite, an out-of-India Muslim reservation carved out of a bloody decolonization process. It was patched up from distinct Muslim communities with little in common with each other. Pakistan’s early leaders forced the social fabric to form as scar tissue, encysted around a perpetual struggle with India over Kashmir. That project did not go well. Pakistan suffered devastating military setbacks in 1948, 1965, and 1971. The militarization and Islamization of regime and society ensued.
To palliate a frail sense of identity and purpose, many people in Pakistan have in recent years turned to the crusade known as jihad. In her splendid and important book, Ayesha Jalal traces that history to its origins through the words and deeds of Indian Muslim scholars and intellectuals, many of global fame. With Partisans of Allah, she has contributed a rich intellectual and political history of Islam in South Asia, spanning several centuries. She is a talented historian of ideas, and at the outset of her extraordinary story she makes several distinctions that will inform her nuanced and thorough account.
First and foremost, there is the distinction between Jihad as an ethical struggle for the promotion of virtue, and Jihad as an armed struggle against the enemies of Islam. The overarching meaning of Jihad in the Qur'an is ethical, she reminds us—but that meaning faded as the Islamic empire extended its reach by way of arms. Jalal also offers a second distinction between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Since Islamic governance was never designed to control the beliefs of the faithful, the emphasis was always on proper observance. The consequent obsession with externalities and appearances, as many Muslim theologians and Islamist critics have pointed out, left an ethical gap in the practice of the faith, if not in its principles.
Jalal also makes a third important distinction—between the region west of the Hindu Kush, where Islam became the faith of the majority, and the east, where it always had to contend with a majority of infidels. The point is what Clifford Geertz argued in Islam Observed: that the Islamic faith is multifaceted and rooted in the material and historical context in which it is expressed. South Asia is grounded in a Hindu tradition that had withstood the test of time, and Islam had to adjust to that.
Islam came to power in South Asia by way of ghazis—Turkish, Mongol, and Afghan raiders, hailing from the northwest frontier. A Sultanate was established in Delhi in the early thirteenth century, and the celebrated Moghul Empire took form there in the 1520s. Nominally Muslims, the ghazis were worldly rulers whose behavior often irked the traditionalist alim, on whom they relied for legitimacy and administration. The reach of the Moghul Empire had brought under Sunni rule a majority of Hindu infidels, along with Shi'as and a strong mystical (Sufi) tradition. In this multicultural environment, it was expedient for the sovereign to allow the religious and legal practice to deviate from the Hanafi canon, or the official interpretation of Shari'ah. Accommodation was greatest under Shah Akhbar (1556-1605), the most powerful of the Moghul emperors and consequently the one most independent of the sanction of Hanafi jurists, who, like the respected scholar Ahmad Sirhandi (1564-1624), could do little more than rail against his rampant deviancy.
When Moghul power began to wane at the end of the seventeenth century, the call of orthodoxy became stronger, both at the court of Shah Aurangzeb and among the jurists. The challenge to Muslim dominion came at the time from a confederacy of Hindu ethno-tribal groups, the Jats and Marathas. Their ascent vexed Shah Waliullah (1703-1762), a prolific and honored Hanafi theologian. Waliullah had studied in the Hijaz at the same time as Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, the Arabian founder of Wahhabism. Both men, who probably never met, resented the degeneration of Islam, the syncretism with pre-Islamic practices and the idolatry of the Shi'as—phenomena that they denounced as “polytheism”. Waliullah read his times with trepidation. For him, the salvation of India as a Muslim land demanded profound ethical and administrative reforms. Strict Sunni Hanafi orthodoxy should be implemented, and a legislative role should be reserved to an Imam competent in the practice of Ijtihad—the interpretation of Shari'ah. Most urgently, the power of the Jats and Marathas had to be checked militarily.
It is for his calls to armed Jihad that Waliullah is now remembered. And Jihad did come—not from the Moghul overlords but from Central Asian ghazis, and not as holy war but as pillage. In 1739, Delhi was sacked by Nadir Shah, a Shi'a interloper who looted Moghul treasures before heading back home. His feat made him emperor of Persia, but brought no relief to flagging Islamic rule in India. Delhi, the Moghul capital, was sacked again in 1757 by Ahmad Shah Abdali, a powerful Durrani Afghan in the habit of plundering northwest India. But Ahmad Shah was a Sunni, and Shah Waliullah famously called on him to remain and fight the enemies of Islam. The Durrani leader managed to deal a fatal blow to the Marathas in 1761 at Panipat, but his fledgling empire did not hold outside of Afghanistan. Worse, the trail of plunder he left behind sparked a Sikh rebellion in Punjab, and northwestern India was in disarray. Waliullah died the following year, his vision of a glorious and dignified Jihad in the path of God betrayed. The political void benefited the British East India Company. Already in control of Bengal since the battle of Plassey in 1757, it extended its reach over Delhi in 1803. On that occasion, a son of Waliullah, Shah Abdul Aziz (1745-1824), issued a fatwa declaring India dar-al-harb: lost to Islam, it was a “land of war”. But the testy proclamation fell short of a call to Jihad, and Abdul Aziz made his peace with the British.
The Jihad wished for by the Waliullah clan finally came in the 1820s, a time when the emergent powers in Northern India were the British and the Sikhs, whose empire was consolidating in Punjab and Kashmir. Leading the campaign was Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi (named after his home town of Rai Bareilly), a dilettantish but charismatic student of Shah Abdul Aziz. Sayyid Ahmad completed the Hajj in 1820 and upon return he set out to assemble followers for Jihad. The intellectual figure in his band was Shah Ismail, a grandson of Shah Waliullah and the bearer of religious credentials that Sayyid Ahmad lacked. Jalal portrays Ismail as an anti-rationalist, preferring faith to reason and form to substance. In 1826, the two men led some six hundred Hindustanis into Northwest India. Their target was the Sikhs. They hoped that a religious call to Jihad would rally the Durrani and Pathan (Pusthun) tribes—the same tribes from which today’s Taliban are recruited.
Sayyid Ahmad's strategy was tested in the field. The Durranis, worldly and pragmatic, took the measure of the Sikhs and turned their back on Jihad. Pathan warlords were hardly more loyal, and Sayyid Ahmad resorted to all the tricks in the book to keep them in line. To pay salaries, he had to borrow money with interest and levy the tithe (zaqat) on the local population. Threats to execute deserters as apostates had to be issued. Men were allowed to loot the towns seized, and unmarried Muslim girls were commandeered to provide them with brides. In those towns they occupied, Shah Ismail tried to appeal to the people by implementing a populist moral order, condemning sumptuary spending and emphasizing simplicity and practical morality. In the end, the Jihad was waged mostly against other Muslims. And to no avail. Sayyid Ahmad, Shah Ismail, and their core followers, abandoned by the tribes, were martyred in 1831 at the Battle of Balakot.
Balakot was a seminal moment in South Asian Islamic lore, a moment that Jalal compares to the martyrdom of Imam Hussein at Karbala in 680. The resonance of the event grew in the decades that followed, as the British pressed on in India and the passing of Muslim rule became more complete. Sayyid Ahmad, whom Jalal describes as “more a warrior-saint than a stickler of religious niceties”, left behind a personal mystique and a group of followers called Tariqah-i-Muhammadi, which carried on with Jihad and formed the historical core of Ahl-i-Hadith, a fundamentalist movement. Violence remained, low, until the events of 1857, the great Indian rebellion known to the British as the Sepoy Mutiny.
The rebellion brought together Muslims and Hindus: both feared the Christianization that would be imposed by the British. Fatwas summoned the faithful to Jihad, and violence erupted all over northern India, where Europeans were massacred. British forces, while small in numbers, were able to turn things around as whole regions stayed quiet in the south and the east, their rulers even contributing troops. Jalal reveals that many Muslims were ambivalent about the extremists. Ismaili Shi'as were reluctant to follow a movement that was not led by a legitimate descendant of the Prophet. Modernists saw in British rule an improvement over the Moghuls. Many people were shocked by the violence. When the dust settled, the legacy of the rebellion was two-fold. First, a British Raj now reigned alone over the subcontinent, the troubles having compelled London to depose the Moghul figurehead and supplant the East India Company. Second, the removal of central Muslim authority, even if nominal by that point, opened within the Sunni community fractures that would harden over time, shaping Islam in northwest India to this day.
Jihad continued after 1857, with skirmishes in the Himalayan foothills. The British linked the enduring Islamic resistance in India to the Wahhabi phenomenon then resurgent in Arabia. Jalal points out the similarities and the differences between Ahl-i-Hadith and Wahhabism. Both movements were born from the social upheaval of the eighteenth century: the decline of Moghuls and Ottomans, the interference of Western powers. Both targeted polytheism—the deviations of Sufis and Shi'as—and rejected most if not all the Sunni legal tradition, and advocated Ijtihad, a fresh interpretation of Islamic law from the unadulterated basis of the Prophet's experience. And, of course, both took up arms for Jihad.
But the “Indian Wahabis” of the British were not the Arabian Wahhabis. India had much greater cultural and demographic depth than Arabia. Its native Islam resisted puritanism, and was more open to mysticism. Despite their contempt for Shi'a idolaters, Indian Sunni scholars failed to extricate themselves from the quasi-sacrilegious reverence of their followers—Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi was dangerously close to being considered a Prophet in his own right. Crucially, in India, there were no Sauds to lead the puritans to victory on the battlefields—something the Sauds accomplished not once but three times in the course of two hundred years, staking their claim on Arabia. The British were not invincible—they had failed against the Afghan tribes in 1839-1842 and would fail again in 1878-80; but when they set on the Ambala campaign to crush the Indian mujahedeen, victory came easily. The rebel stronghold in Patna fell in 1863. The time for an accommodation had come. In 1887, the Ahl-i-Hadith renounced armed struggle. It remained as an irritant on the radical fringe, harassing Muslim folks to adopt a strict code of conduct, and denouncing those who did not as heretics.
Another faction to emerge from the rebellion was the Deobandi movement. The key figure here was Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi, a reputed scholar briefly imprisoned by the British for joining in the popular protest of 1857. It was after these events that Nanautawi's own movement developed in the seminary that he founded in the town of Deoband. Deobandis shared common origins with the Ahl-i-Hadith: both were inspired by the Jihad movement of the Waliullah clan and Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi. But Deobandis remained firmly within the Hanafi tradition that the Alh-i-Hadith rejected. Also, they were generally more restrictive about the circumstances under which armed struggle is legitimate. Having come to terms with British rule, Deobandis emphasized the ethical nature of Jihad and promoted grassroots education, with great success among the tribes neglected by successive governments. That focus helped the movement grow far beyond the Ahl-i-Hadith. By the beginning of our century, 20 percent of Pakistani Muslims were of the Deobandi persuasion, against less than 5 percent for the Ahl-i-Hadith. A majority of schools in modern-day Pakistan are Deobandi-run.
A third—and today's largest—faction in Pakistan is Barelvi Islam. Dominant in Punjab, it attracts half of the population overall. The name Barelvi is derived from the town of Bareilly, where it originated. The sect, founded in 1880 by Ahmad Reza Khan, shared with the other two movements a connection to the Waliullah clan, a pressing concern about British rule, and a suspicion of Shi'as and Hindus. It also competed with the Deobandis as the legitimate heir of the Hanafi tradition. The question for all Islamic movements was whether British India was dar-al-harb, a land of war, or whether religious tolerance under the Raj obviated the necessity of Jihad. For the Barelvis, armed struggle was seditious and suicidal. The answer was a renewed emphasis on the ethical and mystical dimensions of Jihad.
A fourth current was the modernist movement, whose main figure was Sayyid Ahmad Khan. A Moghul noble and an accomplished scholar, Ahmad Khan was a jurist in the employ of the East India Company when violence erupted in 1857. He sheltered Christians and castigated the unruly mob, whose merciless behavior he believed was anathema to Jihad in the path of God. Jalal skillfully traces Ahmad Khan's later rise as the figurehead of a prolific movement of modernists and apologists, sympathetic to British rule yet keen to defend Islam from the attacks of Christian scholars, who too often portrayed the faith as intolerant and expansionist. The modernists gathered in an Educational Society. Their plan was an “educational Jihad” to introduce Indian Muslims to Western advances in sciences and humanities in order to assure their position in the future Indian society. In 1875, Sayyid Ahmad Khan founded the Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College, later the Aligarth Muslim University, the home base of the modernist movement.
The modernists’ emphasis on reason led to a defensive barrage from the alim, the custodians of orthodoxy for whom Ahmad Khan had strayed too far into the path of Westernization. Fatwas declaring him apostate were issued in Mecca and Medina. The challenge for Islam in colonial India was the dual reality of Christian rule and Hindu majority, which threatened to reduce the true faith to a sectarian minority, an irrelevant legacy of the past. In such circumstances, there was a real risk of syncretistic drift and apostasy, not only from the modernists but also from movements such as the Ahmadiyyah of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Ahmad began in the 1880s to rally followers with whom he shared his revelations. This self-proclaimed messiah forbade Jihad as armed struggle. He, more than anyone, was reconciled with British power, the protector of Islam in South Asia and a patron for his own proselytizing.
In reality, all the factions were well aware that British rule was the alternative to Hindu majority rule, and that the colonial arrangement gave Islam breathing room. To reconcile with the Raj and improve the disastrous public image of Muslims, they all variously emphasized the moral and spiritual meanings of Jihad. The modernists went furthest by defining the essence of Islam as humanism, and opening the faith to the interpretation of human reason. But all the currents shared a common goal. Jalal explains that the modernists' attitude toward the Indian “Wahabis” remained ambivalent, condemning the intolerance and the petty bullying, but praising the genuine inspiration they drew from their faith.
Accommodation with the Western imperial power had its obvious limits, and was not viable over the long run. The global deterioration of Islamic sovereignty against European imperial expansion after 1880 was ominous, marking the demise of Muslim rule in India with the seal of irreversibility. Within colonial India, Muslim attitudes toward Britain could not ignore the response of the Hindu majority, which was not going to stay on the sidelines. Hindus figured prominently in the Indian National Congress, founded in 1885. The only route for a specifically Muslim form of nationalism was to articulate anti-colonialism globally, across the ummah. This pan-Islamic dimension is apparent in the legacy of Sayyid Jamal al-din al Afghani, a peripatetic Persian ideologue who sojourned in India between 1879 and 1882. Al Afghani shared with Ahmad Khan the conviction that Islam could and should embrace free reason and Western science, but he condemned the modernist's servile attitude toward British rule. The project that he championed was far more assertive: a common Islamic struggle against the West, a global Jihad led by the Ottomans. Jalal recounts that, while in India, al Afghani had to tone down his pan-Islamic rhetoric to adjust to the reality of Hindu-Muslim relations and the necessity of territorial nationalism. His influence in the subcontinent remained limited, but his vision crystallized there after his departure. Indian Imams started to read their Friday sermon in the name of the Sultan in Istanbul—an honor that once belonged to the Moghul emperor—and Indian Muslims celebrated Turkish military victories.
The worldview of a new generation of Muslim thinkers and activists like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958) and Obaidullah Sindhi (1872-1944) was forged in the dual reality of British imperialism and Indian nationalism. They felt compelled to join the anti-colonial movement and, as Muslims, they cloaked that struggle in the legitimacy of Jihad. At the same time, given the context of Indian nationalism, throwing their lot with the Congress came at the cost of Muslim distinctiveness. Pan-Islamism gathered momentum during World War I. Azad issued a fatwa supporting the Ottomans when they declared war against Britain in November, 1914. Azad already showed some of the characteristics of later Islamic militants: rejecting the authority of the established alim, he argued that the Quranic injunction of promoting the right and forbidding the wrong was incumbent upon all Muslims, a Jihad for all.
The age of charismatic pseudo-prophets such as Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi was over. Political Islam and its attendant Jihad had entered the age of mass politics. The effort on the ground was led by Obaidullah Sindhi, whom Jalal describes as a “devotee of Shah Waliullah educated in the finest tradition of Deoband”. Involved in the Silk Letter Conspiracy to coax outside powers to fight Britain, Sindhi spent the war in Afghanistan, attempting once again to rally local warlords in a revolutionary Jihad to liberate India. The Afghan tribes sat the war out.
Tension was rife in post-war India, with security laws allowing arbitrary detention and the fallout of the massacre of civilians in Amritsar in 1919. Muslim nationalists were grouped since 1906 in an All India Muslim League, whose first leader was the Ismaili Aga Khan. The Sunnis among them were sensitive to events outside India, and they did not take kindly to the occupation of Istanbul by the Entente powers in 1918, which doomed the cause of pan-Islamism. The League responded with the Khilafat movement, threatening Britain with a popular insurgency if it failed to protect the Ottoman Caliph and tried to take the Holy Places away from Muslim sovereignty. The Khilafat was led by the brothers Mohamed and Shaukat Ali, active in both the Muslim League and the Congress, and dovetailed with Gandhi's non-cooperation movement. For a brief period following the Lucknow Pact in 1916, Hindus and Muslims worked together against Britain, papering over their differences. But the differences were real. Jalal notes that Gandhi resented Muslim calls, toward the end of the war, to Hijrah and Jihad—the compulsory migration of all Muslims to neighboring Muslim land, in this case Afghanistan, from which they would wage a Jihad of liberation.
The Jihad from Afghanistan would never come. Indian Muslims who did migrate there were often robbed of their possessions by the Afghans, whose Amirs received British patronage. Discouraged, Obaidullah Sindhi left Kabul in 1922 for the Soviet Union, which had adopted a strong anti-colonial stance. The only real legacy of this aborted Jihad was the suspicion of Hindus in the Congress movement toward the Muslim League's motives. An invasion of India from Afghanistan seemed like a ploy to bring not just liberation, but also to restore Muslim hegemony. The end of the Raj was still decades away, but already Muslim and Hindu leaders were wary of the post-independence distribution of power.
Sindhi, by 1926 a refugee in Turkey, published a draft constitution envisioning a federal India, with a cluster of Muslim provinces in the Northwest. He still wished for Hindu-Muslim unity, and hoped to remedy class inequality, and was inspired by the rapid modernization of the Soviet Union with which he wanted an independent India to ally. He paradoxically dreamed of a modern Westernized society governed by the ethical philosophy of Shah Walliullah. Jalal's verdict on Sindhi is that he was an exile and a marginal figure, a dreamer removed from the grind of Hindu-Muslim rivalries within the national movement.
She then turns to another lofty figure, the poet and philosopher Mohammed Iqbal (1877-1938). A political poet who waxed lyrically on the greatness of Islam, Iqbal was the first to articulate, in 1930, the vision of an independent Muslim state in Northwestern India. As a leader of the All India Muslim League, he mentored Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Ismaili lawyer who would deliver Pakistan from the convulsions of the 1940s. Iqbal was not just a modernist but a modern, straddling a Western and a Deobandi education, heir to the long tradition of South Asian religious philosophers but also something of a dandy and a romantic. He shed the obligatory beard for a mustache, and fatwas for verses. Jalal depicts a man as inspiring as he was impractical, a characterization that suits his predecessors as well. All of them placed Jihad at the heart of Muslim identity and all of them grappled with the tension between Jihad as ethical struggle and Jihad as armed struggle.
What Jalal does not say is that whereas the idea of Jihad as an armed struggle is easy to conceive—the enemies are identified, the course of action delineated, the rewards of success evident—the idea of Jihad as an ethical struggle is vague. Elevating Islam to universal ethical principles threatened to reduce Islam to ethereal abstraction. This limitation has always been understood by the rank-and-file custodians of the ummah, the enforcers at the street corners, the lowly Imams. For the masses, neither suicidal enough to take up arms for no reason, nor intellectually oriented toward the tedium of ethical righteousness, what was needed was a practical way to signal and derive pride from belonging in the ummah. They got that with orthopraxy: simple commands about how to wash and how to pray and how to marry and how to handle money matters. This meant that the faithful had to eschew the mystical and magical gratification that often comes with religious life: this was reserved to the Sufis and the Shi'as. And since the pride of being a Sunni Muslim was often frustrated by historical realities, and frustration could build into anger, Jihad as a kind of expressionist violence was always a temptation.
Jalal, a distinguished scholar of Pakistani history and identity and the author of a renowned study of Jinnah, overlooks him in Partisans of Allah, and also the violence that attended the birth of Pakistan. She focuses instead on the religious leader in the shadows, Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903-1979). Mawdudi's formative experience had been the public hostility against Muslims in the 1920s, articulated around the widespread notion that Islam was an aggressive religion bent on murdering infidels. The accusation stung because at the time Hinduism was throwing dust in the eyes of the world, presenting itself as the epitome of civilized non-violence. For Mawdudi, who began his career as a journalist, the accusation against Islam was a fabrication, a projection of Western imperial sins on Muslim victims. He argued that Jihad as armed struggle was a footnote in Islamic history, that Islam professed a moral injunction against killing—but he warned that this injunction was not absolute. Society ought to protect itself, not only from direct aggression and oppression, but also from sedition, as chaos was a threat to the social organism. The moral order had to rest on physical power. Mawdudi was comfortable with this paradox, common to all theologies that come to power.
Mawdudi was a product of the age of Mussolini and Hassan al Banna, the Komintern, and the Nazi Party. Determined men with a fervid, cleansing ideology could rally young militants and change the course of history. And so the revolutionary ideologies of the age—nationalism and socialism—seeped into his conception of a militant Islam. It was easy: was not the strategy of armed struggle, so pervasive in the 1920s and 1930s, inherent in the Islamic notion of Jihad? At first Mawdudi was a lonely voice. The party that he founded in 1941—the Jamaat-i-Islami, the main Islamic party in Pakistan today—failed to rally the masses, and he denounced the condition of ignorance, which he famously called Jahiliyyah, which allowed the perpetuation of oppression. Gramsci was arriving at a similar conclusion in Italian fascist jails, noting that the people could be manipulated into submission by the hegemonic discourse of the elites. Gramsci never got a chance to test his theory—he died in 1937—but Mawdudi did, when Britain folded and Pakistan was opportunely extracted from India.
The conflagration of the Partition of India was not the Jihad that Mawdudi had wished for, and he at first had opposed the Muslim League's demands for an independent Muslim state. He made his contribution to this inflamed history after the birth of Pakistan, through the action of his party and his articulation of militant strategies for political Islam. Reflexively Leninist, Mawdudi schemed to take control of the young state. His method was to rely on a vanguard movement to infiltrate the state apparatus, and on a student movement to control the streets. And like the Nazi Party, his party was running in elections.
Mawdudi made Ibn Taymiyyah, an illustrious thirteenth-century Arab jurist who clashed with his Mongol rulers—the obligatory reference for all modern-day Jihadists. He also anchored his thought in the firebrands of Moghul India, Ahmad Sirhandi, and Shah Waliullah. Like them, and even more than them, he was intolerant of Shi'a and Sufi forms of idolatry. But Mawdudi was also a modernist, and like Ahmad Khan and Mohamed Iqbal he wanted a new start for Islamic culture and Islamic law, a new role for Ijtihad. For him, the popular will was fallible and should be subsumed to the guidance of a qualified theologian. The democracy that he envisioned for the Islamic state was limited and centralized. Since the masses were corrupt and ignorant, a vanguard and its leader—he himself—was indispensable. Jalal tells how Mawdudi's Jama'at rushed the stage of Pakistani politics in 1953, with attacks against the Ahmadiyyah sect, a disturbance for which he was condemned to death and did a two year stint in prison, the first of many. Despite his lofty ideals, his brand of activism tapped deep into bigotry.
Pakistan, intended as a secular democratic state, was too weak and too deeply traumatized by its birth—the ethnic cleansing, the partition of Kashmir—to resist militarization for long. Martial law was the lot of most newly independent states with fledgling institutions, and officers did not perform better in Pakistan than elsewhere. The failure was military (in Kashmir and Bengal) and economic. By the 1970s, the regime in Islamabad was forced to call on Jamaat-i-Islami and its student movement to take the streets and contain its Marxist and liberal opponents. Jalal reminds us that the price was a progressive Islamization of the state, which started with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the early 1970s, continued at a brisk pace throughout the 1980s under Zia ul Haq, and culminated in 1998, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made the Qur'an and the sunna the supreme law of the land of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Sharif also detonated a nuclear weapon that year and almost started a fourth war with India.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Islamization was still under the control of the state, which found it politically expedient to pit faction against faction. Sectarian tension prevented a unified opposition from coming together—liberals feared the religious and the religious were at each others’ throats. Mawdudi's methods had been widely emulated, and each Sunni faction ran in elections under its own banner: Mawdudi with the Jamaat-i-Islami; the Deobandis with Jamaat-i-Ulema-i-Islam; the Barelvis with Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan; the Ahl-i-Hadith with Jamaat Ahle Hadith. The Shi'a party, the Tehrik-e-Islami, sought protection in alliances with the tolerant Barelvis. Things were getting violent. In 1974 the state officially declared Ahmadiyyahs to be heretics, finally caving in to the pressure of Sunni radicals. The Shi'as were next. They became the targets of attacks from Laskhar-i-Jhangvi, the militia of Sipah-i-Sahaba, a bigoted Deobandi offshoot formed in 1984 with the blessing of the deeply pious President Zia-ul-Haq.
Mawdudi died in 1979, three months before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and Pakistan became the cornerstone of an American-supported and Saudi-financed Jihad to liberate Afghanistan. War by proxy was common during the Cold War, and the regime felt no compunction about enlisting the Sunni factions in a campaign of irregular warfare. The global presence of the Tablighi Jamaat was used to spot recruits and donors for Jihad around the world. Jamaat-i-Islami was the inspiration for Hizb-i-Islami, a sister party in Afghanistan run by the notorious mujahedeen warlord, drug runner, and Pakistani client Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Deobandis, strong among the Pashtuns, were tasked with providing care and education in camps overflowing with Afghan refugees. The symbiosis between sects and state, whose own ranks counted many sympathizers, seemed to finally deliver the military success that had eluded Pakistan since its creation. By 1989, the Jihad was a qualified victory. Afghanistan was collapsing in civil war, but the departure of the Soviets fed hopes that the same strategy could finally release occupied Kashmir from India's grip.
In the early 1990s, the ISI, the Pakistani secret services, set up two broad campaigns of irregulars. One was the Taliban—the first version composed of young Afghan students recruited in the Deobandi madrassas of Western Pakistan, trained and armed to bring order in Afghanistan and provide Pakistan with “strategic depth”. The other was the cluster of Mujahedeen outfits whose fighters were infiltrated into Kashmir for raids against Indian forces. Jalal explains that all the usual suspects joined in, contributing a militia to the cause. The Jamaat-i-Islami sent a Hezbul Mujahedeen, which ran the show until 1996 and cynically helped India crush the native Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front. The liberation of Kashmir was a matter for Pakistan, not for Kashmiris. The fighting groups that stemmed from the Deobandi movement went through several incarnations, the most memorable being Jaish-e-Mohamed, known for the filmed decapitation of an American journalist in 2002. The Ahl-i-Hadith movement set up Lashkar-e-Tayyibah, ideologically close to Arabian Wahhabism. Jaish-e-Mohamed and Lashkar-e-Taiba dominated the post-2000 period, and are allegedly responsible for most of the terrorist attacks conducted on Indian soil during that decade, from Delhi to Mumbai.
Jihad became a booming business, from the money that the Pakistani government provided to scholars in the madrassas that were schools for radicals to the vast revenues of the opium trade. Funds had stopped coming from Washington after the Russian withdrawal, but the human and financial connection with Arabia was slower to dry out. There was Osama bin Laden, as an envoy of the Saudi secret service in the mid-80s, and then as his own man. There were more elusive figures too, Emirati princes and Saudi businessmen, and flush charities in the Gulf and the United Kingdom. Jalal reports that the Arabian Wahhabis’ connection with the Deobandi Mullah Omar of the Taliban dates from a meeting in Karachi in 1989. It was delicious for the Saudis that in Afghanistan in the 1990s the Taliban were pressing on the Iran-backed Shi'as of the Northern Alliance. In Pakistan, Wahhabis found a soulmate in Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the leader of the Ahl-i-Hadith. Cash flowed, militants killed and died, civilian elites carried on their business, and the military ran the Jihad on both fronts.
It all came to grief in late 2001, when the United States invaded Afghanistan and summoned Musharraf to disband the combat groups—a demand stoutly supported by India. Musharraf gave in, but the divorce was slow and tormented. It exposed all the fractures within Pakistani society: radicals vs. liberals; Pushtuns and Balouchis vs. Punjabis and Sindhis; religious minorities vs. Sunnis; anti-Americans vs. “collaborators”; the military vs. civil society; rich and propertied vs. poor and landless; Musharraf vs. everyone. Having failed to master any of these divisions, Musharraf lost his grip on power and was evicted in 2008, missed by no one. His unlikely successor, the dubious husband of Benazir Bhutto, herself slain by the Islamists, was tasked and generously paid by Washington to put an end to Jihad. If history is any guide, he will fail.
The idea of Jihad has deeply permeated the lower segments of Pakistani society, and not just the tribal areas. Jalal believes that fully half of the Pakistani mujahedeen hail from Punjab. They are motivated by economic opportunity and the appeal of a manly activity in a bleak social landscape—Jihad as a fantasy of self-affirmation. The Jihad of the forefathers, the Waliullah and the Sayyid Ahmad Barelvi, was first and foremost an ethical imperative. Armed struggle, if and when necessary, had to be subsumed to a moral purpose. Jihad was neither meant to be a suicide nor a massacre—in theory, if not always in practice. It had to be orderly, and coordinated by a legitimate Islamic source of authority. Jalal shows that by the 2000s, the era of Lashkar-i-Tayyibah and Jaish-e-Mohamed, Jihad has been distilled into a blind command to kill, and democratized as an individual obligation. Even Mawdudi in his time believed that only the state could lead an armed Jihad. Not so the new generation. The state has to go along or go away. Suicide operations have become halal. A great tradition of faith is now represented most loudly by slaughter.
Camille Pecastaing is assistant professor of Middle East Studies at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.