Pakistan Must Beware Taliban Bearing Gifts (Page 2 of 2)

The main target of Muawiya’s sermons is the Pakistani military, whose generals he says have become apostates after allying with the United States and compromising with India. The Pakistani Army, he complains, gave up hundreds of jihadist fighters to the U.S. post-9/11 and made harmful concessions to India, clamping down on Kashmiri jihadist groups and ceding rights to rivers that originate in Kashmir. Muawiya expresses disdain for the country’s politicians, particularly for those coming from the feudal elite, whose Swiss bank accounts “are full.” His seething anger stems from his bitter past relationship with the military and the class tensions in feudal-dominated southern Punjab, where he appears to originate from.

As a militant preacher from Punjab, Muawiya is perhaps a more formidable long-term threat to Pakistan than Pashtun Taliban figures. He has proven his ability to create a wedge between the two major power brokers in Punjab, achieving a detente with the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) party that has ruled the province since 2008, while continuing his fight against the army. And, as evinced by his positive response to Prime Minister Sharif, Muawiya aims to expand that detente with the PML-N now that it is in power at the federal level.

Additionally, Muawiya is positioned to put ISI-backed jihadist groups like JeM on the defensive, pressuring them toward more aggressive action not just in Kashmir, but also in Pakistan, where Muawiya has called them out for being weak on calling for the implementation of shariah. Muawiya aims at convincing more radicals within Pakistan’s Deobandi community, from which most of the major Pakistani jihadist groups come, of the need to use force to make Pakistan a radical state. His recent sermons assiduously use the fatwas of major Deobandi scholars to legitimize jihad against the Pakistani state. With this strategy, Muawiya can put Deobandi groups like JeM on the defensive – either compelling them to actively push for more shariah in Pakistan or pursue a more aggressive approach toward India. While Muawiya lacks the necessary infrastructure in Pakistan’s Azad Kashmir to supplant the groups that are dominant there, he could also engage in one-off attacks in India that would build his credibility – at the cost of that of the JeM and LeT – among India-centric militants.

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In engaging Muawiya as a national powerbroker, the PML-N risks unwittingly promoting his ascendance within the jihadist community and giving him an even more potent bully pulpit from which to push actors in Pakistan toward a more radical path within and towards India. Strategic thinking in Islamabad must move beyond a dependence on tactical peace deals that simply allow it to defer tough decisions and enable latent threats to grow. Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders need to develop a full-fledged national security strategy that envisions a future in which the life, rights, and path to prosperity of Pakistanis are secured from threats and obstacles both within and without. A deal with Muawiya would further lock Pakistan into an ugly status quo in which jihadist militants have a veto power over the country’s future, denying it the peace and stability it desperately needs for its suffocating economy to growth.

Arif Rafiq is an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute and president of Vizier Consulting, LLC, which provides strategic guidance on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. He tweets at: @arifcrafiq.

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