An extraordinary gathering of top Deobandi leaders was arranged in Lahore in the hope of getting religious leaders, scholars and politicians to speak with one voice in condemning, with no ifs or buts, suicide bombing and militancy in Pakistan.
The reason for the gathering was that the government and army have realised it is an important part of the counter-insurgency strategy to isolate the militants ideologically and expose them for what they are, i.e. murderers using religion as a cover to grab power and further their millenarian beliefs. Unfortunately, though perhaps not unpredictably, the Deobandi leadership baulked, preferring instead to focus on the ‘other’ causes of militancy in the country. These ‘other’ reasons are well-known: the American presence in Afghanistan, the lack of a ‘true’ Islamic system of governance in Pakistan, the Musharraf government’s support for the ‘evil’ Americans, drone strikes in the tribal areas, etc. In short, everyone but the people actually using bombs, suicide bombers, IEDs and beheadings to kill and maim Pakistanis are to blame for the security crisis in the country.
Not everyone who is a critic of American foreign policy in the region is a fanatic. Not everyone who questions the role of the Pakistan Army and state in the current state of affairs is a religious ideologue. Not everyone who supports talks and peace negotiations is a militant. But when a group of religious leaders comes together to discuss the issue of militancy, it is odd, to say the least, that it can find a voice to condemn everyone other than the militants themselves. Of course, not all those who attended the Deobandi conference in Lahore could be labelled as extremists. Indeed, observers have noted that ‘moderate’ voices were present, but in the end they were perhaps too intimidated by the hardliners in attendance to speak their minds.
Therein lies the great danger that still lurks inside Pakistan. Experts in counter-insurgency have long pointed out that a military response alone will not win this war against militancy. What’s needed is for the infrastructure of hate and religious bigotry to also be shut down. Branding all madressahs as incubators of hate and violence is wrong. But there is little doubt that there still exist, across Pakistan, mosques, schools of religious learning and other religious centres that continue to spew hate. Unless that infrastructure of hate is shut down, and clearly some in attendance at the Lahore conference would oppose such a move, Pakistan will never win its struggle for internal peace.