Thursday, March 18, 2010

Links between tribal structures and the Jihadi organism in Pakistan

I am told that the "Jihadi Organism" in Pakistan, (the suicide bombers, the fidayeen, their handlers, and their bosses in the Tanzeems) is composed simply of homicidal sociopaths or maniacs bent on confronting the authority figures and imposing their brand of Islam on Pakistan. These people are preying on the poor or misguided youth in Pakistani society and luring them into a life of violent crime.

This seems to be kind of true. It is self evident that Pakistani society is weak and that a number of extremist organisations have sprung up in cracks left by ill conceived government schemes in Pakistan. Also over the past decade, the post 9/11 flip-flop on the role of Islam in Pakistan has left most people disoriented. After Lal Masjid, the traditional authority structure - comprising the Deobandi Ulema and the Pakistan Army is broken. The economy is collapsing and inflation in Pakistan is out of control. The Pakistan Army is using increasing levels of coercion against anyone who confronts it.

However then I ask myself the following question:

"Why have has the "Jihadi Organism" - not gone all out against the Pakistan Army?"

Whenever I ask this question, I am told by all sorts of people - that the ISI has a way of moderating the actions and dynamics of the "Jihadi Organism". I am told that this regulation scheme that the ISI uses involves some sort of control over the availability of information, arms and finances for the various tanzeems.

I find it curious that such a rudimentary mechanism alone is sufficient to control the jihadis - these are people who are willing to blow themselves up why would they care about material goods.

Neither the accounts of jihadi lives in India, Pakistan and elsewhere, nor the through numerous accounts of jihadi activity in Pakistan, nor books on the role of Islam in Pakistani society seem to really explain how the ISI might control these people.

I was reading my copy of Crossed Swords the other day, and I came across Shuja Nawaz's words on the role of tribal dynamics in the Pakistani Army. It set me thinking about the role of that same tribal structure in the jihadi organism in Pakistan.

It may be recalled that the tribal narrative is very strong in Pakistan. Everyone is a part of a kabila - a small group of people that traces its ancestry to some Islamic personality of note. Every member of the tribe is interdependent on the others, and the small group commands the loyalty of all individuals. With the threat of excommunication it enmeshes them in a localised conflict structure. Everyone is a participant in the tribal fight and partakes in the war booty. The tribes are largely self sufficient and only build into a nation when they come together for a joint attack against an external hostile.

This peculiar notion of unity in the face of an external threat, uniquely predisposes the tribes towards accepting only a militarised society *external* to the tribe. A weird consequence of this is that in the eyes of the tribes, the military legitimises the state (as opposed to the other way around elsewhere). Sans an external threat, there is no reason for the state to exist.

Traditionally tribes are male dominated, and so the militarised Pakistani identity structure emphasizes the male ego. From this perspective, the Nazariya Pakistan, Jinnah and other Pakistani icons are irrelevant. What matters is family first, kin next and then the local tribal affiation, and so on and only the notion of a Jang (a war) keeps us all together. This order exists irrespective of whether the person is a soldier in the army, or a jihadi in a tanzeem.

Each member of the tribe seeks a higher placement within the tribe - their apparent position in any external (to the tribe) structure is merely a reflection of the position inside the tribe itself. Each tribe fights for a higher place in the militarised organisation of the state.

It is reasonable to say that the suicide bombers and fidayeen are urban or rural social dropouts - i.e. people who on account of some defect lost all social mobility. However the people that recruit and train these suicide bombers and fidayeen are *not* dropouts. These people are in fact quite the opposite - they are social well developed and contextualised individuals from relatively well placed tribes in Pakistan.

Another way of seeing this is that no one remembers the name of the suicide bomber or fidayeen, but the Tanzeem members are well known persons. While their exact operational history is a secret, their social power is flaunted in the open. Their tribes are socially dominant, have better access to land and water resources and their kin demand large dowries from prospective brides. Any success on part of the Tanzeem member begets a monetary baksheesh and social prestige for their respective tribe.

I sense that this would be the natural point for the ISI to locate its control mechanism. Using its position in the militarised superstructure of the tribes, the ISI would simply reserve the right to discredit any person in the tanzeem organisation. This loss of credit would be felt instantly by the individual and his tribe and that would serve as a major deterrent to a person deviating from a tight script or acting out their personal frustrations with the Army's way of doing things. This is why all that talk of "3000 suicide bombers ready to be launched at the TTP's command" will remain essentially empty.

As long as the Pakistan Army is able to maintain a semblance of dominance of national affairs, the tribes will naturally look towards it as their preceptor. If the Army can't maintain the appearance of a death grip on national affairs, the tribes will not respect them - and the disaffected Jihad generation will move in for the kill.

I wish to state that this idea I am posing here is my own and it is still in the realm of pure conjecture. It may be possible for national services to examine the validity of this idea by studying existing data on tanzeems and tribes in Pakistan.

I welcome comments on the same.