The events of September 11, 2001 changed the global political scenario radically. The U.S. traced the terrorist outrages in New York and Washington to the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. As a result, the U.S. declared war against international
Terrorism, targeting Afghanistan, for which Pakistan's support was imperative. The U.S. political and military campaign against global terrorism also reshaped an alliance system in South Asia, where Pakistan once again emerged as a frontline state in a war in Afghanistan. In this situation, Pakistan had only two options: either to support the U.S. in its war on terror to go with the Taliban. Taking high risks at domestic and regional fronts, Pakistan opted for the first option, and extended its ‚€˜unstinted cooperation to the U.S.‚€™ despite the possibility of opposition from the religious-political parties, which were supportive of the Taliban.
The cooperation with the U.S. also required withdrawing support to the Taliban and start crackdown on the militant Jihadi and sectarian outfits which had close links with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Demonstrating their anger, the religious-political parties in Pakistan launched countrywide anti-US protests, criticizing the government of withdrawing its support to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and becoming the part of U.S.-led coalition against terrorism. They were of the opinion that the government had ditched them on the U.S. behest, while had been supporting them fully since the Afghan war. They were also more concerned over the U.S. influence in Pakistan, which compelled Islamabad to change its policies not only towards the Taliban, but also Kashmir, nuclear program and the Madarsahs.
The post-9/11 policies of the government were considered a great betrayal on the part of the State by ideological forces. This also resulted in the rift in alliance between the State, dominated by the military, and the religious-political parties. The rift compelled the religious-political parties to get involved in mass politics, without the support of the State, by campaigning against the policies formulated by the government after the 9/11 incident. The situation also compelled the religious-political parties to politically unite together and confront the State policies from a united platform. For this, they formed Muttahida Majlis-e-Aml (United Action Front, MMA) in January 2002.
The U.S. military attack on Afghanistan and as a result killing of thousands of innocent people further increased sympathies for the religious-political parties, which took full advantage of the situation, and launched its election campaign for the 2002 general elections, held in October 2002.
The MMA emerged as significant political force at the national and provincial level after the October 2002 elections. It won 20 per cent of the total popular vote and 60 seats in the National Assembly, and formed its government in NWFP and coalition government in Baluchistan - two of the most sensitive provinces bordering Afghanistan. In the Senate, the Upper House, the MMA possesses 23 out of 100 seats.
The MMA vows to Islamize the Pakistani State and Society. Although the religious-political parties had never polled more than 5 percent of votes, the rise of the political Islamists, represented by the MMA, is an alarming situation in Pakistan. It is the main Opposition party in the National Assembly. Its General Secretary, Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman, is the leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and also a member of the National Security Council (NSC).
The political victory of the MMA also encouraged the militant Jihadi and sectarian groups, who in order to counter the government policies resorted to increasing violence and terrorism within and outside Pakistan. The major component parties of the MMA, particularly the JUI-F, the JUI-S, the J1 and the Ahl-e-Hadith, then started using their militant Jihadi and sectarian groups for perpetrating terrorism within and outside Pakistan in order to pressurize the government to reverse the policies which it formulated after the 9/11 incident. As a result, with MMA's patronization of the militant Jihadi and sectarian outfits, the terrorist activities in Pakistan have risen. It must be noted that despite government's efforts to destroy the terrorists' network, their strength and structure have so far remained infect. They have been able to gain political support of the MMA and to retain their links with the Al-Qaeda and the Islamist elements in the ISI.
The rise of political Islam and terrorism in Pakistan has domestic, regional and international implications. On the domestic front, the rise of political Islam and terrorism in Pakistan has severely impacted the structures of State and Society of Pakistan. The MMA's political victory in 2002 elections and its growing influence in the Society have completely upset the domestic political scenario of Pakistan. It has also been able to occupy the political space not only in the national politics but also in the provincial politics, particularly in NWFP and Baluchistan provinces, by politically wiping out the more established secular parties there. It is the MMA which has been giving tough time to the liberal political agenda of the Musharraf regime on various domestic and foreign policy issues.
On regional front, the rise of political Islam and terrorism in Pakistan has been seen very suspiciously by the neighboring countries, including India, Afghanistan and Iran. Although the peace process between India and Pakistan is going smoothly, the former is still concerned about the terrorist activities of Pakistan-based militant Jihadi groups, which are patronized by the MMA.
In the case of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, the rise of the political Islam and terrorism in Pakistan has equally affected the relations between the two countries. Since the formation of MMA's governments in NWFP and Baluchistan, the provinces bordering with Afghanistan, the rate of Taliban activities in neighboring Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan has increased. The Afghan President Hamid Karzai has several times accused Pakistan of failing to stop the Taliban militants' incursion into Afghanistan. Similarly, Iran is also perturbed by the rise of political Islam and terrorism in Pakistan. Iran sees this development an extension of the Salafi-Deobandi school of thought which had already got strengthened in the Middle East and Afghanistan in the form of Taliban, when they were in power from 1996 to 2001.
Internationally, the rise of Islamists and terrorism in the political discourse of Pakistan as seen as an alarming development by the United States, because the MMA is he main Opposition party in the National Assembly and having government in two trategically important provinces - NWFP and Baluchistan - where the U.S military operations against the-Al Qaeda and Taliban are going on.
No doubt President Pervez Musharraf has shown enough courage in fighting legions extremism and terrorism, but has so far been unable to institutionalize his policies. The fragile political system of Pakistan indicates that the influence of the religious-political parties will further grow in the politics of Pakistan. They will continue o take advantage of the growing anti-Americanism in the Pakistani Society. In other words, the more the anti-Americanism grows in the Pakistani society, the greater will be the chances of the increase in the political clout of the MMA and its Jihadi and sectarian outfits.
The power of the MMA must be checked. If not, the rise or the religious-political parties in a nuclear Pakistan would have dire consequences for the whole region in general and Pakistan in particular. In case th religious-political parties further strengthen their position, there would be serious repercussions for Pakistan‚€™s internal and external security.