Pakistani Women: The Islamic Militants' New Target

"The situation in Pakistan has deteriorated to alarming levels and the Taliban can soon invade Islamabad". You must have heard this statement plenty of times Although the Pakistani military and political establishment denies this fact, the situation is actually worse than what is reported in the western media. The Taliban insurgency -- that also has support from some elements of Pakistani spy agencies -- is making its way through the mainstream Pakistani society. The Pakistani military was partly successful in rooting out extremists in Swat valley but was unable to nab its top leaders; these men are now biting back by launching guerilla attacks.

Pakistani society, that was once known to be a follower of Sufism, is turning towards the militant version of Islam. The urban lower- middle-class of Pakistan is fast becoming a hostage to Islamists. In recent years, numerous Islamic organizations have been set up; most catering to average Pakistani urban women. These women, who have got some education and can influence others, regularly visit gatherings where they 'learn' about the 'actual' Islam.

Most of these gatherings are arranged by the women wing of radical Jamaat-e-Islami (that also has links with Al-Qaeda). There are other parties as well like Hizb-ul-Tehreer and Ahl-e-Hadith organizations. These entities, with direct interests in militancy, have adopted a new method to boost their outreach to common Pakistanis; they are targeting women as they find it easy to 'brainwash' an illiterate or semi-literate Pakistani female who is totally dependent on her male relatives for sustenance.

A typical congregation of women would start with a lecture on the basic teachings of Islam. This, however, soon changes into an America-bashing exercise. Using distorted definitions of Islam, these women are encouraged to model their lives as per Islamic teachings. The focus always remains on Jihadi tendencies; "send your children to fight the evil Americans"; "the West is behind all our problems" and "boycott the use of American and Jewish products" is what you will hear in these 'seminars'. And they have gained currency with average Pakistani women. These gatherings, mostly held on a weekly basis, attract thousands of women. Some of these organizations also help the participants by teaching them skills like sewing and embroidery and thus attract a large number of poverty-stricken women.

This mass infiltration is going on without any checks. These organizations draw their funding from rich and mostly corrupt Pakistanis; some funds also come from overseas, mostly from expatriate Pakistanis in Britain. The popularity of these extremist organizations is really alarming. Almost all Pakistani women now wear the hijab as they are taught that traditional Pakistani dress is un-Islamic. Most also shun Western products, terming them as Jewish and pro-Israeli. Those totally brainwashed are even ready to send their sons to fight 'nasty' Americans and Western 'infidels'.

What is the Pakistani government doing in this regard? Unfortunately, the weak and corrupt Pakistani government and politicians have lost their ground in urban areas of Pakistan; People are fed up with corrupt politicians and this void is being filled by militant organizations. The war against extremism is far more complex than it seems. It is possible that Pakistani forces claim some victory in the recent offensive, but an army of young and brainwashed boys is ready to replace the current Taliban. And their mothers are fully supporting them.

The biggest threat to the United States and European countries is the fact that some of these organizations have strong organizational bases. This can be verified by visiting any local mosque in Birmingham, Cologne or Paris. In New York, areas with a high concentration of Muslims, like Brighton Beach, have some elements that sympathize with these organizations. The battle against Islamic extremism cannot be won if the US and European countries turn a blind eye to their own backyard.

The need of the hour is to chart out a new strategy for the Muslim world. President Obama is pressing congress to approve billions in aid to Pakistan. The country definitely needs some assistance but it should not be given as a charity without any checks. Instead of stuffing the coffers of corrupt government, direct assistance to organizations working for literacy and public health would be a better option. Pakistani society is hostage to terrorists and militant organizations. The US should not allow the descent of Pakistani society into total chaos as it would prove far disastrous than Afghanistan (of course, with nearly 100 nuclear bombs).