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The trap of status quo

By Afrasiab Khattak-Is this a country for Muslims or for Islam? This is the dilemma that Pakistan has faced from day one.

For the majority of Muslim League leaders, Pakistan was to be a country for Muslims where they could live their lives without any fear of domination. The idea of Pakistan as a country for Islam took root later when the feudal and bureaucratic elites ruling the country used the “ideological card” to resist democratic transformation. The dilemma was further compounded by the fact that for the founding fathers the aforementioned question of identity was a mere manifestation of the real issue, which was provincial autonomy. If the All India National Congress had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan in 1946 presented by the British Raj, that envisaged a confederation in post-colonial India, Muslim League would have given up the demand for partition that took place in August 1947. But the new country took no time in joining the western military pacts of SEATO and CENTO for containing and defeating communism.

It is pertinent to remember that Western ideologues and strategists of the capitalist world had no confusion. For them the vast Muslim population living in the wide arc of Asia and Africa, from Sinkiang (Xinjiang) to Marrakech, was a potential explosive weapon to be used against Soviet communism. The Central Asian belt was regarded as the “soft belly” of the Soviet Union, as there was potential for penetration of religious influence into it from the contiguous Muslim populations. What was missing in the whole Western anti-communist project was an ideological “detonator” that could make the explosion possible. So the West focused on Pakistan to persuade her to play that role. The Pakistani security establishment had jumped on the Western bandwagon from day one. Even Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s “New Pakistan”, that apparently distanced herself from the West in foreign policy, could not break out from the old ideological axis internally. It goes without saying that this process was taken to the extreme, almost to the point of no return, by General Zia’s martial law.

It is hardly a coincidence that the decisive battle of the Western powers against the erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan fought through Pakistan, and “Islamisation” of the country, progressed simultaneously. The situation was aggravated to dangerous proportions with the advent of Wahabism, Salfism and Takfirism in Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s. Pakistan as a state and society became radicalised. The focus of the country’s national security policy isn’t confined to her borders any more. Pakistan involvement in international “jihadism” has turned it into a dangerous country and this adventurism is not confined even to her immediate neighborhood. It has gone as far as Bosnia and to many other places in the world.

After the collapse of the communist bloc the Western powers didn’t require the services of Pakistan, and that brrought Pakistan’s so-called strategic alliance with the West to an end. This relationship has become hostile now as the “mujahideen” of yesterday have become terrorists of today. But religious extremism (and violence and terrorism emanating from it) is putting Pakistan’s own future in question. After living for long years in denial Pakistan has ultimately come around to concede the existence of the problem after the killing of about 60,000 of its citizens at the hands of terrorists. But if the experience of the last two years (after the charting out of the National Action Plan) is anything to go by, Pakistan is still not ready to take on the problem. The stubborn insistence of security circles on providing space to Taliban, LeT, JeM and other terrorists networks closely linked to international terror syndicates proves that the policy of keeping militants as strategic assets for state policy is still intact. In fact, the fresh hobnobbing of Pakistan with Russia indicates that the country is looking for new markets for its militant outfits.

Apart from mere lip service there is no evidence that the Pakistani state regards religious extremism and terrorism as existential threat to the country. Sectarianism is tearing the country apart but the unreformed religious seminaries are producing brainwashed sectarian militants on a very large scale since their syllabus and administration is based on absolute sectarianism. Recently, when the Supreme Court-appointed judicial commission for conducting inquiry into a heinous terrorist attack in Quetta came out with a report criticising ineffective state policy towards extremism and terrorism, the interior minister chose to publicly dismiss the report and launch a verbal attack on the judicial commission. As if that was not enough, Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the proscribed organisation LeT was seen landing in Quetta with pomp and show as if in defiance to the recommendations of the Supreme Court judicial commission. The public demonstration in favor of the murderer of Salmaan Taseer on the death anniversary of the former Punjab Governor has exposed the policy of appeasement of the government towards extremist militancy, particularly in the Punjab.

But the problem is not confined to just state security policy. By ignoring the need for investment in human development for long years the ruling elites are guilty of preparing conditions conducive to the rise of extremism and terrorism. The collapse of the public education system and health services have had dire social consequences. The serious decline of our education system in particular has led to severe distortions and deformations in human material being produced by Pakistani society. Religious seminaries have flourished as the growing number of children remain out of school. Growing population, widening social divide, the deepening environmental crises and failure of judicial system is helping in the growth of extremism and militancy. Ruling elites, both civil and military, are busy in squeezing the dying system. Political squabbles mostly revolve around power games and the slogan of change has become mere rhetoric. There is no reform agenda in sight. There is strong potential for the rise of an Arab Spring like chaotic situation in Pakistan. Interestingly some Turkish political analysts are mourning the “Pakistanisation” of Turkey but Pakistan seems to be adamant in following the beaten path. Is there a way out of this possibly fatal trap of status quo?

The writer is a former senator and senior leader of the Awami National Party.

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