May 23, 2007

Pakistan : Besieged internally and externally

Source: print1.asp?id=57117

By Shireen M Mazari
As the country continues to reel from the aftermath of the events of May 12 and the acts of violence and terror that have followed, we in Islamabad continue to be confronted with the growing power of the extremist law breakers of the Jamia Hafsa-Lal Masjid combine. While for the other urban centres of Pakistan, the extremist terrorism still remains at a distance, for us in Islamabad, the unreal nightmare continues as we witness the black comedy being enacted by the law enforcement personnel and decision makers in response to the growing challenge thrown to the state by these extremist terrorist forces.

We have seen the ridiculous scenario being repeated, ad nauseam, of law enforcement personnel coming in with what is assumed will be an operation to end the siege of Aabpara by these law breaking extremists and then we see the forces of the state backing off with no action having been taken. Meanwhile, the extremist terrorists are becoming ever more emboldened and have directly begun challenging not only the authority and laws of the state, but also the law enforcement personnel themselves. So far, they have managed to kidnap, at will, police personnel, as bargaining tools and the state seems to be showing a strange helplessness. The show of force it mobilises is dissipated as rapidly when the Jamia Hafsa-Lal Masjid combine makes a tactical gesture of releasing some of the police personnel. Meanwhile, the extremists, very much in the fascist mode, are gaining media access through interviews and columns in the English language press obviously targeting an audience beyond Pakistan.

The argument by the state that they cannot use force because of the collateral damage and its fallout is losing its credibility as the extremists widen the area of their control and operations. The roads around the Jamia Hafsa have been cordoned off by these fascists and their supporters from the Jamia Fareedia in E-7 have joined the terrorisation of state and society far beyond the Aabpara area. Tolerance for these lawbreakers has given them an upper hand in the standoff with the state. As for the collateral damage so far, the civil society is reeling from this because of the inability –- it surely cannot be a deliberate unwillingness -– of the state to deal with this law and order challenge posed by the extremist terrorists.

So cowed down has the citizenry become that barring a few words of protest by individuals, there was no civil society protest at the attack by a religious extremist against a woman professor of Quaid-i-Azam University. In days gone by, the teachers association would have held suitable protests and so would the students -– supported by WAF and other societal NGOs. But not so this time. Certainly there is a feeling of frustrated resignation about the inability of civil society to impact the state with its peaceful protests. But, there is also a feeling of extreme vulnerability because of the state's seeming acquiescence of this extremist terrorism right in the heart of the capital.

As for an anticipated civil society fallout following civilian collateral damage from state action, surely the civil society is far more distressed at the way in which fascist forces can indulge in violence as and when they please while innocent people are left defenceless. In any event, action by the state can also include options like jamming of communication systems, turning off utilities and use of water cannons and other non-lethal means of ending an occupation. We may not have a highly educated and prosperous populace, but we do have well-budgeted, strong and well-equipped law enforcement organisations, including paramilitary forces and, of course, one of the most cohesive and strong national organisations -- the military. When will they protect the nation from the forces of fascism and extremist terrorists, because we have to believe that no one in officialdom can be suicidal enough to have any truck with these forces of hate and destruction? So why is the mainstream civil society being left to feel under siege with no state protection?

It is this feeling of extreme vulnerability that is also allowing our external detractors to attack us at will. The Afghan government, still occupied or at least inundated, by foreign forces, has had the gall to challenge us at the international border by amassing its "forces" -– and we have kept a stoic silence. We have had the British High Commissioner hold forth, viceregally, on our internal political issues and by the time our Foreign Office woke up to summon him he was gone. Incidentally, we do need to take up the issue of British citizens inciting hatred in Pakistan, especially since we are about to initial a prisoner exchange treaty which does not look after our interests in terms of extradition of criminals to Pakistan, as much as it does British interests. British hypocrisy on the extradition treaty -– that the UK cannot sign such a treaty with a country that has capital punishment -– stands exposed because the UK had an extradition treaty of 1972 with the US which has now been replaced by the new extradition treaty of 2003, which entered into force in April 2007. The issue of capital punishment is dealt with under Article 7.

In any event, all British nationals suspected of inciting hatred and terrorism including overseas, stand vulnerable under three British laws relating to incitement of hatred and violence, either directly or indirectly. There is the Public Order Act of 1986 (Part III), Article 58 of the Terrorism Act of 2000 which includes prosecution for incitement to commit an offence overseas, and the Terrorism Act of 2006, Part One, Article I in which there is, inter alia, a reference to "indirect encouragement" of hatred and terrorism, in terms of statements and so on.

As for our "ally" the US, its think tanks like Stratfor are stating quite clearly that the Lal Masjid standoff is merely a "government ruse". Is this how badly they think of the Pakistani state and an allied government -– that it would play with the lives of its citizens and abet extremist terrorists? Worse still, there are increasing calls for the US to either cut off its payments to Pakistan for the counter-terror operations in the global war on terror (GWOT) or link it to performance. What "performance" do they want to see, given that we have effectively undermined our own nation and state to support the US in the GWOT -– despite the latter's misguided and erroneous strategies that have taken a heavy toll on Muslim states and societies? The US may be paying $1 billion annually but the cost to Pakistan, in terms of its polity, is far beyond this monetary remuneration.

Clearly, as the state and nation seem besieged by extremist terrorists and fascists from within, external detractors will feel free to pressure and attack us on any number of counts. This is a wonderful country bestowed with natural resources and a beautiful people. How long are we going to have to watch helplessly and see it all being destroyed by stick wielding extremist terrorists and gun-toting fascist mobs with an abdication of responsibility by the law enforcers -– and our gleeful detractors watching like vultures?

The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Email:

No comments: