April 30, 2008

Pakistan - An Islamic State or Experimenting with Democracy

By Vikram Sood

Armitage had come, delivered his now famous 'either you are with us or against us message' that fateful September day and left. It was Musharraf's turn, about a week later, to honour this commitment, having convinced his grandees in khaki of the need to pretend to make their peace with God on Earth. In a not particularly well written speech, Musharraf indulged in the mandatory India baiting ("I would like to tell India "Lay Off") as he tried to justify his dumping of their protégés, the Taliban. Despite this bravado, it was obvious that the speech had been delivered under duress but the hidden meaning is important.

Musharraf had sought an Islamic justification for this apparent U-turn on the Taliban and Al Qaeda when he acquiesced to US demands to participate in the War on Terror. He used examples from the Prophet's tactical alliance with the Jews to defeat the Meccans. And when the Jews became nervous about the rise of Islam six years later, He neutralised the Meccans with the Treaty of Hudaibiya and led the Muslims to victory.

The requirement was strategic, yet Musharraf had to satisfy the mullahs. He continued "The lesson is that when there is a crisis situation, the path of wisdom is better than the path of emotions. Therefore, we have to take a strategic decision. There is no question of weakness of faith or cowardice. … Even otherwise it is said in Shariah that if there are two difficulties at a time and a selection has to be made it is better to opt for the lesser one. .." He ended his speech describing Pakistan as the fortress of Islam, and "God forbid, if this fortress is harmed in any way it would cause damage to the cause of Islam."

Musharraf used the Prophet's example to justify his actions saying that he was choosing the lesser evil and that it (the arrangement with the Americans) was temporary. Soon enough Musharraf's game was clear when he continued to play footsie with the terrorists while he portrayed himself as the American finger in the dyke against Islamic terrorists. The charade lasted long enough for Musharraf to preen himself as the Most Stalwart Ally while the Americans poured money and India-specific weapons into Pakistan.

For six years and more, Musharraf was America's champion fighter against terror. Now, having been relegated to being a mere President, he declared that if he stepped down the US would launch direct attacks in FATA and take away Pakistan's national hero, A. Q. Khan, the Gwadar project would get into rough waters and Pakistan's time tested relations with China would suffer. From being a bastion against terrorism, an increasingly irrelevant Musharraf wants to become a bastion against the US. But the Americans have already named a price (US $ 7 billion) for doing business with the new civilian government indicating that they are moving away from Musharraf and his somersault may turn out to be less than perfect.

It is not a co-incidence that Generals Zia, Mirza Aslam Beg and Musharraf, gave India the maximum grief; the other Generals, either Punjabi or Pathans merely ended up dividing their country. The Nuclear Retailer, A Q Khan from Bhopal, has never hidden his visceral hatred for India. There has been a strong dislike for their place of birth matched by a desire to prove that their decision or that of their parents was correct. This is reflected in what they say or write and the company they keep.

In a recent newspaper article, Aslam Beg claims that India and the US had conspired to establish a large intelligence network in Afghanistan, as part of a 'great game' to destabilise Pakistan as well as China, Russia, Central Asian States and Iran. He then begins to hallucinate about a multilateral intelligence network of the CIA, MI6, Mossad, R&AW and the BND with its nerve centre at Jabal-us-Seraj. Located in huge buildings and equipped with antennas and state-of- the-art electronic gadgetry, this intelligence multinational has outposts in Sarobi and Kandahar against Pakistan; Mazar-e-Sharif against Russia and Central Asian States and Herat against Iran. The Faizabad camp against the Chinese also has Muslim ulemas from India imparting training to the Uighurs from Xinjiang, if the General is to be believed. If this is meant to be part of a psywar then it is fairly unsophisticated. Beg runs an NGO in Pakistan ironically called FRIENDS.

It is this mindset about India and excessive reliance on religious obscurantism that allows successive establishments to look the other way when Islamic radicals like Hafeez Saeed of the Dawat Irshad and their Lashkar-e-Tayyaba strikers talk of annihilating India and establishing Caliphates in India. There have been reports that the ISI and the Lashkar were trying to revive Sikh militancy following a meeting in Berlin last June. No Indian General, nor any Indian public figure makes the kind of statements that are routinely heard in Pakistan. Pakistanis and Indians may have had a common chromosome but theirs seems to have mutated into something quite different. This is what people like Zia, Aslam Beg and Musharraf have done to their people. It happened in the Army training schools and in the madrassas.

Madrassas in Pakistan, quite a few beyond the control of the authorities, funded internally by Pakistanis as well by generous donors from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran, educate about one and half million students. It is true that all madrassas do not teach jehad, which is just as well, otherwise the problem would be far more frightening. Jihadist tendencies have nevertheless become a growing part of Pakistani society. This problem, therefore, cannot be wished away. Pakistan is now haunted by Pakistani terrorism and the Lal Masjid episode, the massive killings in FATA and the spread of terror into the Punjabi heartland are symptoms of the disease.

The situation may appear calm for the moment as Pakistanis begin another experiment with democracy. They have voted for a political dispensation that many hope will keep the Army under civilian control and the Islamists at bay. Neither is likely to happen. The PPP and the PML (N) have buried the hatchet for the present as they tackle the common enemy, Musharraf. The Army is in the barracks and it is all quiet in FATA but the issues that aroused passion in the tribal lands -- US activities and Pakistanis participation – have not disappeared. The country is in the midst of a political honeymoon with dreams of a rosy future but democracy is still a long way away. The hard grind of running a country where institutions have broken down has barely begun amidst growing economic difficulties with no short term solutions. This could easily lead to rapid disillusionment.

It must be remembered that about 30% of the people voted in Pakistan which gave a split verdict more or less on ethnic lines. They say the Islamists have been thrown out; many did not vote nor stand for elections. It took Pakistan 30 years to slip into this jihadist mould; it will take another three decades to pull itself out of this. It has got to be a generational change with greater liberal education where history is not distorted nor children transformed into obscurantist adults.

So, those of us who exult and gush at the arrival of democracy in Pakistan may want to pause and think. The time for open borders and visa free travel is still far away.

(an abridged version of this article was published in The Asian Age, April 29, 2008)

No comments: