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The root of Pakistan's troubles

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    The root of Pakistan's troubles

    The root of Pakistan's troubles
    It isn't so much the loss of democracy, but rise in Islamic militancy that threatens to send country into chaos

    Peter Goodspeed
    National Post

    Think of Afghanistan's ruling militia, the Taliban -- zealots whose brutal enforcement of their version of Islamic values endorses isolating women, stoning adulterers and amputating the hands and feet of thieves.

    Now think of a government like the Taliban armed with nuclear weapons.

    It's not outlandish, say some leading Central Asian scholars.

    If conditions in Pakistan continue to deteriorate and the country's new military government is unable to salvage the economy or re-establish a successful democracy, Pakistan could slide into the chaos and violent religious militancy that has already devastated Afghanistan, they say.

    The nightmare scenario has less to do with the Pakistani military's sudden suspension of democracy two weeks ago than it does with the overwhelming religious and social transformations that are sweeping Central Asia.

    For the last few years, Pakistan has been undergoing some fundamental cultural, social and political changes, says Shireen Hunter, the director of Islamic Studies at Washington's Centre of Strategic and International Studies. The result has been a steady Islamization of the country and its politics, on a scale that far exceeds anything Pakistan's founding fathers anticipated when they established the world's first Islamic republic.

    "The transformation of Pakistani Islam into a less tolerant, more puritanical and less progressive system of belief [has] stemmed from the growth of ideas inspired by the ultraconservative Wahabi Islamic sect based in Saudi Arabia, from the Iranian revolution and from the Afghan War," Ms. Hunter says. "The concern is that adherents of this particular version of Islam are found within Pakistan's bureaucracy and even its military."

    The results have already surfaced in an increasing intolerance toward Pakistan's religious minorities, especially the Shiites, and in the steady growth of armed extremist groups.

    Pakistan's role in the creation of the Taliban in Afghanistan and its subsequent support for the violent militia only underline further the dangers posed by Central Asia's rapidly growing Islamic militancy.

    There are up to 6,000 privately run Islamic religious schools or madrasas operating in Pakistan, and more and more of them are preaching doctrines of holy war and religious fanaticism.

    "Pakistan is Ground Zero for this movement," says Almay Khalilzad, director of strategic studies for the RAND Corp. think-tank. "These religious schools are basically factories for producing militants and they train hundreds, perhaps thousands of militants each year in Pakistan."

    The graduates of the madrasas serve as guerrillas in regions as far flung as Kashmir, China's western Xinjiang province and the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union, which stand astride the old Silk Road trade route that traditionally links Central and East Asia.

    "In the past, elements of the Pakistani government, in particular military intelligence, used these people to support their policies in Afghanistan and they used Afghanistan as a base to train Kashmiri militants," Mr. Khalilzad says. "At the same time, Pakistan's armed forces have supported the Afghan Taliban and the two have supported militant groups throughout Central Asia -- all the way into Dagestan and Chechnya."

    The Taliban -- the name means "students of holy books" -- was created, funded and controlled by Pakistan in a bid to turn war-torn Afghanistan into a client state. But over the years, the militant Islamic beliefs that fueled the Taliban's religious war have blown back and begun to influence politics inside Pakistan.

    "They have created a monster in the shape of the Taliban and this monster is going to come to haunt them," predicts Ms. Hunter. "As long as that monster was turned against Iran or some other countries of lesser importance, Pakistan didn't pay much attention to it. But now, they have suddenly realized that this movement can turn on them. People have already started to talk about the Talibanization of Pakistan."

    Now, growing numbers of Islamic militants are calling for the establishment of a true Islamic state in Pakistan. Qazi Hussein Ahmed, leader of Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan's main religious party and a leading element in the country's political opposition, recently insisted, "Our destiny is an Islamic revolution."

    In the past, Pakistan's former democratic leaders felt compelled to flirt with extremists in a bid to bolster their own governments.

    Benazir Bhutto made an alliance with the radical Jamiat-ulema-e-Islam party and she ordered her military intelligence officials to fund, arm, train and support the Taliban in Afghanistan. Nawaz Sharif, just before he was deposed on Oct. 12, was courting Pakistan's rising tide of Islamic militancy by pressing to amend the country's constitution to establish the rule of Sharia or Islamic Law.

    Now, the risks involved in this fundamental transformation of Pakistan's culture are suddenly attracting international attention and raising fears of an Islamic revolution.

    "Some observers argue that the choice in Pakistan was between military rule and Islamic revolution," Ms. Hunter says. "The worst nightmare, of course, is a military-ruled government with Islamist sympathies and nuclear weapons."

    As international opposition to Pakistan's new military government rallies around demands for a quick return to democracy -- Lloyd Axworthy, Canada's Foreign Minister, is leading a Commonwealth protest delegation to Islamabad this week -- some experts are warning critics of the coup to be very careful.

    "The dilemma we face is that if we pressure the military, if we isolate it, if we increase its problems and make it fail in terms of dealing with the underlying problems in Pakistan, then we face several possible scenarios," says Mr. Khalilzad. "You could get Islamic militants within the military taking over, perhaps in a coalition with militants outside, or you can have the kind of chaos and civil war along ethnic and sectarian lines that we have seen in Afghanistan."

    "The nightmare scenario that we must now consider is less the suspension of democracy than the breakdown of order," writes Richard Haass, director of foreign policy studies at Washington's Brookings Institution.

    "A Pakistan plagued by weak authority is far more likely to stumble into a war with nuclear-armed India than is a stable, democratic and prosperous country that knows full well that a war would be devastating. But just as dangerous would be a nation that could not sustain legitimate governments able to build public support for necessary economic and social reforms."

    "Such a Pakistan would likely become a breeding ground for international drug traffickers and terrorists on the lines of Afghanistan or Sudan. Only in this case, the potential would exist for terrorists to gain control of one or more weapons of mass destruction."

    religion is opium for the people....


      wrong wrong wrong

      the jar of what is happening in Pakistan and what has happened in Pakistan is Fueldalism(sp?)


        Who is afraid of Fundamentalism?

        Fata Morgana


          not afraid i meant the root all all problems is fuedalism


            I agree with Nadia, part of the problem is with Feudalism. Part of the problem is with the Interpretation of the Quran and the Hadiths by the Islamic parties (I am not in anyway saying I am an expert in Islam) and also as a result of a lot of the population being illiterate - how many of you people have been to the mosques in Pakistan and listened to the sermons by the Mullahs. In the villages as a lot of the people have not tried to further their education (because of other more important things in life - like fending for the family) - their centre of knowledge is the mosques and the Jumma prayers - nobody seems to question the mullahs over what they say. Even in the Mudrassahs the kids learn the Quran parrot fashion - I maybe wrong but I don't think they understand what they are reading.

            The people need to be educated and then they will be able to think for themselves.

            As for the article above - these westerners have a thing against Islam anyway - so they are always looking at the so called negative sides of it. If they are worried about a Islamic fundamentalist country being in possesion of a nuclear warhead - maybe they should look across the border and worry about the so called democratically elected Hindu fundamentalist government in India who are also in possesion of nuclear warheads.


              Hmmmm...the root???...
              West Pakistan comprises of the culturally, socially and economically backward states of india....(I am talking about past 100 years, please dont start citing examples of Raja Dahir here), As part of india , this backwardness did not matter much , cause these ppldid not have the responsibility of governing them selves. After partition they were given the task of managing themselves, at which they failed ...Democracy and the institutions it needs requires a certain degree of sophistication, which this part doesnt have.
              Its like making balouchistan a seperate country will take it much longer then say punjab , to develop into a modern society..
              My point is that we are a few steps behind in socio-political evolution and to expect us to behave like an evolved nation is asking too much...
              Root of the problem , in my opinion is, Lack of Identity , that goes into defining goals , which help set priorities.....Priorities like population control and education....which help build institutions .....



                Your arguments have no weight. China which got independence in 1949, i.e. two years after foundation of Pakistan is now super power. Do not go that far, our neighboring India, once we were part of it, we still practice the same cultural heritage, is also not lagging behind. I have already pointed out the root cause of Pakistan's troubles in other discussions and I do not want to repeat it here.




                  The following article, which appeared in, I think, 'Daily News', sometime ago, reflects quite appropriately, the present deillema. It is by someone called Muzaffar Iqbal.

                  Viewing Pakistan from abroad

                  Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

                  Seen from the bottom of the mountain, they looked like signposts stationed at strategic positions all along the path to the top. In fact, they were Pakistani men, women and children who had come to Saudi Arabia on Umrah visas and who were now sitting on the way to the top of Jabal al-Noor, the mountain which has the cave of Hira at its top where the last Prophet (peace be upon him) received his first revelation in 610 AD. "One riyal," they ask as pilgrims to the cave pass by them, "One riyal, May Allah accept your Umrah."

                  I stop by a ten year old girl and ask her questions. She is shy and reluctant to answer but in a few minutes warms up. She was there with her father, mother and two brothers. They had come from interior Sindh. Her mother sat a few feet away with a baby in her lap and looked at us uneasily. "Some times 40, some times 50," she said in answer to my question about how many riyals she made every day. She was a fair coloured girl with long black hair and intelligent eyes but when she raised her voice to the passing pilgrims, it was pathetic. She contrived to make it as pitiable as possible.

                  Her name was Samina, a ten-year-old Pakistani who became a metaphor for the country during my recent trip to the Gulf states.

                  Samina was not alone. There were hundreds of them. They sit on the tracks going up the sacred sites or roam around the streets of Makkah, playing hide and seek with the local police. All around the Haram area and other sites where pilgrims go, one finds them begging for riyals. They represent the plight of a nation which has lost all self-respect and whose citizens have been forced to live in abject poverty and self-denial. But it is not just poverty that has made these Pakistanis lose their self esteem. There are other nations far poorer than ours but one does not find their citizens begging in foreign lands.

                  It takes more than poverty to produce a sizeable body of citizens who would flee their native country at whatever cost and do all kinds of menial jobs in their new places of residence. In the Gulf countries, Pakistanis are sweeping floors, cleaning toilets and collecting garbage. These are mostly young men. They earn paltry sums. Most of them manage to go there by borrowing money and then become hostage to their circumstances which do not allow them to return nor let them earn enough to save for a future business. They merely struggle to survive. Born in a country whose Prime Minister boasted of being the seventh atomic power, hundreds of Saminas are wasting their childhoods in the oil rich countries where their parents do menial jobs, beg or languish in jails.

                  These children do not have a chance. Their fates were sealed right at the time of their birth. Their parents were not only poor, they were also men and women who had lost their self respect in a feudal system which has remained intact even in the post-independence period. The reconstruction of Pakistan's identity as a nation has never been attempted. The independence has been merely a change of command from the hands of fair skinned rulers to the ones with darker skins.

                  What is the cause of this phenomenon? Why have we failed to prevent Samina and her little brother to sit on the rocky path to Hira, the holy cave, and raise their piteous voices to the passing pilgrims? These children of misfortune deserve a national response to their pathetic existence.

                  Viewed from outside, Pakistan appears to be a failed state whose only response to its crisis is to beg. The state begs, its citizens beg, its institutions beg and its leaders beg. There are different names for begging but they all amount to the same thing. A country where no one has the courage to spell out the exact dimensions of the national misfortune cannot be expected to come out of it.

                  Girls like Samina are living metaphors of a reality so painful that in any civilized society it would immediately initiate a process of inquiry at the highest level. They are children without a childhood. They are products of a society which is full of contractions and internal conflicts. A country whose leadership never tires of talking about Islam and Shariah but where the most fundamental teachings of Islam are being trampled with disdain.

                  The real tragedy of contemporary Pakistani society is its failure to evolve effective means of reconstruction of a national identity which could produce self respect and dignity. Everywhere outside Pakistan, one comes across degrading incidents which are a direct result of the low esteem in which the country is held by others: the immigration officer who double checks your passport to make sure the visa is not forged; the custom officer who goes through your luggage meticulously to look for concealed drugs and the average citizen of the foreign country who looks down on you because of the image he or she has of your country.

                  All these are painful reminders of a much greater tragedy which no one is willing to acknowledge: as a nation, we have failed to develop an identity which would make us respectable citizen of the world community.

                  Pakistan from abroad seems to be immersed in a state of chaos and confusion. National goals are not sufficiently clear. Various groups, which hold political power, are engrossed in issues which are merely on the surface. Deep rooted problems of the country are not even being mentioned. Only the most apparent signs of cancer, which is spreading rapidly, are being viewed as the whole malady.

                  The society which is producing Samina and her little brothers is surely bound to disintegrate if corrective measures are not taken. But those who have been entrusted with the task of steering the country seem to be totally unaware of the ground realities. The fundamental issues confronting the nation are simply being ignored and the peripherals have been pushed to the centre stage.

                  At this time of our national life, what is needed is a long-term plan of national reconstruction which can be agreed upon by all the major parties. This developmental plan should be evolved as a national priority. (As expected, the government's vision 2010 has proved to be mere slogan and it is apparent that there is no real vision behind the farce.) The need to evolve a national agenda through a process of consultation among the representatives of all segments of society has never been so urgent as it is now. This national agenda can then be implemented through an institutional setup which should be independent of politics.

                  Samina and her little brothers are still sitting on the path to the top of the mountain where the first verses of the Qur'aan were revealed which commanded the Prophet to read. They are children of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where the government has avowed to enforce Shariah. They are children without a childhood, human beings without human dignity, Muslims without the benefit of fraternity of believers.

                  Only a visionary process of nation building can bring an end to this humiliating sight of small children going off to foreign lands to beg.


                    We as a nation have failed because we hold deep-seated prejudices against each other along the cultural and linguistic lines. I am a muhajir by descent and I was always taught that punjabis are the most wicked people on the face of the earth. They have usurped our rights in the city of Karachi by taking over governmental jobs. I personally believe that in general punjabis do look down upon the muhajirs since they use derogotory words such as "bhaiyas" and "mukurths" in urdu.

                    This is all ignorance that came into existence due to lack of brotherhood. Islam, if practiced as a mere tradition, will never instill a spirit of love and brotherhood among the muslims. How can we have consensus among the different political factions if there is mistrust and enmity among our very selves? Its a utopian dream at best. Our visions and goals have become as divergent as our ethnic backgrounds. The only commonality that we share as a nation is belief in Allah and his Prophet (sallalaho alaihe wasalam). If this bond is weak in our hearts then there is no hope for us as "pakistanis".



                      Good post man! I am a punjabi but I feel I can relate to you because you took ethnicity out of the issue. Human beings are human beings at the end of the day islam has taught us that we are all one people at the end of the day.



                        [This message has been edited by sabah (edited November 01, 1999).]



                          This article is nothing but another example of Islamaphobia. I do not support the Taliban--far from it, nor do i support wahaabism--but saying that punishments like chopping off hands and stoning are only taliban interpretations of islam is rubbish; these punishments have there basis solidly in qur'an and sunnah.

                          Also, with all our ethnic problems--it is ONLY Islam that can provide the long term solutions for pakistan --and all of the islamic world; unfortunately the idea of a resurgent islamic state modelled on the Madinan State Of Our Beloved Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam--terrifies the western (and eastern) non-Islamic powers! But why should that prevent pakistanis from seizing their destiny? AS Allama SAhib wrote,

                          Cheen o Arab humaara, Hindustan humaara
                          Muslim hain hum, hay saara jahaan humaara!

                          Until we go back to the model of Traditional Islam in all aspects INCLUDING politics and economics etc. we cannot as a nation prosper...


                            In my opinion, like many other countries, Pakistan still needs to undergo de-colonization. The British may have left, but they left behind a legacy of inequality, which still exists in our institutions. We have a devastating colonial legacy, an unequal pattern of land holdings, economic and political concentration in the hands of a few people, widespread illiteracy and the prevalence of traditional rules and regulations which the ruling political elite fully support to their own gain.

                            I'd like to see revulutionary changes along the lines of what Cuba went through, under the leadership of Fidel. He dismantled the previous institutions and rebuilt his country (if you view Cuba without focusing on the economic debilitation of the country caused in most part by US led sanctions, it is a success story).



                              I think the original article posted is way doesn't consider the ground realities in Pakistan. Its simplifies the issue and jumps to great conclusions. Its acutally an offensive article, making the assumption that people who belong to a particular religious belief will turn ultra-conservative and enforce fundamentalist religious edicts, and they in turn will/have infliltrated the military.

                              Its a ridiculous argument. Maybe the author should question who set up those religious madrassas where the wide eyed bearded militant was brought up in the first place - hmmm...I wonder if he can spell Cold War. He probably forgot the images of US congressmen visiting Afghan refugee camps and inciting young men to arm themselves in 'Jihad' (this is the term they used) against the infidel Soviets. Religious fundamentalism is more complex than this simple article makes it out to be.