Back to The Future


Pakistan has lived for more than two decades under the threat of a religious Sword of Damocles, after the Talibs took over in Afghanistan in 1996 our “future” began to take name and shape, the Talibanisation of Pakistan. A very vocal, religious minority in Pakistan held a rather submissive and terrified liberal majority in virtual thrall, threatening to convert our present back to the past and to make our future bleak. While religious teaching is more than necessary it can never be a complete education by itself, given the technological advances, theology is hopelessly mired in the past. Instead of investing in more schools and colleges, we allowed Madrassahs to move into this vacuum, proportionately increasing ignorance among our schoolgoing children. An absence of basic world knowledge among our youth virtually asked to be exploited by the religiously motivated. The religious rioting in Pakistan in September/October this year had the streets brimming over with sympathy for the Talibaan. The youth yelled their throats hoarse and lungs out in support of “their” heroes Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Umar, a frenzied thousand or so crossing over into Afghanistan to join the ranks already fighting with the Talibaan. Moulvi Sufi Mohammad of the Tehrik Shahriah Nifaz Muhammadi (TSNM) flamboyantly led them across the border on prime time TV, first in he was first out, abandoning them on the “every man for himself” basis and making it safely back across. Sales of Osama Bin Laden T-shirts nose-dived when Osama took off on the age-old principle, discretion is the better part of valour. Heroes are supposed to fight and die fighting, not to slink from hole to hole in the night like a common thieves.

One is grieved about the loss of civilian lives in Afghanistan and force-multiplying of the miseries of the Afghan people at the hands of both nature and man, for Pakistan the war has been a blessing in disguise. It started with President Bush doing the “Godfather” act, making an offer that the Pakistani President could not refuse. The logic of acceptance is infructuous, what mattered was a quick response, dragging off the feet being taken as good as a negative answer. The speed ensured that Pakistan did not, for once, end up on the wrong side of the divide. Even though we took an economic hit of massive export cancellations as well as an increasing burden of refugees, the economy is on the mend, at least in one area, an hefty increase in foreign reserves because of aid flows and home remittances. Debt relief also looks promising, that would be the icing on the cake. Most important, the “Hundi” system that kills official home remittances is on the hit list of the western powers, not quite dead as yet but remaining alive only with difficulty. Pakistan owes a debt of gratitude to the blood spilled by the poor souls motivated by our religious leaders to join the Talibaan. By butchering Pakistanis in cold blood and then gleefully desecrating their bodies on prime time TV, a thing unheard of in Islam, our people should be disabused, even though we are a glutton for punishment, about how grateful the Afghans were for the generosity Pakistan has extended to them for over two decades in material and moral aid. Late Ahmed Shah Masood’s Tajik protege Mr Qanooni, Interior Minister of the Northern Alliance, someone unheard off till three months ago, became the Interior Minister designate for the new Interim Government. No sooner was the UN-Sponsored Afghanistan Reunification Talks in Bonn over he flew off to well-publicized New Delhi visit to consult with the Indian government and jointly “condemn” Pakistani interference in Afghanistan. Not to be outdone Abdullah Abdullah followed him and “Gen” Fahim is expected on December 18th confirming that India has not interfered in Afghanistan by being the Godfather of the Northern Alliance. For good measure, India’s unguided missile, re-surrected Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes said that India does have a border with Afghanistan but that Pakistan is presently simply occupying it. The logic that Fernandes and Qanooni espouse is not made in an out of the ordinary mental asylum.

Pakistan should wake up and listen to what Mr Qanooni has to say. For starters, instead of “Interfering in Afghanistan” by being a food granary for Afghanistan and providing their refugees safe haven, we must start interfering in our own affairs. With the religious extremists are on the run we must take steps to ensure they never ever reach a position to hold this nation to hostage again. Why should religious groupings be allowed to function as political parties? It is the right of every citizen to be able to choose democratic platform, so why should we allow platforms that discriminate against the ordinary citizens simply because of his or her personal religious beliefs. The country has only one ideology, why allow it’s base to be narrowed down further? Those of a particular belief must have as a broad-base the ideology of Pakistan. As an Islamic country that gives equal opportunity to other religions we cannot afford myriad religious factions in our own. It is un-Islamic to give recognition to factions propagating their own interpretation of Islamic ideology. Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI), Jamiat Ullema-i-Pakistan (JUP), etc must become part of mainline parties. Presently, they have no hope of ever winning an electoral majority but they have the capacity to hold the majority to ransom by simply using their vocal militancy. This nuisance value must be eradicated, just ban religious parties, Mr President. Moreover, all mosques must be run by the government, whether District, Provincial or Federal is unimportant, the mosque pulpits must not be used to propagate a narrow parochial ideology.

Goods and commodities going to Afghanistan or passing from Afghanistan to other countries use Pakistani ports, Pakistani socio-economic infra-structure including roads, highways, railways, fuel, etc, taking away badly needed communications potential from our own population. A “service charge” must cater for the use thereof, the building of the wear and tear, etc, just look at the conditions of our roads. A fair proposition would be to levy 30% of the value of the goods with an additional levy of flat 10% volumetrically the quantity is higher than the value e.g. commodities as compared to electronics. Simultaneously, we should bring down our own import duties on electronic goods to 20% across the board to make the smuggling because of “Afghan Transit Trade” economically not feasible. Take this decision now, Mr President, it is long overdue. As a protection, to our own industry, there should be no import duties/sales taxes on electronic parts and spares. Moreover, no Afghan trucks should be permitted to enter Pakistan. Only Pakistani trucking companies having clear proof of Pakistani ownership credentials should be permitted to ply into Afghanistan to deliver goods and supplies, or they can be taken by Afghan trucks from our borders.

The US can enforce the peace as well as it has prosecuted the war, through judicious sampling of its airpower. The refugee camps should be moved from Pakistan soil across the border into adjacent areas of Afghanistan. We should take Mr Qanooni words about his deep friendship with India and allow safe passage to Afghan refugees to refugee camps in Indian territory in Indian Punjab and Rajasthan. We should send each and every Afghan out, Pakistan ID Cards notwithstanding, first to refugee camps in Afghanistan and India, and from there to Afghanistan or settle in Indian cities like Mr Qanooni’s parents have done in New Delhi. The using of our socio-economic facilities like electricity, gas, fuel, medical facilities, etc, makes Afghanistan (and the friends of Afghanistan’s narrow-based minority government) liable to reimburse Pakistan according to a fixed formula for every person who sought refuge.

The great lessons of present experience is that Pakistan has no business in Afghanistan and vice-versa. Afghans must use the norms that dictate international statute of passport and visa to come to Pakistan. The Qanoonis of Afghanistan do not need us, otherwise how can, the Interior Minister designate, pre-empt foreign policy of that regime when the new Afghan government has yet to take office on Dec 22, 2001? The only way to rid ourselves of the sorry legacy of the past is to have no truck with Afghanistan. Pakistan must look to the future and thank Divine Providence that despite our naivete and gullibility for all causes muslim, Pervez Musharraf’s pragmatic world-oriented policies has avoided the quagmire in Afghanistan’s future. For Pakistan, it is back to the future, provided our present leadership shows the same amount of guts that it has shown for the last three months.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).