In Pakistan’s National Interest But…

Like many other countries Pakistan too is dealing with the negative fall-out of short-sighted policies that included dangerous liaisons, unjust policies and war of Occupation. It is coming at us from many sides. Some remotely real, some imagined, some unclear. The British, the Americans, the Egyptians, the French have pointed to some Pakistani involvement in conducted and planned crimes.

But as a member of the international community that collectively faces the problem of political violence and terrorism, Pakistan’s track record of cooperation is second to none. Over 500 men involved in terrorist operations have been nabbed and handed over to the concerned countries. Also intelligence cum operations cooperation with many countries

Including US, Saudi Arabia, UK, Egypt and other European and South East Asian countries is ongoing.

A problem however does exist for Pakistan. That’s on home-front. There is a significant disconnect between what the government is doing and how it is being perceived by the public. The bottom-line in the popular perception is a simplistic one-¦we are doing involved in anti-terrorism operations because Washington wants us to do it. However recall of our own recent history would set the record straight. The fact is that 9/11 may have been the watershed that catapulted Washington and the international community into a high and focused mode of action on anti-terrorism which included demanding that Pakistan decide whether it is “with us or against us” yet Pakistan’s own need to take action against groups that were spreading fear, hate and death ever since the nineties was there.

This need was well-documented in the tragic death data that was generated year after year of targeted sectarian killings, hundreds of innocents every year and in the strong debate within the independent media that the government take action against groups involved in sectarian killings.

Often the debate in the media also pressed the point that the State itself was supporting many of these groups and therefore the inability of the government to tackle the problem of sectarian killings demonstrated that State institutions, especially Pakistan’s own security agencies were unwilling to withdraw support from these groups. The criticism was that the government’s actions did not match its concerns about sectarian killings. Only perhaps in 1998 the government did begin the effort in earnest to nab the perpetrators of sectarian killings. But the civilian government’s effort was no fully backed by State institutions.

In fact the dread of sectarian groups which carried out targeted killings of civilians, revenge killings and mass killings of innocents in bomb blasts in mosques and imambarghas, was so pervasive and paralyzing that it was often said that the judges hearing terrorism cases were unable to uphold law for fear of reprisals. In Pakistan terrorism and sectarianism in
Pakistan were almost synonymous.

Then it was also being argued that the ideology of hate and intolerance, aggressively advocated in the name of Islam, was taking root in the hearts and minds of those who are also being trained to kill. While the numbers were very few but their ‘level of conviction and their mode of operation posed a threat to the social fabric of society.

Throughout the debate, which was completely home-grown and conducted with reference to our own national interest, it was argued that the government deal with the hate and sectarian ideology ‘at source.’ The ‘tool kit’ often used to spread extreme hate and intolerance in the name of religion included printed literature which was sold in open shops, distributed freely in some mohallas, mosques, madaris and imambarghas, in some cases the pulpit was used as the message of sectarianism was spread through the juma khutba and also through the teachings in some madrassas. While only a small minority of mosques, madrassas and imambarghas were involved in the spread of the ‘hate’ ideology, in the public discourse the ability of this small number to undermine peaceful co-existence and peoples’ security was continuously highlighted. The one individual who consistently led the debate was the writer Khaled Ahmad. Dozens of others also advocated that the government use the relevant State institutions to enforce law of the land which in letter and spirit has zero tolerance for spreading hate, intolerance and violence. Equally frustrating was the sociological and intellectual impact that these sectarian groups, ‘enabled and empowered’ by a section of the Pakistani State and also by other Muslim states like Saudi Arabia and Iran, were able to have on the Pakistani civil society.

Obscurantism and extremism was promoted in social, political and intellectual space, all in the name of religion. The civil society that opted to contest these elements was contemptuously branded as modern, western and foreign agents. Often those arguing against these sectarian and extremist groups were against the nuclear bomb, again the State’s Kashmir policy , the Talibaan policy and the India policy so this branding was easy. Meanwhile the powerful State institutions sided with groups advocating sectarianism and extremism in the name of religion. In the late nineties during Nawaz Sharif’s second term some madrassas reform projects were launched. But not much else was done.

While the debate continued at the intellectual level and its impact were also felt at the sociological level as a moral brigade emerged in some sections of a few cities to forcibly enforce what they believed to be religious edicts like no music, no videos, no ‘unIslamic’ television programs, wearing of hijab by women. Another significant developments against the back drop of these developments as well as fast spreading corruption and nepotism in politics and the erosion of the Social Contract between State and society, the growing sensitivity to the state of the Muslim world many millions in Pakistan started turning towards organized and regimented religion. As is always the case when the darkness of the times leads people to the only ‘light’ they can decipher. If it’s not credible political leadership then its what ever else is available; in Pakistan it was organized religious groups; from tabligh to zikar to dars-i-Quran and other.

Much of the public lament on where this unfettered hate, intolerance and planned violence in the name of Islam would lead the society, fell on deaf ears. The State of Pakistan on the one hand become weak and ineffectual incapable of delivering on its basic obligation towards the citizens-that of protecting the life, property, dignity and Constitutional rights of its citizens and on the other hand some of its institutions were pursuing a policy that was perpetuating this hate and violence at home.

But even today the print media of the nineties onwards testifies all these facts. As it would the fact that external pressures from 9/11 onwards and subsequent developments within Pakistan including assassination attempts on high profile men in the Pakistan power structure including General Parvez Musharraf, the Corps commander in Karachi and the rime Minister forced the government’s hand on the anti-sectarian and anti-terrorism front. It also exposed in most cases the direct and indirect linkages between groups responsible for sectarian killings inside Pakistan and planned terrorist operations abroad. Abroad their target often was the Westerner who they held responsible for the attacks on Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamobay, Palestine etc.

Significantly despite the experience of the nineties and indeed the continuing terrorism within Pakistan even now the majority of the public of Pakistan is critiquing the government’s anti-terrorism policy. The principle criticizing themes are that Pakistan’s sovereignty is being undermined, that our religious identity and religion are both being undermined, that innocent people are being unfairly treated, that Pakistan is participating in a war against Muslims, that in responding so promptly to the US concerns after 9/11 and then UK concerns after 7/7 Pakistan in fact shows its not as concerned about Palestine, Iraq and even Kashmir where Muslims are suffering and that we are being ‘apologetic’ for being Muslims.

Clearly all these criticisms flow from an average Pakistani’s perception of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism policy. This simply but powerfully point to the great inadequacies, on the home-front, in the conduct and communication of a policy that is undoubtedly in Pakistan’s own interest.