Pakistan in the crosshairs - by Shafqat Mahmood Back   Home  
Our sins are beginning to catch up with us. For years, our state either actively encouraged or completely ignored extremism. Now the world has started to zero in on the madness within us. Our madrassahs are being targeted as nurseries of terrorism and the non-existent --or so we say--jihadi training camps are being accused of promoting, planning and executing violence in different parts of the world.

Some are saying our state is weak. It does not have control over a fair portion of its territory. Others say that the Musharraf government is without courage. It is afraid to take on the extremists. Some blame our poverty, others the lack of a decent education system. Some fault overpopulation; others look for clues within our religion. Our innards are being thoroughly probed for a disease by the international media and it is not a pleasant feeling.

The government response has been to launch a crackdown on seminaries and religious schools. Much of this is for show. If there was something wrong with these institutions why was this action not taken earlier? Why did we have to wait for London bombings to discover that there are extremists within us? Why do we need terrorism in the west for the General to call a police conference and personally order an offensive against radicals?

If we have to discover fanatics because terror acts take place in the West, then we are in a worse shape than even our antagonists accuse us of. Our state is weak and governance is in a crisis but surely, it is not so bad that we are not aware of the problems within us. For a variety of reasons, we choose to ignore them but it is not that we don't know what is wrong.

It is for this reason that the current crackdown appears to be a display for foreign eyes. It is designed to signal our serious intent and bolster our claim to be a partner in the war against terror. It may also have impressed the visiting commander of US forces in the Middle East. It is policy as politics is not a definitive strike against the cancer of extremism.

We have been expounding enlightened moderation for some time now, yet not willing to confront those that stand as obstacles against it. As an article on the BBC website notes, we still draw a distinction between foreign Al Qaeda elements and groups that are involved in Kashmir or in Afghanistan. The campaign against foreign elements is pursued with vigour and many have been killed. Yet, other extremist groups are mollycoddled and handled as precious assets.

Elements within the establishment who advocate keeping these jihadi groups alive are not only irresponsible but also reckless. Time and again, the blowback effect of campaigns in Kashmir and Afghanistan has been pointed out but they don't seem to notice. The nexus between jihadi groups and sectarian terrorists within the country is well known. But, it does not seem to affect the tunnel vision of those that think our national interest has been contracted out to them.

These elements see these extremist groups as a reserve army to be launched to achieve objectives that otherwise are unattainable. This has not happened in the past and has only led to widespread suffering; itis unlikely to happen in the future. But, the contractors of our national interest don't think so. They believe that extremists are an ace card up their sleeve and not the snake that everyone else thinks they are.

The BBC article cited above says that security specialists in our establishment believe that ultimately the Karzai government will collapse and a soft Taliban state will replace it. That is why, the expatriate Taliban and their local supporters are being carefully nurtured. This is so ridiculous that it does not even bear serious comment. Have they completely forgotten the involvement of the West and stake of non-Pashtun Afghan groups in the current dispensation?

It only goes to show what kind of pipe dreams some of us believe in. This nation has already paid a heavy price for militarism of both the conventional and unconventional kind. We will suffer more and maybe reach a point of no return if, idiotic and unrealistic visions are not abandoned. We need to focus on our real problems of poverty, illiteracy, poor infrastructure etc, rather than have delusions of grandeur that have only impoverished the nation in the last fifty odd years.

It is in the context of pipe dreams that some new reports are disturbing. One of the best things that had happened in the last few years was a warming of relations between India and Pakistan. This was immensely popular in both countries and had given hope for an end to confrontation. General Musharraf had even called the thrust towards peace irreversible during a visit to Delhi. There are disquieting signs now that this process is getting off track.

We have caught some terrorists in Sindh and a senior police officer has accused them of being RAW agents. Obviously, he would not have the guts to do this without a nod from above. There has also been an increase in militant strikes in Kashmir and an incident at the Babri Masjid site in India. Indian officials blame these on infiltrators from Pakistan. On Thursday, the Indian Prime Minister acknowledged the difficulties and even said that the peace process could get derailed if the people stop supporting it.

Both sides seem to be on a negative track. One thing is obvious. Some manner of militants whether infiltrators or home grown have been ratcheting up the violence in India and Kashmir. What we have to worry about is whether anyone from here is involved. If we care for peace in South Asia, we have to give this as much importance as we seem to be giving to the London bombers' Pakistani connection.

Our establishment made some policy changes in Afghanistan and Kashmir after 9/11, not because it wanted to but because it could not resist the pressure from the Americans.Now there is another kind of pressure after the London bombings and maybe our establishment will be forced to do the right thing by addressing the real reasons that encourage extremism.

Just short-term arrests will not solve anything. It is the necessary conditions and peculiar culture within which a violent ideology grows that needs to be rooted out. This means that Madrassahs not only need to be rid of elements that preach violence but the curriculum needs to be changed. Kids going to these schools need to be taught about the world and about other disciplines besides religious texts.

We also need to finally end our love affair with extremist groups that may have given some temporary advantage but sap the nation from within. Only if we get serious about cleaning the crucible that nurtures terrorism will we have any chance of moving forward.
The writer is a former member parliament and a Lahore-based freelance columnist. It is always good to hear some sane voices between rhetoric. Published in July 22, 2005 edition of Pakistan daily Jang.