By Malik Siraj Akbar
Way back in January 1999, the then US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot predicted that if Talibanization was to spread any further beyond Afghanistan, the country that stood to lose the most would be Pakistan. Ten years down the line, Pakistan is fighting a full-fledged war against Talibanization.
The United Nations says over two million people have been internally displaced (IDP) in this war. It is the largest exodus since the Partition in 1947. And things could only get worse if President Asif Ali Zardari lives up to his promise that the war will end only after the Taliban are completely vanquished.
While the country’s military fights the Islamist insurgents and the government devises strategies to assist the IDPs, the country remains clueless about the objective and uncertain about the outcome of this operation. In other words, what are we likely to experience once the militants are supposedly eliminated in this round of operation?
The military has notched successes, albeit temporary, against the extremists even in earlier operations – for instance, the Red Mosque operation in Islamabad. But such victories were short-lived and often followed by much-hyped agreements that proclaimed the state’s abhorrence to the use of violence against its own ‘misled’ people, which in turn ushered in a few weeks of peace.
The current standoff has however shaken the very foundations of the country and heaped enormous miseries on the people. And as such it demands and requires a distinct analysis and extraordinary solutions.
What does this conflict portend for a country like Pakistan that has borne the brunt of the fallout of more than three decades of wars and conflicts that were inflicted by various invading countries and which introduced into Pakistan alien politico-religious doctrines, economic vested interests and a warped strategic thinking that revolved around ‘strategic depth’ in the region?
In the backdrop of recent developments in NWFP, everyone in Pakistan should earnestly deliberate on how to prevent posterity from becoming the victims of Talibanization, the epidemic of our age. Clearly, Pakistan desperately requires an indigenous strategy to successfully reverse Talibanization.
Since 1979, Pakistan has stopped developing in almost all domains of life due to its obsession with Afghanistan. Apathetic to the future of Pakistan, successive rulers in Islamabad cooperated with the CIA to train Islamic militants and make them fight America’s war against the Communist Soviets. After the Soviet withdrawal, Pakistan added to the woes of the Afghans by injecting virus of Talibanization in the Afghan society.
While the rest of the Islamic world thrived happily by exploiting its oil wealth, Pakistan regressed and pursued the dream of Pan-Islamism. Our territory was used as a ‘brotherly shelter’ for more than a three million Afghan refugees. We provided a training base to Islamic fighters hailing from more than two dozen countries, many of whom had, ironically, been disowned by their home counties.
Pakistan became the ultimate destination for the mafias hawking drugs, weapons, trucks, smuggling and terrorism. The religious schools mushroomed here faster than elsewhere on this planet. Our land was used, of course with Islamabad’s consent, to export Wahabbism to the world. Mosques began to outnumber public schools. We secretly planned to convert Afghanistan into our fifth province.
Despite indulging in such sinful mess for three decades, the path leading to a better future is still not shut for Islamabad, provided sanity prevails among the country’s ruling elite.
Thirty years of involvement in fighting other powers’ proxy wars in the region has proved by now that pan-Islamism is a myth. The ‘Islam-in-danger’ card only worked successfully in Pakistan which was actually exploited by the world powers to pursue their own interests that culminated in uncontrollable religion-driven global terrorism.
At a point when the very existence of Pakistan is alarmingly endangered, Islamabad should declare an end to its unilateral pursuit of the idea of pan-Islamism. Nothing has undermined the roots of Pakistan more than the cause of pan-Islamism. For a nation-state like Pakistan to exert for a pan-Islamist world by harboring terrorists from all over the world is sheer madness. All foreign fighters should be given a final ultimatum to voluntarily return to their counties or face death.
Pervez Musharraf did try to make changes by unveiling the much-needed agenda of enlightened moderation. But the post 9/11 developments derailed internal reforms in Pakistan and churned out what Mohsin Hamid calls ‘reluctant fundamentalists’. Had we inducted madrassah reforms, expunged hate material from the text books, excluded the religious slot from the passports, promoted a secular culture and stood in solidarity with former federal tourism minister Nelofar Bakhtiar –who was forced to resign by the Islmaists for the ‘crime’ of riding on a parachute with a European male instructor –extremist Islam could have arguably taken a backseat.
Today’s Pakistan needs a Marshal Plan-like package that concentrates on imparting secular education, ensuring good governance, introducing social liberalism and cultural emancipation among the young Pakistanis. This process will certainly encounter eormous resistance from the religious fanatics but this could well prove to be the last occasion for the religious Right to dictate the state policies and hijack the majority of moderate Pakistanis and impose its narrow world vision on them. Such a change is essential to make the nuclear-armed Pakistan a harmless and stable country.
Change will become irreversible only if the demolition of one girls’ school is compensated with the construction of five more. The US will never win its battle against extremism and terrorism as long as it ignores the importance of social reforms and construction of social infrastructure in extremism-ridden countries like Pakistan. The fault with the Muslim world is the strictly controlled conservative society led by ruthless dictators, monarchs, autocrats and clergy that refuse to treat every citizen as dignified human beings.
On its part, Islamabad needs to urgently improve its tarnished global image and end its isolation. To do this, it must not hesitate from establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. It is the time Pakistan logged out as a ‘communal state’ and joined the world community as a progressive, secular democratic country that promised not to host international terrorists who kill innocent people in the name of religion.