There is hardly a day when the US government does not try pressurizing President Musharraf, overtly and covertly, to do more in the war against terrorism. With friends like these he does not need enemies. They want quick results, which with all their so-called might, they have failed to achieve in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Instead of being helpful the Americans are arm twisting Pakistan. This short-sighted strategy is making present regimes struggle to over-power the terrorism and extremism weaker. Why? One, it creates a perception at home that Pakistan is fighting this war only to please Bush and his allies. Two, by implication it means that otherwise Pakistan has no danger from this self-created and nourished Frankenstein. Three, it makes anti-American religious extremists look like the vanguard of anti-imperialist struggle. And four, it gives the false impression that if we had refused to be a part of the war against terrorism, it would have not affected us and life would have been much easier.
Both US administration and our government are responsible for these misperceptions. The US because their bullying irks the nationalist cord of Pakistanis. President Musharraf, because when all this started after 9/11, he candidly said that this policy was adopted to save the country from the American wrath. This may have been his honest view at that time, but it did not give the right message to the people. It gave an opportunity to the extremists and the anti-American people in Pakistan to play on people’s nationalism and pride. The position taken by the government was an outcome of its longstanding policy. They have nurtured extremist religious forces and terrorists since 1948. Now when this policy had to be dropped the establishment did it half heartedly only under duress and not confessing that they were wrong. They have failed to recognize the strength of saying: Sorry.
No country can afford to encourage religious extremism or terrorism under the garb of freedom fighters. No sensible country (am I asking for too much?) allows organised armed groups other than its law enforcing agencies and armed forces. But we did that. It is an open knowledge that the Jihadi groups were allowed to train and arm themselves. Now the same guns have been turned on Pakistanis.
Another failure of the government was that when they changed the policy they did not draw a proper communication plan to reach the people to explain that this adventurism was damaging for the country. The country needs to control extremism for economic development which would lead to poverty reduction. Their slogan should be ‘fight against religious extremism and terrorism to fight poverty.’ And that this war is to set the country on the path of progress.
Now that this conflict between religious extremism and democratic values has entered in a decisive phase in Pakistan, the obscurantists can only be countered by a real democratic dispensation. The present dispensation is either not fully convinced with that the post 9/11 policy is right, or they lack courage to stand up against the extremists. President Musharraf has been trying to lead this U-turn all alone. This is was very much evident from the weak support provided to him by his political allies in the Lal Masjid saga. The only significant support he received on this issue came from Ms. Bhutto.
The clergy has an advantage to reach the people five times a day everyday. They have at their disposal loudspeakers at every corner, may that be a city or a village. Most of these communication facilities have drifted in the hands of extremist clergy.
On the other hand the official political leadership is mostly afraid to take side in this ideological tussle. Mobilizing public opinion at the union council level is required. Those in the government are apologists of the madrassa forces and have repeatedly said that madaris are playing a positive role. They have to understand that the country does not need that many madaris producing one maulvi for every 300 persons every year. For madaris graduates religion is a source of earning as they are not fit to adjust in other professions. The Jihadi organisation prey in these nurseries for recruiting terrorists.
If Americans say we should fight terrorism and religious extremist we should not walk away from this just cause. It is and should be the cause of all those who believe in democracy and a tolerant society. The American administration’s interest in this can be short-lived. They were the ones sowing Islamic Jihad in Afghanistan and taking pride in creating “technical Islamic guerillas.”
It’s time to destroy this bitter harvest, or else it would be too late. We owe it to our younger generation. To save the kids of the have nots who go to such institutions the government should invest heavily in education with free boarding, clothing and meal facilities. The government and liberal political parties have to work together for changing the social, economic and political environment to pull out the country from the present quagmire. We need a wholesome grand plan. That is the only way to save our younger generation. Otherwise the fate of Beirut awaits us. (firstname.lastname@example.org)