Friday, May 06, 2011

A warning about Pakistan

This cry of anguish and warning in the FT by Aatish Taseer, son of the recently assassinated governor of Punjab in Pakistan, is infused with personal grief and may be overstated (pray it's so), but it's so forcefully written that you can feel your world view wanting to shift as you read:
Let us be clear about what happened last week: Osama bin Laden was not just found living in Abbottabad, there out of some inverse logic of his own. He was found in this garrison town because he was the guest of the army. And now the charges against this army and its agencies are manifold

They range from duplicity in Afghanistan, both aiding the Americans and their adversaries, to a rich trade in nuclear technology with the world's worst countries, to - as senior members of the Indian establishment have claimed - helping to plan and execute the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Pakistan's neighbours - India and Afghanistan - are hoarse in the throat from repeating that it is the Pakistani army that is the source of jihad in south Asia...   [snip]This then is the background of bin Laden's death: a shattered country, traumatised and steeped in blood, with a rogue army falling piecemeal into the hands of jihad. After my father's assassination, I had begun to feel that the birth of this new terrorist state would not be defined by anything so distinct as a takeover or a revolution but by an infiltration so deep that it would soon be impossible to know where Pakistan began and where terrorism ended. This latest news of the army's guest in Abbottabad suggests the new state is already at hand.
Yow.  And in a somewhat more measured strain of anguish, Ahmed Rashid:

Recently I gave a lecture on Pakistan and Afghanistan to an audience of many hundreds in Chicago. There were some sixty or seventy Pakistani Americans among them. As I walked into the hall, something strange started to happen. A small delegation of young Pakistani men and women came up to me. They told me they were Ismailis, thanked me for my outspokenness about the rights of minorities in Pakistan, and expressed the hope that I would raise the issue during my lecture. Ismailis are a small Shia sect, led by the Agha Khan, who have been persecuted in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan by Sunni extremists and the Taliban. This group of Ismailis in my Chicago audience wanted me to know that they would be listening carefully, and they had expectations.

Then another delegation came up to the podium. These were Ahmadis, a sect proscribed as non-Muslim by the state constitution of Pakistan. Ahmadis have been killed, jailed, and beaten in large numbers in Pakistan, and most recently in Indonesia; many have fled to the United States and Canada. And then a third delegation arrived—Pakistani Christians—who said they had only recently been given political asylum in America. Several of them broke down when describing the recent murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Pakistani official who had tried to change the blasphemy law in Pakistan that targets Christians in particular. Bhatti was the only Christian in the federal cabinet.

This experience was repeated when I carried on to Toronto to lecture at a university there. Coming from Pakistan, I have lectured in America for over twenty years, but I have never before encountered in this way my fellow countrymen who are now American citizens. Persecuted minorities never want to make a spectacle of themselves, but clearly these people feel so helpless because nobody in Pakistan now dares to raise their voice on their behalf that they felt the need to introduce themselves. And this was the United States, where they enjoyed greater freedoms.

These religious minorities, along with the tiny population of Pakistani Hindus and the much larger Shia Muslim minority (between 15 to 20 percent of the population), and even mainstream Sunni sects and the shrines of their saints, have all been the targets of a wave of religious intolerance that is sweeping Pakistan. The armed wing of this growing intolerance that is wreaking havoc up and down the country is led by the Pakistani Taliban, who are based among the Pashtuns in the northwest, and their allies are extremist groups in Punjab province and the coastal city of Karachi who at one time fought in Indian Kashmir.
Rashid tries to take a long view:

Pakistan is a kaleidoscope of conflicting social mores and political interests that have not yet been molded into a national identity or a national cause. One of the main reasons for this arrested development has been the continuous episodes of military intervention and rule, which have subverted the political process and prevented the emergence of new leaders who could offer a new narrative. Pakistan desperately needs a long bout of continuous democracy, even if in its early stages it continues to be as corrupt as the present government. The hope with democracy, after all, is that governments change, and new faces appear, and real issues can be raised. And only a strengthened democratic government can eventually take the reins of foreign policy away from the army, and change the idea of a national security state into the idea of a modern nation state.
That worried patience may be needed in the Arab world too, as it begins what's bound to be a long rough road toward stable democracy.

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