Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pakistan is still not sure of its identity - between democracy & Islam


By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi , Nov 26

Pakistan is not a failed state inspite of the perilous policies of the successive governments which have pushed the country to the brink time and again, says noted journalist , writer and political observer Babar Ayaz, but the nagging problems refuse to go away. After the May 2013 general election, the Pakistan government is once again facing critical times.  The conflict with the Islamists – the militant Islam - and the overall political structure of Pakistan has taken a serious turn preventing the country from adopting a multi-dimensional prosperity trajectory at the international level out of its narrow geo-strategic concerns.

“The country is also faced with the serious issue of the withdrawal of US/Nato forces in 2014 which is going to have a long term impact on regional politics. Pakistan is fighting a serious financial deficit in its official economy. I have to differentiate between overall and official economy because in countries like India and Pakistan, the quantum of informal and parallel economy  is as much as the official economy,” Ayaz said.

The political observer, who has worked for publications like The Sun, Pakistan Press International, Business Recorder and The Dawn, in his 40 years of career as a journalist, has tried to “explore the inherent problems facing Pakistan – as the country hunts for a middle path between growing Islamic fundamentalism, fledgling democracy and development disparities” in a new book.  His anthology of essays, “What’s Wrong With Pakistan” analyses Pakistan’s greater geo-strategic aspirations in the context of its ties with its South Asian neighbours, China, West Asia and US within the framework of its Islamic identity and as a nation at crossroads. 

Ayaz tries to work his arguments on he premise that the “theological grounding of the formation of Pakistan as an Islamic state (in 1947)” gets in the way of democratic ambitions reflecting on its society, culture and economy in general.

“This is how the politics of Pakistan stands now — the issues are fighting the Pakistani Taliban, the drone attacks and putting in place a development apparatus. The government has taken a strong stand on against the drone attacks but it is one of the temporary issues that come and go. The government has to make up its mind about the tough line of the Tehrik-e-Taliban and various other jihadi (Islamist) groups. Right now, the government is evasive,” Ayaz told this writer in an interview during his recent visit to India to launch his book, published by Penguin-India.

The writer said “the Pakistan government was vascillating on the issue of Talibani extremism because it does not want to risk the terrorist outfit going in increased activity”.
The reasons for the rise in terrorist activity in Pakistan can be put to the establishments’ early and dangerous policy of nurturing the militants in extremist doctrine. The military establishment of Pakistan — which over the years has become the shadow power centre in the state calling the shots in governance and foreign affairs —  believed that “the militants would be an asset in its conflict with Afghanistan and India”, Ayaz says in his book.  “These people were armed and trained to  fight across the border, but when the establishment wanted them to stop, the militants treated them like renegades of the Islamic revolution,” the writer points out.

Another reason for the revival of religious extremism is that in every religion, there are puritans who resist change and “want to continue with the agenda of religion”. In Pakistan, the largest hardline fundamentalist outfit is the Tehrik-e-Pakistan, an umbrella organization of all the al-Qaeda franchises. “The militants do not have public support. The fundamentalists resort to violence and militancy  because they know they cannot win the democratic election. Hence, they try to create situations from which they can capture power,” the writer says.     

Ayaz, in his book, observes that religious extremism is embedded in the evolution of Pakistan’s  political psyche. It was based on religious nationalism seeking freedom from the Hindu majority that was to rule India in a post-colonial set up. This propaganda about Islamiat gave the religious extremists enough room after Independence to demand an Islamic state.

The spurt and the consolidation of religious extremism do not bear well on the Nawaz Sharief government in Pakistan. “I don’t think Sharief is effective. In every country, there are multiple power centres,” he said. If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “wants to decide on Siachen and Sir Creek, he will not be able to do it”, Ayaz argues.

Digressing on the efficacy of the Nawaz Sharief government, Ayaz offers his insights into the contentious and troubled border. “Once India and Pakistan came very close to a solution, but the army developed cold feet,” Ayaz recalls. It is a burden for both the countries. “India spends around Rs 4 crore  per day  and Pakistan spends Rs 2.5 crore per day. But there are more people who have died in crossfights on the border,” Ayaz says.

The writer says “both countries can come down”. “Neither mine nor your’s and declare the disputed area as a buffer zone. It can become a tourist paradise and visitors can get visas from either India or Pakistan. There is so much politics out there. It is ridiculous to spend that kind of money and manpower to man the territory. The establishments forget the human element in the disputed areas between India and Pakistan,” Ayaz says.

In his book, Ayaz makes a strong plea for a secular, peaceful and democratic Pakistan. Majority of the citizens have time and again proved that they want a democratic system. Although Pakistan turned 66 this year, it is still not sure about its identity whether it should be an Islamist or a democratic state, he says.

There have been so many movements for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan — people have given up their lives for democracy. It is one of the rare countries which fought for democracy. Inspite of the aggressive and prominent religiosity, the religious parties do not poll more than 10 per cent votes, Ayaz says.
“During general Zia’s regime, the political stand of the Islamist parties turned into a militants’ stand with Zia’s support. Now they are inspired by al-Qaida ideology and have resorted to terror killing people,” Ayaz says.

The roots of terrorism in Pakistan, the writer points out, lie in the  Islamic jihad of 1978 which the military establishment had launched against the Left government in the country. Pakistan not only trained and armed Afghan rebels, but also invited jihadis from all over the world to join the war. This made Pakistan the world’s “largest terrorist training university”. Once the jihad was over, these prpfessional warriors of faith, who believed in the extremist Salafi version of Islam, took upon themselves to launch a global jihad.

Terrorism for the last three decades has taken a heavy toll on Pakistan.  The situation is as grave as India, Ayaz says. Citing statistics, the writer says over 50,000 Pakistani people have been killed in terror attacks, 3,500 soldiers have died and the country has suffered a loss of 70 billion US dollars in the last 10 years. “Malala Yousafzai of Swat (who defied the terrorist ban on education for girls) is symbol of defiance we are using. There is a parallel narrative in Pakistan. But the debate about why extremism is turning so violent is still low key in the society,” Ayaz says.
The writer devotes fair space to the debate over the fate of India and Pakistan- the shape of bilateral ties after the pullout of the NATO/UStroops from Afghanistan and dwells on the movement for Independence on border areas like Balochistan as well- issues that might come into focus in 2014.      

“In the first phase, there was lack of willingness to give Balochistan its economic rights which has resulted in people taking up arms against the Pakistan government,” the writer points out. Instead of managing the political and economic issues, the establishment in Pakistan has used strong armed tactics – using the army and the rangers against the people of Balochistan.  “Changes have taken place but the establishment needs to convince people in Balochistan not to talk of independence and stock pile arms,” Ayaz says.
Much of the power balance in the region rides on the future of Afghanistan – in context of its stands India and Pakistan take after the withdrawal of troops in 2014.

“In the first phase, both India and Pakistan have to play a positive role if they try to solve the problems in  Afghanistan to get the country back on social and economic rails. Right now, they are competing for more power and space in the future political structure of Afghanistan. Competition creates adversarial positions. When countries do not fear good relationships, they fear settlements,” the writer explains.

Pakistan wants a friendly government in Afghanistan so that Indian influence can kept is minimal. India is keen on pro-India dispensation. ”Right now, the government is India-friendly because the Pakistan had extended tacit support to the Taliban in the 1980s. Many of the top leaders, who fled the Afghan Taliban found shelter in India,” Ayaz says.

The best thing “is to leave the Afghanis alone and allow them decide their own future”.                        

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