Misfortunes of Pakistan

Neither knows exactly what the other country thinks of itself, except for the stereotypes carefully cultivated over time and which assumes doctrinaire certitude

The murderous attack on the young Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban continues to be the subject of anguished debate in Pakistan and a cause celebre globally with Hollywood also pitching in. She “trends” on Twitter and is all over on Facebook and YouTube.

We may haughtily describe the Taliban as obscurantist thugs to assuage our anger and frustration but the fact is that their writ does seem to run in north-west Pakistan while their influence within political circles and in other parts of Pakistan is palpable.
No political party, except the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), named the Taliban for this attack and even Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani only condemned the act. The perpetrators have, however, arrogantly described the attack justified but unfinished. This kind of debate in Pakistan has its origins in the slogan of Pakistan’s leaders — political, military and religious — where they equated criticism of Pakistan with criticism of Islam and vice versa. Mixing of loyalty to religion as being the same as loyalty to the nation became the problem.
Pakistani leaders have for long blamed outside forces for their problems of endemic violence, arguing that no Muslim would kill another Muslim. At first it used to be (primarily Hindu) India but now it includes Christian Americans and Jewish Israelis. Unfortunately, having fed this formula to the population, it is difficult to now argue that the attack on Malala had been carried out by a Pakistani group and was not part of an international conspiracy against Pakistan. There is no leader in Pakistan who will stand up and support those who see the dangers of a gathering storm. And that has been Pakistan’s misfortune — that Right-thinking Pakistanis never had the leaders who would lead. Instead, there were those who taught hatred even in mainstream schools. In one Talibanesque swoop, the elitist Lahore University of Management Sciences sacked Dr Pervez Hoodhboy because he was a strident critic of both the fundamentalists and the Army. This is almost like shooting at Malala for her opinions.
Discerning Pakistanis assess that no political party wishes to implicate or accuse the Taliban at this juncture with elections round the corner. This may be out of political expediency but is even more unfortunate if it is out of conviction. This means that there is an assessment that the Taliban and their mindset matter in the elections even if the Taliban themselves may not contest elections as they are not sanctified by the Shariah. The natural corollary to this is that, unless effectively countered and neutralised, the Taliban will gain in strength, reach and influence with every search for democracy.
Recent observations on TV by Pakistan’s aspiring Prime Minister, Imran Khan, on the Hamid Mir show, represent this dangerous equivocation. As an Indian I would worry about his reluctance to say, despite being asked repeatedly, that it is wrong for Pakistanis to go across into Afghanistan for jihad. Transferred to the Indian context, it means that he would approve activities of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba in India assessed by many as the biggest terrorist threat to India. This is the mindset of someone who is described as an emancipated liberal.
Extremists develop their own momentum, they begin to feed upon themselves and their kind and ultimately devour those that nursed and fed them. When good men and women keep quiet, bullies win. Pakistan may not be the only country to suffer thus; we in India have our own demons to contend with but there is no official sanction for religious discrimination. This India-Pakistan story line of suspicion and hostility sharpened with time, wars ensued and stereotypes were established. “To see ourselves as others see us is a rare and valuable gift, without a doubt. But in international relations what is still rarer and far more useful is to see others as they see themselves,” said the French historian Jacques Barzun. This is where both India and Pakistan have a problem, neither knows exactly what the other country thinks of itself, except for the stereotypes carefully cultivated over time and which assumes doctrinaire certitude.
Malala’s case is not the first of this kind nor unfortunately the last. Some in Pakistan worry that this will be forgotten but this violence will be repeated. No one now talks about Dr Shazia Khaled, Mukhtaran Mai or Rinkle Kumari any longer. Meanwhile, the Baloch highlight government atrocities and enforced disappearances as their province burns; Shias are victims of Sunni hostility across Pakistan, while Ahmediyas are routinely discriminated against as apostates.
The West did not pay much attention to Rimsha Masih, the Christian teenager from Punjab, when she was hounded on charges of blasphemy, perhaps not wanting to make it appear to be a Christian-Islam religious issue. Malala Yousafzai, on the other hand, epitomises a young Pashtun girl’s defiance of Taliban diktat and possibly aroused hopes of an Arab Spring in Pakistan. The enthusiasm in the West and in parts of Pakistan is understandable but one should realistically be prepared for disappointment. Overeagerness to own and adopt causes may actually prove to be counterproductive. In the present context, the Taliban and their apologists are portraying this as an affirmation of their charge that Malala was an anti-Islamic American agent and justify their decision to press for the installation of their system in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The ideology that has been allowed to spread out from the Pashtun belts has become strong in southern Punjab and parts of Sindh. The malaise has spread wider than many in Pakistan wish to accept. External pressures and influences may help in a limited way but it is ultimately up to the Pakistani people themselves and their leaders to decide what kind of a future they want for themselves, their children and how they wish to be seen by the comity of nations.
Until then, Pakistan’s neighbours will worry but will also hope to applaud.

The writer is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing

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