Little by Little
By Amir Zia
May 12, 2014
Slowly but surely the violent non-state actors are pushing Pakistan towards the brink. Little by little we are witnessing the state’s writ being eroded. Gradually Pakistani society’s descend into lawlessness is gaining momentum. And step by step Pakistan’s status as an internationally pariah state is being paved and cemented.
Our rulers may not agree with this cheerless account of today’s Pakistan. They may still think that they hold all the cards. They may still believe that they remain firmly in control. But living in self-denial and a make-believe world – no matter how grand – can’t stop Pakistan’s one-way backward march.
The reality is grim and the signs of the times ominous, underlining the weakening of the state authority. Yet, our lords and masters do not seem to see the writing on the wall.
The latest drag for the state has come in the form of the spurt in cases of the polio virus – thanks to our so-called holy warriors who declare the vaccination drive against this crippling disease a ‘western conspiracy’ to make our future generations infertile and in violation to Islamic tenets.
As a result, the goal of a polio-free Pakistan – which once appeared within reach in 1999-00 – now seems unattainable. Fourteen years down the road, as Sharif completes the first year of his third term in power, Pakistan is one of the only three countries in the world – along with Syria and Cameroon – that threaten the world by exporting this virus to other countries.
UN efforts to eradicate polio globally by 2018 are being torpedoed mainly because of our Islamic republic’s inability to carry out effective vaccination drives in many parts of its territory – especially in the troubled tribal region. The outcome of this failure is manifested through 59 new polio cases so far this year in Pakistan out of the total 74 in all the 10 polio-affected countries.
Out of these 59 polio cases, 46 have been reported in the country’s tribal belt where despite frequent appeals by both government and non-government quarters, the militants do not allow health workers to administer polio drops to children age five years and below. In this sense, the Afghan Taliban militants are better as they facilitate the anti-polio campaign by holding temporary ceasefires.
No wonder the WHO has now recommended polio vaccination a must for all Pakistanis travelling abroad. What does that mean for the country? It is not just simply a new obstacle for Pakistani travellers, but another triumph for the pro-Al-Qaeda local militants against the backdrop of the civil and military leadership’s near policy-paralysis on how to deal with the twin scourge of terrorism and extremism. It is another symbolic blow to this struggling state, which faces the greatest internal threat in its recent history.
The best our rulers have offered so far against this internal challenge remains half-hearted, incomplete reactive operations against militants and the self-defeating exercise of holding talks with them. There appears to be no roadmap for victory despite the immense sacrifices of Pakistani soldiers. There seems to be no urgency to end the prolonged conflict, which has been draining the state and should have been the top item on the government’s agenda.
For all the different shades and colours of extremists, including the Al-Qaeda inspired militants, the triumph on the poliovirus front is not the first one against the Pakistani state. They have been expanding their influence and stifling the state called Pakistan in a gradual manner, especially in the recent years. For any country, this endless state of conflict is the worst case scenario as it results in fatigue and draining out of its resources. Our rulers seem oblivious to this age-old code of war and peace in politics.
The extremists, who have kept the initiative so far in this protracted conflict, have scored one symbolic psychological victory after the other as successive governments kept debating and discussing whether to fight or not to fight.
The militants successfully banished international sports from Pakistan with the 2009 attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team as our decision-makers kept themselves busy by trying to make a distinction between the ‘good and bad’ militants. The precarious state of security forced many western diplomatic missions to scale down operations and declare Pakistan a hardship posting but our successive rulers kept gloating over their ‘success’ of bringing in foreign aid, grants and loans – as they are doing now.
In another symbolic dent to Pakistan’s reputation, most foreign investors and businesspeople stopped visiting Pakistan because of the security concerns, but our decision-makers kept boasting they were reviving the economy.
Footprints of almost every major incident of global terrorism led to Pakistan, yet our politicians and decision-makers kept blaming ‘a foreign hand’ for many of our ills. Pakistan’s worst era of lawlessness and bloodletting at the hands of terrorists and extremists consumed thousands of lives, but our political parties kept arguing over whose war Pakistan has been fighting.
After sacrificing more than 4,000 soldiers in the northern tribal belt alone, Pakistani leaders still do not know the real enemy and remain undecided whether to fight or to talk.
While a segment of violent non-state actors and their foreign militant allies have taken on the state, creating their terrorist safe havens on Pakistani soil, many other extremists groups are waging their unholy wars against members of ‘rival’ sects or dissident voices within society.
The state and its institutions seem powerless and seem to be losing ground as extremists commit one atrocity after another. It is the violent non-state actors who are on the charge, while the ones who should be upholding the law and the writ of the state remain on the defensive.
Killing anyone by exploiting the sacred name of Islam has now become a piece of cake. The government is surely to turn a blind eye or rather wheel and deal with organised gangs of militants rather than provide justice to the victims and their families. It is an abject surrender by the state and its institutions.
The recent assassination of human rights activist Rashid Rehman in Multan is just one more addition to the ever-growing list of victims killed because of their views. He was apparently killed for pleading the case of a man accused of blasphemy. His murder failed to create ripples in the society, barring a small vocal section of civil society members – many of whom themselves remain in the line of fire.
In the same long list of victims, we also have governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who was killed by his own police guard because he too spoke about a controversial blasphemy case. The Pakistani state is unable to prosecute the assassin of Governor Taseer in what is an open-and-shut case because of the fear of an organised minority. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
We see confusion, polarisation and conflict escalating in the society, but the state appears unable to resolve these contradictions, which is vital for its own survival.
Perhaps for the ruling elite of Pakistan, the party is not yet over. There is still some opportunity to perpetuate rule and make money, but the state called Pakistan is being hollowed out bit by bit, little by little.
There appears to be no political force in the ring that can turn the tide as gangs and bands of militants, terrorists and criminals hold sway. Tough times never seem to be over in the land called Pakistan.
Amir Zia is editor The News, Karachi.