Mainstream Islam could still survive in Pakistan
By Amit Baruah
What, He Worry?
December 21, 2009
According to the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), 241 Pakistanis were killed and 704 wounded in 165 militant strikes across the country in November alone. The PIPS website (http://san-pips.com/index.php) has collated figures for fatalities and casualties for months and years before. As we know all too well, however, mounting death tolls alone don’t tell the full story. Most stories of individual loss, grief, destitution, anger and helplessness that follow these terror strikes remain untold.
Ironically enough, Karachi, the abode of mohajirs — migrants from undivided India — is the most peaceful city in Pakistan today. Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi are in flames and seem to be the favourite targets of the Taliban. Multan and Dera Ghazi Khan, outside the tribal battle zone, have also been attacked.
From 1997 to 2000, when I lived in Islamabad, one routinely saw Finance Minister Sartaj Aziz waiting patiently in his car for the traffic light to turn green. His chauffeur was his only companion; there were no security men in sight. You could also see Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan strolling along the street for a late-night coffee with his family to the Nadia coffee shop inside the Marriott Hotel. Again, there were no gun-toting men with him. Pakistan was still peaceful.
Today, Islamabad is a fortress. Earlier this year, I was in Lahore when the Sri Lankan cricketers were attacked close to the Gaddafi Stadium. Were it not for the presence of mind of their Pakistani driver and the poor marksmanship of the attackers, Sri Lanka would have been searching for new members of their cricket squad.
Today, Pakistani children are not safe praying in mosques. Lt. Gen. Masood Aslam, the army’s Peshawar corps commander and the man leading the assault against the Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan, should know this all too well. The general lost his only son, the 19-year-old Hashim Masood, when the Taliban struck a mosque frequented by senior officers and their relatives on December 4. At least 39 others were killed, including serving and retired officers and their children. The message was chilling: if you hit us in Waziristan, we will kill your children in Rawalpindi, the garh of the Pakistani army.
This battle, which occupied Pakistan in 2009, will continue to rage in 2010 as well. There are no signs that the elimination of Tehrik-i-Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud has crippled the leadership of the Taliban or its ability to strike in urban centres or military targets in the country. Shuja Nawaz, analyst and author of books including Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within, summed up Pakistan’s challenges: “The army is still battling a vicious insurgency in the western borderland. The United States is counting on a stable Pakistan to help it exit from Afghanistan gracefully... The army is under pressure from its US allies to open a fresh front against the Afghan Taliban in Baluchistan, an action that makes no sense to the army. The rollercoaster US-Pakistan relationship seems heading for another deep dive, unless cooler heads prevail.”
Nawaz, writing in Foreign Policy, also listed the December 16 annulment of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) by 17 judges of the Pakistani Supreme Court as another challenge for the Gilani-Zardari administration. In February-March, it appeared that the Taliban were at the gates of Islamabad.
The Pakistani army launched an operation in Swat and, then, after months of dilly-dallying and advance notice, took the battle to South Waziristan. But the battle for Pakistan cannot be won by bullets or drone strikes. At the end of the day, the battle is for contending visions of Pakistan.
The militants want to turn it into the short-lived Islamic Emirate of Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, where women will live as second-class citizens and a brutal Islamist law would be imposed. The other is a vision of a moderate Pakistan, where political parties run the country and the army (eventually) takes a backseat; where people receive quality education and net good jobs; where religion is important but doesn’t dictate every sphere of personal life.
If the Taliban are in Punjab, then the Brothers Sharif must take up political cudgels against them. Frontal attacks must be launched in the political arena against the Taliban vision — a task made easier by the brutal slaughter of civilians in markets and mosques. So far, Asif Ali Zardari, Yusuf Raza Gilani, Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif have been found wanting in demonstrating that an alternative path is possible for Pakistan — a path where people and their needs come first. For all this to happen, the political parties and the military must operate in sync.
The NRO and the alliance with the US have been cleverly used by General Ashfaq Kayani to wash away the sins of the Musharraf years. But if Pakistan is to win its battle and defang the Taliban monster, the country must bring to the surface what it has mostly missed in its history of 62 years — a unity of purpose between politicians and generals that leapfrogs money-making and power-brokering. The coming year could provide some answers — if Pakistan’s rulers fail to offer a different vision, then the Taliban will win.
Amit Baruah is Editor of the BBC’s Hindi service and author of Dateline Islamabad
The views expressed by the author are personal
Source: Hindustan Times, New Delhi