By Jonathan Kay
Feb 18, 2012
Since the Taliban resurgence began gaining force in 2005, a common refrain in the West has been that Pakistan must “do more” to rein in the Jihadis who are drawing support from bases in the borderlands of Balochistan and Waziristan. American officials have made countless visits to Pakistan to deliver variations on this message — with nothing to show for it.
Earlier this year, the BBC disclosed a secret NATO report, based on 27,000 interrogations with captured Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees, concluding that Jihadis operating in Afghanistan continue to receive support and instruction from Pakistani military handlers. One interrogated al-Qaeda detainee quoted in the report declared: “Pakistan knows everything. They control everything. I can’t [expletive] on a tree in Kunar without them watching.”
The usual Sunday-Morning-talk-show explanation for this is that Pakistan is hedging its strategic bets: Pakistani military leaders doubt the United States military can tame Afghanistan before American combat forces’ scheduled exit in 2013. And rather than see the country degenerate into absolute chaos (as occurred in the early 1990s, in the wake of the Soviet departure), Pakistani military leaders want to be in position to turn Afghanistan into a semi-orderly Pashtun-dominated client state that provides Islamabad with “strategic depth” against India. And the only way for them to do this is to co-opt the Taliban.
This elaborate Great Game theorizing all makes sense. But there is another, simpler explanation: Most ordinary Pakistanis loathe America — indeed, not only America, but the whole of the non-Muslim world — and are only too happy to support jihad against the NATO forces next door in Afghanistan.
Pakistani support for the Taliban is not just a cynical expression of foreign-policy realpolitik, in other words, but a true expression of grass-roots Pakistani public opinion.
A good indication of what ordinary Pakistanis think comes to us courtesy of a U.S. government-sponsored study called “Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan,” recently produced by the U.S.-based International Center for Religion & Diplomacy, in conjunction with an independent Pakistani policy think tank called the Sustainable Development Policy Institute. Together, their researchers conducted an in-depth study of the attitudes toward non-Muslims reflected in 100 sampled Pakistani textbooks, and in interviews with teachers and students at 37 of the country’s public schools and 19 madrasas.
The interviews with teachers were especially telling: This is precisely the stratum of society — literate, educated middle-class — that one would expect to embrace relatively moderate and enlightened attitudes. But generally speaking, the opposite is true. Almost half of the surveyed public-school teachers did not even know that non-Muslims could become citizens of the Pakistani state. A common theme was that non-Muslim religions are inherently sinister, and that friendly relations between the faiths are worth maintaining only insofar as they can generate opportunities for Muslims to attract converts.
“All of the public-school teachers interviewed believed the concept of jihad to refer to violent struggle, compulsory for Muslims to engage in against the enemies of Islam,” the report concluded. “Only a small number of teachers extended the meaning to include both violent and nonviolent struggle.”
Ironically, despite the negative connotations we associate with the word ‘madrasa,’ many of the surveyed madrasa students and teachers actually displayed a more nuanced understanding of jihad than their public-school counterparts, and even supplied interviewers with religiously-based arguments against suicide bombings. Nevertheless, “in every madrasa textbook reviewed, the concept of jihad has been reduced from its wider meaning of personal development to violent conflict in the name of Islam, considered to be the duty of every Muslim. The Koranic verse commanding the believer to ‘kill the pagans [or infidels or unbelievers] wherever you find them’ is often cited with no context.”
In Pakistani textbooks, the line between mosque and state is virtually non-existent. Students learn that international boundaries – say, between Pakistan and Afghanistan – don’t count for much: “In all the textbooks analyzed, the student is presented a world where concepts such as nation, constitution, legality, standing armies, or multi-lateral organizations – except where they are prescribed by Islamic doctrine of Sharia law – do not exist.”
There is some good news in the report: Many of the interviewed Pakistani teachers expressed the belief that, on an interpersonal level, non-Muslim students and their religious practices should be treated with respect. But overall, “as many as 80% of the respondents considered non-Muslims to be enemies of Islam.” This feeling of enmity was justified by reference to a grab bag of complaints against the West: acts of anti-Islamic “blasphemy,” “spreading the evil of alcohol in Muslim society,” “killings of innocent Muslim citizens through missiles,” and “the banning of veils [in France].”
These views help explain why Pakistani mobs often erupt in incendiary spasms of anger not only at drone strikes in Pakistani territory, but also at symbolic slights — such as perceived defilements of the Koran: Bitterness and anger at non-Muslims are deeply felt, widely shared attitudes in Pakistan; and it is doubtful they can be addressed by any sort of goodwill campaign or foreign-policy adjustment. Jihad, if only by proxy, will remain a popular cause for Pakistani governments seeking to promote their Islamic bona fides.
In the long run, in fact, Pakistan (which, let us not forget, has been a declared nuclear power for 14 years) may prove to be an even more dangerous problem than Iran, whose population is well-educated, and not nearly as anti-American as the increasingly unpopular Shiite dictatorship that rules over it.
The Iranian problem can be solved by replacing the regime. In Pakistan, the problem goes much deeper.
Jonathan Kay is Managing Editor for Comment at the National Post, and a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.