Extremism – not the only problem - Zafar Hilaly - Thursday, February 10, 2011

Source : http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=30442&Cat=9&dt=2/10/2011

Pessimism about Pakistan’s future was rife at a gathering of the liberal glitterati in Karachi the other day. The issue under consideration was Taseer’s murder and the prospect that Qadri may get away with it. Nothing has so horrified liberals in recent memory; and when viewed in the ‘them’ versus ‘us’ context the chasm has never seemed greater or more impossible to bridge. To deduce from this that the end is nigh was only a small step and so, it seemed, as speaker after speaker including Pervez Hoodbhoy and Khalid Ahmed emphatically did. Taking up the refrain Zahid Hussain tried to inject a note of defiance or optimism by saying that there is nothing wrong with us that a miracle cannot fix; but as miracles don’t occur his words only added to the pervasive sense of gloom.

Ahmed Rasheed and others who spoke after him felt that the presence of extremism in our body politic was the natural outcome of the Pakistani military’s fixation with India. The military’s idea of a national security state had not only drained Pakistan of its meagre wealth but worse had led us to co opt extremists as instruments of war and hence we could hardly complain that extremism is now pervasive in society.

Recalling what the speakers had said and the jolt that Taseer’s murder has inflicted, Camus’s words: ‘he who despairs over an event is a coward, but he who holds hopes for the human condition is a fool’ come to mind. Nevertheless, at the risk of being considered a fool let me hold out such a hope and suggest that all may not yet be lost.

Extremist movements in history, whether violent or not, such as the Diggers, Assassins, Calvinists, Zwinglists, Jesuits, Mormons, Menonites were, in a manner of speaking, the rough equivalent of our extremist lot. They never really amounted to much and petered out in due course. Even the Puritans, who banned drinking and dancing in England, remained basically a fringe movement. For that matter the Iranian clergy and the Taliban would likely be thrashed if free elections were held in Iran and Afghanistan? Because when they were held in Pakistan their presence was barely visible on the political radar.

A survey carried out by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies in 16 private and public universities across the country last September showed that nearly 80 per cent of the surveyed Pakistani youth thought that the Pakistani Taliban did not serve the cause of Islam; more than 85 per cent believed that suicide bombings were prohibited in Islam; and 95 per cent favoured women education. Bleeding liberal hearts should have found comfort in these statistics, as mine did.

Let us also imagine for a moment that the PPP jiyalas who were beating their heads and throwing themselves on Taseer’s coffin had taken the law into their own hands at the time and had got hold of Qadri and killed him. Or marched to his father’s house in Pindi and burnt it down. What would have happened? Precisely, nothing. But would that have meant that the danger posed by extremism is over? Of course not, matters are not so simply explained.

Although our extremists are determined to force their ideology on the country, they cannot succeed on their own strength or on their political appeal, while their long-term prospects are poor. Their ideology has nothing to do with tackling issues that really matter to most people, such as governance, economic and financial problems, generating jobs, making the country attractive to investors, managing foreign relations, providing security and managing external defence without plunging the country in a self destructive war with other countries.

We have seen this ideology in action under the Taliban for about five years before 9/11 and how ill suited it is as a political force in the modern world. If the Afghan Taliban initially enjoyed some popularity, it was related more to people’s despair because of the chaos created by the warlords in the mid 90s. The instability that they are able to create in some parts of Afghanistan today has more to do with the limited reach of Kabul, poor infrastructure, the absence of a modern nationally representative security force and, of course, the presence of an alien army of occupation. Pakistan is not Afghanistan and Kabul is not Islamabad and the American presence is negligible.

The rise of extremism in Pakistan has more to do with the handling of the economy, misplaced national priorities, wrong textbooks, no schools or teachers worth the name, delayed and denied justice, corruption and joblessness than the prattling of the mullah or the promises of ghazidom and paradise held out by the extremists. Life for the poor becomes intolerable when at the very moment that their plight is most acute they see their leaders living off the hog and robbing, while protected by the law and hordes of lawmen.

Developments outside Pakistan will no doubt also have an impact at home, just as they have done in the past when the mullah received all the support and funding they could get from abroad to promote their extremist brand of Islam. The impact of foreign influence can already be seen in the targeting of shrines and saints which are frontal assaults on the culture of this land which is so deeply rooted and intimately related to the spread of Islam itself. There are examples of such savagery in history but usually by foreign hordes and legions. Since their ideology and much of their funding has come from abroad, the Pakistani Taliban have become almost like aliens working at the behest of foreign masters.

We should also take heart from the fact that the popular and largely peaceful unrest in the Middle East has shown that the bulk of the Arab youth is much less interested in mixing religion with politics than with changing authoritarian systems that have marginalised them and in favour of democracy, respect for individual dignity and freedom of expression in order to make governance more accountable and transparent. It is governance and self renewal in the practical sense that are the thrust of the ongoing popular surge in the Middle East, not the old style politics of the mullah which has little or nothing to do with issues of governance.

Frankly our primary problem today is less extremism and more our dysfunctional political line up with mainstream political leaders unable to rise to the occasion. Most of them got into politics for self aggrandizement than to serve the country for a higher purpose. Even today they are bickering and pulling each other down over all kinds of issues like in the past although today we face an existential crisis in which the writ of the state is being openly flouted and democracy is under its severest test. It’s not elusive miracles that we should be looking to save us when a modicum of common sense accompanied by a bit of strait laced courage would suffice.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

No comments:

Post a Comment