Confronting the Myth of 'Moderate Pakistan'

Discussion in 'Pakistan' started by Daredevil, Mar 8, 2011.

  1. Daredevil

    Daredevil On Vacation! Administrator

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2009
    Messages:
    11,613
    Likes Received:
    5,670
    Confronting the Myth of 'Moderate Pakistan'

    By Sadanand Dhume

    It's time to bury the myth of moderate Pakistan. You know the one: the notion, repeated ad nauseam in magazine articles, think-tank reports and Congressional testimony—as though saying it often enough will make it true—that Pakistan is an essentially tolerant country threatened by a rising tide of fundamentalism. Here's a news flash: The tide has risen.

    The most recent reminder of this came Wednesday in Islamabad when suspected Taliban militants shot dead Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's 42-year-old minister for minority affairs and the only Christian in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation's cabinet. His crime? Supporting the repeal of a barbaric blasphemy law that makes insulting the prophet Muhammad punishable by death.

    The law is often used to settle scores with hapless religious minorities, especially Christians such as Asia Bibi, an illiterate peasant sentenced to hang last year after she allegedly badmouthed the prophet during a row with Muslim co-workers. Bhatti's assassination comes two months after a bodyguard murdered Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer for visiting Ms. Bibi in jail and speaking out against abuse of the law.

    To be fair, Pakistan's claim to relative moderation has been kept alive thus far by more than just wishful thinking. Overtly Islamist parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami have rarely commanded more than a fraction of the national vote. Women enjoy freedoms in the public square that their counterparts in Saudi Arabia and Iran could only dream of. At great personal risk, a small but courageous group of activists, intellectuals and politicians speak out publicly against bigotry and religious intolerance.

    Scratch the surface, however, and a bleaker picture emerges. Islamist parties may not garner large-scale electoral support, but Islamist ideas are widely tolerated by mainstream political parties. The major opposition party, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (N), flaunts its closeness to sundry Islamists, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the parent organization of the international terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

    Ostensibly secular, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party supported both Kashmiri militancy and the Afghan Taliban in the past. In its current incarnation it appears permanently cowed by the country's legion of vocal fundamentalists. President Asif Ali Zardari failed to attend the funerals of either Taseer or Bhatti. His government has made it clear that it will not touch the controversial blasphemy law. And Interior Minister Rehman Malik declared that he would personally kill anyone who dared blaspheme Muhammad's name.

    As for Pakistan's undeniably brave activists and intellectuals, unfortunately they appear to have more admirers overseas than among their compatriots. Hand-wringing in the pages of Dawn and the Friday Times, two of the country's leading English-language newspapers, has not prevented Mumtaz Qadri, Taseer's murderer, from becoming a national hero.

    At court appearances, supporters garland Mr. Qadri and shower him with rose petals. Across Pakistan, rallies in support of the murderer attract thousands of fervent supporters. Dozens of Facebook groups extol him as, among other things, a ghazi (religious warrior), "the new hero of Pakistan," and "the great soldier of Islam." Shortly after Taseer's murder, 500 leading clerics from the supposedly moderate Barelvi sect—often contrasted favorably with the more rigid Deobandis—publicly applauded Mr. Qadri, a fellow Barelvi, for his "bravery, valor and faith."

    Not surprisingly, anti-American sentiment—often reliable shorthand for a society's paranoia and self-loathing—is rampant. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, American favorability ratings stood at 17% last year, the lowest of all countries surveyed. (Today they're likely lower.) On the streets, bloodcurdling yells for the execution of alleged Central Intelligence Agency operative Raymond Davis, accused of killing two Pakistanis in January, have prevented the government from granting Mr. Davis the diplomatic immunity commonly enjoyed by spies all over the world. This despite personal pleas by President Barack Obama and Senator John Kerry.

    By now the reasons for Pakistan's predicament are well known. Among them: the intolerance embedded in the nation's founding idea of a separate "land of the pure" for Indian Muslims; the malign shadow of Saudi Arabia on religious life; blowback from the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s; and the overwhelming influence the army and its thuggish intelligence wing, the Inter-Services Intelligence, wield on national life. The army's very motto, Jihad-fi-Sabilillah, or jihad in the path of Allah, is an exhortation to holy war.

    Whether out of hardheaded realpolitik or genuine religious zeal, successive Pakistani governments, civilian and military alike, have coddled fundamentalists. Now the proverbial genie may be too big to put back in the bottle.

    For the international community, then, the long road to fixing Pakistan begins with the simple recognition that the country's true face is not the urbane intellectual making reasoned arguments, but the frenzied mob showering rose petals on a murderer for his services to the faith. Over time, Pakistan can only be saved by rearranging the basic building blocks of the country.

    This means backing provincial autonomy and linguistic identity as an alternative to the centralized pan-Islamism used by the military and its supporters to weld the country together. It means deploying social networks and satellite television to open the door to reasonable discourse about religion. It means channeling aid to ensure that children are no longer taught to glorify Islamic conquest and reflexively mistrust the West and India. It means accepting that the most poisonous madrassas—such as Jamia Binoria in Karachi and Darul Uloom Haqqania outside Peshawar—must be shuttered if they can't be reformed.

    Needless to say, none of this will be easy. But the consequences of the alternative approach—pandering to fundamentalists while blaming outsiders for all the country's ills—can be seen in the freshly turned soil of Bhatti's grave.

    Mr. Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, and a columnist for WSJ.com. Follow him on Twitter @dhume01
     
  2.  

Share This Page