Discussion in 'West Asia & Africa' started by Vinod2070, Apr 12, 2009.
Imran Khan's strange politics
'Many Pakistanis question if this is their war'
Salima Hashmi, the daughter of legendary Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, is a patron of arts and one of the best-known rights activists in Pakistan. Sameer Arshad spoke to Hashmi about the Taliban threat and the role of Pakistan's civil society in countering extremism:
How real is the threat of Taliban spilling over into other parts of Pakistan?
The Taliban are more than one group. I consider Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e Mohammad to be an equal threat and they aren't restricted to one part of the country. They are firmly entrenched in areas like Muridke in Punjab. The Binori Masjid in Karachi is another centre of militancy.
Why has Pakistan's famed civil society failed to stand up to the Taliban?
Civil society is responding and demonstrations are taking place at various places. A signature campaign is in operation. But i think the drone attacks and the US's Afghan policy have made some people ambivalent towards the Taliban. Many people question whether this is 'our war'. At the same time, i think the recent events like the takeover in Swat and radical cleric Sufi Mohammad's statements are galvanising more people against the Taliban. However, the large number of civilian casualties in the army action is causing a lot of concern.
If Pakistan's civil society could oust military ruler General Pervez Musharraf and force President Asif Ali Zardari to restore the deposed judges, why can't it do the same vis-a-vis the Taliban?
The lawyers movement took an immense toll on the peoples lives. It led to loss of livelihood for so many young lawyers and civil society activists. It has exhausted the populace.
What keeps the civil society going?
The savagery of military ruler Zia-ul Haq decimated the political process, parties, labour, students, intellectual, artists, writers and media and civil rights groups. His legacy lives on through the laws enacted in that time. You can hardly understand the implications of Zia's 11-year rule. He transformed Pakistan in every way. It's there in the way textbooks were written, procedures altered and this continues till today. But it also strengthened the independence of the spirit of society and media in ways that surprise our friends from India. Our media is unlike that of India. I find Indian media to be more conformist and often eager to swallow the 'official' line as though it would be unpatriotic if they didn't do so.
Do you think India has a role to play in strengthening Pakistan's civilian dispensation?
Certainly one expects India to be supportive of a civil dispensation and give up eulogising Musharraf. He represented himself and the army, with great aplomb and we have to live with the consequences, the most frightening of which are the Taliban and the Lashkars of various kinds.
The News International - No. 1 English Newspaper from Pakistan - Saturday, December 30, 1899
Another gem from the beghairat duo from the Paki land.
I am not posting the gruesome images, you may follow the link for that if you want to. The images are gruesome so be forewarned.
This when it was clearly published some time back that there are many Pakistani tribals who don't undergo circumcision in Pakistan.
These friggin idiots are as filthy as it gets. No honor, no sense of dignity, just pure filth and garbage.
Repeating a previous post to expose these idiots.
DAWN.COM | Columnists | The Indian election
YouTube - What Girls in pak think about India
A good video, showing that the common people have other priorities than the ruling class and the militaries.
Pakistan on the Brink
Pakistan on the Brink
By Ahmed Rashid
To get to President Asif Ali Zardari's presidential palace in the heart of Islamabad for dinner is like running an obstacle course. Pakistan's once sleepy capital, full of restaurant-going bureaucrats and diplomats, is now littered with concrete barriers, blast walls, checkpoints, armed police, and soldiers; as a result of recent suicide bombings the city now resembles Baghdad or Kabul. At the first checkpoint, two miles from the palace, they have my name and my car's license number. There are seven more checkpoints to negotiate along the way.
Apart from traveling to the airport by helicopter to take trips abroad, the President stays inside the palace; he fears threats to his life by the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda, who in December 2007 killed his wife, the charismatic Benazir Bhutto, then perhaps the country's only genuine national leader. Zardari's isolation has only added to his growing unpopularity, his indecisiveness, and the public feeling that he is out of touch. Even as most Pakistanis have concluded that the Taliban now pose the greatest threat to the Pakistani state since its cre- ation, the president, the prime minister, and the army chief have, until recently, been in a state of denial of reality.
"We are not a failed state yet but we may become one in ten years if we don't receive international support to combat the Taliban threat," Zardari indignantly says, pointing out that in contrast to the more than $11 billion former president Pervez Musharraf received from the US in the years after the September 11 attacks, his own administration has received only between "$10 and $15 million," despite all the new American promises of aid. He objects to the charge that his government has no plan to counter the Taliban-led insurgency that since the middle of April has spread to within sixty miles of the capital. "We have many plans including dealing with the 18,000 madrasas"—i.e., the Muslim religious schools—"that are brainwashing our youth, but we have no money to arm the police or fund development, give jobs or revive the economy. What are we supposed to do?" Zardari's complaints are true, but he does acknowledge that additional foreign money would have to be linked to a plan of action, which does not exist.
The sense of unrealism is widespread. As the Taliban stormed south from their mountain bases near the Afghan border in northern Pakistan in late April, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the parliament that they posed no threat and there was nothing to worry about. Interior Minister Rehman Malik talked about how the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai was supporting the Taliban and how India and Russia were sowing more unrest in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the inscrutable, chain-smoking army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, remained silent. By the time Kiyani made his first statement on the advance of the Taliban, on April 24, the army was being widely and loudly criticized for failing to deploy troops in time.
Pakistan is close to the brink, perhaps not to a meltdown of the government, but to a permanent state of anarchy, as the Islamist revolutionaries led by the Taliban and their many allies take more territory, and state power shrinks. There will be no mass revolutionary uprising like in Iran in 1979 or storming of the citadels of power as in Vietnam and Cambodia; rather we can expect a slow, insidious, long-burning fuse of fear, terror, and paralysis that the Taliban have lit and that the state is unable, and partly unwilling, to douse.
In northern Pakistan, where the Taliban and their allies are largely in control, the situation is critical. State institutions are paralyzed, and over one million people have fled their homes. The provincial government of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) has gone into hiding, and law and order have collapsed, with 180 kidnappings for ransom in the NWFP capital of Peshawar in the first months of this year alone. The overall economy is crashing, with drastic power cuts across the country as industry shuts down. Joblessness and lack of access to schools among the young are widespread, creating a new source of recruits to the Taliban. Zar-dari and Gilani have spent the past year battling their political rivals instead of facing up to the Taliban threat and the economic crisis.
ccording to the Islamabad columnist Farrukh Saleem, 11 percent of Pakistan's territory is either directly controlled or contested by the Taliban. Ten percent of Balochistan province, in the southwest of the country, is a no-go area because of another raging insurgency led by Baloch separatists. Karachi, the port city of 17 million people, is an ethnic and sectarian tinderbox waiting to explode. In the last days of April thirty-six people were killed there in ethnic violence. The Taliban are now penetrating into Punjab, Pakistan's political and economic heartland where the major cities of Islamabad and Lahore are located and where 60 percent of the country's 170 million people live. Fear is gripping the population there.
The Taliban have taken advantage of the vacuum of governance by carrying out spectacular suicide bombings in major cities across the country. They are generating fear, rumor, and also support from countless unemployed youth, some of whom are willing to kill themselves to advance the Taliban cause. The mean age for a suicide bomber is now just sixteen.
American officials are in a concealed state of panic, as I observed during a recent visit to Washington at the time when 17,000 additional troops were being dispatched to Afghanistan. The Obama administration unveiled its new Afghan strategy on March 27, only to discover that Pakistan is the much larger security challenge, while US options there are far more limited. The real US fear was bluntly addressed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Baghdad on April 25:
One of our concerns...is that if the worst, the unthinkable were to happen, and this advancing Taliban...were to essentially topple the government for failure to beat them back, then they would have the keys to the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan.... We can't even contemplate that.
Pakistan has between sixty and one hundred nuclear weapons, and they are mostly housed in western Punjab where the Taliban have made some inroads; but they are under the control of the army, which remains united and disciplined if ineffective against terrorism. In his press conference on April 29, President Obama made statements intended to be reassuring after the specter of Pakistani weakness evoked by Clinton, saying, "I feel confident that that nuclear arsenal will remain out of militant hands."
A week earlier Clinton had accused the Pakistani government of "basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists." Leading US military figures such as General David Petraeus and Admiral Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have chimed in with even more dire predictions. Clinton's statements have provoked increasing anti-Americanism in the Pakistani army and public, and thus will complicate the effectiveness of any future aid the US may give. On April 24 General Kiyani said that the army was fully capable of defending the country and went on to strongly condemn "the pronouncements" by outside powers that criticized the army and raised doubts about the future of Pakistan.
The Obama administration has promised Pakistan $1.5 billion a year for the next five years, but the bill is stuck in Congress with a long list of conditions that the Pakistanis are unwilling to accept. In early April other countries pledged a miserly $5.3 billion in aid, even as Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to the region, told me that Pakistan needs $50 billion. None of this money is likely to come immediately.
The Current Crisis
The present scare was set off in mid-February when the North-West Frontier provincial government signed a deal with a neo-Taliban movement in the scenic Swat valley, a major tourist resort area about a hundred miles from Islamabad, allowing the Taliban to impose strict sharia law in Swat's courts. (The creation of a new Islamic appeals court was announced by the Pakistani government on May 2.) In return for the Pakistani army withdrawing, the Taliban agreed to disarm, then promptly refused to do so. The accord followed the defeat in Swat last year of 12,000 government troops at the hands of some three thousand Taliban after bloody fighting, the blowing up of over one hundred girls' schools, heavy civilian casualties, and the mass exodus of one third of Swat's 1.5 million people. The Taliban swiftly imposed their brutal interpretation of sharia, which allowed for executions, floggings, and destruction of people's homes and girls' schools, as well as preventing women from leaving their homes and wiping out the families that had earlier resisted them.
Despite dire warnings by experts and Pakistan's increasingly vocal commentators in the press and elsewhere that the accord was a major capitulation to the militants and a terrible precedent that contradicted the rule of law as stipulated by the constitution, Zardari and the national parliament approved the deal on April 14 without even a debate. Within days the Taliban in Swat moved further, taking control of the local administration, police, and schools. On April 19 Sufi Mohammed, a radical leader who the government had released from prison in November 2008 and termed "a moderate" and whose son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, is now the leader of the Swat Taliban, said that democracy, the legal system of the country, and civil society should be disbanded since they were all "systems of infidels." Having won Swat, the Taliban made clear their intentions to overthrow the national government.
The Taliban in Swat quickly grew to more than eight thousand fighters, including hundreds of foreign and al-Qaeda militants, seasoned Pashtun fighters from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and extremist groups from Punjab and Karachi. They invited Osama bin Laden to come live in Swat. In fact al-Qaeda and the Taliban had targeted Swat three years earlier in their search for a safe, secure sanctuary that would be at a good distance from the Afghan border, with better facilities for an insurgency than FATA, as well as far away from the US drone missiles that have been falling on the tribal areas, killing Taliban leaders. Several top Taliban commanders from FATA have already moved to Swat. The valley also has income from lucrative emerald mines and timber businesses that the Taliban seized from their owners.
It was also obvious that having taken possession of Swat, the Taliban would expand beyond it; yet the army failed to deploy any troops in neighboring areas to deter them. On April 21 the Taliban moved into the adjoining districts of Buner, Shangla, and Dir, from which they threatened several key sites—Mardan, the second-largest city in the North-West Frontier Province; Nowshera, the army's major training center; several large dams; and the Islamabad–Peshawar highway. In Buner they were now just sixty miles from Islamabad.
Finally, on April 24, after much criticism from the Pakistani public, politicians, and Washington, the army began to attack Taliban positions in the three districts. Another 100,000 people fled the army advance. The original deal with the Taliban is now virtually dead since Swat has become the Taliban's main base and will also soon be attacked by the army.
What has shocked the world is not just the spread of the Taliban forces southward, but the lack of the government's will and commitment to oppose them and the army's lack of a counterinsurgency strategy. This disarray makes them all the more vulnerable in view of the apparent cohesiveness of the Taliban's tactics and strategy. Although the group has no single acknowledged leader, it has formed alliances with around forty different extremist groups, some of them with no previous direct connection to the Taliban. Moreover, the Afghan Taliban have become a model for the entire region. The Afghan Taliban of the 1990s have morphed into the Pakistani Taliban and the Central Asian Taliban and it may be only a question of time before we see the Indian Taliban.
Who are the Pakistani Taliban?
The US failure to destroy the al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban leadership in the 2001 war that liberated Afghanistan allowed both groups to take up safe residence in the tribal badlands of the Federal Administered Tribal Areas that form a buffer zone between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where some 4.5 million Pashtun tribesmen live. Other Afghan Taliban leaders sought sanctuary in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province. Their escape from Afghanistan and their move into FATA were aided by local Pakistani Pashtun tribesmen who had fought for the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s but had now become richer, more radicalized, and more heavily armed in the process of playing host to their guests.
The Pakistani military under former President Pervez Musharraf tried to hunt down al-Qaeda, but never touched the Afghan Taliban, whose regime the Pakistanis had supported in the 1990s and whose presence was now considered a good insurance policy for Pakistan in case the Americans were to leave Afghanistan. Both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and their Punjabi extremist allies were seen as potentially useful counters against India —both in any future struggle for the contested region of Kashmir and also to tame the growing Indian influence in Kabul. George W. Bush seems, at least, to have gone along with this Pakistani strategy, urging action against al-Qaeda but never pushing Pakistan to deal with the Taliban threat.
In Pakistan, the radicalized Pakistani Pashtun tribal leaders in FATA began to organize their own militias in 2003 and to draw up their own political agenda to "liberate" Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban had reconstituted their insurgency in Afghanistan, aided by their Pakistani Pashtun allies and the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which looked the other way as arms and men flowed into Afghanistan from FATA and Balochistan. Only after Taliban attacks on US forces in Afghanistan increased in the summer of 2004 did Washington force Musharraf to send troops into FATA and clear them out.
The Pakistani army, however, was promptly defeated and a vicious cycle ensued. After every setback, the army signed peace agreements with the Pakistani Taliban that allowed them to consolidate their grip on FATA. In 2007 the separate tribal militias, led by a variety of commanders, coalesced into the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Movement of the Pakistani Taliban, led by the charismatic thirty-four-year-old Baitullah Mehsud from the tribal area of South Waziristan. A close ally of both al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, he was later linked to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and to hundreds of suicide attacks in Pakistan.
At the same time, other separate but coordinated jihadi movements—some supported in part by radical madrasas funded by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries—sprang up. In the spring of 2007 radical mullahs took over the Red Mosque in Islamabad and announced their intention to impose sharia in the capital. The Musharraf government declined to intervene when the movement numbered hardly a dozen activists. Six months later, thousands of heavily armed militants including Pashtun Taliban, Kashmiris, and al-Qaeda fighters fought a three-day battle with the army in which a hundred people were killed. The extremist survivors vowed revenge and became the core of a new group sponsoring suicide bombings as they fled to FATA to join up with Baitullah Mehsud.
hree years earlier, in 2004, Maulana Fazlullah, the son-in-law of Sufi Muhamed, who was at the time an unknown former ski-lift operator and itinerant mullah, had set up an FM radio station in the Swat valley with a handful of supporters and begun broadcasting inflammatory threats both to local people and to the state of Pakistan. The Musharraf government never shut his station down. Fazlullah soon attracted the attention of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who poured in men and weapons to support him. By the time the Pakistani army finally went into Swat in November 2007, Fazlullah himself had an army and several radio stations.
In Punjab, extremist Punjabi groups who had been mobilized to fight in Indian Kashmir in the 1990s by the ISI found themselves at loose ends when Musharraf initiated talks with New Delhi and agreed to stop militant infiltration into Indian Kashmir. With no resettlement or rehabilitation programs in place, these Punjabi jihadi groups, who until then had only focused on Kashmir and India, split apart. Some went home, others rejoined madrasas, but thousands of them linked up with the Pakistani Taliban and were able to mount suicide attacks in Pakistani cities where the Taliban themselves had little access.
None of these groups could have survived if the military had carried out a serious counterterror strategy; but the Pakistani army never shut down any of them. Even though they were all openly opposing the Pakistani state, the army still considered them part of the front line against India and continued to stay in touch with them.
The News International - No. 1 English Newspaper from Pakistan - Saturday, December 30, 1899
^^ A good read. Pakistanis are finally getting disabused about the so called "special relationship" between the "Godless communists". The Chinese have been using them to contain India and will drop them like a used toilet paper once they are past their expiry date.
Good that at least some of them are coming to their senses finally.
Little time and few choices
Little time and few choices
By Irfan Husain
Saturday, 30 May, 2009 | 09:13 AM PST |
AS Lahore reels from the shock and horror of yet another vicious attack, Pakistan has to brace for more such violence from the likes of Baitullah Mehsud.
He and his fellow killers have repeatedly shown that they have no compunction in taking innocent (and usually Muslim) lives.
If any good can possibly come from such terrorist acts, it is to further unmask these murderers. For far too long, there has been unnecessary confusion about their means and goals. To a large extent, this ambiguity was caused by the army’s legitimisation of jihadi outfits. Used to further the establishment’s agenda in Kashmir, India and Afghanistan, they were allowed to recruit and raise funds openly. In many simple people’s minds, they were heroes.
But ever since Fazlullah and his father-in-law Sufi Mohammad were allowed to take over Swat, the country has been able to watch these thugs in action. Once allowed free rein in a peaceful, settled area, they have beheaded, flogged and slaughtered unarmed men and women. Many of these atrocities have been widely reported by the media. And as the flood of displaced people flees, many have recounted their tales of horror under the Taliban.
Earlier, many Pakistanis ascribed the actions of these killers to America’s ‘war on terror’, defending the Taliban by saying that they were reacting to western forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s support for this operation. Some of us have been roundly abused for arguing that the war against these extremists was, first and foremost, our own battle for survival.
Even today, there are voices that suggest that if western forces were to pull out of the region, things would somehow return to normal. They ignore the fact that even before 9/11 (an attack, let us not forget, that was planned and launched from Afghan soil), the situation was far from normal. A full-fledged civil war raged in Afghanistan in which Pakistan covertly supported the Taliban against the Northern Alliance. Jihadi outfits like the Jaish-i-Mohammad sent terrorists into Indian-held Kashmir. Within Pakistan, Sunni groups routinely targeted Shias.
Supporting this terror network were allegedly the ISI and the army. Even when Musharraf made his famous u-turn in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the establishment made a clear distinction between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Members of the former were scooped up and handed over to the Americans, while the latter were treated as distant relatives in distress. Rather than being seen as our enemies, they were viewed as potential allies who, while presently out of favour, could be useful again.
However, this policy of duplicity and ambiguity could not be sustained for long. As the Taliban sought to establish their control over large swathes of the tribal areas, our American allies began putting pressure on Musharraf to act against them. Reluctantly, the army launched a few half-hearted operations and suffered heavy losses. Emboldened by their success, militant groups ventured deeper into Pakistan, attempting to terrorise people into supporting them.
Soon after the 2008 elections, Swat was pushed to the brink. A panicky ANP government in the NWFP felt it had no military support and practically ceded Swat. And here the Taliban made a cardinal error. Instead of offering the people of Swat a decent government that could have served as a model and attracted others, they went on a rampage and confirmed our worst suspicions about their intentions and their capability.
But their incompetence and their cruelty should have come as no surprise. After all, Taliban rule in Afghanistan hardly created a heaven on earth. Even the slightly less repressive Islamic government that ruled the Frontier province for five years brought little peace or prosperity. In their longing for the perfect ‘Islamic’ government, people often forget that the fundamentalists who make up these parties and groups are barely literate, and have no understanding of the modern world. To expect them to master the intricacies of administration and economics is to expect the impossible.
And yet it would be a huge mistake to assume that this yearning for the perfect Islamic model has no rational basis. Crushed by poverty, millions of Muslims around the world heed the siren call of the mythical golden era of early Islam. Secular and Islamic governments in many Muslim countries are notoriously corrupt and repressive. By neglecting the most basic elements of decent governance, despotic kings, generals and politicians have alienated their own people and pushed them into the arms of extremist groups.
As the recent suicide attack in Lahore shows, our cities cannot be defended against such acts of terrorism. If the police headquarters and the ISI office cannot be guarded, how can our citizens expect protection? Clearly, Baitullah Mehsud does not expect to pay a price for his repeated strikes against ordinary Pakistanis. But why is he not being targeted by our commandos? Why can’t our highly trained Special Services Group go after him? Until the leaders of these terror groups feel the heat, they will go on launching their audacious attacks with impunity.
Even when extremists are arrested, they languish in jail for a while before being released. In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan arrested several Jamaatud Dawa activists after an initial period of denial. Having acted under huge international pressure, Pakistan has done little to take the process to its logical conclusion. Apart from arousing Indian suspicions about our intentions, we also reassure these extremists that no action will be taken against them.
It all comes down to political will. And this is linked closely to the kind of state we wish to become. Do we see our future as a country perpetually teetering on the brink, wracked by endless extremist terror and economic crises? Or do we wish to join the rest of the world as a modern, prosperous nation? The choice is still ours to make, but unless we act swiftly, the likes of Baitullah Mehsud will snatch it from us.
DAWN.COM | Columnists | Little time and few choices
DAWN.COM | Columnists | Innocent until proven guilty?
A good read. I think he is one of the best writers from the subcontinent.
What pakistanis think
WHAT PAKISTANIS THINK
- Pakistan’s opinion is divided on all questions facing it
Writing on the wall - Ashok V. Desai
The International Republican Institute is located on Washington’s Eye Street; presumably it is an NGO sympathetic to the Republican cause. It commissioned an opinion survey in Pakistan; 3500 adults were interviewed in their homes and places of work in March. First, localities were randomly selected. Then a household in each locality was chosen. After it was covered, the interviewer came out of the house, turned right and chose every third house every time until the sample size was reached. The sample was 33 per cent urban, 27 per cent illiterate, and 13 per cent graduate; of the respondents, 46 per cent spoke Punjabi, 14 per cent Sindhi, 13 per cent Urdu, 8 per cent Seraiki and 4 per cent Hindko. Urdu-speaking Muhajirs, who live mostly in Sind, were thus almost as numerous as indigenous Sindhis. Seraiki is spoken on the border of Sind and Punjab, and Hindko in Peshawar.
What struck me was the way Pakistani public opinion has changed since March 2007. Till then, Pakistanis were evenly divided: 43-44 per cent thought that Pakistan was doing all right, and about the same number thought that it was going the wrong way. But three months later, 59 per cent thought Pakistan was headed the wrong way. There was a parallel change of opinion on the Pakistani government: in February 2007, 61 per cent approved of its performance, and 34 per cent disapproved. From June 2007, a majority turned against the government; in March 2009, 79 per cent were against it. What was it that triggered the radical change in expectations? The turning point was Musharraf’s dismissal of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry as Chief Justice on March 9, 2007. That event was Pakistan’s equivalent of what for us was Indira Gandhi’s declaration of emergency on June 26, 1975.
The proportion of optimists rose briefly after Musharraf made a compromise with Benazir Bhutto, let her return to Pakistan, and submitted himself to a presidential election in October 2007. But the spring did not last. The proportion of pessimists rose to 70 per cent by early 2008, and never fell below that number; in the latest survey, it was 81 per cent.
There was another remarkable change in 2007. Till February of that year, a third of Pakistanis said every quarter that their economic situation had improved, another third said it had worsened, and the remaining third said it had remained about the same. But by September 2007, the proportion of those who said they were doing worse than before went up to 56 per cent. It never fell below a half after that. It was therefore not just Musharraf’s shock treatment that made Pakistanis feel worse; they actually became worse off.
Their condition worsened because of inflation. From 8-10 per cent year-on-year in September 2007, inflation went up to 23-30 per cent a year later. A poor wheat crop coincided with the spike in oil prices. An adverse balance of payments made it impossible for the government to import wheat; and the money spent by foreign powers on the war they were fighting in Afghanistan created demand that spilled over in Pakistan. Pakistan banned foodgrain exports to Afghanistan, but the ban was evaded.
The inflation was worsened by two factors. The government gave subsidies on wheat and oil products, and as a result ran a huge fiscal deficit. The fiscal deficit could not spill into the balance of payments because the government was short of foreign exchange. The year 2007 for Pakistan was like 1990 for India. It had a raging payments crisis, and had run out of policy options.
So even as late as in March 2009, the greatest worry of Pakistanis was about inflation; 46 per cent termed it the most important issue. The next most important issue, mentioned by 22 per cent, was unemployment; the third, mentioned by 10 per cent, was terrorism.
More than 60 per cent throughout the two years regarded religious extremism a serious issue; 20-25 per cent regarded it as unimportant. But people differed on what they meant by religious extremism; the proportion of people who regarded Taliban and al Qaida a problem was always 5-10 per cent lower. Supporters of the army campaign against terrorists in the northwest were always in a minority, although by March 2009 their proportion had risen to 45 per cent, as against 52 per cent opponents. Only 24 per cent supported Americans making incursions into Pakistan in pursuit of terrorists. In September 2006, roughly the same number were for and against Pakistan cooperating with the United States of America in the war against terror. The proportion of supporters fell steadily to 9 per cent in January 2008. Since then, it has risen to 37 per cent, but still, 61 per cent were against in March 2009. And throughout, a majority supported a compromise with the terrorists — 72 per cent in March 2009. Eighty per cent supported the deal the government made with the terrorists in Swat; and 56 per cent said that if the Taliban asked for application of Sharia in other places, the government should agree. Strangely, although Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif are the most popular politicians and although their Pakistan Muslim League is the most popular party in Punjab and Northwest Frontier Province, if religious parties formed an alliance, they would win an election hands down.
An overwhelming 78 per cent refused to believe that the terrorist attacks in Bombay were made by Lashkar-e-Toiba; 42 per cent said the attacks were organized by India itself, and 20 per cent suspected Americans. But 50 per cent said that the use by terrorist organizations of Pakistan as a base to attack India from was a serious problem; another 29 per cent thought it was a problem. A third hated India; another 19 per cent had a somewhat unfavourable opinion of India. But surprisingly, 45 per cent had a favourable opinion.
The IRI survey bears out our preconceptions about Pakistanis as religious zealots and India-haters. But that is only if we look at the majority. What I find remarkable is the pronounced division of opinion on all questions facing Pakistan. This is why I think that the naively negative policy that Manmohan Singh has followed on Pakistan has reached the end of the road, and that a more nuanced policy is worth trying. Opening the border to greater trade can do no harm; a billion dollars or two of aid for spending on Indian goods may create a bit of goodwill. There are 14 or 18 crore Pakistanis over there (no one knows since there has been no census for decades); it is worth making a few friends out of them. And we do not have to depend on Research and Analysis Wing to find potential friends; the Pakistani press is a serviceable mirror of the Pakistani society. What would help us greatly is if a few million Indians learnt Urdu and started reading Pakistani newspapers. That would give Pakistan a new source of export earnings, and us a valuable source of information on the country. We should even give some Pakistanis asylum once in a while when they get into trouble at home; who knows, they may rise to power one day.
Separate names with a comma.