Barbarism and a desensitised leadership
By Shireen M Mazari
Despite our shock-weariness, the past week has been a traumatic one for Pakistan. In a curtain-raiser to the visit of members of the MPH (Mullen, Petreaus and Holbrooke) team, Pakistan has been ripped asunder with acts of terrorism and barbarity – across the land. Following from the horrors of Manawan, we saw the almost helpless personnel of the Frontier Constabulary targeted in Islamabad, US drones killing more women and children in FATA and the gruesome spectre of sectarian terrorism raising its head once again with an attack in Chakwal.
As if all that was not enough, we were confronted with the abhorrent video of the flogging of a teenage girl in Swat. Tragically, the whole debate seems to have been reduced to the timing of the event – as if that makes the crime, for that is what it is even under the Shariah laws of this country, any less horrific – and to the authenticity or otherwise of the video itself. The fact of the matter is that regardless of these issues, such inhuman acts against women have been taking place across the land, not only at the hands of the Taliban.
Which brings up the real issue – that is, of the state showing tolerance for such brutalities against women. Apart from the Taliban, many others are guilty of such barbarism in Pakistan. We have seen the tribal leaders of Balochistan and the feudals of Sindh and Punjab, as well as the elite of the Frontier, conduct equally horrendous brutalities, and only the lack of a video prevented us from literally hearing the screams of the hapless women and girl victims, either buried alive or killed by dogs or shot by their own parents – to name just a few of the ways women are abused in this country, because the state is unable to show zero tolerance.
On the contrary, male politicians from across party lines defend such crimes on grounds of tradition and "culture," while the Taliban use a distortion of religion to defend the indefensible. Can one forget the so-called secular ANP refusing to raise its voice against honour killings because of "tradition" a few years back? Now, once again, we have seen the cowardly position taken by the ANP's provincial minister of information, Iftikhar Hussain, in targeting a dedicated Samar Minallah, instead of those who may actually be guilty of taking the law into their own hands in the now apparently sub judice case of the flogging incident. Of course, the fact that President Zardari is still sitting on the Adl Ordinance means that there is no clarity of actual law prevailing in Swat and Malakand, but then who will get the president to behave in a rational fashion – one way or another?
Unless the state shows zero tolerance for crimes against women – there are ample laws existing in Pakistan protecting women – and effectively exercises its writ, all elements of barbarism under many guises will violate women at will. We, as citizens, are also guilty of a selective approach to dealing with crimes against women. After all, the elite's and human-rights activists' consciences awaken to the barbarity of the Taliban but remain muted in so many other cases – after an initial hue and cry. That is why the present government has been able to have as cabinet members those who have been identified as perpetrators of abuse and violence against women no less repugnant than the flogging of the young teenager in Swat. And what of the physical and mental abuse of Dr Aafia from the time of her arrest to her surfacing in New York? Under what law and which state's political jurisdiction was she violated and remains incarcerated? And what of the elite businessman who shot his daughter in Asma Jehangir's office in Lahore? Either we show zero tolerance for all crimes against all women or we will continue to lose space to the extremists – be they religious, feudal, tribal or urban elitist.
In the present context the issue is not one of supporting or opposing the Taliban. The issue is one of establishing the writ of the state while negotiating peace deals. Unfortunately, the writ of the state is nowhere to be seen because the rulers seem scantly interested. They travel across the globe but will not visit the tribal belt or Swat or any other area where there is a need to show the presence of the state. Instead, in the increasingly windowless ivory towers of Islamabad, they negotiate dangerous deals with the US which has its own negative agenda towards Pakistan.
Obama's declarations that he is not at war with Islam may be correct in form but he is certainly at war with Muslims in this part of the world; and the new NATO chief, ex-Danish prime minister Rasmussen, has only now discovered his tolerant side towards Muslims, while earlier he defended the blasphemous cartoons despite Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Apart from the detrimental and intrusive US agenda for Pakistan, the reason why it is critical for us to create space between ourselves and the US is to alter the environment in our favour in which we have to tackle our issues of extremism and militancy. Let us also recall that the US in Vietnam destabilised three countries – Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. It was only when the US fled Vietnam that the region stabilised. For Pakistan the US threat is even more acute because the growing spate of terrorism will move the US one step closer to seeking control of our nuclear assets.
Of course, if we do this distancing from the US, claim our airbases back and stop acting as a conduit for NATO military supplies, there will be no immediate halt to militancy and extremism. But, and this is the crucial point, the situation on the ground will alter in the state's favour, creating a more enabling operational environment in which to deal with extremism and the militancy that it is breeding.
There are many fronts on which this problem has to be resolved. A beginning has to be made with exerting the writ of the state, including through dialogue and negotiations. All forces that are prepared to vie for the hearts and minds of Pakistanis through the legitimate political process cannot and should not be denied space. Now that the army has opened up FATA, with all its pros and cons, it is time to bring FATA into the mainstream through the removal of the colonial Frontier Crimes Regulations and the implementation of the Political Parties Act.
A beginning that needs to be made immediately is to deny space to future militant/terrorist recruits by isolating the diehard criminal and militant elements from the vulnerable segments of society. Who are these vulnerable elements? The poverty stricken who inhabit our madressahs – the sleepers for future militancy unless they are weaned away. The suicide bomber of Pakistan, from the available data, ranges in age between 15 and 26 years and is not well-versed in any ideological commitment but is brainwashed, or simply purchased from his family, as happened in the Bhakkar case. So the focus has to be on the madressahs and a new approach has to be tried, rather than the old one of trying to register them and introduce some mainstream teaching.
Just the sheer numbers of madressahs/students (e.g. ,218/25,395 in Rahimyar Khan; 185/20,780 in Dera Ghani Khan; 105/8,502 in Rajanpur) show the enormity of the task ahead – even though not all the madressahs are "jihadi" in type, according to a detailed ground survey I conducted through a local field worker in three districts of southern Punjab: Dera Ghazi Khan, Rahimyar Khan and Rajanpur. But the background of poverty is rampant and even non-jihadi madressahs can in future produce militants.
Three issues need to be tackled in relation to madressahs: the educational aspect; the mainstreaming of the marginalised students; the funding issue, since revealed sources of funding include identified foreign funding which needs to be controlled and made transparent. Solutions have to be found from our own resources recognising the financial paucity of the state. Keeping all this in mind, a start can be made by our private, semi-autonomous sector, educational trusts and so on adopting or taking over different madressahs – especially those in the area of their operations. This will provide normal education to the children, plus religious education (as happens in religious schools abroad), healthier physical environment, including better food, and more transparent supervision of funding. While religious examinations can be those set by the different sects' madrasa boards, the state should back this Pakistani private sector madrasa "adoption" plan through legislation and enforcement so that they can be brought effectively in line with normal schools while not detracting from their legitimate religious education. Such a plan costs the state nothing in money terms and involves the nation as a whole in looking after the marginalised youth. Linked to this should be a job employment scheme again involving the private sector with tax benefits.
Undoubtedly, vested interests will object to such a scheme but at the micro level, small local madressahs, and there are many in these three districts with 50 or less students, could be persuaded individually. Tackling the madressahs and their poverty-ridden students has to be central to any indigenous strategy to deal with militancy in the immediate and long term. Sheer killing through military action, both US and local, is only aggravating the problem as we are seeing in Pakistan.
The writer is a defence analyst. Email: [email protected]