27 March 2007

"Frontline Pakistan: the struggle with militant Islam" by Zahid Hussain

Zahid Hussain touches on an important topic: Pakistan’s ongoing and impending war with its own self and the tough choices ahead of President Musharraf.

The support from Public Opinion in Pakistan for terrorism as a tool to further beloved causes is worrying. The ease with which sundry pet agendas could be converted into beloved causes is twice worrying.

In order to contain global terrorism emanating from Pakistan or having a safe haven in Pakistan two things need to be done:

(a) Public opinion will have to undergo a change in Pakistan. Public opinion is useful only when it derives from the "wisdom of the crowd". This benefit would not arise unless opposing thoughts and beliefs can “co-exist peacefully”. Good leaders “discredit” public opinion if it denies room for such peaceful co-existence. Mahtma Gandhi did. Bad leaders, on the other hand, whip up public opinioin to radically extreme positions using intolerance. Adolf Hitler did. Military rulers in Pakistan are guilty of whipping up public opinion to take a self righteous radical form that destroys opposing thoughts, reasons and emotions.

(b) Defending one’s religion is one’s right. Giving one’s life for one’s religion, one’s country or one’s society is a noble deed. This is true for Americans dying for the Flag and Muslims dying for their holy causes. However, immature leadership is quick to provide its pet agenda a higher purpose to merit the label of a "noble cause". In Pakistan this seems to be too easy. Military, whether in rule or not, has used religious leadership to provide the “emotional ammunition” to enlist support for every thing including a proxy fight against Soviet Union on behalf of USA, a proxy fight against the perceived foreign policy of USA, a proxy fight against one faction of freedom fighters in Afghanistan in favour of another, a proxy fight on behalf of Pakistan’s army itself in various engagements in/with India.

As a result, the postal address for global terrorism is somewhere within Pakistan.

President Musharraf is now forced to:
(a) appear to the outside World to be firm in dealing with relgion based terrorism and
(b) appear to Pakistanis to not succumb to international pressure

Quite a funambulation even for the skillful Musharraf. Musharraf does appear sincere in attempting to weed out terrorism; but does not appear sincere in having a go at modifying public opinion in Pakistan. His challenges in doing so cannot be underestimated.

Zahid Hussain is the Pakistani correspondent of The Times, The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. His dispassionate insightful analysis of Pakistan’s struggle with militant Islam is excellent. As with most books about Pakistan, there is excellent analysis of the present but no thought from anyone in Pakistan on how to solve the problem. The absence of an alternative thought or the unwillingness of such thought to express itself is hardly Zahid Hussain’s fault.

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