The Pakistan conundrum

March 25, 2008

Helicopters fly past portrait of Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali JinnahWhen it comes to Pakistan, sometimes you want to be told what is going on; sometimes you want to stop and think for yourself.  But rarely is there a middle ground. Here are three very different pieces for those who are interested in this conundrum.

In an op-ed in Dawn Cyril Almeida tackles the perennial question of how far Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) controls the Islamist militants who helped end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, fought against Indian rule in Kashmir in the 1990s and this century turned first against the United States in 9/11 and then against Pakistan itself in a wave of suicide bombings.

“The evolution of Afghan jihadists of the 1980s to today’s suicide bombers via the Kashmir insurgency and the Taliban regime is an open secret and few question the role of the intelligence apparatus in nurturing that progression,” he writes. “Today, the problem is that neither the civilian elite nor the general public is convinced that suicide bombers are no longer under the control of intelligence ‘handlers’ who have guided the activities of militants for over two decades now.”

His editorial calls, perhaps paradoxically, for a new approach to militancy which is both nuanced and decisive. “Whatever course of action the incoming government takes will be fraught with difficulties. The key though is to act decisively. If the incoming government dithers, the coming crisis will almost make people yearn for the simpler days of a tussle between the presidency and the judiciary.”

File photo of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali BhuttoOn another subject, here is an article I came across on a website called n+1 defending the legacy of President Pervez Musharraf. It credits him with creating the conditions for a working democracy in 2008 that did not exist when he seized power in 1999. After a day in which he swore in a new prime minister from the late Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, and watched Pakistan’s new civilian leadership courted by the same U.S. officials he counted as allies, the article makes interesting reading, running against the tide of his current unpopularity. ”It is entirely fitting that the very conditions that Musharraf has attempted to create to make true democracy possible in Pakistan should provide the force that may remove him from office when he starts to behave autocratically,” it says.

Finally, I noticed a blog by a Pakistani called Ahson Saeed Hasan, who blames Pakistan’s current problems on the Islamist policies of former military ruler Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. Unlike the other two posts, his entry is personal rather than dispassionate. “A few days back a close friend raised an obnoxiously intriguing question,” he writes. “Why is it that a good number of folks from my generation who grew up during General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule are so severely antagonistic and aggressive when it comes to a conversation that is inclined towards Islam being a religion of peace?”

Can someone find a coherent narrative here which draws these different threads together? Or are they all reflections of a country which more than 60 years after its creation has yet to settle on a clear identity?


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