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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The answer to most conundrums in the middle east conflicts are “wink wink” stated agendas…follows the money.

Posted by bob | Report as abusive

There is only one solution to peace in South Asia: Pakistan must stop funding and training Islamic radicals in India to carry out terrorist attacks. Pakistan was founded on the basis that Muslims can not live in India peacefully with their Hindu neighbors. The very existence of India therefore shakes its foundations. Rather than being jealous of India, Pakistan should embrace it as its elder brother and live in harmony with it.

Posted by barry kumar | Report as abusive

Of course Pakistan is neither in the middle east nor is its policy with India responsible for its current situation.

Posted by geography | Report as abusive

what makes india the ’elder’ brother…? nothing..india has its own agenda and peace with pakistan is not one of them..since 1947…who else are they arming themselves against..the chinese…?

Posted by asad | Report as abusive

I think Musharraf is probably the best presidents Pakistan will have. He tried hard to operate in that God forsaken place. I’m not sure if even the Pakis understand the mayhem and mischief that the ISI has created. If M goes, Pak can be sure to descend into a permanent chaos, if it is not already. That country and the saner elements should realize the extreme danger the radical element of islam represents.

Posted by Joyce | Report as abusive

Pakistan was formed on the sole basis of religion. That religion is the only way, Pakistan can come out of this conundrum. There are only 2 nations in the world, who were formed on the basis of religion Pakistan and Isreal. Isreal is pampered by USA , but Pakistan is used and abused by everyone. Pakistan needs to see the light that it is not situated in the middle east, and who it considers as friends in middle eastern dictatorships and China, are actually, just out there to use it against India. Pakistan needs to stop external forces operating and literally running the country. Long live India, long live Pakistan.

Posted by SK | Report as abusive