Changing perceptions and altered realities

September 23, 2021

Through which lens should Pakistan be looking at the world? At this juncture in our history, foreign policy, diplomatic relations and our ability to put forward our own viewpoint, as regional...

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Through which lens should Pakistan be looking at the world? At this juncture in our history, foreign policy, diplomatic relations and our ability to put forward our own viewpoint, as regional matters develop quickly, have become imperative.

But can we do this effectively if there is still a misunderstanding, a notion or true understanding that Pakistan is, in one way or the other, a supporter of the Taliban, or at least sympathetic to them?

Meanwhile, the offers of amnesty, made first by the president of Pakistan and then more directly by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, have been turned down rather stringently by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which have said that it wishes to turn Pakistan into an Islamic emirate. This obviously delivers a blow to the government, which had apparently tried to reach out to the militants, following the Afghan Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

The real question is: what does Pakistan want to do? What is its policy? And how does it want to be seen by the world or look out at the world, which it needs for its own interests, its own economy and its own welfare? No nation can live in isolation, and certainly Pakistan’s increasing isolation has not helped it economically or politically.

For many years, Pakistan had been seen as a country which harboured militants, and indeed, this is a point that was raised by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in its decision to retain Pakistan on the grey list. Pakistan has been able to remove that objection from the FATF list, but doubts and conjecture still remain.

Pakistan is doing little to help. Talk of amnesty to the TTP is not encouraging, and then we have scenes played out over social media of Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz shouting at some rather frightened looking young policeman after they tried to remove the Afghan Taliban’s distinct white flag from Jamia Hafsa, the madrassah which educates girls and young women. Maulana Abdul Aziz firmly told the policemen to give up their current jobs and take up a course which had real meaning and purpose.

While a majority of people may be divided on this, there are many – even in influential places – who believe that there is a ‘good’ element within the Taliban, as well as possibly the ‘bad Taliban’. This attempt to divide the group has for years placed us in a confused position.

It would be difficult to ask foreign individuals or groups to visit the country when they believe their lives and welfare could be at risk. Pakistan has to change its image. The question is how to go about this.

The 2002 murder of journalist Daniel Pearl is still to be fully unravelled. This has been taken up by the Western media. Daniel Pearl did not deserve to die. The fact that this happened in Pakistan is something the country must take seriously.

There are also other events we must think of notably after the Afghan Taliban takeover. Pakistan and Pakistanis should note the name of Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Our main question then is: are we to be a modern, progressive country which can accept a diversity of views and move forward on this basis? Or are we to try and throw ourselves back into an age which ended a long time ago, insisting that we are better Muslims than the Turks who allow all kinds of liberty in their country and, at the same time, host some of the most sacred holy places for Muslims in the world?

This culture varies widely across countries and across regions. It is the culture of the region which most impacts the way in which people live rather than religion itself, although it helps form culture. In Pakistan, our serious attempt to try and adopt Arabic phrases and words as part of our everyday language is, to say the least, peculiar. There are perfectly reasonable Urdu or Punjabi or Sindhi words for the phrases we use. Yet even traditional words have been altered.

And when we talk about an amnesty for the TTP, we also need to think about the other groups that exist and continue to function. Indeed, the TTP is no longer a single entity, but one split into many different factions with slight differences in ideology and perspective.

It is the government which needs to tackle these issues and determine what it sees as the best solution for people and as the best solution to turn Pakistan into a country which the world sees as the one it can deal with, and which is safe for its visitors and safe as an ally in a broader global struggle.

The US has made clear that it is not pleased with its former ally and has doubts about its role in Afghanistan. We cannot say if any of these doubts is based on reality. But certainly, Pakistan has many militants on its soil, and these persons and groups need to be dealt with if we are to gain any kind of peace. The efforts made over the past many years to negotiate peace deals with them failed miserably. Some politicians have already pointed this out.

But we need to devise our own strategy sensibly and consider why we cannot adopt policies similar to that of other Muslim countries that have moved forward into a far more progressive phase while we remain locked behind a state of confusion and uncertainty over our policies. And how to tackle the militancy which continues to take its toll on security personnel on our soil, as well as others with an increase in militancy seen since the political change in Afghanistan.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.


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