May 25, 2006Print : Opinion
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor
The accusations coming recently from across Pakistan's western border are neither new nor particularly surprising. In the wake of renewed attacks by the Taliban, which have left at least 100 dead in Afghanistan's southern and eastern provinces -- a traditional Taliban stronghold -- Kabul has openly accused Pakistan of involvement in the attacks, or at least of failing to act against Taliban leaders that it claims are based in Pakistan and are organising the wave of attacks.
Such accusations have been used by the beleaguered Kabul government to ease some of the pressure from themselves. There can be little doubt that the failure of the US-backed regime to dent the unrelenting cycle of poverty in Afghanistan and strategies that have acted to penalise the poor farmers who grow poppy, rather than the drug cartels which run the opium trade, have acted to swiftly erode the support of the Karzai government. Its failures have also been cleverly exploited by the Taliban and their advisors, as have the ethnic tensions that have plagued successive Afghan rulers for the past many decades.
It is also true that by turning down Pakistan's requests to fence the Durand Line, Kabul has made it easier for the inevitable cross-border movement that takes places along the rugged terrain of the north to continue. Indeed, this movement is almost impossible to stop until the frontier is sealed and the long-standing dispute over the line dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan brought to an end.
But whereas the Pakistani government has reason to feel somewhat aggrieved by Kabul's unreserved finger pointing and its tirades against Islamabad, there are aspects to the issue that need to be more carefully considered. At least some, presumably more rational voices based in the US have hinted in the form of reports from major think tanks that the possibility of resurgent support for the Taliban from elements within Pakistan cannot be ruled out. After all, the Taliban and the brutal strategies they put into play were a creation of forces within Pakistan -- aiming to expand their own control over the Afghan territory. It is argued that some at powerful places within Pakistan may still be clinging on to this dream of domination over Afghanistan through the Taliban, and are reluctant to abandon the idea.
Other analysts in the past have insisted that Pakistan is somehow engaged in protecting extremists, perhaps due to past loyalties, because it sees a future where such elements could again play some role. These perceptions may, or may not, be true. But there can be little doubt that Pakistan has done too little to eliminate the destructive extremism now deeply rooted within society, and which has acted to create new frictions and new tensions.
There are many manifestations of the ugly, new society that has emerged over the past two or three decades. In Sargodha, a young Christian mechanic was beaten to a pulp by Muslim co-workers attempting to pressurise him to convert. At a Lahore office, staff threatened to resign rather than eat food served by a Christian peon, at a school in Lahore, a young girl was ostracised by classmates because she was a non-Muslim. The examples of such discrimination, and indeed of a violent hatred for those not belonging to the majority religion, are almost endless and seem to multiply by the day.
The reasons for this are rooted in government policies that have permitted seminary schools to continue to function and expand; in policies that allow institutions such as the International Islamic University, imparting hardline interpretations of many religious doctrines, to function freely. And in measures that, in contrast, prevented liberal institutions of higher learning, such as the Khaldunia University envisaged by the late Eqbal Ahmed, from being set up. The contents of the educational curriculum, the limitations placed through the design of syllabuses on creative thought or open discussion and the continued circulation of hatred at mosques, in many segments of the press and at public rallies have all played a part in the setting up of this environment of extremism. Laws against the spread of hatred have rarely been used to reign in those guilty of preaching violence. Extremism or at least a strict orthodoxy of thought has also infiltrated the armed forces – and remains visible today in many of the publications produced by these institutions. Further evidence has come in the expressions of concern about extremism within the air force.
There can also be little doubt that, more recently, efforts have been made to control this growing tide. But, despite these, a great deal else still needs to be done. There is talk of dangerous plans being thought out -- such as using religious extremists, tied into a liaison with Pushtoon ethnic groups, against Baloch militants. It can only be hoped this is a mere figment of imagination -- and has no basis in reality.
Other realities though have existed. The fact that Pakistan has interfered again and again in Afghanistan's affairs over the past many decades, play into the perception that it is guilty of doing so once more. Even US and British soldiers posted in a country that has for too many years known only chaos, appear to be convinced by the arguments of Kabul leaders that Pakistan is somehow involved in fuelling the latest fighting.
These accusations Pakistan can best prove untrue not through vehement denials but by altering the perceptions that exist globally about its role in fostering extremism. It can achieve this only by making a genuine effort, on various fronts, to eradicate extremism from all the places where it exists within the country today. The goal will be realised by setting in place policies that can help ensure the tide of hatred sweeping the country recedes over the coming decades rather than completely swamping what remains of a society known over many centuries for its ability to incorporate new cultures and traditions, without displaying the ugly intolerance that has greatly tarnished Pakistan's image across the world in the last few decades.
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