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July 15, 2008

Why we are losing the war against terror


July 15, 2008

Pakistan's immense military power, the stunning intellect of its bureaucrats and the long tradition of accommodation and pragmatism among its politicians have all got together, but still can't put humpty dumpty back together again. This humpty dumpty of sporadic, but increasingly fortified violence from a global gang of cavemen has fallen off the Durand 'Wall' into Pakistan and all over the NWFP. Yet Pakistan seems unable to resist and control its influence.

Let's remember what Pakistan we're talking about, because it is too easy, and too convenient to get caught up in the collective rage against Gen. Zia's twisted abuse of this country and its resources (so brilliantly tapped by Mohammed Hanif in his debut novel, A Case of Exploding Mangoes). It is important then to remember however that this is Hanif's Pakistan, not Zia's. Important to remember that its 2008, not 1978.

This is the Pakistan that Wonderbanker and Superminister Shaukat Aziz promised was on the verge of middle-income status. The Pakistan whose soft image was the pride of expats watching You Tube clips of our Philosopher-Warrior-King having tea with Jon Stewart. The post-mullah Pakistan shaped by Tariq Amin and Frieha Altaf. The post-mullet home of South Asian musical ingenuity. This is not Mehtab Rashdi's Pakistan, its Meera's. This is not Justice Anwar-ul-Haq's Pakistan. It is Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's.

How could THIS Pakistan be so singularly incompetent in dealing with the virus of cavemen whose mantra is neither Islamic, nor tribal? Beheading journalists, blowing up in the middle of markets, and inciting young children to a black-hole life? This appetite for mayhem and destruction would be unrecognizable to Maudoodi, to Hassan Al Banna, even, dare I say, to Sayyid Qutub – whose own rage was tremendous, but whose mastery over Quranic text would have made it impossible for him to endorse the barbarianism and insanity of a terror that is now well into its second year –

with only a four month period around the elections as a respite.

The reason Pakistan is finding it difficult to counter the terror is because whereas the terrorists have money, and leadership and ideology, Pakistanis have none of the above. Shaukat Aziz's Pakistan has no money, Musharraf's Pakistan has no leadership and Meera's Pakistan has no ideology.

Pakistan has no money because all its money gets spent paying rich people to get richer. This money comes in many forms, including tax breaks, farm subsidies, utility subsidies, jobs in government, and umra trips (where the rich get richer by asking God and the Saudi government for more subsidies). The wealthy capitalists then take these divine, Saudi and Islamabadi subsidies and put the fruits of these subsidies in baskets far from the reach of investigative journalists, and the State Bank of Pakistan. The money Shaukat Aziz kept talking about was real only for those who were making it. For the rest of Pakistan, that phantom money is sitting in Dubai, making a pittance of a return – but safe from the evil eye that is such a common Pakistani affliction.

Pakistan has no leadership because Shaheed Benazir Bhutto was murdered, because Nawaz Sharif's comeback is predicated on principles, and because the cult of personality and the power of money continue to be the primary variables that define political association. The all corrupting influence of minions and section officers from foreign governments on the political equilibrium is overstated – but it mustn't be ignored. Pakistan's politicians are a unique bunch, unlike any other on the planet. They have to provide jobs, freedom and justice to their village or city constituents, and then to top that off they have to provide existential comforts to voters across Europe and North America about the shared values they cherish with politicians half a world away. No other country's politicians are asked to do as much. If there is frequent failure on both fronts, perhaps this is less a failing of the politicians and more of the combined force of their local and global constituency.

Pakistan has no ideology because after 9/11 the one it had adopted became unfashionable. What burning ideals are Pakistani soldiers and bureaucrats being asked to defend? Not Islam, because the terrorists, the friendly tribals, the troops and the political agents and bureaucrats all share the same faith. Not freedom, because everybody's fighting to defend freedom. The terrorists, the troops, NATO, ISAF, the Northern Alliance Afghans, the Pakhtun Afghans, the Frontier Constabulary – EVERYONE is fighting for SOMEONE'S freedom.

The tragedy of this ideological black hole that Pakistan finds itself in, is that those that bark loudest, are heard most frequently. Distancing the average Pakistani from terrorism is a project that should never have been undertaken to begin with. The idea that Muslims are terrorists, or that Pakistanis are terrorists, is so awful, and so far from any notion of reality, that it never deserved to have been validated by countering it. It's like stooping to the level of the name-caller. Automatically, you lend some credibility to otherwise completely outrageous fallacies.

Instead, not only did Pakistan undertake a formal programme of activities to counter it, but it made the suicidal mistake of doing so without being fully equipped for the journey. If Tariq Ramadan challenges Yusuf Al-Qardawi and the Maudoodi-dominated global Islamic orthodoxy today, he does so with an arsenal of credibility and knowledge that makes it difficult to demonize him. When a Pakistani soldier (even one with substantial intellectual gifts) takes on the mantle of religious scholarship, and begins to write op-eds for the Washington Post about what needs fixing in Islam--even his most passionate supporters cringe. Enlightened moderation has become a national and international punch line. In the West and in the Islamic World, Pakistanis are taken less seriously as members of either side of the divide because of this poorly conceived and half-baked idea. It is an embarrassment to intelligent and modern Muslim Pakistanis, and a severe setback for progressive Pakistanis who want religion to be a less obvious and vocal element of public life in the country.

The anti-mullah rage felt by those who grew up during Zia's era is now being reciprocated and remanufactured among confused children – angry about not knowing who they are, and easily lured by the twisted messages coming from the loudspeakers. LUMS and IBA are churning out future Shaukat Aziz's – every successful Pakistani banker at Citi thinks he or she has a shot at becoming a minister. But where are the religious scholars coming from? They are coming from madressahs where malnutrition and tunnel vision are the two staple items on the menu. The one place where some modicum of quality discourse about Islam did exist, the International Islamic University of Islamabad, has been handed to bureaucrats, to appease ill-informed phobias of beards and hijabs.

Not having money, leadership or ideology should be a matter of grave concern for Pakistanis. No matter how well intentioned and principled some of Pakistan's politicians and bureaucrats may be, fixing the economy, healing the constitution, judiciary and political system, and renewing a functional, and postmodern ideology for Pakistan is an intergenerational effort. It has taken sixty years to dismantle the cancerous (but highly effective) apparatus bequeathed to this country by the British Raj. It will take several years to build it anew. FATA and NWFP do not have sixty years to spare. But they cannot afford a restoration of that cancerous apparatus, either.

The trouble with not having money, leadership or ideology is that it is disabling not only for fighting the war on terror – but really anything a country wants to do. The state cannot be whole without these three ingredients. Pakistan is losing the war on terror because it is not a war of equals. It is a war between organized, well-financed and motivated cavemen, and a disorganized, broke, and confused state. In short, a state lacking competence. Only a competent and effective state can fight this war successfully.

The writer is an independent political economist. Email: mosharraf

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