Monday, August 2, 2010

PAKISTAN'S SLIDE INTO EXTREMISM IS REAL AND DANGEROUS

The Pew Global Attitudes Project report about Pakistan is the latest in a string of quick and unexpected developments that have confirmed what was widely known about Pakistan's tryst with terror and its denial about its duplicity. In fact, if the findings of Pew are accurate, then what they reveal is even more dangerous than what Wikileaks and Headley have.

But before we get to the Pew report, a quick recapitulation of developments during the last couple of years will be useful.

Despite 26/11 and the subsequent efforts of the Pakistani establishment to brazenly protect those involved in carrying out the attack, many of India's numerous Pakistan experts and leading journalists have been telling India that it is in India's best interest to continue to talk to Pakistan and also give it concessions so that the democratic government there can be strengthened. If we fail to do that and don't trust its civilian leaders, so has been the warning, that nation could be overrun by the Talibanis who will then flood into India and create mayhem.

This line of argument has, unfortunately, for long conveniently glossed over the fact that jihadi extremists, no matter which group they belong to, have not emerged on their own; they are also not thriving -- at least those who have not turned against the state -- despite an establishment that is against them: the military that effectively rules Pakistan actually treats them as their frontline troops. It has also ignored the fact that the radicalisation of Pakistan is a direct consequence of an obsessed-with-India establishment deliberately promoting a radical version of Islam, violent extremism and hatred for "Hindu" India, not just through Saudi-funded Wahhabi Madrassas but also through education being imparted in regular schools. One reason for pursuing this path is that, as Thomas Friedman says pithily, Pakistan "exists not to be India".

The Pew report confirms that the results of this assiduously pursued ideological transformation of the society have been spectacularly and, for India and possibly the rest of the civilised world, disturbingly successful. And almost irreversible.

At the time of Partition, both India and Pakistan inherited secular laws that the British had laid down. Pakistan, like India, still follows the same criminal justice system. But, thanks to decades of efforts put in by the state, most Pakistanis now want the same medieval laws that the Talibanis have imposed in areas under their influence to be implemented in the whole country: "Pakistanis overwhelmingly support making segregation of men and women in the workplace the law in their country (85%), and comparable percentages favor instituting harsh punishments such as stoning people who commit adultery (82%), whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery (82%), and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion (76%). Support for gender segregation and for severe punishments is pervasive across all demographic and regional groups." This finding is corroborated by the finding that "Pakistani Muslims overwhelmingly welcome Islamic influence over their country’s politics. Nearly nine-in-ten (88%) of those who see Islam playing a large role say that is a good thing. Similarly, 79% of those who say Islam’s role is small say that is a bad thing for their country. This pattern is true across all demographic groups."

The other significant finding, as far as India is concerned, is that although half or more Pakistanis hold and 'unfavourable' view of various militant groups like the Al Qaida, Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban, the picture with regard to the anti-India LeT is quite different. It enjoys the highest 'favourable' rating of 25%, the lowest 'unfavourable' rating of 35% and, most importantly, the highest 'Don't Know', 40%. More importantly, in Punjab, the state that defines Pakistan, with 40% of its population and 90% of its military, the LeT gets its most positive ratings with an equal number, 34%, expressing a positive and negative view. Seen in conjunction with the startling finding that only 8% of Pakistani Muslims consider suicide bombing justifiable, possibly because Pakistan has recently been hit by such attacks, it can be said that favourable views about terror outfits, particularly the LeT, would have been much higher but for the overwhelming opposition to such attacks. This deduction is further strengthened by the the finding that against a national average of 71%, 95% Punjabis and 91% Mohajirs consider Kashmir a very big problem. Kashmir, let there be no doubt any longer, does "flow in the blood" of the Pakistanis who really matter.

As everyone knows in Pakistan, the LeT is the military's sword arm as far as India is concerned, and not just with regard to Kashmir. Pakistanis have also seen decades of military rule and are experiencing one now behind a civilian façade. Liberal wisdom, often elitist, tells us that people love democracy and hate dictators because of the oppressive restrictions they place on their freedom etc; India rejected the Emergency, did it not? Do Pakistanis confirm that view? The surprising answer is, no. 84% of them, in fact, have positive views about their military; not just that, they think it is better than all other institutions of the state. Compare this to only 25% who think well of the national government and the multi-dimensional significance of this result will hit you in the face.

That the Pakistanis trust their military much more than they do their politicians is not surprising considering that shorn of the cloak of religion, the sub-continental dna is the same. But what should be a cause of some concern to India is that this means that there is serious public support for the hawkish anti-India policy that the military has adopted almost right from the time Pakistan was born, and that the radicalisation of society has now reached a critical mass, possibly close to a tipping point. Add to this the finding that they view India as Pakistan's biggest threat and Kashmir as its biggest problem, and you cannot, no matter how hard you try, escape the dreadful deduction that there is no way that Pakistan is either going to back off on Kashmir or wind up the LeT and other terror outfits employed by it to wage war against India.

Our analysts, journalists and spooks have, evidently, been talking to the wrong people, lapping up the wrong answers and pushing India's leaders on the wrong path.

An Arvind Adiga is not asked his religion, not nationality, on landing in Pakistan accidentally. The coffin of a Hindu member of Pakistan's Youth Parliament killed in an air crash near Pakistan's capital is not marked "Kafir" absent-mindedly. The moderate Pakistani that we have been led to believe represents the silent majority in Pakistan is heading the dodo's way. Charmed by hugs and smiles and song and drama, some of us continue to believe that all is well in mainstream Pakistan, that Karachi is just like Mumbai, that we are the same people. Concerned about the rise of terror groups, we innocently even warn Pakistan that it faces a grave danger from these elements and that unless they are reined in and de-fanged, they will run over and ruin the country.

There is no chance of Pakistan being run over by a few thousand men, most under tight control of the ISI, and armed with light weapons. A half-million men army that has not hesitated to employ maximum force, including artillery and air power, against it own people that it considers armed and dangerous, is not going to be run over like this. But, sooner rather than later, it will be run over by -- compelled to adopt if you like -- the very anti-change and regressive ideology it has employed to define Pakistan's identity as well as motivate its people to become jihadis.

When 80% of a country's citizens want a change that its leaders have themselves been encouraging, its time can be said to have come. That is real message that is coming out of the Pew report, one that should wake India's leaders up.

Will Pakistan collapse when that happens? Of course it will not. It will travel back in time along many dimensions. But it will not go under. At least not immediately.

What happens within Pakistan should normally not be of any concern to any country. But, as developments over the last few decades have shown, if the whole country is clothed in the colours that now only adorn militants, the terror threat to India will increase manifold. Worse, it is likely to spur some Indian Muslims to follow the same path, considering the fact that Pakistanis themselves draw ideological sustenance from the Deoband seminary. One has only to read the resolution adopted last year by the Jamaat Ulama-I-Hind to get an idea of the direction that Muslim religious and political leaders are giving to India's Muslims. The banning of co-education in Madrassas in UP, the cutting off of the hand of a Kerala professor and the hounding of a lady professor in West Bengal for refusing to wear a burqa while teaching are pointers to the dangerous growth of intolerance, fundamentalism an isolationism in India's secular society.

Tavleen Singh, one of the few Indian journalists who has the courage to say what needs to be, is on the dot with her warning: "Of all the fanatical religious movements that have come and gone in this country, there is not the faintest shadow of a doubt that the Jihad is the most dangerous. If jihadi organisations are allowed to spread their poisonous propaganda...it is only a matter of time before the situation becomes as uncontrollable as it has in Pakistan...turn India into a breeding ground for the Taliban. We cannot allow the jihad in India because its ideology is the antithesis of the idea of India."

A strong and extremist Pakistan cannot be in India's interest. Whichever angle one may look at it from. That such a Pakistan will self-destruct, as Fatima Bhutto believes, in the long run can be of little comfort to India. Because till that happens, India and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the civilised world are going to be hit with ferocious violence and increasing and uncompromising intolerance. It is time our leaders shed their meekness concealed under false moral cloaks and do everything that needs to be done, including balkanising Pakistan if necessary, so that this unprecedented threat is not allow to grow any bigger than it already has primarily because they have let it.
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