By Bhaskar Roy
The assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer followed by the killing of Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, Shabaz Bhatti for their liberal views and their support for expunging the Blasphemy law from the constitution are sending a shiver down the spine of those Pakistanis who aspire for a liberal, democratic and prosperous Pakistan. After all, Pakistan was once a country with the highest per capita GDP in South Asia. What happened? Shall we ask the late Pakistani Army Chief and President Gen. Zia-ul-Haq?
Following the assassination of Shabaz Bhatti, a Christian, on March 02, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) warned that all those who oppose the Blasphemy law and insult Islam will meet the same fate. Who is the next target? Ms. Sherry Rehman who introduced the bill in the National Assembly to amend the Blasphemy law? Or will this extend to all minorities or “infidels” in Pakistan including the Ahmedias? According to Pakistani law Ahmedias are not Muslims, and they are a persecuted community.
Despite their declared good intentions, the current government in Pakistan remains weak. This is precisely because the Army-ISI establishment calls the shots in strategic areas. The issue of terrorist/jehadi groups in Pakistan is considered a very important issue. There have been no comments on the assassinations of Taseer and Bhatti from the army. They may hide behind the excuse that they do not interfere in governance and law and order issues. It is also intriguing that the army has not acted openly in the various militant attacks on it and the ISI’s establishments in Lahore and Rawalpindi. Yet they operate at times in the tribal areas though selectively, and it is the army under President Musharraf that attacked the Lal Masjid in 2007, killing about two thousand or more. The critical issue then was that the mullahs had abducted some Chinese citizens allegedly for immoral activities, and Musharraf received a direct ultimatum from Chinese President Hu Jintao for their immediate release. Otherwise, Musharraf knew what exactly was happening in Lal Masjid and did nothing about it.
There is a perception that the Lal Masjid episode turned the Islamists against the entire establishment and catalyzed their growth. That may be partially but not entirely true. The roots go back to Zia’s Islamization programme positing himself as the Caliph of Pakistan. He tried to Islamise in an obscurantist agenda every vein in Pakistan. And he portrayed India as an existential enemy which even Gen. Ayub Khan, a Westernized man, had ever thought of.
Since then Islamism-terrorism –India became a heady mix in Pakistan’s politics and strategy, a combination which is very difficult to root out. Any hard line against religious ideology, and peace with India have become still born ideas.
Following his coup against Nawaz Sharif and his government in 1999, Musharraf had remarked that even if the Kashmir issue was resolved there will remain many other problems with India, meaning that Pakistan and India could never be friends. His successor, Gen. Asfaq Kayani is on record having stated in Brussels at a NATO conference, that there was no commonality between Pakistan and India – historically, culturally and religiously. He meant exactly what Musharraf had said. Musharraf used the Taliban in Afghanistan for strategic depth and reared and armed the Lashar-e-Toiba (LET), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEI) and the Kashmiri separatists against India.
Kayani has followed on the Musharraf path. He is on record to have stated that the terrorists were the Pakistan army’s assets, and used these assets in attacks on the Indian embassy and other interests in Afghanistan. The policy of terrorism against India remains alive. Needless to state that in the November 2008 bloody Mumbai attack the ISI’s hand was all too clear.
It is, therefore, an important question to revisit whether the back-channel exchanges between India and Pakistan would have ultimately resulted in a solution over Kashmir. Kashmir in another manner, is a golden goose for the Pakistani military intelligence establishment. Musharraf had pulled the carpet from under India’s feet in Shimla. Kayani has snuffed all overtures from President Asif Ali Zardari to mend fences with India.
The central point here is the use of hard line and misinterpreted Islam of Wahabis and Salafis to execute state policies. The military establishment of Pakistan appears to be sanguine that they hold the control stick of the jihadists. This is a very dangerous game they are playing, unless they think they will be able to execute a jehadi nation among the comity of liberal nations.
It has been argued by many Pakistani leaders including Parvez Musharraf that the Islamists get only 2 percent or under votes in national elections and, hence, have no influence on the government and society.
If this is true, why did the Pakistani government buckle under the pressure of the Islamists, and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Geelani had to declare that the government had no intention of amending the Blasphemy law? It is precisely because the Islamists terrorists enjoy strong support from the army and some political parties.
According to some international assessments Pakistan spends seven times more in its defence than on education. The economic struggle has been forcing parents to send their children to Madrassas for religious education where they receive at least two square meals a day. Unlike Madrassas in India and Bangladesh which have turned to general education, the Pakistani Madrassas which are growing in number through external fundings, continue to graduate jehadis.
What, however, is significant is that an increasing number of young people in Pakistan are leaning towards hard line “nationalist” and Islamic thought. The showering of Taseer’s killer, Hassan Qadri, with rose petals, and almost one thousand lawyers volunteering to represent Qadri in court, tells a story. There is an argument that many more thousands of lawyers did not offer their services to Qadri. But the vocal Lawyers’ community in Pakistan, who were instrumental in the ousting of President Parvez Musharraf, did not condemn Qadri nor offer to prosecute him. In ousting Musharraf, the lawyers had army Chief Gen. Kayani’s support. In this case Kayani is plotting Zardari’s ouster who is seen as friendly to the US and amenable to India.
This begs the question whether Army Chief Gen. Kayani and his adjutants supported the lawyers to oust Musharraf for his alleged move to reconcile the Kashmir issue with India? And now they signal the judiciary, which is otherwise proactive to counter the civilian government, not to act strictly against the terrorists. These moves are obvious to any elementary Pakistan watcher.
Following the Taseer and Bhatti assassinations, the liberal Pakistani English language media appear to be constricted. So is Pakistani liberal society. Many of them can migrate abroad, but they are holding back, (including those involved with art, music, films etc.). As the late Salman Taseer’s daughter remarked recently, if there is an exodus of liberals they will be handing over the country to religious extremists.
The Indian government must examine these developments threadbare. On the one hand India’s overtures to Pakistan makes clear that India means no hostility despite Pakistan giving all the opportunities. On the other, whatever the Pakistani government may do to prevent people-to-people exchanges with India, New Delhi must open the gates to Pakistani intellectuals, artistes, media persons and students to see what India is all about, and take the impressions back home. This is the only way, perhaps, that India can reach the hearts and minds of the Pakistani liberals and upcoming fledgling generation.