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Pervez Hoodbhoy on Pakistan’s Future

Posted on June 16, 2009
Filed Under >Adil Najam, >Pervez Hoodbhoy, People, Politics, Religion, Society
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Adil Najam

Like him or not, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy is undoubtedly one of Pakistan’s leading intellectuals.

He does what intellectuals are meant to do. He makes us think.

He forces us to ask questions that we avoid and he challenges us to question the easy answers. This is not to say that Pervez – who I have had the honor of knowing since the early 1980s – is always right. No one ever is. But he is always provocative. And in the right sense of the word. he provokes us to think. Even – and, maybe, even more – when we disagree with him, we are forced to think. And that can never be a bad thing.

Currently, the Chair of the Physics Department at the Quaid-i-Azam Univeristy, Pervez Hoodbhoy recently wrote this article for the celebrated journal The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It is worth a close and careful read. Personally, I am not convinced by his worst case scenario. Although, I should acknowledge that worst case scenarios are supposed to be exactly that: worst case scenarios. I also think that he underplays the role of civil society in Pakistan, which I think remains the most vibrant hope for our future, not withstanding the undercurrent of the ‘urban taliban’ within Pakistani civil society. But, there is much in this article that we should ponder upon and think about very carefully.

If you think Pervez Hoodbhoy is wrong in his assessment of where Pakistan is heading, give us your own assessment of where yo think we will be. Disagree if you will, but do what the article is supposed to have you do: think!



Whither Pakistan? A five-year forecast

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

First, the bottom line: Pakistan will not break up; there will not be another military coup; the Taliban will not seize the presidency; Pakistan’s nuclear weapons will not go astray; and the Islamic sharia will not become the law of the land.

That’s the good news. It conflicts with opinions in the mainstream U.S. press, as well as with some in the Obama administration. For example, in March, David Kilcullen, a top adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, declared that state collapse could occur within six months. This is highly improbable.

Now, the bad news: The clouds hanging over the future of Pakistan’s state and society are getting darker. Collapse isn’t impending, but there is a slow-burning fuse. While timescales cannot be mathematically forecast, the speed of societal decline has surprised many who have long warned that religious extremism is devouring Pakistan.

Here is how it all went down the hill: The 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan devastated the Taliban. Many fighters were products of madrassas in Pakistan, and their trauma partly was shared by their erstwhile benefactors in the Pakistan military and intelligence. Recognizing that this force would remain important for maintaining Pakistani influence in Afghanistan-and keep the low-intensity war in Kashmir going-the army secretly welcomed them on Pakistani soil. Rebuilding and rearming was quick, especially as the United States tripped up in Afghanistan after a successful initial victory. Former President Pervez Musharraf’s strategy of running with the hares and hunting with hounds worked initially. But then U.S. demands to dump the Taliban became more insistent, and the Taliban also grew angry at this double game. As the army’s goals and tactics lost coherence, the Taliban advanced.

In 2007, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, the movement of Pakistani Taliban, formally announced its existence. With a blitzkrieg of merciless beheadings of soldiers and suicide bombings, the TTP drove out the army from much of the frontier province. By early this year, it held about 10 percent of Pakistan’s territory.

Even then, few Pakistanis saw the Taliban as the enemy. Apologists for the Taliban abounded, particularly among opinion-forming local TV anchors that whitewashed their atrocities, and insisted that they shouldn’t be resisted by force. Others supported them as fighters against U.S. imperial might. The government’s massive propaganda apparatus lay rusting. Beset by ideological confusion, it had no cogent response to the claim that Pakistan was made for Islam and that the Taliban were Islamic fighters.

The price paid for the government’s prevarication was immense. A weak-kneed state allowed fanatics to devastate hitherto peaceful Swat, once an idyllic tourist-friendly valley. Citizens were deprived of their fundamental rights. Women were lashed in public, hundreds of girl’s schools were blown up, non-Muslims had to pay a special tax (jizya), and every form of art and music was forbidden. Policemen deserted en masse, and institutions of the state crumbled. Thrilled by their success, the Taliban violated the Nizam-e-Adl Swat deal just days after it was negotiated in April. They quickly moved to capture more territory in the adjacent area of Buner. Barely 80 miles from Islamabad (as the crow flies), their spokesman, Muslim Khan, boasted the capital would be captured soon. The army and government still dithered, and the public remained largely opposed to the use of military force.

And then a miracle of sorts happened. Sufi Mohammed, the illiterate, aging leader of the Swat sharia movement, while addressing a huge victory rally in early May, lost his good sense to excessive exuberance. He declared that democracy and Islam were incompatible, rejected Pakistan’s Islamic constitution and courts, and accused Pakistan’s fanatically right-wing Islamic parties of mild heresy. Even for a Pakistani public enamored by the call to sharia, Mohammed’s comments were a bit too much. The army, now with public support for the first time since the birth of the insurgency, finally mustered the will to fight.

Today, that fight is on. A major displacement of population, estimated at 3 million, is in process. This tragedy could have been avoided if the army hadn’t nurtured extremists earlier. For the moment, the Taliban are retreating. But it will be a long haul to eliminate them from the complex mountainous terrain of Swat and Malakand. Wresting North and South Waziristan, hundreds of miles away, will cost even more. Army actions in the tribal areas, and retaliatory suicide bombings by the Taliban in the cities, are likely to extend into the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the cancerous offshoots of extremist ideology continue to spread. Another TTP has recently established itself-Tehrik-e-Taliban Punjab. So one expects that major conflict will eventually shift from Pakistan’s tribal peripheries to the heartland, southern Punjab. Indeed, the Punjabi Taliban are now busy ramping up their operations, with a successful suicide attack on the police and intelligence headquarters in Lahore in May.

What exactly do the Pakistani Taliban want? As with their Afghan counterparts, fighting the United States in Afghanistan is certainly one goal. But still more important is replacing secular and traditional law and customs in Pakistan’s tribal areas with their version of the sharia. This goal, which they share with religious political parties such as Jamat-e-Islami, is working for a total transformation of society. It calls for elimination of music, art, entertainment, and all manifestations of modernity and Westernism. Side goals include destroying the Shias-who the Sunni Taliban regard as heretics-and chasing away the few surviving native Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus from the frontier province. While extremist leaders such as Baitullah Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah derive support from marginalized social groups, they don’t demand employment, land reform, better health care, or more social services. This isn’t a liberation movement by a long shot, although some marginalized Pakistani leftists labor under this delusion.

As for the future: Tribal insurgents cannot overrun Islamabad and Pakistan’s main cities, which are protected by thousands of heavily armed military and paramilitary troops. Rogue elements within the military and intelligence agencies have instigated or organized suicide attacks against their own colleagues. Now, dazed by the brutality of these attacks, the officer corps finally appears to be moving away from its earlier sympathy and support for extremism. This makes a seizure of the nuclear arsenal improbable. But Pakistan’s ‘urban Taliban,’ rather than illiterate tribal fighters, pose a nuclear risk. There are indeed more than a few scientists and engineers in the nuclear establishment with extreme religious views.

While they aspire to state power, the Taliban haven’t needed it to achieve considerable success. Through terror tactics and suicide bombings they have made fear ubiquitous. Women are being forced into burqas, and anxious private employers and government departments have advised their male employees in Peshawar and other cities to wear shalwar-kameez rather than trousers. Coeducational schools across Pakistan are increasingly fearful of attacks-some are converting to girls-only or boys-only schools. Video shops are going out of business, and native musicians and dancers have fled or changed their profession. As such, a sterile Saudi-style Wahabism is beginning to impact upon Pakistan’s once-vibrant culture and society.

It could be far worse. One could imagine that Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is overthrown in a coup by radical Islamist officers who seize control of the country’s nuclear weapons, making intervention by outside forces impossible. Jihad for liberating Kashmir is subsequently declared as Pakistan’s highest priority and earlier policies for crossing the Line of Control are revived; Shias are expelled into Iran, and Hindus are forced into India; ethnic and religious minorities in the Northern Areas flee Pashtun invaders; anti-Taliban forces such as the ethnic Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Baluch nationalists are decisively crushed by Islamists; and sharia is declared across the country. Fortunately, this seems improbable–as long as the army stays together.

What can the United States, which is still the world’s preeminent power, do to turn the situation around? Amazingly little.

In spite of being on the U.S. dole, Pakistan is probably the most anti-American country in the world. It has a long litany of grievances. Some are pan-Islamic, but others derive from its bitter experiences of being a U.S. ally in the 1980s. Once at the cutting edge of the U.S. organized jihad against the Soviet Union, Pakistan was dumped once the war was over and left to deal with numerous toxic consequences. Although much delayed, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent acceptance of blame is welcome. But festering resentments produced a paranoid mindset that blames Washington for all of Pakistan’s ills–old and new. A meeting of young people that I addressed in Islamabad recently had many who thought that the Taliban are U.S. agents paid to create instability so that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons could be seized by Washington. Other such absurd conspiracy theories also enjoy huge currency here.

Nevertheless, the United States isn’t powerless. Chances of engaging with Pakistan positively have improved under the Obama administration. Real progress toward a Palestinian state and dealing with Muslims globally would have enormous resonance in Pakistan.

Although better financial monitoring is needed, Pakistan’s support lifeline must not be cut, or economic collapse (and certain Taliban victory) would follow in a matter of months. The government and army must be kept afloat until Pakistan is fully ready to take on extremism by itself. The United States also should initiate a conference that brings Iran, India, and China together. Each of these countries must recognize that extremism represents a regional as well as global danger, and they must formulate an action plan aimed at squeezing the extremists.

Thus, Pakistan’s political leadership and army must squarely face the extremist threat, accept the United States and India as partners rather than adversaries, enact major reforms in income and land distribution, revamp the education and legal systems, and address the real needs of citizens. Most importantly, Pakistan will have to clamp down on the fiery mullahs who spout hatred from mosques and stop suicide bomber production in madrassas. For better or for worse, it will be for Pakistanis alone to figure out how to handle this.

Also see: Pervez Hoodbhoy on Re-Imagining Pakistan; Pervez Hoodbhoy on ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ Minds.

46 comments posted

Comment Pages: [6] 5 4 3 2 1 » Show All

  1. Saleem says:
    May 21st, 2011 9:41 pm

    @Dr. Shafiq
    Your comments are typical of insanity prevailing in streets of Pakistan. The same insanity and limbo that has led Pakistan to current situation. In your right mind , do you believe that writer will visit every forum and respond to everyone POINT by POINT. HAVE EVEN A SHRED OF LOGICAL THINKING LEFT IN YOU. The useless rants are responded below and are my personal opinion, do not let the mullah make you believe that CIA is responding to you !
    1) What has islamic sharia got to do with democracy ?
    2) Do you have any sympathy for countless murdered by mullah fanatics and thousands kidnapped for ransom. How would YOU FEEL if your loved one is kidnapped by mullah brigade and than slaughtered while being filmed ????
    3) Can you justify mercenaries sitting in Pakistan and simply claiming attack on US or France or Denmark ? Have you seen this happening in any other country ? Do you EVEN have a sense to understand that muslims are MORE FREE TO PRACTICE ISLAM IN US THAN IN PAKISTAN !!!
    4) The way mullah are coming out in name of affia siddiqui makes me suspicious about her. These mullahs who will burn anyones shop on heresy or simply kill people in name of correct or incorrect practise of islam can not defend a human life unless they have a purpose. Go to wikipedia and read about your mother teresa afia siddiqui. A divorced lady who ran to Afghanistan ! Whats so divine about this lady that people like you who favor killing of millions in hand of mullah brigade are standing up for this single lady ?
    5) I am not sure if you have visited Guantanamo bay and seen the atrocities first hand or just believe in what your mullah told you about the place. From the atrocities I have heard from the mullah , it is much milder version of our jails or the torture cells operated by jihadi idiots.
    6) Do you disagree that sufi mohammad was ageing or do you think he had a phd in suicidology ?

    Once again I repeat , your rants are typical of Pakistani mullah minority, the same rants which is bringing down Pakistan !

    aoa

    dear mr pervaiz , u have given a very biased analysis of the whole situation , i would like u to answer few of these questions .

    1.do u think islamic sharia is better then democracy ? If yes , then isn t it possible to make a law against islam via democracy?surely it is possible , then how can u call it better ?

    2.do u have any sympathy for the families of muslims in northren pakistan and afghanistan , who were murdered and disgraced by ur american friends , how would u feel if u were born in waziristan and ur family would have died in a drone attack ?

    3.can u justify war on terror by USA ? surely not , then how can u justify Pakistan as an ally of USA ?How can u justify pakistan prividing air support and air ports for attacks on muslims ! how can u justify pakistan providing upto 70% of NATO troops supply line ?

    4.Kindly write some thing about afia siddique , amil kansi and raymond davis , may be a comparasion of them !

    5.i would like to you to justify gauntanamo bay atrocities by USA.

    6.in this article u just wrote ageing illetrate sufi Mohammad ! do u think u have the right to use such insulting comments against any one !

    I know this would have bothered you , but i will appreciate if u talk about all this and include it in this article .Kindly answer every question one by one.

    LOOKING FWD FOR AN ANSWER FROM A LEARNED SCHOLAR !

  2. M Gohar says:
    February 8th, 2011 8:46 am

    This guy is completely insane, a liberal extremist!

  3. dr shafiq says:
    February 7th, 2011 8:24 pm

    aoa

    dear mr pervaiz , u have given a very biased analysis of the whole situation , i would like u to answer few of these questions .

    1.do u think islamic sharia is better then democracy ? If yes , then isn t it possible to make a law against islam via democracy?surely it is possible , then how can u call it better ?

    2.do u have any sympathy for the families of muslims in northren pakistan and afghanistan , who were murdered and disgraced by ur american friends , how would u feel if u were born in waziristan and ur family would have died in a drone attack ?

    3.can u justify war on terror by USA ? surely not , then how can u justify Pakistan as an ally of USA ?How can u justify pakistan prividing air support and air ports for attacks on muslims ! how can u justify pakistan providing upto 70% of NATO troops supply line ?

    4.Kindly write some thing about afia siddique , amil kansi and raymond davis , may be a comparasion of them !

    5.i would like to you to justify gauntanamo bay atrocities by USA.

    6.in this article u just wrote ageing illetrate sufi Mohammad ! do u think u have the right to use such insulting comments against any one !

    I know this would have bothered you , but i will appreciate if u talk about all this and include it in this article .Kindly answer every question one by one.

    LOOKING FWD FOR AN ANSWER FROM A LEARNED SCHOLAR !

    aoa and Allah Hafiz

  4. Majeed says:
    December 19th, 2010 1:30 am

    This is a good article and lots of good ideas we should think about.

  5. Khwaja Aftab Ali says:
    June 11th, 2010 2:08 pm

    Almighty God bless America,The USA. Most powerful man has gone and two richest persons/groups have come in power. The poor will become poorer and rich will be richer day by day because of the unique business of politics in Pakistan. President Musharraf handed over resignation to the chief of army staff in presence of other generals. Army act of Pakistan zindabad , Pakistan paindabad. For God sake, plan for creation of jobs and circulation of money to boost economy of the under developed country. And make sure the rule of law over rule the law of ruler. Hard working people of Pakistan can make this great country a wonderful place if justice is provided to the common man. All the best with lot of prayers to the Almighty GOD for the welfare of oppressed people of Pakistan.

  6. Khwaja Aftab Ali says:
    November 22nd, 2009 7:48 pm

    Pakistan’s Ignored Rural Areas
    By Khwaja Aftab Ali
    Florida

    Five regional cities should be upgraded within the provinces in Pakistan: Dera Ismail Khan in NWFP, Gawadar/Qalat in Balouchistan, Sukkar/Larkana in Upper Sindh, Jehlum/Rawalpindi and Multan in Punjab province.
    These cities have been ignored by the federal and provincial governments although they have their own history, culture and languages. Dera Ismail Khan in the south of Pakhtun khwa/MWFP is under siege, Multan/DG Khan in the south of Punjab is the next target of religious extremists, Sukkar/Larkana is being ruled by criminals, Gawadar/Qalat appears troublesome. The people of these regions have to travel to provincial capitals trivial reasons.
    A good number of people are also forced to travel to big cities to earn livelihood as the local feudal who own majority land treat the common man as their virtual slaves.
    Creation of regional government and upgrading of regional cities will save a lot of money and time of the poor people of these areas. Circuit benches of the High Courts are already functioning in these places and what is required is additional staff to beef up different departments engaged in additional work at the provincial capitals.
    The concerned authorities should immediately consider to upgrade the regional cities. And immediate attention should be given to upgrade/build the airports, TV stations, civic centers, libraries, hospitals, educational institutions and bolstering investment opportunities for Pakistanis living abroad. Foreign firms should be encouraged to create jobs in the areas as the majority population in rural Pakistan does not have enough resources to survive.
    In this context I am reminded of the conditions obtaining in Iran before the Islamic Revolution when rural Iran continued to be ignored and the capital Tehran was developed and called the ‘Paris of the Middle East’. A couple of big cities, including Isfahan, and the Caspian Sea area were developed because of the attraction they possessed for foreign tourists but the rural area was ignored and plagued by problems of sorts as it was ruled by ruthless police and intelligence forces. It was but natural that the rural population supported the Islamic Revolution and moved to Tehran and other big cities and later ruled the cities. After the revolution, the new government was motivated to develop the rural areas of Iran.
    There is thus a pressing need to set up a fund to upgrade/build the regional cities in Pakistan under the aegis of the public and private sectors. Our foreign friends and Pakistanis living abroad could be asked to participate in this singularly important developmental effort.

    ——————————————————————————

    Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
    © 2004 pakistanlink.com . All Rights Reserved.

Comment Pages: [6] 5 4 3 2 1 » Show All



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