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Mounting trouble

On the 3rd March, a dozen terrorists ambushed a coach carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team and in the process killed half a dozen policeman and injured several others. The initial reaction of several Pakistani commentators absurdly suggested an Indian conspiracy. As things subsequently turned out, the government acknowledged that the attack was executed by the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) a militant organisation closely associated with the Al Qaeda. This was the same group suspected of masterminding the Marriott bombing in Islamabad in September 2008. The LeJ was nurtured in its formative years by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies although no longer strictly remains in its control.

Only a few weeks earlier, the government succumbed to the pressures of the Pakistani Taliban when it entered a deal to enforce Shariah laws in the Swat region – a part of the Malakand Division, about 300 kms from Islamabad. Buckling under the pressures of a relentless offensive by Muallana Fazullah who leads the Taliban insurgency in the Northwest Frontier Province, the government announced the imposition of Nizam-e-Adl, a system of justice to be administered by Qazi courts as per Islamic laws. Mr Fazullah is reported to have killed over 1,500 soldiers; destroyed 150 schools; eradicated Swat tourism; ruined local industry rendering over 200,000 people jobless; and physically displaced half a million people. He is apparent in his longer term objectives – to impose Shariah laws across the rest of Pakistan once his foothold in Swat is firmly established. Whist this may seem to many middle-class Pakistanis as absurd, they might be astounded as to how quickly the Taliban is able to spread its influence in rural pockets of the Punjab and Sindh provinces. The fact is an armed struggle of 20,000 militants who remained persistent, was enough to dislodge an entire system of governance.

The breeding ground for fundamentalism supposedly stems from the exponential growth of Madrassas – colleges of Islamic learning. At the time of independence, in 1947, Pakistan hosted 190 such institutions. In 2002, they had grown to about 13,000 and by 2008, exceeded over 40,000 in number, educating about 6-7 million students. Often drawn from the poorest sections of society, students have limited exposure to differing world views and remain strongly committed to a particular interpretation of Islam. This predisposes them to a bias against a secular way of thinking, other religions and indeed even sub-sects of Islam different from their own. These students have little in the form of job prospects and are trained either to teach or work as clerics. In the absence of such opportunities, they are forced into jihad with militant organisations. This would not necessarily have been the case but for policies of Pakistani governments which have armed and radicalised many of them. All this has resulted in a growing influence of the Taliban and with it, religious fundamentalism.

The government is basically fighting a losing battle with militancy. Despite moving over 10 divisions to the NWPF, it has failed to restrain the rise of extremism – if the deal in Swat with the Taliban is any indicator. The fact is the government of President Asif Zardari is ineffectual to say the least and the country’s political fabric appallingly fractured. Within a few months of his election, following the ouster of military dictator Parvez Musharraf, Mr Zardari fell out with his erstwhile ally, Nawaz Sharif, who leads the Pakistan Muslim League. He was able to influence the courts to disqualify Mr Sharif from competing in elections because of a conviction some years ago. He runs a government steeped in corruption and short in capability, and is now detested as much as his predecessor.

Going ahead, all focus appears to be on Pakistani army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani who on assuming responsibilities in February 2008, disengaged the military from the civilian sphere of government. With the country heading for chaos, inherent political weaknesses and the government losing its grip, the army must be seen to be doing something. There would therefore be a strong temptation to revert to military dictatorship – although, this time, convincing the new Obama administration of its inevitability would be that little bit harder.


Unknown said…
Adit - this is a very crisp statement of the implosion that is underway in Pakistan. I don't think we adequately take this risk into account when we look at longer term India scenarios, but we should.

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