A number of interrogations about the causes of extreme radicalism & terrorism in Pakistan occupy every psyche – from a lay man to the ruler of the state, no one considers his life secure in this country. Indeed, that is a genuine concern.
However, rolling the folios of the precedent enables one to grasp some facts about its underpinning, and after getting even the slightest idea about it, one cannot resist to bow his head in “admiration” of the “services”, the dictators rendered for this “noble” cause of providing the breeding grounds to the extremists, who on one hand pose a threat to the stability of Pakistan and of the world at large, but also have added a black stain on the name of the religion. It is, at times, improbable to comprehend the role of international community in this context, who, despite fighting a global war against terrorism have at times, supported the dictatorship in Pakistan. Let’s rummage in our near past to probe more into the veracity.
Four times in history, Washington has supported military dictatorship in Pakistan. Three times the US acted out of perceived self-interest to constrain communism. Islamabad enjoyed the support of Washington because General Musharraf’s military regime was viewed as a vital asset in fighting extremism and contributing to regional and global security. Some argue that extremism can better be confronted by a military backed regime. As such, a controlled dictatorship is seen as a stable and reliable ally, as opposed to a truly elected government that has the support of the people. However, it is a strategic miscalculation that has had a negative impact in the battle against violent fanaticism, posing grave dangers both to Pakistan and the larger world community. It certainly makes Pakistan uncomfortable that whether it is John Reid the Shoe bomber, or Tanweer the tube bomber, or Khalid Sheikh the CEO of Al Qaeda, or the German plot – unfortunately the steps lead back to our country. But none of these high-profile terrorist acts took place when Shaheed Mohtarmah Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The attacks on the World Trade Towers, the Cole ship at Yemen, the embassies in Africa, the blasts in Bombay and in the Indian Pearl took place when she was in opposition.
Since 9/11 the Musharraf regime professed support for confronting militancy. But actions on the ground have not matched the rhetoric. Indeed, the only Government that had ever signed an actual peace treaty with the Taliban and al Qaeda militants, against the natives of its own state, was the Musharraf’s regime in Islamabad. Large sections of Pakistan’s tribal areas had been ceded to non Pakistanis in the Taliban and Al-Qaeda militias. In fact, after defeat and demoralization following the fall of the Kabul, these violent elements re-organized themselves under the shadow of the military regime. They conduct suicide attacks within Pakistan killing innocent people. Military dictatorship fueled extremism. A democratically elected government enjoying the support of the people could bring peace to the people of Pakistan and eliminate extremism – eliminate terrorism by taking extremism off the radar screen of the region.
Benazir Bhutto was the civilian female leader of a democratic Pakistan that invested political capital in the tribal areas that a military regime has failed to control. As Prime Minister, she brought the rule of law and the fruits of development to the people in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Her government broke up the international drug cartel’s militias that reasserted themselves under the Musharraf rule and had been funding Al – Qaeda to have a macro-fiefdom. Her Administration brought the authority of the government and the rule of law to FATA in the 1990s. And she could have done it again. As Prime Minister she took the necessary steps to close down political madrasas whose curriculum taught hatred and para-military terrorist techniques. She did this before they became a threat to the world community. She considered them a threat to the stability, security and progress of the people of Pakistan. Since the dismissal of her government by military hardliners that had fought the Afghan Jihad of the eighties, there has been an explosion in these militant training schools, educating a successor generation of extremists, reinforcing irregular armies in Pakistan who have made my nation the Petri dish of the international extremist movement.
General Musharraf’s team, many of them linked to a military dictatorship of the eighties, which founded the Afghan Mujahideen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, presided over the rise of political Madrasas and private militias while neglecting social issues and governance. The people of Pakistan wanted a government that could build a school system giving their children a chance for a better life. Education was the centerpiece of Benazir Bhutto’s social agenda. Her government built 48,000 primary schools in its two stints in government. General Musharraf tried convincing the world that he was the only thing standing in the way of an extremist takeover of a nuclear armed Pakistan. In fact military rule is the cause of this anarchic situation in Pakistan. Extremism thrives under dictatorship. When Osama Bin Laden declared war on Musharraf, it made the West rally around Musharraf’s dictatorship. This in turn extended the environment that enabled Osama to thrive. Neither Musharraf nor Osama Bin Laden wanted democracy for their own reason. One considered democracy a threat to his dictatorship; the other considered democracy a threat to the environment of chaos and fear in which he thrived. Both knew that the people of Pakistan never supported dictatorship or extremism.
Each of Pakistan’s four military dictatorships assaulted the major infrastructural building blocks of democracy – by attempting to marginalize political parties, dismantling NGO’s and undermining civil society, by constraining labor and student unions, and allowing the intelligence agencies and government members to physically assault and intimidate the free press. It is only dictatorships which have used the Islamic card to legitimize their rule at the expense of the neglected people of Pakistan. Dictatorships, lacking a popular base, need the religious card, played in one shape or another, to justify their stranglehold on power. They need a crisis to obtain international support, both political and financial.
The Musharraf dictatorship like its predecessors only established the prerequisites for the radicalization of Pakistani society. As our people continued to be deprived of basic political and human rights, and as the social needs of our working families go unmet, people lost faith in the ability of government to respond to their needs. When they lost faith, they became hopeless, they became desperate and they did tend to become vulnerable to the hysterical appeals of extremists. Under their watch religious extremists have expanded in Pakistan. Radical mosques and madrasas have been encouraged as an alternative to recognized political institutions. They are awash in money and weapons while the people of Pakistan bear the burden of unemployment, inflation, poverty and hunger. When Pakistanis gather to pray on Friday in the mosques they are often subjected to long lectures by radical clerics appointed by the government even as the government claims publicly to be against extremism. The voices of moderation are exiled or imprisoned. The voices of extremism are protected.
And because Shaheed Mohtarmah Benazir Bhutto was an exemplar of a liberal & progressive Pakistan, free from such vultures, hunting the humankind, she was brutally assassinated by the terrorists, assisted by the Government of the time. No one can refute the fact that martyrs live an eternal life, Benazir’s legacy survives and is a bright light, amidst all the sinister pavements, guiding her followers to fights for the rights of their nation and to depict the true image of the Islam. Indeed, one cannot close their ogles to the achievements of President Asif Ali Zardari in this regards and his commitment to combating the terrorism from the very soil of Pakistan:- “ A freely elected democratic government, with the support and mandate of the people, working with democracies all over the world, is determined to build a viable, economic prosperous Pakistan that is a model to the entire Islamic world on what can be accomplished in giving hope to our people and opportunity to our children. We can become everything that al-Qaeda and the Taliban most fear — a vision of a modern Islamic future. Our people, our government, our military, our intelligence agencies are very much united. Some abroad insist that this is not the case, but they are wrong. Pakistanis are united. Together, our nations have suffered and sacrificed. We have fought bravely and with passion and commitment. Ultimately we will prevail.
For, in the words of my martyred wife Benazir Bhutto, “truth, justice and the forces of history are on our side.””
One cannot indeed, rebuff the actuality:
– “Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror.” – Shaheed Mohtarmah Benazir Bhutto