Pakistan is going through a process of vertical polarisation with its society getting a profile dominated by Islamic extremists while liberals are being reduced to an abysmal minority. With an overflow of fanaticism, as is evident from the outrageous murders in broad daylight of the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and the minority Christian leader Shahbaz Bhatti, there seems to be no semblance of leadership left in the hands of the Pakistani government.The country that has, for some time now, been standing on the crossroads between liberal secularism and extremist fundamentalism, is now travelling the latter road. Rose petals for religiously motivated assassins, threats by the mullahs against those having a liberal view – all these clearly indicate that the liberal voice is so weakened that it is now barely heard.
An analysis of the happenings in the last ten years (since the region came under the grip of US sponsored global war against terror post 9/11) reveals a disturbing trend. Anger against the United States, deep rooted corruption, economic deprivation, deteriorating law and order situation and overall misgovernance has led to growing frustration and given birth to a fury whereby people have turned to the only available alternative: religious extremism. Extremism has, by now, successfully captured the anti-US space and its leaders are most vocal against the Islamabad-Washington nexus from which, people believe, the oppression originates.
When the US made Pakistan its partner in the global war against terror the latter did not appreciate that home grown terrorism, if left unattended, would eat up the vitals of its own home ground, before spreading to gobble up the outside world. This is the dilemma that Pakistan is facing today and even the proverbial optimist does not see light at the end of the long and dark tunnel. Today, Pakistan is paralysed due to bombings, abductions, and killings which are instilling fear and uncertainty in the public mind.
Ironically for Pakistan, people like the late Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, have been conferred with the stature of being amongst the 100 most influential people of the world, by none other than the reputed Times Magazine. This was not due to some outstanding social, political, academic, economic or humanitarian achievement but due to spread of violence, extremism and terrorism which is really a shame for any nation.
Now the predecessors of Baitullah Mehsud are carrying the flag of fundamentalism and looking for an opportunity to also figure in the prestigious Time magazine. Maulvi Faqir Mohammad is the undisputed lord of the ring in Bajaur Agency and Haji Mangal Bagh Afridi, the leader of Lashkar-e-Islam rules the Khyber Agency. Dara Adam Khel, a mere 35 kilometers south of Peshawar, is controlled by Tariq Afridi a former member of Sepah-e-Sahaba, he provides sanctuary to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an anti-Shia organisation and to Jaish-e-Muhammed, a Kashmir oriented extremist group. Maulana Fazlullah, popularly called `Mullah Radio’ had actually seized the whole of Swat and its surrounding districts and established a parallel government, before being subdued recently.
All of these and other such militant groups are involved in local violence, kidnappings, bomb blasts, killings and extortion. In their areas of influence the militant leaders have gained so much influence that they can enter cities and abduct/ kill people with impunity. In short, the present day situation in Pakistan represents what was witnessed in Afghanistan during the Mujahideen reign from 1992-96, when literally the whole country was divided into small pockets controlled by war Lords.
The situation in big towns and cities is no better. Taseer’s assassin Mumtaz Qadri is a follower of Dawat-e-Islami, a Karachi based fundamentalist party, yet he had been cleared to join the special forces of the Punjab police in 2002 and had been assigned the most sensitive duty of guarding the Governor. His turning a killer shows the extent to which the police and the military in Pakistan have been infiltrated by the fundamentalist fanatics.
The overall scenario presents a rather grim picture which calls for a serious overhaul if Pakistan wants to remain intact as a nation. This brings us to a pertinent question – does the Pakistani government have any strategy at all to enforce its writ across the country? Going by the repeated kidnappings, killings, disruptions and armies of mercenaries roaming around fully armed and without a care in the world, we can safely assume that it does not. There is no force today that seems to be in a position to prevent a takeover of the religious right that has come out of the shadows completely after Taseer’s assassination. The Army initially seemed more powerful than the weak Zardari-Geelani duo, but given the groundswell of support for those who held the gun against liberalism, it has to be seen whether it will be able to contain this particular wave or will choose to ride on it?
97% of Pakistan lives in fear of the 3% who subscribe to a militant and terrorist ideology and who have been given a free run by the Pakistani government and the Pakistani Army to create mayhem within the nation and beyond its territories, a force of rabid criminals which is proudly portrayed by the country as its strategic assets. The way things are going, Pakistan, already in the hands of the Mullahs, will sooner than later veer towards balkanisation.
The threat to India comes from the fact that one hundred percent of these fanatics are anti-India. We are now living under the shadow of a possible nuclear holocaust or a fundamentalist assault on our democratic, liberal and secular credentials. This is not the time to sit back and watch, India should take all steps to ensure that the Pakistani government and the Pakistani security apparatus spearheaded by its defence forces comes up to reverse thecritical situation, failing which India should be ready to apply some other hard options. Someone has to come forward and stem the rot.