Even the ‘right war’ in Afghanistan has gone wrong
As Pakistan joined the international coalition to fight terrorism post 9/11, an intriguing question was raised. Is it the US war on terror or Pakistan’s war on terror? The question became more persistent as the two countries bearing the brunt, Iraq and Afghanistan, are Muslim nations. So it was argued that the war is against the Muslims and by that analogy Pakistan should not be party to it. Many in the US admit that attack on Iraq was a blunder and dub the war effort as “the wrong war”. However, they insist that the fighting in Afghanistan is the right one as it was the sanctuary for most of the Al Qaeda leadership. But even the “right war” in Afghanistan has gone wrong and failed to achieve the objectives. Indeed it has resulted in the resurgence of Taliban both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The simple answer to the above question is that it is an international war effort and Pakistan is part of the international community. To make the confusion worse confounded some people argue that Taliban represent the pristine Islam and that Pakistan being an Islamic country should not be fighting them. However, this is patently wrong. The Taliban mix up tribal cultural norms with Islam. Keeping women ignorant and subjugated is not acceptable to fifty plus members of the OIC. Similarly, attacking barber shops or video/CD shops has nothing to do with Islam. In fact, a miniscule minority trying to impose its medieval thinking on a majority of Muslims is against the spirit of the great religion of Islam.
What made the Taliban popular in Afghanistan was dispensation of quick justice, effective law and order and an end to warlordism. They brought a definite improvement to a chaotic state of affairs. But the Taliban are hardly a viable alternative in a civilised society. Their popularity in the tribal areas of Pakistan is also due to the breakdown of the political agent system left by the British and as a reaction to the draconian laws known as the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) under which the entire tribe takes responsibility for an offence committed by an individual or a group belonging to that tribe. While Prime Minister Gilani in his maiden speech to Parliament had undertaken to abrogate these laws, no alternative system has been devised or announced by the government.
Pakistan was established by enlightened leaders like Allama Iqbal and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Both were educated in England and advocated a free, fair and just political system based on popular will. Both supported women’s emancipation and full participation in the affairs of the state. Quaid’s sister Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah contested presidential elections against Ayub Khan in 1965. In 1988, Benazir Bhutto became the first Muslim prime minister. It may be recalled that the Muslim clergy in India had mostly rejected the Pakistan idea. Leaders like Iqbal and Jinnah stood up against the clergy. Earlier, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had espoused modern education for the Muslims much to the displeasure of the Muslim clergy. Indeed there is no place in Islam for exclusive clergy. Every Muslim, in the ideal sense, should be a scholar of religion as well as worldly knowledge.
A religion in which divine revelation began with the command “Iqra” or read has to be pro- knowledge. The earlier Muslims went to India, Iran, Greece and Rome to gain knowledge. They took these treasures of wisdom to Spain and were a major catalyst in the European renaissance. Allergy to knowledge belongs to the period of Muslim decadence. Taliban-type elements constitute a threat to Pakistan as a coherent and effective state. Religious fanaticism and violent enforcement of a narrow interpretation of Islam can tear apart the Pakistani society. The strong urban class in Pakistan is the back-bone of a vibrant civil society and also controls the media and financial institutions. They will never accept the Taliban outlook on life.
So Talibanisation is no viable alternative in Pakistan. Indeed, Osama Bin Laden or Mullah Omar are not revered figures in Pakistan. Repeated surveys have shown that their ratings are low. But that does not mean that the prevalent systems are ideal— far from it. The judicial system in Pakistan is very slow and has to be improved. The law and order situation leaves much to be desired. Corruption has to be rooted out. Sufferings of the common man inflicted by inflation and insensitive system have to be addressed. Instability and adversity nourish extremism. Government should provide good governance and quick justice.
Only then will Pakistan come closer to the dreams of its founding fathers. There is nothing in common between the ideologies espoused by the Taliban and the founding fathers of Pakistan.
(The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the Sultanate)