And India: A Common Defense?
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, says that Pakistan is ”compiling hard evidence of India’s involvement” in terrorist attacks upon Pakistan’s public and its armed forces. If he, and the Interior Minister, are correct then we must conclude that the Indians are psychotics possessed with a death wish, or perhaps plain stupid. While India’s assistance for Baloch insurgents could conceivably make strategic sense, helping the jihadists simply does not.
As Pakistan staggers from one bombing to the other, some Indians must be secretly pleased. Indeed, there are occasional verbalizations: Is this not sweet revenge for the horrors of Mumbai perpetrated by Lashkar-e-Taiba? Shouldn’t India feel satisfaction as Pakistan reels from the stinging poison of its domestically reared snakes?
But most Indians are probably less than enthusiastic in stoking fires across the border. In fact, the majority would like to forget that Pakistan exists. With a 6% growth rate, booming hi-tech exports, and expectations of a semi-superpower status, they feel that India has no need to engage a struggling Pakistan with its endless litany of problems.
Of course, some would like to hurt Pakistan. Extremists in India ask: shouldn’t one increase the pain of a country with which India has fought three bloody wars by aiding its enemies? Perhaps do another Bangladesh on Pakistan someday?
These fringe elements, fortunately, are inconsequential today. Rational self-interest demands that India not aid jihadists. Imagine the consequences if central authority in Pakistan disappears or is sharply weakened. Splintered into a hundred jihadist lashkars, each with its own agenda and tactics, Pakistan’s territory would become India’s eternal nightmare. When Mumbai-II occurs as it surely would in such circumstances India’s options in dealing with nuclear Pakistan would be severely limited.
The Indian Army would be powerless. As the Americans have discovered at great cost, the mightiest war machines on earth cannot prevent holy warriors from crossing borders. Internal collaborators, recruited from a domestic Muslim population that feels itself alienated from Hindu-India, would connive with jihadists. Subsequently, as Indian forces retaliate against Muslims innocent and otherwise the action-reaction cycle would rip the country apart.
So, how can India protect itself from invaders across its western border and grave injury? Just as importantly, how can we in Pakistan assure that the fight against fanatics is not lost?
Let me make an apparently outrageous proposition: in the coming years, India’s best protection is likely to come from its traditional enemy, the Pakistan Army. Therefore, India ought to now help, not fight, against it.
This may sound preposterous. After all, the two countries have fought three and a half wars over six decades. During periods of excessive tension, they have growled at each other while meaningfully pointing towards their respective nuclear arsenals. Most recently, after heightened tensions following the Mumbai massacre, Pakistani troops were moved out from NWFP towards the eastern border. Baitullah Mehsud’s offer to jointly fight India was welcomed by the Pakistan Army.
And yet, the imperative of mutual survival makes a common defense inevitable. Given the rapidly rising threat within Pakistan, the day for joint actions may not be very far away.
Today Pakistan is bearing the brunt. Its people, government and armed forces are under unrelenting attack. South Waziristan, a war of necessity rather than of choice, will certainly not be the last one. A victory here will not end terrorism, although a stalemate will embolden jihadists in South Punjab, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammed. The cancer of religious militancy has spread across Pakistan, and it will take decades to defeat.
This militancy does not merely exist because America occupies Afghanistan. A US withdrawal, while welcome, will not end Pakistan’s problems. As an ideological movement, the jihadists want to transform society as part of their wider agenda. They ride on the backs of their partners, the mainstream religious political parties like Jamat-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Pakistan. None of these have condemned the suicide bombings of Pakistani universities, schools, markets, mosques, police and army facilities.
Pakistan’s political leadership and army must not muddy the waters, especially now that public sanction has finally been obtained for fighting extremism in Swat and Waziristan. Self-deception weakens, and enormously increases vulnerability. Wars can only be won if nations have a clear rallying slogan. Therefore the battle against religious extremism will require identifying it by name as the enemy.
India should derive no satisfaction from Pakistan’s predicament. Although religious extremists see ordinary Muslims as munafiqs (hypocrites) and therefore free to be blown up in bazaars and mosques they hate Hindus even more. In their calculus, hurting India would buy even more tickets for heaven than hurting Pakistan. They dream of ripping apart both societies, or starting a war preferably nuclear between Pakistan and India.
A common threat needs a common defense. But this is difficult unless the Pakistan-India conflict is reduced in intensity. In fact the extremist groups that threaten both countries today are an unintended consequence of Pakistan’s frustrations at Indian obduracy in Kashmir.
To create a future working alliance with Pakistan, and in deference to basic democratic principles, India must therefore be seen as genuinely working towards some kind of resolution of the Kashmir issue. Over the past two decades India has been morally isolated from Kashmiri Muslims and continues to incur the very considerable costs of an occupying power in the Valley. Indian soldiers continue to needlessly die and to oppress and kill Kashmiri innocents.
It is time for India to fuzz the LOC, make it highly permeable, and demilitarize it up to some mutually negotiated depth on both sides. Without peace in Kashmir the forces of cross-border jihad, and its hate-filled holy warriors, will continue to receive unnecessary succor.
India also needs to allay Pakistan’s fears on Balochistan. Although Pakistan’s current federal structure is the cause of the problem a fact which the government is now finally addressing through the newly announced Balochistan package nevertheless it is possible that India is aiding some insurgent groups. Statements have been made in India that Balochistan provides New Delhi with a handle to exert pressure on Pakistan. This is unacceptable.
While there is no magic wand, confidence building measures (CBMs) continue to be important for managing the Pakistan-India conflict and bringing down the decibel level of mutual rhetoric. To be sure, CBMs can be easily disparaged as palliatives that do not address the underlying causes of a conflict. Nevertheless, looking at those initiated over the years shows that they have held up even in adverse circumstances. More are needed.
The reason for India to want rapprochement with Pakistan, and vice versa, has nothing to do with feelings of friendship or goodwill. It has only to do with survival. For us in Pakistan, this is even more critical.
Let’s Make Our Own Progress
What do we do about Pakistan? Because I am a Pakistani-American who recently spent several months there, people here are constantly trying to get me to answer that question. One of the most important things I can offer them is a reality check.
I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, but my family moved to Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, in the early 1990s. Those were Karachi’s worst years and constitute my earliest memories of terrorism.
Political and ethnic violence wracked the city, becoming, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan today, an excuse for every type of crime shootings in mosques, kidnappings, violent break-ins and street-side executions if you belonged to the wrong ethnic group. By 1996, my family gave up on Pakistan and came back to the United States. By 1999, Pervez Musharraf gave up on Pakistan and overthrew the government.
Worse than the violence, for a Pakistani-American child, was that Pakistan was boring. As far as I am concerned, Pizza Hut was the only good thing that happened to Pakistan in those years. Prior to that, there was no American fast food in Karachi, let alone malls or highways. You couldn’t even find a decent candy bar.
And as I got older, I grew increasingly irked by the conservatism. Pakistan, I felt, was easily the most closed country in the world traditional dress was mandatory, girls were either stuck at home or harassed in the streets, and I almost never saw a foreigner.
I never imagined that I would see Pakistan the way I saw it this summer, after a mere 14 years. Karachi today looks like any major, cosmopolitan city movie theaters, restaurants, and cafés full of boys and girls smoking, in jeans, mingling together.
More women are finishing college and getting jobs, and they have traded traditional baggy shalwars for trousers and capris. The city has been aggressively transformed by a mayor so impressively capable that he seems misplaced in a culture of corrupt politicians and broken bureaucracies.
If I sound like a wide-eyed Pakistani-American, it’s because I am. Pakistan today is more open and progressive than Pakistani communities in the US. My parents’ generation in America has worked hard to preserve the Pakistan they left behind in the 1980’s.
Pakistani-Americans whisper and shake their heads about the wild parties they hear go on in Pakistan today. It’s true: alcohol, although illegal, is everywhere. And when I celebrated Christmas in Karachi this December, it was a Pakistani-American girl I met there who commented disapprovingly. Meanwhile, my Pakistani friends didn’t believe me when I tried to tell them that, having grown up in the United States, I have never met a Muslim who celebrated Christmas.
This is the change we need in Pakistan, but no US policy or aid programme could have brought it about. The desire that many Pakistanis have for a more open and liberal society, and the local leaders and businesses that are making it possible, are our best bet for stability and security in the region. Social change, economic growth, political maturity these are things that crowd out groups like the Taleban and make their rhetoric fall flat. But these things have no formulas and Americans have the least ability to understand or control them no matter how many policies are pronounced in Washington or billions of dollars poured into Islamabad. More importantly, progress in Pakistan takes years to realise but only a few American airstrikes or Taleban bombings to destroy. American mistakes in the region have been aggravating public sentiments for years and fueled fundamentalism in the mainstream.
How do we harness and support positive trends in Pakistan? If Washington can put good people to work on that question, who will also factor in the limits of American understanding and ground capabilities in Pakistan, they will come to a better question: How can we protect the progress that Pakistanis have already made?
Instead of fixing “Af-Pak,” the best thing America can do for the region is stop it from getting more fouled up than it already is.
So my answer to the question “what do we Americans do?” is to first understand what we have done already: US war policies are inadvertently undermining the social and economic progress that Pakistanis have made over the years.
We need to accept the limits of our capabilities and understanding of realities on the ground. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, where the United States and other countries have a huge presence, few Americans travel to Pakistan and US officials are extremely restricted in their movements.
Finally, we need realistic objectives, which will end up looking more like damage control than the magic bullet against the Taleban that everyone is looking for.
Pakistan is a different story from Afghanistan it is far more developed and modern. Afghans may not have the ability to lead themselves out of this mess, but Pakistanis do. After all, Pakistanis are the ones who suffer the most when their cities are bombed and their soldiers killed. If the United States continues to distort the situation through aggressive policy demands, then we are only reinforcing anti-Americanism and the breakdown of Pakistani institutions. What’s worse, if US attention remains fixated on narrow measures of military success, Pakistan will become collateral damage of the Afghan war.
Welcoming the World and a Fatwa Against Terror
A new front has been ripped open in the global war against Muslim extremists and it’s not being waged in the craggy mountains of North Waziristan or the poppy fields of Helmand.
This new front is located in Canada, where the battle lines stretch from Calgary to Montreal. Its weapons are not AK-47s, Soviet RPGs, IEDs or unmanned drones. Instead they are words, whose intensity reached a flashpoint earlier this month when prominent Islamic scholar Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri issued a fatwa denouncing terrorism and suicide bombings. Qadri’s 600-page religious edict is not the first of its kind, but it’s perhaps the harshest to date and unequivocal in its condemnation of Muslims who kill innocent civilians in the mistaken belief this will turn them into martyrs.
The 59-year-old Qadri is a native of Pakistan, where he founded the Minhaj-ul-Qur’an, an organisation dedicated to improving relations between communities. He once served as an elected member of Pakistan’s National Assembly and was a close associate of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
What is perhaps less known is that Qadri penned his incendiary fatwa in Ontario, Canada, where he has been living for the last four years. (His exact location is kept confidential for ?security reasons.) Qadri’s fatwa comes on the heels of another similar edict made by twenty Imams associated with the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, who earlier this year declared that attacks on Canada and the US by extremists are an attack on the 10 million Muslims living there. This was the first fatwa ever to single out North America.The result of these religious declarations is that the strongest and clearest Islamic voices speaking out against international terrorism and suicide bombings at a time when hundreds are being killed almost daily as a result of such attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere is coming from Canada. That’s a somewhat unexpected role for a country better known for its well-capitalised banks and oil from the ?Alberta tar sands.
However on closer inspection, perhaps it’s not so surprising because there is no country that embraces diversity quite like Canada. Consider that the United Nations has called Toronto, the country’s biggest urban centre, the most multi-cultural city in the world, ahead of New York and London.
Nearly half the residents of Toronto were born outside Canada and about the same number belong to visible minorities. Most of Canada’s annual influx of new immigrants settles in the Greater Toronto Area, which has a population of 5.9 million, making it one of the fastest growing urban regions in the Western world. Toronto has a large and prominent Muslim population that lives along side, Hindus, Baha’is, Orthodox and Western Christians, Buddhists, New-Agers and Zoroastrians. Toronto is also home to one of North America’s biggest Jewish communities.
Unlike France, Canada never banned the wearing of the hijab, or headscarf. And unlike Switzerland, it has not restricted on the construction of minarets, the prayer towers of mosques. The fact that Canadian Muslims are speaking out forcefully for tolerance and peace is in part an expression of gratitude for a country that has permitted them to practise their religion openly and freely. In their fatwa, the imams of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada state: There is no single city in Canada and the US where mosques are not built. Muslims have more freedom to practise Islam here in Canada and the US than many Muslim countries.
For all its multi-culturalism and religious diversity, Canada is not immune from homegrown terror. At present a group of Canadian Muslims known as the Toronto 18 are being tried for plotting to blow up key city landmarks, including the iconic CN Tower, the Toronto Stock Exchange and offices of Canada’s spy agency CSIS.
The fatwas issued by Qadri and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada were in part motivated by the Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who in 2009 failed to detonate a bomb on a US jet flying from Amsterdam to Detroit. Had these religious edicts been made sooner, would they have stopped the Nigerian bomber or the Toronto 18? Perhaps more importantly, will they have any impact on militant groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taleban, who ask followers to strap bombs to their bodies in exchange for a promise of everlasting life in paradise?
In his fatwa, Qadri makes the point that the teachings of the Qur’an condemn terrorists and suicide bombers to hell, not heaven, as their field commanders would have them believe. A serious Islamic scholar like Qadri who arrives at this conclusion after 600 pages of theological discourse is not looking for easy answers, and is impossible to ignore. At least by those who have not forgotten a passage from the Qur’an cited by the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada: When people see a wrongdoer and do nothing to stop him, they may well be visited by God with a punishment. If Islamic scholars and imams in the Muslim world add the sum of their voices to the voices of their Canadian counterparts, the result may surprise everybody.