Thursday, 16 July 2009

Pakistan and Extremism

By Saad bin Muslim Buxoo
It was September 20th, 2008 around 7 pm. Me and some friends had justprayed maghrib and were seated at a table in a small restaurant inIslamabad. We were about to engage in a conversation when suddenly thebuilding took a powerful shockwave. The main entrance door, made ofthick glass fell into pieces and I could feel the air compression inmy ears. Everybody froze. There was a deep silence. We all thought itwas an earthquake but we soon realized it was an explosion. We rushedoutside and from a couple of hundred yards; we could see a thick cloudof smoke above the Marriot Hotel. We did not take time to drive awayfrom the site, fearing a secondary explosion. We went straight to afriend’s house and turned on the news. It was a dumper truck, loadedwith a ton of RDX that was blown up at the gate of the hotel leavinghundreds of dead.Since its formation in 1947, Pakistan has had a long history ofinternal problems, very often between political and religious groupsand sometimes between the state and its people. Almost everygovernment that has ruled the country has had to face severeopposition from different groups across the country where most clashesresulted in either destabilizing the government or dragging the wholecountry into a state of anarchy. During the last ten years,indiscriminate violence has escalated to an unprecedented magnitudewhere literally every day, Pakistan makes the news headlines on thetop news channels around the world. Today, violence is not restrictedto some remote areas of Pakistan, but as if the whole country has beenturned into a battlefield.The situation got bad after the U.S. drone strike on a madrassah inBajaur, North West Pakistan killing 83 civilians, with the help of thePakistani intelligence. It got worse when the Red Mosque standoff wasended with the brutal killing of hundreds of young students. When theTaliban decided to react to that, Condoleezza Rice decided to declarethe Taliban as a terrorist organization. The irony is that there wasonce a similar group with similar ideologies which America called‘mujahideens’ during the Soviet war in Afghanistan and aided them tofight off the Russians. Indeed, there is religious extremism inPakistan where different groups choose to follow extreme ideologiesand creeds, the main reason being ignorance. However, in the case ofTaliban, they are simple a group of people that are really angry withthe Pakistani government. Let alone being bombed, people do not likebeing stepped on the toe. It is easy to condemn their way of doingthings, but how do we expect them to react when in their view, it isblatant that Pakistan is fighting America’s war? We are not advocatingviolence, but there is a need to know who the aggressors are and whothe victims are. North West Pakistan with its warm, welcoming andhospitable people used to be one of the most peaceful places inPakistan. Today things have changed. We ask ourselves, why has thishappened?‘Extremism’ does not just come into being on its own. If today we seeextreme ‘reactions’ around the world, it is most likely because thereare extreme ‘actions’ being done to the world.The undeniable and sad truth is that in Pakistan, those groups thatare called ‘extremists’ live in the most underdeveloped areas of thecountry such as the Waziristan and Balochistan provinces. Authors fromoutside Pakistan who have written extensively on what they define asextremism and terrorism argue that the main reasons behind that areusually: political deprivation, the state’s inability to satisfysocial demands and corruption. Pakistan, a country where the majorityof its people live below the poverty line, spends massively onmilitary equipments. There is a clear unjust distribution of wealth inthe country. Half of the country’s gas production is based in theBalochistan province, yet its people are living in extreme povertyconditions in mud huts, next to those huge factories and have noaccess to that wealth generated. No wonder, there exist a separatistgroup in that region, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) who havebeen struggling for autonomy for a long time. South Korea, incontrast, no longer has an army and is investing hugely in elevatingits people and in its tourism industry. Countries like that usually donot suffer from internal problems like extremism or rebellion. For thelast ten years, Pakistan has just been making enemies, both externaland internal and keeps doing it.After the Islamabad Marriot Hotel incident, I understood what it wasfor those people living under constant fear in North West Pakistan,with U.S. drones patrolling above their homes, looking for new‘training camps’. There are indeed many issues with the Taliban andthe way they deal with things, but those problems can be sorted outthrough proper education and dialogue and not by beating the livingdaylights out of them. As I said, five years ago, North West Pakistanwas a quiet and peaceful region but now its people have been provokedinto this dirty war with increasing violent and aggressive attacks onboth sides. As long as America keeps pressurizing and dictatingPakistan, the internal tension that already exists will keep onrising. We tend to forget the past. Vietnam, Rwanda, Bosnia,Philippines, Somalia and many more are all the forgotten chapters ofAmerica’s dirty military involvement. In 1994, while hundreds ofthousands of people were being butchered in Rwanda, Madeleine Albrightthen secretary of state was going through her dictionary for themeaning of ‘genocide’ in order to decide whether to intervene or not.Yet we do not learn any lesson from that but instead we keep buyingthe myth that America is the ‘good guy’ and is working towardsmaintain peace around the world. What the Pakistan government sees as‘religious extremism’ is just something that it has created with itsown hand and continues to aggravate it. Let us reflect on the words ofAl Ghazzali: “Do not buy the enmity of one man for the love of athousand men”.By Saad Bin Muslim Buxoo, MA Islamic Banking, Finance and ManagementCURRENT AFFAIRS CURRENT AFFAIRS CURRENT AFFAIRS

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