Contradictions to deal with

Published Feb 24, 2007 12:00am

I WAS staying with old Turkish friends in their house on the Aegean sea when we learned about the lethal blast in a Quetta courtroom. My hostess was very concerned as she has been to Pakistan many times, and has visited the Balochistan capital as well.

But hardened as we Pakistanis have become to such daily horrors, I must confess that apart from making some perfunctory remarks, I was unable to muster much shock and horror. The truth is that over the years, terrorism has taken a heavy toll not just on human lives, but on our ability to share the suffering of the survivors.

The mind can only react to a certain amount of violence; after a limit has been reached, it becomes numb to yet more news of death and disaster. Everybody from Musharraf downwards goes through the motions, and we are promised that the perpetrators of the latest carnage will be caught and punished. But within a couple of days, it is business as usual until the next atrocity.

After two decades of ethnic and sectarian terror, we now face the prospect of endless political terrorism in which officials and state institutions are targeted for conventional and suicide bombing. Needless to say, thousands of innocent lives are being lost in this campaign. And given the issues involved, as well as the uncompromising nature of the foe, it is hard to see any light at the end of this particular tunnel.

What drives a person to strap a bomb to his waist and kill himself, as well as strangers who have not harmed him in any way? Where foreign occupation is concerned, and there are few weapons available to confront the enemy, it is understandable when the oppressed take up this extreme means of resistance. But even here, it is not justifiable to target innocent civilians.

While discussing Islamic extremism in the West, Musharraf and other Muslim leaders have rightly emphasised the need to resolve issues like Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya to deprive the terrorists of their appeal. But this does not explain the growing phenomenon of Muslim-on-Muslim killings. How does the bomb blast in Quetta or the daily car bombs in Baghdad solve anything? And why is the Islamic world silent in the face of this violence?

A couple of years ago, a Karachi monthly magazine ran a cover story on the terrorism in Kashmir. One fighter was asked what he would do if a political resolution was found for the disputed valley. Revealingly, he replied that he would not lay down his gun, but turn it on the Pakistani leadership, with the aim of installing an Islamic government there.

This is the crux of the entire problem. The violence we are experiencing today is entirely local, entirely home-grown. The young killers hitting targets across the country are neither fighting for a homeland, and nor are they seeking to evict a foreign occupier. They want nothing less than to seize power, and to turn Pakistan into their version of the ideal Islamic state. In their incoherent, ill-formed vision, this would include restoring the caliphate, as well as doing away with all western influence and elements of modernity, except, perhaps, the Kalashnikov and the Internet.

How, you may ask, has it come to this? The answer does not lie far from anybody living in Pakistan. Today, well over 20,000 madressahs are imparting religious instruction (and precious little else) to millions of children across Pakistan. And while most of them do not actively encourage violent revolution, they do effectively brainwash their students into rejecting reason and independent thinking.

Despite repeated promises from Musharraf, these seminaries continue to teach their narrow syllabus. Religious parties have ignored the government’s attempts to monitor the source of their financing, as well as the subjects they teach. A certain number of madressahs are indoctrinating young minds in the way of jihad, as well as filling them with hatred for everything western. Even worse, each sect runs seminaries that teach students that only their version of the faith will lead them to salvation, and that other Muslims are not true believers.

If readers think I am overstating my case, they only have to look to Lal Masjid in Islamabad, the scene of the stand-off between the government and a group of young female madressah students. Despite the provocation offered by these girls who occupied a children’s library while armed with batons the government beat a hasty retreat. More chilling than the actions of these students was their words: they openly stated that they saw their role as being mothers and wives of suicide bombers.

Clearly, the madressah teaching these girls should be shut down, and the staff tried for brainwashing their wards. I shudder to think of the kind of people who send their children to such places. But surely, the government has a role in ensuring that young Pakistanis are not taught noxious matter that harms them and the state.

Instead of regulating and monitoring schools established in the country, the government gives more and more space to these hate-mongers. Incidents like the Quetta suicide bombing are the inevitable outcome of the state’s inability to act. This is especially so when self-styled politicians like Ijazul Haq, the dead dictator’s son, hobnob with the mullahs in charge of Lal Masjid openly, and plead their cause. Their cause being, of course, the illegal occupation of state land.

But perhaps the contradictions that paralyse Musharraf are hard-wired into Pakistan’s very existence. As religious parties point out, not entirely inaccurately, if Pakistan was to be a secular state, why was India partitioned? Clearly, they insist, Mr Jinnah had desired an Islamic state, and therefore it follows that the law of the land should be the Shariat, and the constitution ought to be the Quran.

You can quote from any speech of Jinnah’s you like, but the fact of the matter is that over time, the religious right has moved its agenda forward, while rationalists have been marginalised. Leaders like Musharraf want it both ways: to wield power with the support of the mullahs, while showing a modern face to the rest of the world.

However, as he might discover soon, straddling the fence is uncomfortable work. Meanwhile, the mayhem will go on, as the graduates of madressahs take their shortcut to the houri-filled paradise of their fevered imagination.


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