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The grey list

June 29, 2018

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ON Wednesday night, Pakistani officialdom’s worst fears were realised when the high-profile Financial Action Task Force followed through on the warning it issued in February and formally announced that Pakistan has been placed on FATF’s so-called grey list. This effectively means that we are now only one step removed from being explicitly labelled a sponsor of terrorism.

Like many Pakistanis, I am galled by the duplicity of the ‘international community’. Shifting all the blame for the global and varied phenomenon that is ‘terrorism’ to a handful of countries is at best counterproductive, and at worst outrageous. There is hardly a state in the world today that does not use ‘terror’ as a political weapon, whether to suppress dissent at home or serve cynical strategic interests abroad.

The specifically ‘Islamist’ brand of terror that has enveloped Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and spectacularly rears its head in Western countries regularly cannot be attributed only to terror financing in Pakistan or the few other countries on the FATF grey (and black) list. Whether one considers the historic support of Western imperialist countries to the factories of Islamist militancy that were built during the 1980s, or the militarism and xenophobia that has characterised the dubious ‘war on terror’, the material and ideological terrain upon which ‘terrorism’ thrives is sustained by states the world over.

Having said this, those of us who for years have been crying hoarse over the establishment’s alleged policy of patronising religious militancy also know it is not Washington, Delhi or London that is responsible for our ever-intensifying isolation on the global stage. It must be debated whether we can claim that Pakistan is purely a victim of terrorism that is imposed upon us from the outside, or that our self-defeating policies can be justified by the need to protect the state from the designs of ‘enemy’ countries.

One is galled by the duplicity of the ‘international community’.

No matter how much we feel hard done by the hypocrisy of others, adopting a self-righteous position based on the premise that Pakistani state policy is not the primary cause of the crisis is getting us nowhere fast.

Being put on FATF’s grey list shows that the viability of the state as well as the future of an extremely youthful society, whose ordinary men, women and children have their whole lives ahead of them, is at stake. International isolation and its political and economic fallouts should concern us, but our crisis is primarily a domestic one. We must get our own house in order by questioning and then overturning the logic of state policy in Pakistan to create a viable state and a peaceful society.

As election campaigning picks up steam, discussion about ‘terrorism’ has receded into the background. Why the eerie silence about a subject that has been a permanent feature of the public sphere for years? Surely those who are serious about winning governmental power to serve ordinary Pakistanis must have something to say about ‘terrorism’ and future policies to address it.

My sense is that the front-runners for elected office will not say much of substance; they will continue to heap blame on one another for our problems, terrorism included. No one will bring up fundamental questions about the failures of ‘national security’ policy. Or talk about making peace with our immediate neighbours and thereby granting our people a massive peace dividend.

One reason is that many of our mainstream parties know they have to do a deal with religio-political groups to come to power, including those militants who are now being mainstreamed. Note that the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat chief has been cleared to run for elections, not to mention Khadim Rizvi’s Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan and the Tehreek-i-Allah-o-Akbar (read: Milli Muslim League aka Jamaatud Dawa). In short, political expediency plays out before our very eyes even while officialdom continues to spew rhetoric about eliminating all vestiges of terrorism.

Until and unless the opaque policies of decades are brought to account, our society will continue to be held hostage to terror. We need courageous and visionary leadership that can address the deep societal crises that decades of self-destructive policies have generated.

Hate speech on the (mainstream and social) media and the doctored educational curricula must be addressed, especially given the huge number of frustrated young people that continue to be drawn towards right-wing militant ideologies. A uniform system of education irrespective of class background is imperative. Young Pakistanis need messages of peace and tolerance, and policies that guarantee health, housing and employment. A state that values its people, its needs and promotes critical thought can move beyond grey and black lists. The question, as ever, is who is brave enough to own such a political programme?

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2018