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Pakistan: The siege within
   

Any crisis breeds Cassandras, and there are enough floating around on the wide world of the web, predicting the disintegration, or worse, of Pakistan. They, however, underestimate the determination of those Pakistanis who want to save their nation from Maududi-Zia Islamists. Urban Pakistan – what might be called Jinnah's Pakistan – proves a powerful counterweight to the fundamentalists, its will bolstered by domestic military muscle and America's dollar power.

The best-case scenario for Pakistan is that the 'Islamic-subaltern' revolt in impoverished areas is brought under control by the military, and elected governments appreciate that a real solution demands social and economic reform: land redistribution; high economic growth; Keynesian investments in low-skill jobs; secular, gender-equal education; health care and infrastructure, with democracy as a non-negotiable necessity, which in turn means that the 'doctrine of necessity', the judicial cover for coups, has to be eliminated.

There might be little hope for peace with India, given the fundamental divergence on Kashmir, but a settlement will help excise the jihad culture ravaging Pakistan. Altaf Hussain, the self-exiled, London-based leader of Muslims who had migrated from India at the time of partition, made headlines when he said, in 2009, that partition was a mistake because it had split and weakened the Muslims of the subcontinent. This was a rebellious, if not revolutionary, departure from the conventional Pakistani narrative that the two-nation theory was essential to save Indian Muslims and Islam from Hindus.

It is easier for India to come to terms with Pakistan. Economic growth and dreams of becoming a part of the first world have begun to dominate the Indian mind. Its middle class has begun to appreciate a simple reality: social violence and economic growth cannot co-exist. Remarkably, even terrorism, often exported from Pakistan, did not feed a backlash in the form of riots, even after the venomous terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008.

India is content being a status quo-ist power, determined to preserve its current geography, without serious claims on territory it believes it has lost to China along the Himalayas and to Pakistan in Kashmir. Peace is a logical extension of this position. There is a large and growing constituency in Pakistan that understands this. But unless Pakistan achieves clarity on terrorism, with all its snake-oil justifications, the subcontinent will remain hostage to malevolent mania...

Fears of Pakistan's disintegration, however, are highly exaggerated. Even pessimists like Pervez Hoodbhoy are more worried by the 'slow-burning fuse' of religious extremism rather than collapse. He recounts the surreptitious rehabilitation of the Taliban by Musharraf after it was devastated in 2001 because 'this force would remain important for maintaining Pakistani influence in Afghanistan – and keep the low-intensity war in Kashmir going.' Hoodbhoy bemoans that 'a sterile Saudi-style Wahabism is beginning to impact upon Pakistan's once-vibrant culture and society' and indulges a horror-scenario: a 'coup by radical Islamist officers who seize control of its nuclear weapons, making intervention by outside forces impossible. Jihad for liberating Kashmir is subsequently declared as Pakistan's highest priority and earlier policies for crossing the LoC are revived; Shias are expelled into Iran, and Hindus are forced into India; minorities in the Northern Areas flee Pashtun invaders; anti-Taliban forces such as the ethnic Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Baluch nationalists are crushed by Islamists; and Sharia is declared across the country. Fortunately, this seems improbable – as long as the army stays together.'

When George Bush launched his second war in 2003, he surely missed the greatest paradox of his decision. He invaded Iraq to eliminate nuclear weapons, dictatorship and terrorists. In 2003, he would have found all three in Pakistan, including a champion proliferator in Dr A Q Khan, considered the father of Pakistan's nuclear programme. America has opted for the blind eye. When Richard Barlow, a CIA agent working in the directorate of intelligence on proliferation during Bush Senior's administration, protested that the Pentagon was manipulating intelligence to protect Pakistan's bomb project, he was sacked. Pakistan became a nuclear power with America's tacit consent and China's assistance, because both accepted its argument of self-defence against nuclear India.

For six decades, power in Pakistan has seesawed between military dictatorship and civilian rule. What happens when both the army and political parties lose their credibility? Will it be the turn, then, of Zia's 'lower rungs'?

Juan Cole makes an interesting observation in "Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East". There have been only four instances in the Middle East, if you include Afghanistan in the term, when Muslim clerics came to power: '...under the republican French in Egypt, under Khomeini and his successors in Iran, under the Taliban in Afghanistan and, with the victory of the United Iraqi Alliance in the Iraq elections of 30 January 2005 (led by the Shia cleric Adbul Aziz al-Hakim).' In other words, it is Western intervention that created the conditions for a clerical upsurge. We do not know what the American intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan will leave behind.

Driven by the compulsions of an ideological strand in its DNA, damaged by the inadequacies of those who could have kept the nation loyal to Jinnah's dream of a secular Muslim-majority nation, Pakistan is in danger of turning into a toxic 'jelly state', a quivering country that will neither collapse nor stabilize. (Courtesy: timesofindia.indiatimes.com)

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