By Supna Zaidi
The Islamists seem set to win in
Pakistan. From President Obama's efforts at "Muslim" engagement, to
Fareed Zakaria's policy of abandonment, the U.S. does not seem to have
the will to fight the Islamist movement in favor of secular democracy.
How else can one explain the Robert Gates' desire to bring in Saudi
Arabia to help Pakistan negotiate with the Taliban? This is the same
country that foments radicalism across the globe with their billion
dollar campaign to convert Muslims to the puritanical strain of Islam
called Wahhabism, encourage anti-Semitism, misogyny, and anti-westernism
through madrassa education, proselytize in the West and act like
partners in the war against Islamism with shallow p.r. efforts to
"rehab" jihadists at home.
Moreover, Pakistani President Zardari's only real competition is the
equally corrupt politician Nawaz Sharif, who spent a decade in exile in
Saudi Arabia after a corruption case against him in the 1990s. It is an
open question to what degree Sharif has been influenced by Saudi
Arabia's Islamist agenda. His own Islamist sympathies are documented.
In 1998, he presented parliament with Sharia legislation that was
rejected, but there was no tangible Taliban threat to Pakistan, itself,
at that time. Islamist appeasement is much more likely today given
governmental fears of violence and intimidation by Taliban forces in
Pakistani society. The latter have only been empowered by civil
society's inability to stand up against them. Swat violence resulted in
the passing of religious laws called the Nizam-I-Adl. This "truce" did
not last, leaving Pakistan proper as a target itself to greater Taliban
US foreign policy exacerbates the fight against Islamism. By only
recognizing violence as the problem, rather than the orthodox ideology
behind it, we do not support secular Muslims, human rights activists,
politicians, and journalists who realize that the ideology itself is the
true enemy. Instead, we support the Muslim Brotherhood backed Islamist
movement itself so long as they put their weapons down and lobby for
Sharia legally as legitimate political parties and politicians.
On the other side, Muslims who are secular democrats must also face
paralysis in their own society. Preferring knee-jerk anti-Americanism,
most Pakistani's refuse to accept the fact that the war against the
Taliban is not America's war, but equally theirs. From its early years,
the Pakistani military developed "a strategic commitment to jihadi
ideology." It used Islam to mobilize the country and Army in every
conflict with India." This has nothing to do with the U.S.
Moreover, with the Islamification of Pakistan under Zia-ul-Haq, peer
pressure to be more "Muslim" as a policy entered professional and home
life. Suddenly applicants for jobs, promotions, etc were tied not only
to actual qualifications, but to visible "piety" as well. Those who
prayed or fasted were promoted. Those who did not were demoted.
Moreover, sectarian violence increased in the 1980s and 1990s under the
government's watch and at times with their tacit consent. These were
domestic developments that secular Pakistanis allowed to spread,
preferring to look the other way.
Pakistani leadership is another reason for Islamism's growth in
Pakistan. Whether it was Benazir Bhutto appeasing Islamists with the
Hudood laws, or the bribery scandals against President Zardari, giving
him the title "Mr. Ten Percent" for his personal kickbacks in business
dealings, no Pakistani politician is above reproach. Pervez Musharaff
was a brief breath of fresh air. He envisioned the military following
the Turkish model, entering civil society periodically to quell
extremists tendencies, but his ego got the best of him too. Embarrassed
one too many times by a pro-human rights, anti-corruption judiciary,
Musharaff fired them all and declared martial law. His subsequent demise
It is time Pakistanis started owning up to their own problem and
accept the fact that have also had a hand in sabotaging Pakistan's
potential. It is a time to end the emotional focus on pride and have a
rational conversation about accountability and act on their own behalf.
It is time that the US began supporting the people instead of corrupt
politicians and un-democratic Islamists. The violence of the Taliban
merely allows for a cover to the equally Sharia embracing Islamists like
the Jamaat-e-Islami party, who have never won a meaningful number of
seats in parliament. But with a powerless civilian government and rogue
military/ISI, anti-western Islamism is on the rise in Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia sees Pakistan as a sphere of influence to counter
neighboring Iran. A Saudi backed Sharif seems like an attractive
solution to the US compared to the Afghan Taliban, but Sharif will only
push Pakistan further away from the secular society its founder dreamed
of, towards an Islamist state that bows to Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism.
(Supna Zaidi is editor-in-chief of Muslim World Today and
assistant director of Islamist Watch, a project at the Middle East
Forum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)