Tuesday, October 23, 2007


What can India do for Pakistan?

ND Batra

Benazir Bhutto represents a future that must happen: a progressive, liberal and secular Pakistan that should become a model for rest of the Islamic world. That is in India’s national interest. Weak and unstable neighbours cannot make India strong. Pakistan’s problems are India’s problems too because the patterns of behaviour of the two people are not dissimilar.

“The attack was not on me. The attack was on what I represent. It was an attack on democracy and it was an attack on the very unity and integrity of Pakistan,” Bhutto told the global news media after the dastardly bombings that turned her triumphant return into an unmitigated tragedy. “We believe democracy alone can save Pakistan from disintegration and a militant takeover,” she said with firm conviction even when others were wondering, “whodunit”?

Pakistan is undergoing political and cultural turmoil that has of course not gone unnoticed by rest of the world. People opposing the authoritarianism of President Pervez Musharraf have been lawyers, journalists and other open-minded moderate groups trying to bring Pakistan under the rule of secular law. But the situation is much more complex; religious extremists’ attempt at keeping the country under siege, for example, is certainly not without the support of some strata of the all pervasive military.

The “pattern of ad-hoc deal-making between the Pakistan government and pro-Taliban militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border,” according to Dawn’s publisher Haroon Hameed, the CEO of the Dawn Group of newspapers, has been destroying the internal security of Pakistan. The solution to the problems does not lie in the imposition of emergency or martial law, but rather reviving the moribund democratic processes.

Unlike most other Muslim countries, Pakistan is no stranger to democracy. It has a vibrant Press, free and bold judiciary, and an intellectual class that is envy of the Muslim world. It is unfortunate that Pakistan is caught up between democratic aspirations at the top and religious obtuseness at the bottom. Instead of depending upon the questionable political strength and commitment of Musharraf alone for war against terrorism, the United States has been reaching out to a wide variety of constituencies in Pakistan including the media, universities, businesses, non-profit organisations, tribal leaders and intelligence communities.

Bringing Bhutto and Musharraf together to share power in a democratic framework has been so far the Bush Administration’s great diplomatic achievement. The democratic initiative will succeed if Bhutto and Musharraf accept each other as co-equals and co-dependents and realise that the enemy of Pakistan is embedded within the country and must be eliminated whatever it takes.

On a visit to Pakistan sometime ago, Vice-President Dick Cheney urged Musharraf to do a lot more to curb the growing influence of Al-Qaida and Taliban and prevent them from rebuilding and strengthening the infrastructure of terrorism in the safety of tribal areas from where they have been operating to carry out terrorist attacks against Afghan and NATO troops. As the recent Karachi bombings show, Al-Qaida-Taliban groups have spread their tentacles more pervasively in the country.

It is tragic that Pakistan has turned itself into a country warring against the very elements, Islamic extremism and militancy, that its super intelligence agency, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), nurtured as tools of foreign policy. Musharraf has not been able to make a total break from the forces that have supported him in his hold on power and hence the reluctant approach for fighting terrorism.

Since Musharraf cut the deal with tribal leaders relinquishing sovereign authority over the tribal territory, Pakistan has become a safe haven for Al-Qaida and the Taliban. John D Negroponte, Deputy US Secretary of State, observed before a Congress committee in February that Al-Qaida was “cultivating stronger operational connections and relationships that radiate outward from their leaders’ secure hide-out in Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.”

Since Musharraf is not in full control of the forces operating in the divided country, what can be done? First of all, the United States forces should cross into the tribal territories in pursuit of the Taliban and Al-Qaida. Bhutto, once she assumes political power, may be open to this idea since these forces threaten the integrity of Pakistan.

Bhutto-Musharraf must break the nexus between the ISI and Taliban and other sectarian extremist groups. The ISI works like a powerful state within a weak state and it is necessary for the United States intelligence to penetrate its hierarchy with the ultimate goal of subduing this monster that terrorises the country.

India should join hands with the United States and do a well-planned public and business diplomacy in Pakistan to reach out to the intelligentsia and middle classes, who have the same global aspirations as other countries with growing economies. The prospects of rapid economic growth and rising prosperity would present Pakistanis with an alternative future that is founded on science and technology and globalisation, the future that Benazir Bhutto has come to symbolise.

(ND Batra who teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University is the author of Digital Freedom and is working on a new book, This is the America Way)

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