Death of a liberal: Pakistan’s decline continues (Comment)

By Amulya Ganguli, IANS
Friday, January 7, 2011

The Islamic fanaticism nurtured by powerful sections of the Pakistani establishment has begun devouring the country itself. The original purpose of encouraging and using such psychotic elements against India has, therefore, been turned on its head.

As much is evident from Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s admission that when the killing of the governor of a state is by “someone from within your own circle”, it is difficult to take preventive steps. Like Salman Taseer who was assassinated by one of his bodyguards, Benazir Bhutto, too, was the victim of a plot hatched in an army brigadier’s home.

The reason why these two stalwarts of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) aroused the ire of the fundamentalists is not far to seek. Both were oddballs in a society which is being made to embrace religious extremism to destabilise India through 26/11-style onslaughts by jehadis or via a war if India responds militarily to a repeat of the Mumbai massacres of November 26, 2008.

But this game plan of a section of the Pakistan Army, which is perhaps the handiwork of army chief General Ashfaq Kayani known for his obsessive dislike of India, may come to naught if Pakistan collapses under the weight of its own terrorists. The recognition of this danger is evident from some of the writings of the intelligentsia after the tragedy.

As Rashed Rahman, editor of the Daily Times, Lahore, has said, Taseer’s killing has shown how a “fanatical mindset” has affected “our increasingly irrational society”. In the same vein, Murtaza Razvi, editor of the Dawn, Karachi, has written that Pakistan has become “a dangerous place” because “many in the media and from their pulpits in the mosques will keep inciting the faithful to murder and mayhem”.

To confirm the fears expressed by the two journalists, large numbers of religious scholars belonging to the Barelvi school of thought paid rich tributes to the assassin and urged Muslims “across the country” to boycott Taseer’s funeral ceremony. The show of bigotry is all the more disturbing because the Barelvis are known to be less aggressively puritanical than the Wahabbis.

The broad smile worn by the killer after his arrest showed how such fanatics had been brainwashed by the blinkered and intolerant clerics. They are the kind of deranged suicide bombers like Ajmal Kasab and his fellow mercenaries who are reared in the many terrorist training camps in Pakistan.

Not surprisingly, Razvi has said that “Islam in Pakistan is certainly not in safe hands” because there is an “all-pervasive state of denial on the part of the leadership to come forth and say that there is a problem that must be fixed”. This denial embraces the intelligentsia as well since they avoid the simple truth expressed by Anne Paterson, US ambassador in Islamabad, that no amount of American aid will induce the Pakistan Army to sever its ties with the terrorist outfits.

Since Taseer’s own party, the PPP, skirts around this stark fact of jehad-based Pakistani “diplomacy”, there can be little hope for the country — the party harbours the few remaining liberals, of whom the assassinated governor was one. One evidence of the PPP caving in to pressure from the army was seen in the harsh tone which Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi adopted during his talks with his Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna.

Benazir’s assassination can also be attributed to the fact that she had shed her earlier anti-Indian stance, a change of heart which was reflected in some of the comments of her husband President Asif Ali Zardari that India did not pose a threat to Pakistan and his offer to send the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief to India after the Mumbai mayhem, which was rejected by Kayani.

Among the other parties, the role played Shahbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz and chief minister of Punjab in warning Haafiz Saeed, head of the Lashkar-e-Taiba aka Jamaat-ud-Dawa, to clear out the organization’s bank accounts before the UN sanctions came into force showed that India could not count on this major opposition party as a friend. Haafiz Saeed, as is known, is suspected by India to be the mastermind behind 26/11. It is not surprising that Sharif did not attend Taseer’s funeral.

Pakistan’s descent into a black hole of anarchy is all the more unsettling for India because it will be accompanied by the silencing and elimination of the moderates in Pakistani society. As a result, any lines of communication with them will become progressively tenuous, thereby diminishing the hopes about such cross-border friendliness exerting a restraining influence on the Pakistani Army and ISI.

Neither Pakistan’s civilian leadership nor the US seems capable of persuading the army and ISI to turn away from its suicidal anti-Indian policies based on their jehadi links. Although America’s Kerry-Lugar resolution links US aid to the establishment of civilian supremacy in Pakistan, it is quietly ignored by both Islamabad, obviously at the army’s behest, and Washington.

The army’s defiance of the civilians and the US seemingly stems from the support it receives from China, which wants Pakistan to sustain its anti-Indian outlook to keep India off-balance.

There is little doubt that the rise and rise of the fanatics in Pakistan with official patronage is an even more dangerous threat to the democratic world than what communism posed because of the fantasies of heavenly rewards which guide the jehadis, who are not afraid of death.

(08-01-2011-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at )

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