Saturday, May 16, 2009

Jihadi Perils in Pakistan

Jihadi Perils in Pakistan

By Moorthy Muthuswamy

To say that religious freedom in Pakistan is increasingly compromised is an understatement.

Extremists in the form of Taliban and others have begun to control large swaths of Pakistan's territory. Although the militants have retreated from their initial march toward the Pakistani capital, their ability to destabilize the nation remains. Doubts persist whether the Pakistani government and its powerful military are able or willing to consistently stop the extremist advance. The nuclear-armed Pakistan has thus become a major strategic issue for the Obama administration.

Unable to contain the Taliban movement, the ruling Zardari regime caved in recently to agree to the imposition of a medieval Islamic law called sharia in the Swat valley as part of a "peace" deal. However, the Taliban have reneged on the terms of the deal by not laying down their weapons. The heavily armed religious extremists are dictating the lives of the people under their control though the enactment and enforcement of the sharia. Predictably, some powerful clerics in Pakistan have now called for the imposition of the sharia in all of Pakistan and beyond.

Some interesting statistical analysis of the Koran and other Islamic foundational texts carried out recently may explain the gradual descent of countries such as Pakistan into extremism. Importantly, this analysis may also teach us how to nudge Pakistan toward a moderate path.

Bill Warner of the Center for the Study of Political Islam has done some pioneering scientific analysis of Islamic doctrines. He has found that about 61 percent of the Koran speaks ill of unbelievers or calls for their violent conquest and subjugation, but only 2.6 percent of it talks about the overall good of humanity. The overwhelming measure of the stats -- 61% vs. 2.6% -- likely makes their implication impervious to subjectivity.

These statistics may explain the empirical observation that increased funding for propagation of Islam around the globe by the likes of Saudi Arabia for the past 20-plus years has coincided with increased violence conducted in the name of Islam.

This is particularly true of Pakistan which has seen an extensive network of madrassas or Muslim religious schools set up with Middle Eastern funding. The special circumstances surrounding the birth of Pakistan too have contributed to the conundrum Pakistan has become.

Created in 1947 as a nation for Muslims living in British-ruled India, Pakistan has found itself having to define its national aspirations in terms of religion. One could argue that the Koranic statistics discussed above would favor Islamists in their ideological battle with secular democrats in defining a vision for the nation. Indeed, this appears to be the case. When Hindu-majority India, the other nation created from British-ruled India, was building quality higher educational institutions of learning, Pakistan was focusing on jihad or a religious war. Even its army's focus is jihad - the motto reads: "faith, piety and holy war in the path of Allah."

Pakistan has been embarking on jihad-building, not nation-building. It was inevitable that this jihadist infrastructure has been used to sponsor terror in nearby Afghanistan and against India. It is now widely acknowledged that the majority of the over 10 billion dollars of the American aid given to Pakistan since 2001, intended for combating Islamic extremism, has instead, gone to build this jihadist infrastructure.

The Obama administration, in promising even more funding to "develop" Pakistan, appears not to realize that without first making Pakistanis dissociate from jihadist politics, nation-building there is just not possible.

The recent Taliban sponsored attacks in Pakistan's biggest and richest province Punjab, and the Taliban call for the imposition of sharia in all of Pakistan, including Punjab, has created consternation and fear in the civic society there. This may have, for the first time in decades, created an opening to drive a wedge between the extremists and others in Pakistan.

Whether the United States and its allies can take advantage of this opportunity to transform Pakistan remains to be seen.

Moorthy Muthuswamy is author of the new book: "Defeating Political Islam: The New Cold War."

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