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Sunday, 26 October 2008

Realities of Pakistan's woes not apparent to all

THE RECENT bombing of the Marriott Hotel in the heart of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, underscores the menace of religious fanaticism that now threatens Pakistan also. When the air cleared, 70 people lay dead and close to 300 wounded. The incident sent shock waves through not only Pakistan and Afghanistan, but also through the power corridors of Washington.

Afghanistan is a quagmire, and a decisive military victory in that country is not possible. Pakistan has been accused of not doing enough to curb al-Qaeda and the Taliban operating from the sanctuaries in its tribal areas and thus being indirectly responsible for the failure in Afghanistan.

In reality there are four different wars being waged from the tribal areas of Pakistan. There is the war against the occupation forces in Afghanistan. There is a war against the Pakistani government and the Pakistani army. There is a war, supported by elements in the Pakistani army, to contain Indian influence in Afghanistan. And now the war has spilled over and is being waged against the common man in Pakistan who does not subscribe to al-Qaeda and the Taliban brand of Islam.

U.S. lawmakers have been, for the last few years, very critical of Pakistan and have questioned the wisdom of giving Pakistan $10 billion over the last six years while not having much in return to show for it. This simplistic money-for-action equation, however, is nave at best and hypocritical at worst. Let us step back and examine on-the-ground realities that may be different from what appears from Washington and even from Islamabad.

The situation in the tribal areas of Pakistan, complex as it is, can be pared down to three important interlocking elements.

First, there is a pervasive anti-American feeling among Pakistanis, just as there is elsewhere in the world. These sentiments cut across all segments of society. There is also a pervasive feeling that the war on terror is in fact a war against Islam. These sentiments have hardened since my three-part report published in The Blade in May, 2005, on the subject.

Second, the shouts of jihad against the occupation forces in Afghanistan aside, most Pakistanis are religious, but not militant or fanatics. As such, they are no different from, say, observant Christians, Jews, or followers of other religions.

The pivotal piece in this equation is the fact that the ouster of foreign forces from Afghanistan is not the ultimate aim of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The aim is to control Pakistan and establish a Taliban-style government in the country. That end point, in their limited worldview, would solve all their socio-economic ills.

So why can't the majority of Pakistanis see through this charade and realize that in the long run they stand to lose not only their moderate to liberal way of life but their country as well? I am sure the experts in the White House and the Pentagon continue to mull this critical question.

The answer lies in the peculiar mind-set that believes that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The deep resentment felt toward American foreign policy and its effects on the people in the Middle East and South Asia is enough for ordinary people to withhold criticism of al-Qaeda and the Taliban even though they disagree with their harsh and uncompromising interpretation of religion.

For the people of Pakistan in general and for those Pakistanis living along the northwest frontier in particular, the al-Qaeda-Taliban fight against the occupation forces in Afghanistan is not their fight.

Since al-Qaeda and the Taliban have framed this fight in religious terms and exploited the prevailing anti-American sentiments in Pakistan, the attitude of most Pakistanis can be explained by the German word schadenfreude, which means taking pleasure in the misery of others.

But the recent foray of the Taliban into the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan is making them think twice about the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-
friend mind-set.

The enemy of my enemy also proves to be my enemy when he indiscriminately bombs civilians, orders the closing of girls' schools, forbids barbers to shave beards, and forbids women to venture outside their homes.

This is happening in the Swat Valley in the north and in many other districts of the province. In Peshawar, the provincial capital, their activities are limited to forcing the closing of video and music shops.

The writing is clearly on the wall.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.
» E-mail him at aghaji@buckeye-express.com
» Read more Dr. Hussain columns at www.toledoblade.com/hussain

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