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Saturday, 13 December 2008

What the Mumbai assault has done in Pakistan is divert attention from the internal threat to an external ‘enemy’. This must not be allowed to happen.

The common enemy (Dawn, Editorial, 13 Dec 2008)

GREAT statesmen, it is said, don’t just respond to public opinion: they shape it. In these troubling times when Pakistan is being called the “epicentre” of terrorism by our neighbours to the east, we have a collective responsibility to look inwards. But that burden rests most heavily on the shoulders of our elected representatives who should feel duty-bound at this critical stage to put into clear, concise words what it is precisely that ails this country. Most Pakistanis, an overwhelming majority in fact, do not support militancy or terrorism, yet a small fanatical fringe has come to dictate the agenda. Why is this so? Well, the fanatics are armed to begin with and also come equipped with greater zeal and ideological fervour than those of liberal bent. They can cause mayhem whereas the broad-minded can simply talk, or write. They also strike a chord with the disenfranchised for whom the state has done next to nothing generation after generation.

The resentment the powerless feel may be cloaked in anti-Americanism or religiosity but in actual fact it boils down to a class conflict. Becoming part of a militant or terrorist organisation empowers poor, impressionable young men. And it’s not just the weapons or the monthly stipend that give them comfort — finally they have an identity when previously they were faceless, they become part of a community in which they are respected. The uniform of militant Islam confers instant respectability in some quarters. The sole gunman captured in Mumbai, Ajmal Kasab of Faridkot, apparently first sought refuge from poverty in crime and then gravitated towards ‘jihadi’ outfits. As long as nothing is done to address the growing underemployment in this country, the militants will find no shortage of fresh recruits. At least that is the case in Pakistan. The radicalisation of middle-class Muslim youth in the UK or other parts of Europe can be attributed to numerous other factors, including race. American foreign policy and brazen double standards don’t exactly help either. Unresolved disputes such as Palestine and Kashmir can also be cited.

What the Mumbai assault has done in this country is divert attention from the internal threat to an external ‘enemy’. This must not be allowed to happen. Soul-searching is in order, and an acceptance of the fact that Pakistan is indeed a hub of militancy and terrorism. The prime minister and the president must inform the nation in unequivocal terms that what is past is past and that extremism, which has taken root in this country, will enjoy no sanction and will not be tolerated. It is sad, on one level, that it has taken external pressure to stir the government into acting against those who are besmirching our name in the world. We face isolation, and internal ruin, if the common enemy is not brought to book.

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