Pakistan has been playing us all for suckers

Britain is spending millions bolstering Pakistan, but it is a nation in thrall to radical Islam and is using its instability to blackmail the West

by Christina Lamb

When David Cameron announced £650m in education aid for Pakistan last week, I guess the same thought occurred to many British people as it did to me: why are we doing this?

While we are slashing our social services and making our children pay hefty university fees, why should we be giving all this money to a country that has reduced its education budget to 1.5% of GDP while spending several times as much on defence? A country where only 1.7m of a population of 180m pay tax? A country that is stepping up its production of nuclear weapons so much that its arsenal will soon outnumber Britain’s? A country so corrupt that when its embassy in Washington held an auction to raise money for flood victims, and a phone rang, one Pakistani said loudly: “That’s the president calling for his cut”? A country which has so alienated powerful friends in America that they now want to abandon it?

As someone who has spent almost as much time in Pakistan as in Britain over the past 24 years, I feel particularly conflicted, as I have long argued we should be investing more in education there.

That there is a crisis in Pakistan’s education system is beyond doubt. A report out last month by the Pakistan education taskforce, a non-partisan body, shows that at least 7m children are not in school. Indeed, one-tenth of the world’s children not in school are in Pakistan. The first time I went to Pakistan in 1987 I was astonished to see that while billions of pounds’ worth of weapons from the West were going to Pakistan’s intelligence service to distribute to the Afghan mujaheddin, there was nothing for schools.

The Saudis filled the gap by opening religious schools, some of which became breeding grounds for militants and trained the Taliban. Cameron hopes that investing in secular education will provide Pakistan’s children with an alternative to radicalism and reduce the flow of young men who want to come and bomb the West.

“I would struggle to find a country that it is more in Britain’s interests to see progress and succeed than Pakistan,” he said. “If Pakistan is a success, we will have a good friend to trade with and deal with in the future … If we fail, we will have all the problems of migration and extremism that we don’t want to see.”

As the sixth most populous country, with an arsenal of between 100 and 120 nuclear weapons, as the base of both Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban leadership, and as homeland to a large population in Britain, Pakistan is far more important to our security than Afghanistan. But after spending two weeks travelling in Pakistan last month, I feel the situation has gone far beyond anything that a long-term strategy of building schools and training teachers can hope to restrain.

The Pakistani crisis has reached the point where Washington — its paymaster to the tune of billions of dollars over the past 10 years — is being urged to tear up the strategic alliance underpinning the war in Afghanistan.

Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican congressman from California who sits on the House foreign affairs committee and has been dealing with Pakistan since working in the Reagan White House, says he now realises “they were playing us for suckers all along”.

“I used to be Pakistan’s best friend on the Hill but I now consider Pakistan to be an unfriendly country to the US,” he said. “Pakistan has literally been getting away with murder and when you tie that with the realisation that they went ahead and used their scarce resources to build nuclear weapons, it is perhaps the most frightening of all the things that have been going on over the last few years.

“We were snookered. For a long time we bought into this vision that Pakistan’s military was a moderate force and we were supporting moderates by supporting the military. In fact the military is in alliance with radical militants. Just because they shave their beards and look western they fooled a lot of people.”

Christine Fair, assistant professor at the centre for peace and security studies at Georgetown University in Washington, is equally scathing. “Pakistan’s development strategy is to rent out its strategic scariness and not pay taxes itself,” she said. “We should let them fail.”The Pakistani crisis has reached the point where Washington is being urged to tear up the strategic alliance underpinning the war in Afghanistan

Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousuf Gilani, comes from one of Punjab’s largest land-owning families. Watching Cameron sign over the £650m, he said: “I think the root cause of terrorism and extremism is illiteracy. Therefore we are giving a lot of importance to education.”

If that were the case one might expect Lahore University of Management Sciences, one of the most elite universities in the country, to be a bastion of liberalism. Yet in the physics department Pervez Hoodbhoy, professor of nuclear physics, sits with his head in his hands staring out at a sea of burqas. “People used to imagine there was only a lunatic fringe in Pakistan society of these ultra-religious people,” he said. “Now we’re learning that this is not a fringe but a majority.”

What brought this home to him was the murder earlier this year of Salman Taseer, the half-British governor of Punjab who had called for the pardoning of a Christian woman sentenced to death under the blasphemy law. The woman, Aasia Bibi, had been convicted after a mullah had accused her of impugning Islam when she shouted at two girls who refused to drink water after she had touched it because they said it was unclean.

Taseer had been a key figure in Pakistan’s politics for decades and had suffered prison and torture, yet when he said the Aasia case showed the law needed reforming, he was vilified by the mullahs and the media. In January he was shot 27 times by one of his own guards. His murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, became a hero, showered with rose petals by lawyers when he appeared in public.

After the killing, Hoodbhoy was asked to take part in a televised debate at the Islamabad Press Club in front of students. His fellow panellists were Farid Piracha, spokesman for the country’s biggest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and Maulana Sialvi, a supposed moderate mullah from the Barelvi sect. Both began by saying that the governor brought the killing on himself, as “he who blasphemes his prophet shall be killed”. The students clapped.

Hoodbhoy then took the microphone. “Even as the mullahs frothed and screamed I managed to say that the culture of religious extremism was resulting in a bloodbath in which the majority of victims were Muslims; that non-Muslims were fleeing Pakistan. I said I’m not an Islamic scholar but I know there are Muslim countries that don’t think the Koran says blasphemy carries the death sentence, such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Egypt.

“I didn’t get a single clap. When I directly addressed Sialvi and said you have Salman Taseer’s blood on your hands, he looked at them and exclaimed: how I wish I had done it! He got thunderous applause.”

Afterwards, “I came back and wanted to dig a hole in the ground,” he said. “I can’t figure out why this country has gone so mad. I’ve seen my department change and change and change. There wasn’t one burqa-clad woman in the 1980s but today the non-hijabi, non-burqa student is an exception. As for the male students, they all come in turbans and beards with these fierce looks on their faces.”

Yet, he points out, these students are the super-elite, paying high fees to attend the university: “It’s nothing to do with causes normally associated with radicalism; it’s that the mullah is allowed complete freedom to spread the message of hate and liberals are bunkering down. Those who speak out are gone and the government has abdicated its responsibility and doesn’t even pretend to protect life and property.”

Raza Rumi, a young development worker and artist who blogs regularly, agrees. As we sat in a lively coffee bar in Lahore that could have been in the West until the lights went off in one of the frequent power cuts, he said: “Radicalism in Pakistan isn’t equated with poverty and backwardness — we’re seeing more radicalisation of the urban middle and upper class. I look at my own extended family. When I was growing up, maybe one or two people had a beard. Last time I went to a family wedding I was shell-shocked. All these uncles and aunts who were regular Pakistanis watching cricket and Indian movies now all have beards or are in hijabs.

“I think we’re in an existential crisis. The moderate political parties have taken a back seat and chickened out as they just want to protect their positions. What is Pakistan’s identity? Is it an Islamist identity as defined by Salman Taseer’s murder, ISI [the intelligence service], the jihadists? Is that really what we want to be?”

He does not know how much longer he will write about such things. “I’ve been getting repeated emails that I should leave the country or shut up,” he said.

When I left the cafe I was followed for the rest of the day by a small yellow car.


6 thoughts on “Pakistan has been playing us all for suckers”

  1. I usually don’t like commenting on second rated blog posts which lack reality, meaning and facts but I think this piece is written in very bad taste. I mean, no matter how hard I try, to me, O’reilly and springer are the same – the only different is that O’reilly twists facts whereas springer has none. This blog post is similar to both.

    The lack of facts (as pointed out my some who have commented on it) is quite evident but the issue is bigger. Its about who will put in the effort to verify anything that has been put up on the internet? No one – what gets accepted is not reality but half-baked points based on a a couple of visits to the country in the past and the recent past.And it gets spread through the social media in no time giving thousands (if not millions) access to information which is nothing but a point of view out of frustration.

    My issue (and yes, I have many others) is why is it that wearing a burqa or growing a beard such a problem? Isn’t moderation about being moderate to everyone? Its ok to wear whatever one wants as long as it is not a burqa? It is ok to have Sunil Shetty style beard as long as its not religious or at least the “intention” is not religious? I just don’t get this. Moderation is great but that too has to be moderate and based on a set of principles that are aligned with culture and – possibly – religion. Why is it that being secular is the coolest thing in the world? If I know that “the truth will set you free” holds true in all situations, why should I not talk about it and tell others? The idea is to spread the truth (I did not use the word preach because that gives a religious connotation which in the secular world is unacceptable ), what difference does it make whether I am an ardent Muslim, half muslim, moderate muslim, ramadan muslim, or nothing at all?

    If Mr. Cameroon gave (rather promised) 650mil of his taxpayers money (which he will give as per the promise after he and his friends mess things up in Libya and get control of their resources …. oh, btw, who is paying for that “rebel” fighting and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Brit Taxpayers, innit?) then he probably also needs to stop corrupt politicians taking refuge (read: political asylum) in his country. But to that he turns a blind eye because the politicians have millions invested in his country (and in other places across Europe). Does Mr. Cameron not know the reality about the Zardaris and the Sharifs? And yet, millions (billions from our friends in the US) are given every year without accountability. Oh, perhaps the friendship ends as soon as the money is given (which btw, can never be returned because there are enough clauses in it to make sure no country can pay back the principal amount) without taking into consideration whether it is actually being used for the right purpose.

    And yes, in Pakistan, a small yellow car could have been a cab.

  2. Just for the record, this isn’t the whole article, though it does continue in the same vein.

  3. I have been to LUMS (Lahore University of Management Sciences) for 2 years. The LUMS, author has decsribed here is some other institute.

    Btw Christina Lamb, have you ever been to Pakistan recently? I doubt it.

  4. seriously… who ever wrote this does not know the ethics of journalism.. or happens to be a yellow journalist… because she aint got her facts right…
    as far as LUMS is concerned… well i am pretty sure christina u havent been there… so why not write about stuff which u can actually say is right … for example your home..

  5. What rubbish !! Pervez Hoodhboy doesn’t even teach at LUMS. He teaches at Quaid-e-Azim university which is hardly an elite institute. It is a 2nd tier University with very moderate fees. You cannot see even a pond of Burkas at LUMS, let alone a sea of Burkas… If you had ever been to LUMS, you would have seen a collection of the most stylish and fashionable young ladies. Many of them with their boyfriends.

    While the Pakistani government may have been adhering to it’s own agenda of security, that is pretty much what the USA and UK have been doing all these years. When they needed Pakistan to invade Afghanistan, they came offering billions. And now that they’re tired of the invasion, and cannot justify it to their home populations, they are looking for excuses to cut-and-run.

    The real point is not that Pakistan has played the UK and USA for fools, but that the Western Capitalist Masters and Elites have played their own populations for fools. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq accomplished exactly nothing in increased security, and cost them Trillions. Which is why UK students now have to pay higher fees.

  6. Lolz!!!!
    Seriously, Christina? Have u EVER been to Lahore University of Management Sciences?

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