The spreading strife – Is the state unwilling or unable?

By:Arif Ansar

Ethnic and sectarian strife is spreading in Pakistan. Hindus are migrating to India; Shias are being targeted with impunity; Pashtuns are suffering immeasurably and disproportionally in the fight against extremists, while the saga of missing persons and target killing continues in Balochistan. By any stretch of imagination, the nations is going through a much more critical stage than is commonly perceived. If there were any doubts, Gen Kayani in a recent speech himself raised the prospect of civil war if the militancy is not tackled.

However, such ethnic tensions are not limited to Pakistan only; the situation of Assam and Myanmar are also troubling developments. If the situation worsens, we may see a migration towards Pakistan. In a recently concluded extraordinary summit of the Organization Islamic Conference, Turkish President Abduallah Gul pointed to the rising inter-sectarian tensions in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria that can cause a disaster. He commented, “[The Islamic world] shouldn’t be allowed to go through what Europe experienced in the Middle Ages, or it will see a great catastrophe.”

Nonetheless, in the case of Pakistan, a dangerous perception is emerging; as minorities are increasingly meeting a deadly fate, the government appears unwilling or unable to do much.

Fearing a backlash, Pakistan has so far resisted acting against TTP and other extremists in Waziristan that usually claim responsibility for the heinous acts of terror.

No doubt the extremists, and whoever aids and abets, are working on a treacherous scenario. This scheme aims at gradually eroding the ideology of Pakistan and to make a convincing human rights and international security case, proving the country cannot protect its citizens and its strategic assets, and in essence is a failed state.

Countering these perceptions, first of all, requires putting in to context the existential threats faced by the country. The chance of reasonably addressing the predicament is dependent upon how well the multidimensional crises are understood. Moreover, there is a need to ponder over the different narratives and the motives that lie behind them.

For example, the media and the policy makers in Pakistan usually flip-flop between blaming the local, regional, and international actors, for the economic and security challenges faced by the country. This confuses the heck out of the pubic.

Consider this, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik has charged Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), and international actors for the security crisis in Balochistan. Speaking in Pakistan’s Senate recently, he commented that Taliban and these organizations are cooperating in implementing plans of international forces to destabilize and disintegrate the country. Rehman Malik also blamed Afghanistan for supporting Maulvi Faqeer Muhammad and Qazi Fazlullah and for providing shelter to Brahamdagh Bugti.

On the other hand, in July Afghan Parliamentarians from Badakhshan province accused US and UK for attempting to create a new country in the region. The new state supposedly will include areas from Pakistan’s Gilgit and Chitral, parts from Badakhshan in Afghanistan, and areas from Tajikistan and China.

Now consider this, in July, the head of Pakistan’s parliamentary committee on Kashmir accused Israel of sending armed personnel disguised as tourists to Indian Kashmir. Maulana Fazlur Rehman also alleged that the US and Israeli military are backing up Indian forces there.

Meanwhile, after Republican US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s recent interest in the Balochistan situation, an influential lawmaker from the Democrat Party, Bred Sherman, made inflammatory statements regarding the Sindh province. He asked the US State Department to reach out to Sindhis as they are under attack from the government forces in Pakistan.

Irrespective of who is responsible, it’s the government’s job to prevent the attacks and protect the people. Additionally, to earn public backing, a coherent communication strategy is needed that put these reports into perspective and presents a consistent message for local and international stakeholders.

Clearly, there are regional and international underpinnings to what is occurring in Pakistan. To think that conducting a military operation in Waziristan will resolve the nation’s worries will be naive. The preoccupation of the western world with military solutions is pushing many a nations towards instability. One can make a convincing case that there is a thrust towards a new configuration and alignment of power. However, Pakistan cannot sit by ideally as dangerous perceptions spread, and it obviously has to do something.

First of all, the country will have to take note of the emerging trends and envision where it is positioned against them. For example, the nation-state concept is in trouble in many parts of the world, and it’s not clear yet what will replace it. Moreover, the nation-state in the strictest sense of the word does not apply to Pakistan, and to many other states, as they may have in Europe.

Pakistan is a country of at least four major nations and many other religious and ethnic minorities. To think that the country can magically pull it together against the strong centrifugal forces acting upon it is a futile exercise. In the present international atmosphere, the traditional Islamic card as a unifier also has limited utility, especially when the Muslim world itself is polarized between Sunni-Shia blocs and the extremists versus liberals. More importantly, what is happening to the democratic experiment and governance models in Turkey, Iran and Egypt needs to be looked at closely for lessons.

Secondly, the farfetched manifestation of the shift in the balance of power in Iraq has now almost engulfed the entire Middle East. A similar alteration in Afghanistan and South Asia are likely to have not much different impact. Far from reducing western influence, as claimed by many think tanks, it may actually increase its sway. The new groups that came to power in Libya and Yemen, and may in Syria, are likely to remain dependent on their foreign backers.

Anticipating this, Pakistan has to proactively initiate changes and upend the traditional status quo apparatus that has prevented the masses to benefit. The creation and empowerment of new provinces is a positive move in this regard. The most dangerous elements to worry about are the non-state actors and disgruntled nationalist groups that have already taken up arms against the state. In case there is a South Asian Spring, these groups will likely play a central role in the hands of international actors, as they are in Syria and have in Libya. Application of soft power, more than purely kinetic tactics, is likely to produce greater results.

Pakistan needs to be seen as doing something before the dangerous international perceptions turn in to perspectives.

The writer is the chief analyst for PoliTact (www.PoliTact.com and http:twitter.com/politact) and can be reached at aansar@politact.com

Courtesy: Pakistan Today

http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2012/08/19/comment/columns/the-spreading-strife/

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