Thursday, July 13, 2006

On Pakistan

The Economist's survey of Pakistan is very good indeed. The place is a disaster. Huge areas are without Law.

AS THE gunsmoke cleared after an attack by local Islamist guerrillas, called the Pakistan Taliban, soldiers at a wild outpost in North Waziristan found the corpses of 45 militants and four of their comrades. One of the soldiers had been decapitated alive. His missing head was later found in a captured militant's satchel.

The army is fighting a small war in North Waziristan, one of seven tribal agencies along the border with Afghanistan where it has deployed 80,000 troops. Neighbouring South Waziristan had been equally violent until, in late 2004, the army bribed local Taliban leaders to stop attacking it. These extremists have since set up an administration of sorts, having first murdered 150 of the tribal elders through whom the government used to rule.

Until 2002 the army had never entered the agencies, which are home to 6m xenophobic Pushtuns. They are run along quasi-colonial lines by a powerful civil servant, known as the political agent, whose duty is to keep the tribes quiet. Working through state-sponsored local elders, he has a pot of cash to reward good behaviour, arbitrary powers to punish transgressors—and little need to account for his actions. His main power is to exact collective punishment. When a crime is committed, the political agent can demolish houses and jail people—including children—at random until the tribe concerned delivers the alleged culprit.

While it may be true that
A heavy majority of Pakistanis, certainly outside North-West Frontier Province, are politically secular. The Islamic parties have never won more than 11% of the vote—and that was with considerable help from General Musharraf.
its also the case that

Pakistan is a bigoted place, and becoming more so. That may be true of all countries with a Muslim majority, yet few have hurtled towards the Islamist edge as fast as Pakistan. Its leaders are at least partly to blame. Almost all of them, civilian and military, have pandered to the mullahs. In 1977 whisky-swigging Zulfikar Ali Bhutto banned alcohol. Under General Zia, the only sincerely pious leader, Pakistan introduced draconian sharia punishments, made blasphemy a capital offence and ruled that unless rape victims could produce at least four male Muslim eye-witnesses they would be held guilty of fornication, a serious crime. Ms Bhutto did not seriously attempt to repeal these laws. Nawaz Sharif tried to introduce full sharia law. And General Musharraf helped the mullahs to unprecedented power.

This has been helped along by the failures of the State

At the time of its creation, Pakistan had a couple of hundred Islamic schools, or madrassas. Now, having failed to build a decent education system, it has accumulated between 10,000 and 40,000 madrassas—up to 20% of which, according to a World Bank study, teach fighting skills. The national curriculum for regular schools is infected with religious and sectarian bigotry; until recently, ten-year-olds had to learn to “make speeches on jihad and shahadat (martyrdom)”.

Pakistan's impoverished public universities are largely controlled by the youth wing of the biggest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islaami. At the University of Punjab, in Lahore, these ambitious religionists have banned Coca-Cola, which they call “Jews' drink”. Last year, they broke the legs of a student accused of flirting with one of his female class-mates. In Islamabad, Quaid-i-Azam University has three mosques but no bookshop. One of Pakistan's handful of serious academics spoke yearningly of the liberal scholarly atmosphere he had recently enjoyed at a conference in Tehran.

And Pakistan's liberal's are looking Eastwards

Pakistan's beleaguered liberals are hoping for a cultural return from the Middle East, where General Zia dragged them. According to Khaled Ahmed, a Pakistani columnist: “If we lost our culture through Talibanisation in the west [of the country], we can get it back from India, where our culture is still alive.”

Thank the stars- we are in bad shape indeed, but we could have been much worse off. Both Burma to our east and Pakistan to our west have failed disastrously, thanks to the attentions of their armies. Every morning, give thanks for democracy.

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