Riz Khan recently hosted a discussion of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law with Gov. Salmaan Taseer’s daughter, journalist Shehrbano Taseer; President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan and human rights activist Asma Jahangir; and Professor of Islamic Studies Amjad Waheed.
Questions about the fate of Raymond Davis continue to complicate US-Pakistan relations. Today, President Obama called on Pakistan to release the American pursuant to the Vienna Conventions. The Pakistani government continues to call on the question of Davis’s immunity to be decided by Pakistan’s courts. While Tuesday did see some potential progress on the issue, it remains to be seen how the situation will ultimately play out.
Bradley Klapper’s report for The Sydney Morning Herald makes an important observation:
[Raymond Davis’s] detention has become a point of honour for both nations, and a rallying point for anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
According to Klapper, the US government is considering several options in response to Pakistan’s refusal to return Davis, some of which center on isolating the South Asian nuclear power.
US officials hinted broadly that they may cancel or postpone an invitation to Pakistan’s foreign minister to visit Washington this month.
The Obama administration also is reportedly considering a slowdown in visa processing for Pakistanis seeking to come to the US. That would be hugely unpopular in Pakistan, where grievance already runs high over the perception that the US discriminates or holds back in granting visas to Pakistanis.
The US is also considering suspending or cutting back on military and educational training programs with the Pakistani armed forces and suspending or cutting back on civilian educational, scientific, cultural and local and state government exchanges, one official said.
Cutting aid and attempting to isolate Pakistan would not only be a huge mistake, it would result in a policy failure of immense proportions due to two important realities: Pakistan’s geography and demographics.
Pakistan is on the verge of a demographic explosion.
If current demographic trends continue the country’s population is projected to reach 238 million in 2030 and 335 million in 2050. Of the current population of 172 million, 66 per cent is below 30 years. 39 million are between the ages of 15-24.
Simply put, a nation of 300 million people cannot be contained. Past attempts to influence Pakistan by cutting aid reinforced the narratives of Islamist militants and resulted in nuclear proliferation. The US is going to have to engage Pakistan, and engage them as peers, not as patrons.
Pakistan is also bordered by two nations that would be more than happy to step in and fill any space left by an American withdrawal of engagement: Iran and China. As China passes Japan as the second largest economy in the world, it is also moving to expand its influence in Asia. At the end of 2010, China signed $30 billion in trade deals with Pakistan, and announced plans to build a fifth nuclear reactor in the country.
While less able to provide Pakistan with economic and military assistance than China, Iran poses potential difficulties of its own. Its own isolation at the hands of US policy would create an opportunity for the two nations to overcome sectarian differences to help each other through the construction and control of regional energy infrastructure as well providing leverage for Iran to influence Pakistan to trade in nuclear technology as a means of securing much-needed state revenue.
Thankfully, calls for cutting aid to Pakistan appear to be going unrecognized by the White House. President Barack Obama this week proposed over $3 Billion for Pakistan in the 2012 budget. This investment includes $1.5 billion in funds allocated under Kerry-Lugar-Berman, $350 million in military financing, and $1.1 billion in counterinsurgency funding. It is imperative to building trust between the US and Pakistan that the US to make good on its promises to provide economic, civilian, and military assistance. This funding should not be made conditional on the release of Raymond Davis.
Diplomatic problems require diplomatic solutions – not diplomatic freezes. Sen. John Kerry’s apology to the people of Pakistan was an important first step in overcoming confusion about Raymond Davis’s diplomatic status and American respect for Pakistani lives. Making good on obligations to invest in Pakistan’s national security and economic growth are another important part of the solution.
At Monday’s conference, “The Future of Pakistan,” Moeed Yusuf, South Asia advisor for the US Institute of Peace, argued that what appears to be instability in Pakistan may actually be the natural contours of the democratization process – a conclusion we also reached during the recent “political crisis that wasn’t” in Islamabad.
Moeed urged the crowd of diplomats, military officers, and government officials to give Pakistan’s burgeoning democracy space to mature, and not to repeat past mistakes of buying short-term stability at the cost of long-term development.
This sentiment was reiterated on by blogger Salman Shah Jilani who writes that, “What we need is for democracy to be given the time it lost to despotism”. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, which are only now dismantling the autocracies that have denied their people the right to self-determination, Pakistanis overthrew their dictator and replaced him with a democratically elected government in 2008.
Since the 2008 elections, Pakistan’s government has achieved quite a few important successes in dismantling the power consolidation and discriminatory policies implemented under dictators and autocrats of the past. Pakistan’s transformation from a nation oppressed by military rule to one of enlightened freedom will not take place overnight, but we owe them the patient support required to see them succeed.
As to whether or not Pakistan is at risk of an “Islamic revolution”, Salman Jilani reminds us that Pakistanis have been down the road led by charismatic leaders promising easy change, and they are all too familiar with the results.
They have experienced the elusive revolutionaries who have always usurped the throne impersonating as true representatives of the people in a quasi democracy which serves as a smokescreen to protract their rule.
Bruce Riedel recently advised that we “don’t underestimate the Pakistani people.” Indeed, there is growing evidence that Pakistan is not following the Tunisia/Egypt model of democratization, but leading it. The US should welcome Pakistan to the community of democratic nations by helping provide the space necessary for its democracy to grow and mature on its own.
The Pakistani government has proven more resilient than the predictions of its detractors, overcoming challenges that would have toppled a less formidable coalition – devastating floods of historic proportions, constant assault against its citizens from terrorist groups, and a domestic media that at times seems more like an opposition political group than an objective observer. As 2011 gets underway, the question of what the future holds for Pakistan is as relevant as ever.
Tomorrow, the nation’s top experts on Pakistan will convene at the United States Institute of Peace to discuss the factors shaping Pakistan’s future, possible outcomes, and policy implications and recommendations for US–Pakistan relations as our partnership grows.
At the outset of 2011, Pakistan’s future looks more uncertain than ever. The country is facing myriad challenges, including a deep-rooted political crisis, a weakening economy buoyed by immense foreign aid, and a hardening of divisions between extremists and moderates. Events during the past month only underscore some these trends. Examining Pakistan’s possible future is subsequently a daunting task. Yet, the country is certain to remain central to U.S. interests and thus such an exercise is necessary for informed U.S. policy making. The Brookings Institution, supported by the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and Norwegian Peace Foundation (NOREF), attempted to do so in 2010. The results were in part the Bellagio Papers, a compilation of 15 scholarly writings analyzing various aspects of Pakistan’s future.
Join USIP and Brookings for a conference centering on these possibilities and problems as the experts involved in the Bellagio project join other prominent scholars on Pakistan to examine the critical questions regarding Pakistan’s future and U.S. interests in the country.
This event will feature the following experts:
- Jonah Blank
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
- Stephen Cohen
The Brookings Institution
- Wendy Chamberlain
The Middle East Institute
- Christine Fair
- Amb. William Milam
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
- Shuja Nawaz
The Atlantic Council
- Bruce Riedel
The Brookings Institution
- Joshua White
Johns Hopkins SAIS
- Andrew Wilder
U.S. Institute of Peace
- Huma Yusuf
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
- Moeed Yusuf
U.S. Institute of Peace
When journalists write about religion in Pakistan, their articles usually focus on the extremist interpretation of Islam that is spread by terrorist groups like al Qaeda, or the consequences of this extremism like the murder of Salmaan Taseer. But just as Islam is not monolithic, neither is religion in Pakistan. In fact, the majority of Pakistanis adhere to a much more moderate reading of Islam. Religious scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi intends to keep it that way.
At a time when many pin their hopes on “moderate” secular Muslims to lead the charge against radical militant Islam, Ghamidi offers a more forceful and profound deconstruction of the violent and bitter version of Islam that appears to be gaining ground in many parts of the Muslim world, including Pakistan. He challenges what he views as retrograde stances — on jihad, on the penal code of rape and adultery, on the curricula in the religious schools, or madrassas — but he does so with a purely fundamentalist approach: he rarely ventures outside the text of the Koran or prophetic tradition. He meticulously recovers detail from within the confines of religious text, and then delivers decisive blows to conservatives and militants who claim to be the defenders of Islam. His many followers are fond of comparing his influence in South Asia to that of Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss Muslim Islamic thinker of global repute, in Europe.
“Mr. Ghamidi has had a huge role in shaping Islamic laws in the country,” said Khalid Masood, the chairman of the Islamic Ideology Council in Islamabad. “And his debates on television have made a profound impact on public views.”
That’s from a profile of Mr. Ghamidi in yesterday’s Boston Globe, and one that Americans unfamiliar with moderate Islam would be well advised to read. Mr. Ghamidi is no revolutionary. He founded the Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences in 1983, and has been a member of Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology – the official body responsible for advising the government on Islamic issues – since 2006. Mr. Ghamidi’s Al-Mawrid Institute has published numerous works on issues such as jihad, suicide bombing, and women’s rights that contradict the edicts pronounced by extremists.
In addition to his research on Islamic law, Mr. Ghamidi has been a vocal proponent of democracy in Pakistan.
Even more incendiary than his specific position on questions of Islamic law, though, is Ghamidi’s vision for the future of Islamic politics. Ever since the Islamization campaign in Pakistan in the 1970s, religious parties have been making deep inroads into political power. But their real glory days came after September 2001, when a coalition of religious political parties led by the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami landed a majority in two of the four provincial governments in Pakistan. Pakistan, which began as a secular republic, has increasingly Islamized thanks to shrewd realpolitik maneuvering by some religious leaders.
Ghamidi expounds a different ideal: Muslim states, he says, cannot be theocracies, yet they cannot be divorced from Islam either. Islam cannot simply be one competing ideology or interest group that reigns supreme one moment and is gone the next. He instead argues for the active investment of the state in building institutions that will help create a truly “Islamic democracy.”
This is vision for Pakistan’s political future similar to that laid out by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in her last book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West.
It is being said that Pakistan is at war for its soul. Terrorists who adhere to an extremist, violent interpretation of Islam are attempting to influence the country at gunpoint. They bribe desperate young people with promises of heaven, and those that do not subscribe to their views they kill in cold blood.
But Pakistan’s soul is not being given up without a fight. The moderate majority of Pakistanis reject violence and extremism, and moderate religious scholars like Javed Ghamidi are fighting back not with bombs and guns but with scripture and reason. The moderates can win this battle, and in doing so realize the dream of the nation’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah: A democratic, prosperous, peaceful Pakistan. They deserve our support in their struggle.
Vice President Biden traveled to Pakistan this week where he met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani and Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Kayani. While the meetings were closed to reporters, sources privy to the private conversations said Biden assured the Pakistanis that the US recognizes as legitimate their concerns about security along the Western border with Afghanistan, and ensured the Pakistani leaders that the US will not put American “boots on the ground” in Pakistan.
Following their meeting, the Pakistani Prime Minister and Vice President Biden made public statements to reporters in which Biden sought to correct misconceptions about American intentions in Pakistan. The Vice President spoke at length about America’s respect for Islam noting that it is the fastest growing religion in the United States, a fact that is made possible by protections for religious freedom, and discussed US investment in Pakistan’s civilian infrastructure and democratic process.
Pakistan’s Express 24/7 News channel filmed Biden’s speech.
“We strongly condemn the assassination today in Pakistan of Punjab Provincial Governor Salmaan Taseer. I had the opportunity to meet Governor Taseer in Pakistan and I admired his work to promote tolerance and the education of Pakistan’s future generations. His death is a great loss. Our deepest sympathies are with Governor Taseer’s wife and children.
“The United States remains committed to helping the government and people of Pakistan as they persevere in their campaign to bring peace and stability to their country.”
Yesterday’s New York Times published an article about demonstrations by Islamist parties defending Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Salman Masood, the reporter who covered the story, called the protests “crippling” and suggested that conservative religious forces had Pakistan’s government on the run. But Masood’s report ignores fundamental points, including the fact that the strongest supporters of reform have been from the governing party and that a counter demonstration has already been scheduled for the 15th.
Salman Masood wrote that the demonstrations have put the governing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) “on the retreat.” But the officials Masood quotes opposing the blasphemy law – Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, and Sherry Rehman, Member of the National Assembly – are members of the PPP. In fact, the PPP has been the most vocal and active proponents of changing the law with President Asif Zardari repeatedly calling for the law to be reviewed.
In addition to support for reform by government officials, a group of Pakistani citizens including prominent bloggers and journalists has organized a counter-protest for January 15th as a peaceful demonstration of the nation’s large community of liberals who want to see the law amended or overturned.
From the group’s Facebook page:
For thirty years, Pakistani Muslims and non-Muslims alike have been victimized by our blasphemy laws. We all know that these laws are often grossly misused. They do not account for the intent to commit blasphemy, and are most often used to settle personal or monetary disputes. For no fault of their own, victims end up either in jail for the rest of their lives, or killed by mobs. The victims of this law are almost always poor and powerless, and have no one to speak for them.
Recent developments have brought this issue in the public eye once again. It is time to say enough is enough. For too long, one side has dominated this debate, and drowned out our voices. We must remind them that we too are citizens of this country and that we too have a right to express our opinions.
Those of us against this law will be at Karachi Press Club on Saturday, January 15 at 3:00 p.m. to peacefully protest against it. Join us, stand with us, and let your voice be heard for equality and freedom for all Pakistanis.
Blocking traffic is always easier than getting elected – something right-wing religious parties can’t seem to do in Pakistan when facing open elections. Though it’s true that the government has tempered its rhetoric about amending the law, passing a new law is often far easier than changing one that’s been on the books – especially when the laws in question are wrapped in the emotion of religion.
The outsize media attention given to right-wing groups notwithstanding, Pakistanis are ready to shed the residual traces of past dictatorships. They said so quite loudly when they elected a progressive democratic government in 2008, and they will reiterate this call for reform when they come together on January 15th to call for an end to the religious discrimination enshrined in Zia’s blasphemy laws. The Question is: Will The New York Times be listening?