Dr. Majjida Ahmed, a founding member of Americans for Democracy & Justice in Pakistan, has an op-ed in today’s Daily Caller that examines the relationship between cementing a strong democratic process in Pakistan, and the prevention of extremist violence.
What turns middle-class young people from Pakistan, like Faisal Shahzad, toward militant extremism? It’s important to note that Shahzad spent his youth in Pakistan during the military rule of hard-line General Zia al-Huq, who instituted a school curriculum that taught intolerance towards religions other than Islam and promoted militancy. And it isn’t just military dictatorships that have bred intolerance. According to Sherry Rehman, the former Information Minister, rampant conspiracy theories and unchecked hate speech against Americans in the Pakistan media may also be playing a part in radicalizing some of the country’s youth.
Pakistan’s military has been historically reluctant to act against militant groups like Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (“TTP”), which originally claimed responsibility for the attempt, until a civilian government came to power. Since President Asif Ali Zardari took power, the public and the government have been able to press the military into successful operations against these groups. That is why it is so critical for the United States to focus not just on aiding Pakistan’s military but on strengthening Pakistan’s democratic institutions by encouraging responsible participation by all constituents, including the media, opposition and judiciary. That is what the elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari has been trying to achieve, despite severe and irresponsible pressure against such moves by its opponents in those same groups—pressure which arguably supports extremism.