Tag Archives: terrorism

Pakistan’s Shia community under increasing threat

In just a month and half, Pakistan has suffered four deadly Taliban attacks against Shia Muslims by Sunni Muslim extremists. But it is not just the Taliban that are trying to eliminate Shia from country. Local extremist groups like the Saudi-funded Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat openly advocate an anti-Shia ideology and are believed to be recruiting anti-Shia militants. With recent reports of an alliance between the Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic State group, the Shiite community could face even more bloodshed. (via France 24)

Open Letter From Concerned Pakistani-Americans On Anti-Shia Violence

The following is an open letter received from Pakistani-Americans expressing condemnation of the ongoing threat to Pakistan’s Shia community from militant groups including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and calling for “a concerted, nationwide campaign to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those responsible for anti-Shia violence.” While Americans for Democracy & Justice in Pakistan supports the rights of all religious communities to live in peace and security, the letter reflects a personal statement by the signatories and is made available here for informational purposes only.  For more information or to be added as a signatory, please email warishusaindawn@gmail.com.

To Whom It May Concern:

We would like to express our strong condemnation of the brutal killing of over eighty innocent civilians in the January 10, 2013 terrorist attacks in Quetta, Pakistan, conducted by the Lashkar-e Jhangvi (LeJ) organization. We call on the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of these and other terrorist attacks against Pakistan’s Shia Muslims.

The attacks this Friday are the latest in what is a persistent and murderous campaign against Shia Muslims across Pakistan waged by the LeJ and its partners. Approximately 400 Shia Muslims were killed by the LeJ and its allies in 2012, according to Human Rights Watch. The anti-Shia violence in Pakistan has not been restricted to a single ethnic group or region. In recent years, it has included:

  • the siege and killings of Shia Muslims in the Kurram Agency;

  • the targeted killings of Shia Muslim professionals in Karachi as well as Hazara and non-Hazara Shia Muslims in Quetta;

  • the mass murder of Shia Muslim pilgrims in Balochistan and Gilgit; and

  • large terrorist attacks against Shia Muslim processions in Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Rawalpindi.

According to international conventions and customary international law, these constitute genocidal acts perpetrated by terrorist groups like the LeJ.

With Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf’s visit to Quetta and the imposition of governor’s rule in Balochistan, there are indications that the Government of Pakistan (GoP) is attempting to take action to protect the area’s Shia Muslim community. But an all-of-government and all-of-Pakistan approach is necessary to stem the tide of anti-Shia violence, which has hit every corner of the country.

A concerted, nationwide campaign to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those responsible for anti-Shia violence is necessary. Such a campaign must be conducted under civilian command by the GoP, provincial governments in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh, and authorities in Gilgit-Baltistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, with the full support of the army, intelligence agencies, judiciary, and police. It must coincide with a broader effort to improve the prosecution of alleged terrorists, including the institution of witness protection programs.

Inaction by the federal and provincial governments and other arms of the state has enabled the LeJ threat to metastasize. The GoP must reverse course and fulfill its responsibility to protect its citizenry. Similarly, Pakistani journalists, military officials, politicians, religious leaders who have either supported anti-Shia organizations or have shied away from explicitly condemning them, must recognize the collective costs of complicity or silence and reverse course.

We are encouraged by the peaceful sit-ins that have taken place in cities such as Quetta, Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore, where thousands of Pakistanis have braved the cold to protest against the murderous campaign against Shia Muslims. We are heartened to see support from a broad segment of Pakistanis, transcending ethnic, regional, and religious boundaries. And we hope that the civic unity displayed by Pakistan’s Shia and Sunni Muslims, Christians, and others serves as permanent bridges that lead to a more peaceful and progressive Pakistan.

But a strong civil society cannot make up for weak government resolve in combating the rising tide of terror. The GoP must take decisive action to stop the genocidal campaign against Pakistan’s Shia Muslims. The LeJ, which has allied with al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan, is not only an existential threat to the country’s Shia Muslims, but to all Pakistanis.

 We close with the words of German pastor Martin Niemöller, who warned of his countrymen’s indifference to the Nazi threat:

“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

 

Sincerely,

 

Concerned Pakistani Americans

 

Waris Husain, Writer/ Attorney

Manzur Ejaz, Writer/Economist

Mohammad Taqi, Writer/Academic Physician

Arif Rafiq, Adjunct Scholar, Middle East Institute

Omar Ali, MD, Writer/Academic Physician

Beena Sawar, Journalist/Documentary Filmmaker

Ayaz Muhammad Khan, Virginia

Zaid Jlani, Journalist/Activist

Raakin Iqbal, Architect/Producer

Sec. Panetta: Pakistan’s Government Not Aware of Osama’s Whereabouts

Sec. Leon Panetta

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says there is no evidence that any Pakistani government official knew about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts prior to his death last May. Speaking to Peter Mansbridge with CBC Television, Sec. Panetta said none of the material collected in the raid on bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad has suggested any official Pakistani support.

MR. MANSBRIDGE: Now you mention how – you took a lot of material out of that compound and you’ve now had almost a year to go through it all. Have you been able to determine, in what you’ve seen, any direct connection with Pakistan for his ability to live and operate within a stone’s throw of Pakistan’s – one of its most important military installations?

SEC. PANETTA: I have not. And you know, there’s been a lot of material. They’ve gone through a lot of material. We haven’t had access to, obviously, all of the analysis that’s been done, but I have not heard any kind of evidence that involved a direct connection to the Pakistanis. Obviously the concern has always been how could a compound like this, how could bin Laden be in an area where there were military establishments, where we could see the military operating and not have them know.

MR. MANSBRIDGE: And how could it? How could it operate there without their knowledge?

SEC. PANETTA: Well, you know, these situations sometimes, you know, the leadership within Pakistan [sic] is obviously not aware of certain things and yet people lower down in the military establishment find it very well, they’ve been aware of it. But bottom line is that we have not had evidence that provides that direct link.

Sec. Panetta is not the first US official to come to this conclusion. Last fall, former CIA station chief in Islamabad, Robert Grenier, told Express News that there is no evidence Pakistani officials had any knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts.

This does not, however, mean that Osama bin Laden had no support network in Pakistan. This week, the US government announced a $10 million bounty for Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba which is suspected of having ties to al Qaeda. And the US is not the only country that wants Hafiz Saeed. Pakistan’s own government has arrested Hafiz Saeed in the past, only to see their attempts to bring him to justice thwarted by the country’s Supreme Court who ordered the militant leader freed.

Hafiz Saeed at a Difa-e-Pakistan rally

While there is no evidence that Hafiz Saeed and his Lashkar-e-Taibi militant group facilitated bin Laden’s living in Pakistan, the way that militant leaders like Hafiz Saeed play “cat and mouse” games with Pakistani law enforcement suggests that unofficial support networks for militant extremists do exist and are hard to penetrate. If Pakistan’s different militant groups are operating synergistically, it could make connections between militant leaders like Osama bin Laden and Hafiz Saeed difficult to substantiate.

The US and Pakistan have a shared goal in ending the scourge of terrorism and bringing militant leaders to justice. Successfully ending militant violence requires cooperation between both countries. That begins with recognizing who are friends are.

 

Bin Laden Operation Underscores Need to Support Pakistani Democracy

The death of Osama bin Laden during a US special forces operation on Sunday night brought a sense of closure to many people the word over. Though all agree that the struggle against bin Laden’s brand of violent extremism will continue after his death, grassroots movements across the Arab world have demonstrated that it is through peaceful democratic organizing and not terrorist violence that dictators will be unseated and justice spread. The US should support pro-democracy movements across the world, especially in Pakistan where a fragile democratic government is under imminent threat from extremist militants.

Details of the operation that eliminated bin Laden are trickling out slowly, and there seems to be much confusion about Pakistan’s role in tracking and killing the al Qaeda leader. Recent statements from Pakistan’s government say that they had no role in the operation, but this claim strikes many analysts as unlikely.

It is even less likely that, as U.S. counterterrorism czar John Brennan claimed in a press conference today, Pakistani authorities did not know about the military operation that killed bin Laden until it was over. Abbottabad’s Bilal Town neighborhood where bin Laden lived and died was virtually around the corner from the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul — Pakistan’s West Point, where future General Kayanis and General Pashas are learning to be officers. It doesn’t take 40 minutes to start to scramble planes, or get troops to Abbottabad, and there is no getting into the town by land or air without the expressed consent of Pakistan’s security establishment. This may not have been an official joint operation, but it was almost certainly a collective effort.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that much of the contradictory information coming out of Pakistan may be intended to quell public concerns in a country where a sensationalist media has stoked deep suspicions of American operations, and the Raymond Davis fiasco is still fresh in the public memory, a position reiterated by Karen Brulliart and Debbi Wilgoren in today’s Washington Post.

In comments that seemed directed toward the Pakistani public, much of which disapproves of any type of cooperation with the United States, Pakistan “categorically” denied local media reports that it was given notice about the raid and its air bases had been used.

While public opinion in Pakistan may be suspicious of US motives, Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, has been a staunch defender of democracy. Echoing the sentiments of his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, President Zardari wrote in the Washington Post today that democracy is the best weapon against terrorism.

My government endorses the words of President Obama and appreciates the credit he gave us Sunday night for the successful operation in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa. We also applaud and endorse the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that we must “press forward, bolstering our partnerships, strengthening our networks, investing in a positive vision of peace and progress, and relentlessly pursuing the murderers who target innocent people.” We have not yet won this war, but we now clearly can see the beginning of the end, and the kind of South and Central Asia that lies in our future.

A freely elected democratic government, with the support and mandate of the people, working with democracies all over the world, is determined to build a viable, economic prosperous Pakistan that is a model to the entire Islamic world on what can be accomplished in giving hope to our people and opportunity to our children. We can become everything that al-Qaeda and the Taliban most fear — a vision of a modern Islamic future. Our people, our government, our military, our intelligence agencies are very much united. Some abroad insist that this is not the case, but they are wrong. Pakistanis are united.

Perhaps it is due to the sincerity of President Zardari’s convictions that President Obama spoke of US-Pakistan cooperation as an essential component in the fight against terrorism during his historic address to the nation on Sunday night.

But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

That’s also why suggestions that Congress may cut aid to Pakistan are self-defeating. Indiscriminate and unaccountable aid such as was practiced during the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations can lead to unintended consequences. But so can severing ties, such as occurred under President George H.W. Bush. Cutting assistance to Pakistan would jeopardize existing intelligence and security collaboration when we should be working to strengthen pro-democracy leaders and institutions in Pakistan.

Osama bin Laden was not discovered overnight. It took years of intelligence sharing and coordination between the US and Pakistan, and White House officials made clear that Pakistan’s help was integral to the success of the mission. What has gone too long unsaid, however, is that it took the election of a democratic government to reach the level of cooperation necessary to discover and eliminate the world’s most notorious terrorist. But the struggle to define Pakistan’s future continues. Militant leader Hafiz Saeed has publicly prayed for Osama bin Laden, while the Pakistani Taliban has declared war on the Pakistani state. This is a defining moment for Pakistan that underscores the vital importance of supporting Pakistan’s democratic movement.

Pakistan Government Statement on Death of Osama bin Laden

P.R.No.150/2011

Office of the Spokesperson

Press Release

Death of Osama bin Ladin

In an intelligence driven operation, Osama Bin Ladin was killed in the surroundings of Abbotabad in the early hours of this morning. This operation was conducted by the US forces in accordance with declared US policy that Osama bin Ladin will be eliminated in a direct action by the US forces, wherever found in the world.

Earlier today, President Obama telephoned President Zardari on the successful US operation which resulted in killing of Osama bin Ladin.

Osama bin Ladin’s death illustrates the resolve of the international community including Pakistan to fight and eliminate terrorism. It constitutes a major setback to terrorist organizations around the world.

Al-Qaeda had declared war on Pakistan. Scores of Al-Qaeda sponsored terrorist attacks resulted in deaths of thousands of innocent Pakistani men, women and children. Almost, 30,000 Pakistani civilians lost their lives in terrorist attacks in the last few years. More than 5,000 Pakistani security and armed forces officials have been martyred in Pakistan’s campaign against Al-Qaeda, other terrorist organizations and affiliates.

Pakistan has played a significant role in efforts to eliminate terrorism. We have had extremely effective intelligence sharing arrangements with several intelligence agencies including that of the US. We will continue to support international efforts against terrorism.

It is Pakistan’s stated policy that it will not allow its soil to be used in terrorist attacks against any country. Pakistan’s political leadership, parliament, state institutions and the whole nation are fully united in their resolve to eliminate terrorism.

Islamabad
2 May 2011

 

 

Statement by Secretary Clinton on the Assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti

Secretary Hillary ClintonI am shocked and outraged by the assassination today of Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti. This was an attack not only on one man, but on the values of tolerance and respect for people of all faiths and backgrounds championed by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father.

I recently had the opportunity to meet Minister Bhatti. He was a patriot and a man of courage and conviction. He cared deeply for Pakistan and dedicated his life to helping the least among us on Earth. I extend my deepest condolences to his family and friends.

The United States remains committed to working with the government and people of Pakistan to build a more stable and prosperous future for all — a future in which violent extremists are no longer able to silence the voices of tolerance and peace.

Statement by the President on the Assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti

President Barack Obama Official PortraitI am deeply saddened by the assassination of Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti today in Islamabad, and condemn in the strongest possible terms this horrific act of violence.  We offer our profound condolences to his family, loved ones and all who knew and worked with him. Minister Bhatti fought for and sacrificed his life for the universal values that Pakistanis, Americans and people around the world hold dear – the right to speak one’s mind, to practice one’s religion as one chooses, and to be free from discrimination based on one’s background or beliefs.  He was clear-eyed about the risks of speaking out, and, despite innumerable death threats, he insisted he had a duty to his fellow Pakistanis to defend equal rights and tolerance from those who preach division, hate, and violence.  He most courageously challenged the blasphemy laws of Pakistan under which individuals have been prosecuted for speaking their minds or practicing their own faiths. Those who committed this crime should be brought to justice, and those who share Mr. Bhatti’s vision of tolerance and religious freedom must be able to live free from fear. Minister Bhatti will be missed by all who knew him, and the United States will continue to stand with those who are dedicated to his vision of tolerance and dignity for all human beings.

Pakistan’s Other Clerics

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.

Javed GhamidiAt 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.

“Do Not Underestimate the Pakistani People.”

Bruce Riedel

The Brookings Institution yesterday hosted the official book release for Bruce Riedel’s new book, Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of Global Jihad. The author, Bruce Riedel, is a career CIA officer and has advised four US presidents on South Asian policy. He is widely regarded as one of the United States’s preeminent experts on Pakistan.

The auditorium at the Brookings Institution, one of Washington’s oldest and most prestigious think tanks, was filled to capacity with representatives from several governments as well as the military. The rear of the room was packed with journalists from across the world. Mr. Riedel began his remarks by thanking several people, but he paused to give special praise for the former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto whom he recognized for her courage and inspiration.

Mr. Riedel noted that Pakistan is one of the most important countries in the world not only for its proximity to the war in Afghanistan, but because it is home to the second largest population of Muslims in the world, it has the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, and it is a long-time American ally. Despite its importance, however, most Americans know very little about the country.

According Mr. Riedel, there are three main issues that he deals with in his new book: Pakistan’s domestic politics, US-Pakistan relations, and the growth of the global jihad movement.

Pakistan’s domestic politics, he said, is influenced largely by two primary struggles: one between the military and the civilian government, the other between the moderate majority of Pakistanis and the vocal but minority of Islamists. He mentioned that these struggles are often exacerbated by an irresponsible press.

But Mr. Riedel pointed out that there is one thing that has always trumped these struggles over the history of Pakistan – “the yearning for democracy has pushed dictators out of power over and over.” There is, he said, a constant underlying push for democracy, rule of law, and accountability. This was a key theme of Mr. Riedel’s remarks – more than anything, the people of Pakistan want to decide their own fate.

On the second issue, US-Pakistan relations, Mr. Riedel was honest and open about the fact that the US has not been a consistent friend to Pakistan. He referred to the relationship between the two countries as ‘a deadly embrace’ – one in which neither side knew if they could trust the other – and urged the members of the audience to change this from a deadly embrace to a friendly embrace.

Mr. Riedel pointed out two major mistakes made by the US:

First, that over the history of US-Pakistan relations, too much has been built around secret projects that are not really secret. He referred to the U2 base in the 1950s; the role that Pakistan played as intermediary between the US and China during Nixon’s presidency; the cooperation between the US and Pakistan in arming the Afghan mujahideen during the Cold War; and most recently the drone attacks on al Qaeda. By continually basing our relationship on secret agreements, we allow an air of intrigue to mischaracterize what is often a healthy cooperation.

The second major mistake the US made, of course, was the support for Pakistan’s dictators over the years – an error of both Republican and Democratic administrations, and one that set back Pakistan’s democratic progress by decades. Mr. Riedel urged the US not never repeat this mistake again.

The third issue Mr. Riedel addressed is Pakistan’s relationship with the growth of the global jihad movement. Here, Mr. Riedel says, we should understand that Pakistan is a nation at war for its soul. While the vast majority of the country are peaceful, moderate Muslims, Pakistan is also home to the largest number of militant groups in the world. As such, the country is divided between those who are loyal to the vision of the nation’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and dark forces who seek to convert Pakistan into a jihadist state similar to Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

The roots for the global jihad movement, Mr. Riedel explains, can be traced to the dictatorship of Gen. Ziaul Haq during the 1980s – a dictatorship supported by the United States. Make no mistake, he reminds, the US shares responsibility for this situation.

The good news, however, is that Pakistan’s military is engaged in the most serious counterinsurgency efforts it has ever conducted. While there may be some elements of the military and intelligence agencies still supporting militant groups as a holdover from previous doctrines of “strategic depth”, the military has realized that the nation most threatened by these groups is Pakistan itself. In answer to a question from the audience, Mr. Riedel said that if you had told him two years ago that Pakistan’s Army was conducting counterinsurgency operations in six of the seven tribal areas, he would have said you were dreaming. Today, though, that dream is a reality.

So what is the solution that Mr. Riedel proposes?

First and foremost, he says, the future of Pakistan is not up to the US. Only Pakistan can decide its own fate, and the US must not repeat past mistakes and try to push Pakistan one way or the other.

The US must not undermine the civilian government or the democratic process. To those who question whether one or another politician is preferable, Mr. Riedel reminds the audience that democracy is not about individuals, but about a process.

The US must also support Pakistan’s efforts to normalize and improve relations with its neighbors, especially India. Mr. Riedel gave special praise for the efforts of Pakistan’s current President Asif Ali Zardari to improve trade between the countries. While these may seem like small steps, he said, it is this path of incremental change and trust-building that will ultimately succeed.

Above all, however, the US must not try to broker a peace between Pakistan and India. It will not work, he said, and we must trust and support the Pakistani leadership to develop a path to normalization that satisfies their own needs and strategic interests.

The people of Pakistan have shown a remarkable determination to hold on to Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan as a nation at peace with its neighbors and itself. There are no magic solutions, he warned, and progress will take time. But, he advised, we should never underestimate the people of Pakistan’s desire for democracy and peace. If there was one message that Mr. Riedel left the audience with that day, it was this: “Do not underestimate the Pakistani people.”

Assassination of Governor Taseer Reiterates Importance of Supporting Democracy & Justice in Pakistan

Democracy is the best revenge

The assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer and the divided reaction among the Pakistani public reiterates the importance of American support for democracy and justice in Pakistan. As a nation that itself navigated dark days when forces of intolerance and extremism threatened violence across the land, the United States has a duty to stand by our friends as they struggle to secure their own future.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech at Gettysburg in which he observed that the American civil war was testing whether any nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” could long endure. In his resolve, he gave expression to the soul of the American nation:

That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The United States was 85 years old.

While Pakistan has not neared the threshold of civil war, this young nation founded on the principles of freedom and democracy faces a struggle similar to that which the United States wrestled as President Lincoln spoke those famous words.

The popular Pakistani blog, New Pakistan tweeted yesterday the following:

Let there be no doubt we have a national crisis in Pakistan. We are fighting for the soul of country.

In 1947, the year Pakistan was founded, the father of the nation Muhammad Ali Jinnah said the following before the Constituent Assembly:

We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.

Six-months later he clarified this principle saying, “Make no mistake: Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it.”

Sixty-four years later, Pakistan is torn between a peace-loving, democratically-inclined majority fighting to keep alive the vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and a fanatic, violent minority who seek a theocratic state under a twisted interpretation of religion.

In the past, the US has, against its principles, supported military strongmen in Pakistan in the hope of stabilizing the country long enough for democracy to take root. Far from seeding democracy, however, these dictators sowed the seeds of religious extremism, poisoning the soil with hatred, intolerance, and mistrust.

While Pakistan’s militant groups do not have the strength or support to topple the civilian government, they are entrenched enough to disrupt the democratic process. They have assassinated two pro-democracy leaders in the past three years: Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and Salmaan Taseer in 2011.

Even more troubling is how the jihadi mindset that was nurtured by dictators with American acquiescence has spread. Considered unimportant until 9/11, this extremist ideology was left to work its way into educational curricula, into courtrooms, and into the rank and file of Pakistan’s security forces. Today it threatens to stunt the growth of democracy among a war-weary populace.

As Americans, we should be able to empathize. It was not so long ago that our own society was threatened by a poisonous ideology. Racist violence was perpetrated against individuals and the state by armed militias, schools taught pseudo-science based on an extremist ideology, and intolerance and hatred were institutionalized in courts.

But just as Americans came together to defeat the Ku Klux Klan, school segregation, and Jim Crow, Pakistan can and will see its way through the rocky waters they face today. Violence and intolerance is not inherent to Islam or to Pakistan, as is attested by the millions of peace-loving, tolerant Muslims and Pakistanis the world over. In fact, the natural affinity between Islam and democracy was made clear by Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in her final book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West.

As Americans, we have stared into the abyss, and we have seen what can become of a people who forsake justice. Ultimately, we chose the path of liberty. But this choice came not cheap, and the price was paid in the blood of hundreds of thousands of men and women.

Today, Pakistan finds itself staring into the abyss. The United States must stand by Pakistan in its time of trouble, providing guidance and support as it finds its own way to the path of liberty. We must not give in to the temptation of easy, short-term solutions. We have tried these before and they will fail us now as they have failed us before. We must stand firm in our principles and in our faith in democracy so that we may help the people of Pakistan ensure that their own government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.