A forward-looking government can certainly achieve this task of Pakistan remaining an Islamic country while simultaneously emerging as a progressive and peaceful nation
The recent decision of the New Zealand cricket team - followed by that of England - to terminate its Pakistan tour ahead of the first One-Day International because of security concerns should be an eye-opener for the country’s discerning citizens as to how the present conditions there are viewed abroad.
The cancellation of the tour has certainly disappointed the cricket fans in Pakistan. Even those in Pakistan, who have no particular craze for cricket, would feel sad that the reputation of their dear country in the international arena has sunk so low. Certainly, Pakistan’s citizens would be concerned about what the future holds for the nation if the present conditions were to continue.
After centuries of British rule, the colonial masters left India after splitting it into two separate nations - India and Pakistan. While India has managed to survive as a vibrant democracy despite various problems, Pakistan has seen its governments alternate between democracy and military dictatorship. Several prime ministers and presidents of Pakistan had to leave the country after losing power to save their skin and have sought refuge elsewhere. In other words, for the past seventy years or so, there has been a lack of stability in the governance of Pakistan.
While India declared itself as a secular country, Pakistan pronounced itself an Islamic nation. The country’s leadership, whether democratically elected or comprising military dictators, has been obsessed with the thought of adhering to the ethos of Islam in the most faithful way. In the process, the leadership appears to have taken as its duty the spreading of the message of Islam around the world.
Consequently, Pakistan became a sanctuary for Islamic extremists, most of whom are committed to the concept of jihad (waging a righteous war on behalf of Islam). Adopting violent methods and indulging in terrorist acts to spread Islam was sought to be justified by the Islamic extremists. The Pakistan government did not do anything worthwhile to check this extremist tendency, which is now proving too costly for the country.
Pakistan fostering terrorism
The recent takeover of Afghanistan by the hardline Sunni Islamist group Taliban, who are widely perceived to be sort of terrorists, and Pakistan’s overt and covert support to them have further damaged Pakistan’s image around the world.
Now, in the global fora when terrorism - and particularly Islamic terrorism - is mentioned, inevitably the speakers and listeners are reminded about Pakistan’s role and their mind is filled with suspicion about how far the country is responsible for fostering terrorism around the world.
At the moment, Pakistan is facing a severe financial crisis. Debt-ridden, it is virtually living on borrowed money. Unwittingly, Pakistan has allowed itself to come under China’s firm grip, with no immediate hope of getting rid of China’s direct and indirect control.
Further, in the present strife-torn Afghanistan, both China and Pakistan seem to have developed a lot of common interest. Pakistan, with its link to the Taliban, is likely to facilitate China‘s big-bang entry into Afghanistan for furthering its economic interests. In this situation, Pakistan has nothing to gain, except the vicarious satisfaction of “furthering the cause of Islam”.
Ray of hope
Notwithstanding the present situation, Pakistan’s citizens still can have a ray of hope in Pakistan’s inherent strength with its strong agricultural base and mineral wealth. It has been spending excessively on defense, which it can reduce drastically by arriving at a peaceful and symbiotic settlement with India.
Of course, it is not easy for Pakistan now to get rid of the Islamic terrorists, who seem to be deeply entrenched and sometimes even threaten the government.
What Pakistan needs today is a strong and vibrant people’s movement that would enable it to shed the tendency of leaning towards Islamic extremism. Once that happens, it would result in the entrenched Islamic terrorists getting isolated.
It is a vital question whether such a situation can develop anytime soon but the bright spot is that Pakistan still conducts democratic elections and there is some sort of freedom of speech for its citizens.
Pakistan today needs a far-sighted and committed leadership, solely dedicated to the nation’s welfare and in making it a modern, peaceful and forward-looking country. A vibrant people’s movement can make it possible.
There is nothing wrong with Pakistan remaining an Islamic country dedicated to the Islamic ethos. But the commitment to Islam should not have a corollary that Islamic extremism is acceptable. A forward-looking government can certainly achieve this task of Pakistan remaining an Islamic country while simultaneously emerging as a progressive and peaceful nation.
(The writer is a Trustee, NGO Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai. The views are personal. He can be contacted at email@example.com)