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   Pakistan's Extremists Gain More Power and Control

GEOPOLITICAL ANALYSIS:

Pakistan's Extremists Gain More Power and Control While Musharref Attempts to Please Two Masters: the Fundamentalists at Home and the US Abroad

by Dr. Ali Ahmed Rind
Pakistan is now caught in the crossfire between the free world and Muslim radicalism, and the nation is fast turning to local anarchy.
Two days before the June 14 blast outside the US consulate building in Karachi, which killed 12 people and wounded about three dozen, the press in Pakistan reported with religious fervor the killing of a prisoner at the hands of another convict inside a jail in the central Pakistan city of Lahore. This event did not attract international media coverage, as in this case no direct US interests were involved.

Muhammad Yousaf, a devout Muslim, was condemned to death by a court of law on the charge of blasphemy. He was awaiting execution inside his death row cell when he was fired at six times and killed by Tariq Mota, a member of the banned extremist group Anjama-e-Sipahe Sahaba. From a preliminary inquiry into the incident, it was revealed that Tariq's pistol was smuggled into the prison cell by a jail officer. Muhammad Yousaf was intentionally brought before his would-be killer by jail authorities.

During the three weeks since, no action has been taken against either the jail staffer who allegedly provided the gun to the fanatic Tariq Mota or the jail staff who failed to protect the life of a prisoner inside the well-guarded jail.

During his trial under blasphemy charges, Muhammad Yousaf was given the name "Kazab"—"the liar "—by the press, and that nickname remained affixed to his name until he was killed.

Tariq, after killing Yusuf, shouted, "Allah-o-Akbar!"--"God is great!," and declared that he had done the deed to win eternal salvation. "Yousaf Kazab shown ticket to hell by bravo Tariq" is how the Pakistani popular press has headlined the story.

"I am proud of my son," the killer's mother was reported to have said, according to one newspaper. "From this act he has washed all his sin."

Sadly, General Musharraf's government was unmoved at this gruesome act. While he and his administration have been showing a liberal face to the outside world, they have been pursuing an obscurantist agenda on the home front.

Welcome to Pakistan—the so-called front-line state in the international community's war against terrorism. This is a country where free minds are condemned to death by its rulers under its blasphemy law. If a person testifies that an accused person has made some presumptuous remarks against the prophet Muhammad, the offense carries a mandatory death sentence. It is a nation where fanatics are provided weapons to hasten the execution of the damned inside the jails—and go unnoticed. It is a country where the press and public celebrate these acts as divine redemption and reward the killer with showers of praise.

I wonder what the international community anticipates from our rulers in this so-called war against extremism?

Pakistan is the country where women get sentenced to death by stoning when they fail to prove their complaint that they were raped. Any person charged with the act of blasphemy is lynched by mobs on the streets before he is dragged into courts to meet the fate that Yousaf "The Liar" met.

Our streets are fast becoming battle grounds for extremists who behead any journalist who comes to Pakistan to report on the fanaticism occurring here. These fanatics are willing to blow themselves up to eliminate those who have come here to help get rid of this menace.

Pakistan is now caught in the crossfire between the free world and Muslim radicalism, and the nation is fast turning to local anarchy.

One cannot understand the problem of terrorism in this part of world unless one is well versed about the state of intolerance and bigotry that has dominated all of the institutions since long before we all heard about the cartel of international terrorism, the Al-Qaeda.

People who are not well-versed with our situation wonder how it has happened that the Al-Qaeda has attained safe haven within Pakistan. My answer is that Pakistan as a state and society that has got all the right characteristics to become an ideal hiding, breeding and nurturing place for extremist groups who wish to make this country a base where they can plan and execute their megalomaniac plans.

The parasite of terrorism infests societies where intolerance and fanatics creep like sewage waters into all the established institutions. Unfortunately, Pakistan meets these criteria very well.

The independent press—a rare breed in a country like Pakistan—have come out with numerous reports about the country's unholy alliance between the Al-Qaida and local radical outfits that share Bin Laden's doctrinaire view of Islam and his hatred of the West. Many attended Al Qaida training camps in Afghanistan, or received arms and other support from Bin Laden's cartel of terror.

Two major radical Pakistani militant groups, Lashkar-e-Tayba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, have been named in this regard. Authorities, however, have brushed aside these reports as foreign-inspired journalists' "conspiracy to malign Pakistan and its intelligence service."

Both the radical groups are active in the India part of Kashmir in what they call a "holy war" against infidel forces to liberate Kashmir. There are no two opinions about the origin of these two terrorist outfits. Like the Taliban, both the groups owe their breeding and nurturing to Pakistan's intelligence agencies.

So, here the question comes: what role does the ISI—Pakistan's premier intelligence agency—play in this game?

On June 10, to the great embarrassment of Pakistan, the British foreign secretary made a policy statement before the British House of Commons accepting India' position that the Pakistan-based terrorist groups Jaish-e- Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Tayba have clear links with the ISI. And we are also hearing that both of these groups have formed tactical alliances with the Al-Qaeda.

What surprises me is not how the authorities are half-heartedly dealing with the menace of terrorism, but how ordinary people and the local press see it. The special editions in the local language that appeared within hours of the June 14 blast outside the US consulate could not hide their delight in choosing words to describe the ghastly act that left 12 Pakistani nationals dead.

Policy makers sitting in Washington must understand that although their military campaign against the Al-Qaida is showing some positive results in military terms, extremist groups are getting political benefit by exploiting US forces' presence in the region and pointing to its dubious agenda (oil interests in Central Asia and making strategic gains against would-be competitor China and controlling Pakistan's nuclear program) and its siding with Israel on the Palestinian question. The publication of pictures showing Israeli forces blowing up Palestinian houses and women crying for their dead give impetus to their argument that the US is the enemy of Muslims as it backs Israel, which is treating their Muslim brethren cruelly in Palestine.

Even Pakistan's liberal and moderate press, which has been opposing the radical view of Islam, do not show support for the US argument against Muslim extremism. This state of mistrust runs deep in all the country's state and social institutions and religious parties (which are somewhat sympathetic to the extremists' agenda are exploiting the situation by maneuvering public opinion in their favor).

The majority of political analysts here are of the view that it will not be easy for General Musharraf to curb well-trained and armed extremists in this US-guided police action, particularly given their continuing links with a section of the military establishment and the state of prevailing intolerance within social groups, which favor the views of radical Muslims concerning the American agenda in this region.

"Pakistan's ruling military junta is playing hybrid while dealing with the issue of Muslim extremism," one analyst commented about Pakistan's somewhat vague approach to the concept of Jihad and dealing with the threat of Muslim extremist groups. "While Pakistan needs the foot soldiers of Muslim extremist groups in Indian Kashmir as a private army, it also vows to cap their selective activities on Pakistani soil and pledges to help the international community to nab them."


Dr. Rind, a physician, writes on geopolitical issues in Pakistan.

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This story was published on July 3, 2002.
  
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