Jan 27, 2010

Fighting terrorism

Talat Fraooq

One of the post-9/11 narratives has focused on the root causes of terrorism by carrying out in-depth analyses of the phenomenon. One school of thought sees a fundamental connection between poor economic conditions and terrorism and considers poverty to be a significant determinant in this regard, whereas the opposing view ascribes terrorism to religious fundamentalism and not poverty. This viewpoint is defended on the grounds that the terrorist leadership and operators include affluent people who use religion for political ends.

Yet another perspective maintains that terrorists are motivated by injustice and perceived social, political or historical wrongs embedded in autocratic political systems. This particular analysis upholds that terrorism is not associated with per capita income and terrorist risk is not higher in economically backward countries, and that higher levels of terrorism are actually associated with lower levels of social justice, including political rights.

The rise and perpetuation of the militancy in Pakistan may be explained by the above argument. Political and social flux has intensified in the last two decades with the state itself sponsoring non-state actors at the cost of its writ and, in the bargain, progressively impeding institutional development. Terrorism remains unbridled because Pakistan is in transition; whether it is towards a stronger democracy or a powerful dictatorship remains to be seen.

By refusing to review and discard the pre-partition modes of governance in this particular region, the Pakistani state has failed to serve as a unifying force since 1947. Instead of positively harnessing the diversity of its multi-ethnic society it has used religion and misplaced nationalism to impose uniformity in order to maintain a strong centre. Within the first few decades it emboldened the religious extremists by declaring a section of its own people non-Muslims out of sheer political expediency, estranging the Bengalis to the point of no return and spawning alienation by refusing provincial autonomy. Prolonged and perpetual social and political discrimination, coupled with widespread corruption at the top, has gradually manufactured conditions conducive to the growth of extremist religious ideology and militancy.

Poverty and religion are not among the root causes of terrorism but grow within an environment that hinders viable opportunities for self-actualisation. The failure of the state to provide balanced education to the masses has seriously aggravated the situation. Institutionalised corruption has played a vital role in this regard. Without quality education there can be no hope of a better tomorrow and the failure to achieve personal and economic growth is bound to give way to depression and desperation.

This has encouraged the vested interests to exploit both poverty and religious sentiment. So much so that before the public opinion took a u-turn a sizeable section of the Pakistani populace, including members of the well-to-do class, sympathised with the Taliban agenda by misinterpreting it as an answer to Western hegemony and domestic discontent. This particular mindset continues to exist although its supporters may have decreased.

The corruption-ridden state institutions lack the moral courage to bring unregulated religious activism through mosques and madrasas under stringent control.

At this point in time Pakistan's ongoing transition is being manoeuvred by a slowly maturing media, an emboldened judiciary and the short-sighted political elite who refuse to learn from the changed ground realities. Their immaturity is evident from their attitude toward the NRO verdict of the Supreme Court. Those in government wish to protect party interests and those in the opposition desire to use the NRO issue for political ends.

Nothing weakens state-society relationship more than rampant and unchecked corruption of the powerful. Yet there is no effort on the part of the political elite to genuinely ponder the implications of sleaze and fraud that have retarded institutional development and hampered Pakistan's shift toward social parity. The corrupt in Pakistan are by now so well entrenched that they can actually add insult to injury with impunity.

The recent dishing out of billions of rupees worth of bailout packages to corrupt organisations and placing a controversial minister in charge of the NAB are nothing short of flaunting corruption.

The majority of the Pakistani politicians lack the integrity, the sagacity and the will required to ensure strong institutions that alone can guarantee a just social system and consequently a violence-free society. Post-9/11 studies also show that the number of trans-national violent events is far less than domestic terrorist activities. Terrorism feeds on domestic inequalities that result from moral and financial corruption. No military operation can eradicate terrorism entirely; only an equitable and corruption-free system of governance that serves and not rules the people can bring about a lasting solution to the problem. If terrorism in Pakistan is to be curtailed then we have to look inwards; justice, like charity, begins at home.

For this to happen, Pakistan needs statesmen and not politicians. Unfortunately, there are none on the horizon. The time is ripe for the civil society to get its act together, take a unified stand and step into the fray wholeheartedly.

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