Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Pakistan: Undermined by a toxic mixture

It's tempting to see yesterday's murderous attack in Lahore as just another Islamist atrocity. Another attempt by religious fanatics to take over a state.

And that's true but it's not the whole truth. The Pakistani people are the victims of an historical cocktail in which religion, nationalism, American and Russian arrogance, Indian rigidity and Saudi money combine to make a toxic mixture.

It's tempting to assume, as everyone else seems to, that this attack is the work of an Islamist group. It's plausible enough but one thing makes this stand out from most other Islamist attacks - the murderers all survived. They clearly made and executed well a plan for an orderly withdrawl under fire. Most Islamist 'terrorists' expect to, even wish to, die fighting Islam's enemies. Yesterday's gunmen had a quite untypical desire to survive.

To me - a person whose military knowledge comes mostly from novels - weapons, targeting and tactics all looked more like an operation by special forces than a 'terrorist' outrage. That, in turn, suggests state sponsorship of the attack but by which state?

Enough speculation. Islamist fanatics are the obvious candidates.

But where do they come from? Maybe they come from the North West Frontier Province, which has long had its own, tribal and religious, system of government and law. (It's as if we had agreed that Welsh councilors should be free to force everyone to attend chapel and sing in choirs. With beatings for those singing out of tune!)

This region, bordering on Afghanistan, provides a safe haven for Muslim fanatics of various kinds. This fanaticism has been encouraged by an unlikely set of supporters;
  • Saudi Arabia has funded a network of religious schools, madrassahs, which fill the gap left by Pakistan's own educational system but teach only the Saudi's own fundamentalist brand of Islam.
  • The Pakistan Security Service (ISI) which has supported Muslim fighters (muhjahadeen) in order to undermine India's control of Kashmir and, previously, Russian control of Afghanistan.
  • The US, which also supported the muhjadeen against the Russians and whose policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Palestine have persuaded Muslims who might have been friends that the US hates them.
  • India, whose control of (most of) Muslim majority Kashmir has been a cause celebre for Pakistani nationalists. India should at least give the Kashmiris a choice.
For Pakistan's rulers, especially its military rulers, religion has been a banner to rally support against foreigners and radicals. The people are, obviously, Muslim. But they would not have given support to fanatical cults without the malign influence of foreigners and the cynicism of their own rulers. The greatest sufferers from this have been the Pakistani people and especially Pakistani women.

Yesterday's attack will alienate foreigners - us. Who now will visit on business or holidays? And in that way they will have succeeded even though no cricketers were killed.

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