Imagine a country where every week one or two young men – mostly in their teens, blow themselves up as suicide bombers in senseless acts of violence! Where targeted killings take place almost on a daily basis! Where half a dozen persons are kidnapped and three to four are beheaded by militants every month! Where each day of the year, on average, bears witness to at least four other types of terrorist violence – bomb blasts, rocket attacks, land mine explosions, grenade attacks or improvised explosive device detonations!
Welcome to Pakistan!
The violence which afflicts Pakistani society is slowly reaching endemic proportions and turning the situation around may soon cease to be a possibility. The first ten months of 2010 have seen a total of 1786 attacks carried out by militants – a staggering figure indeed. Add to this another 1,078 incidents of violence to include clashes between security forces and militants, operational attacks by security forces (including drone attacks), political and ethnic violence, border clashes and inter-tribal clashes and the full impact of violence levels in Pakistan assume numbing proportions. This violence has led to the death of 8,702 people with another 8,943 people being injured. The figures for violence levels in 2009 are even higher. A total of 3,817 attacks of all types took place over the year (militant attacks – 2594) in which 12,625 people were killed and 12,793 were injured1. The consistency of such high levels of violence begs the question – Will Pakistan implode or will Pakistan pull through? The answer will not easily be forthcoming.
Allah of course can save the nation, but what if Allah chooses to stay neutral? In the ultimate analysis, it is the people of Pakistan who have to rise to set right the destiny of their nation.
Of the four provinces of Pakistan, Baluchistan is beset with insurgency and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is literally a war zone. In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the situation is more explosive than that existing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. East of the Indus, fundamentalist forces have spread their roots in the provinces of Punjab and Sind though violence levels here are small as compared to the other two provinces. But still the fear of terror has rendered the cities in Pakistan into virtual fortresses. The port city of Karachi is also beset with chronic ethnic violence which is an off shoot of a historical legacy dating back to the partition. Indeed, there is no part of Pakistan which has remand unaffected by militant or ethnic or sectarian/religious induced violence. The signs of an impending implosion in the country are all too real to be ignored any longer.
Violence in Pakistan is a result of some concomitant factors, chief among them being the ongoing war in neighbouring Afghanistan, the lack of democratic structures within Pakistan, a failing economy and a skewed education policy. The education system in Pakistan has provided fertile grounds for the spread of radicalism within society. Pakistan’s educational curriculum which was relatively forward looking with some emphasis on multiculturalism and a nationalism perceived in futuristic and modernist terms was revised by Zia ul Haq to conform to Islamic thought, precepts and fundamentalist religious ideological orientation. History and geography, which were separate and distinct subjects, were amalgamated as Pakistan Studies and made compulsory for all students from the ninth grade through the first year of college, including engineering and medical schools.
The teaching of History was distorted, hatred for India was inculcated and ‘Islamiyat’ was made compulsory with specific directions being given for religious and ideological content… “To demonstrate that the basis of Pakistan is not to be founded in racial, linguistic, or geographical factors, but, rather, in the shared experience of a common religion…To guide students towards the ultimate goal of Pakistan—the creation of a completely Islamised State” (University Grants Commission directive, 1983).
A radicalised Pakistan may well result in the movement of millions of Pakistans more liberal elements to seek shelter in India. How such a situation is to be countered is something which has to be thought out and factored into a future security calculus.
In the process the cultures and histories of sub nationalities like the Baloch, Pathan and Sindhi were suppressed and an irrational paradigm denied the existence of cultural differences on the assumption that religion would bridge the gap between sub national identities. The strategies that Zia appropriated and propagated were based on narrow, medieval interpretations of Islam, which resulted in gender biased attitudes and policies and militarised exhortations to take up arms for the sake of jihad. This stratification of Pakistan’s educational infrastructure has created significant divergences of worldviews with Madrassa students tending to gravitate more toward jihad. Public school or Urdu-medium students too have imbibed radical ideas but to a lesser extent. The small group of private sector educated elite children have more leeway for objective thinking, but tend to relate little with the two more mainstream student streams.
The educational system has therefore contributed in large measure to the polarisation of society and the Jihadi mindsets. The children who were born when Zia revised the educational curriculum are now young men steeped in ideology and the primacy of religion. The narrative they listen to is grounded in religion and championed by militant groups, vying for their brand of Islam predominant. The progressive and secular narrative of the liberal elements in society has retreated from the national discourse. A reversal of the national narrative would involve reversing the entire socio-cultural, religious and political discourse – a formidable task indeed!