Does the editor of he Economist read the Acorn?
Winning the battle, not the war
Pakistan’s president has more to do to fight terrorism
If Pervez Musharraf were not doing his damnedest to fight terror, why would terrorists keep trying to kill him? Why also, having survived two bomb blasts in the past year, would the general have overseen the arrest of 18 alleged al-Qaeda members in the past two weeks? They included a man who may have a $5m bounty on his head, and another whose arrest is reported to have stymied fresh al-Qaeda attacks in America and Britain. The United States, which has rewarded Mr Musharraf richly for his troubles, considers him a bulwark against Islamic extremism. But many others do not.
They point out that although Mr Musharraf has nabbed several hundred al-Qaeda suspects since the September 11th attacks, his record against the domestic extremist groups who succour them is patchier. When Pakistan is riven by sectarian violence—as last May, when dozens were killed in Karachi—a few suspected militants are arrested and a few extremist groups are sometimes banned. But the groups’ leaders are usually left at large. A particularly vile Sunni extremist, Azam Tariq, was even permitted to sit in parliament while wanted on terrorism charges, until he was murdered last year.
Not coincidentally, Mr Tariq supported Mr Musharraf, as do most mainstream Islamists. This is partly for historical reasons. Through a quarter of a century of on-off military rule, Pakistan’s generals have nurtured the Islamists and their ideology of jihad. This provided them with a useful auxiliary force in Afghanistan and Kashmir. But Mr Musharraf has gone further. In his efforts to attach democratic trappings to his dictatorship, he has given the mullahs a lead role in running the country. Their parliamentary coalition, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), did unprecedentedly well in the last elections, in 2002. Unlike Pakistan’s secular opposition parties, they were allowed to campaign freely. The MMA also gained control of two of Pakistan’s four provinces. The mullahs then voted dutifully for an amendment to the constitution, legitimising Mr Musharraf’s dictatorship until 2007.
Mr Musharraf has continued to indulge the mullahs in numerous ways, partly to retain their support, but also because he fears the destabilising effects of abandoning them. Shortly after turning his back on his old allies, the Taliban, he vowed to close scores of madrassas, or Islamic schools, that had recruited for them in Pakistan, and to regulate the rest. But two years on, the madrassas are still open and unregulated. The Taliban are again launching attacks into Afghanistan from northern Pakistan. And if in Kashmir the extremists’ training camps are unusually quiet, they have not been dismantled.
Making things worse
Asked by America to crack down on Taliban and al-Qaeda fugitives hiding in northern Pakistan, Mr Musharraf has come up with a policy as cruel as it is counterproductive. He has sent his army into South Waziristan, the hitherto autonomous tribal region close to the border with Afghanistan, where it has bulldozed mud villages, closed roads and annihilated local defence forces. But it has failed to deliver any of the “high-value” terrorists Mr Musharraf promised. The policy has succeeded only in riling the tribes—though, crucially, it seems not greatly to have upset Mr Musharraf’s Islamist friends.
In defence of his policy, Mr Musharraf’s supporters say that there is a clear distinction between the mullahs in parliament and the terrorists. This is generally true. Yet their friends and ideologies are often the same. And sometimes, as per the late Mr Tariq, there would seem to be no distinction at all. In short, Mr Musharraf’s policies are making Pakistan less secular and stable, not more. The secular opposition has been co-opted or scattered. The country’s sophisticated middle class has little interest or involvement in politics. Among the impoverished majority, the firebrand preaching they hear in Islamic schools has a powerful allure. This would be worrying in any country with Pakistan’s history of sectarian violence, let alone one with nuclear bombs.
To fight terrorism, Mr Musharraf must do more than round up a few big-name terrorists. He must disband the home-grown extremists that are their allies, and the madrassas that provide them with recruits. Above all, he must change the political culture of a country where military dictatorship and religious extremism have for so long gone hand-in-hand. By the end of this year, Mr Musharraf is due to renounce his military office and return Pakistan to civilian rule. Shorn of his uniform, he may, as many fear, prove powerless. But that will be no excuse not to try. [The Economist]