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Weighing possibilities of a Pakistan turnaround

delhi Updated: Mar 16, 2009 01:03 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

In these stressful times for Pakistan, the question being asked is a simple one: will Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s nation survive or will it prove everyone’s nightmare scenario correct?

While Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif joust for power, Pakistan saw a nearly 800 per cent rise in terrorist attacks in 2008 over the previous year. Nearly 2,500 people were killed and some 4,500 wounded.

Generals have been attacked and killed, Pakistani special forces targeted in their own mess, the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad bombed, Benazir Bhutto assassinated, Pervez Musharraf and (now forgotten) PM Shaukat Aziz were lucky and narrowly escaped attacks.

Pakistan’s descent into chaos, the title of a book by celebrated analyst Ahmed Rashid, needs to be arrested — not just for ending the export of terror to India and the rest of the region — but for the sake of its 172 million people.

“Pakistan needs 10 years of good government, backed by the military, to roll back its slide into extremism. As of now, that doesn’t seem to be in sight,” a former Pakistani envoy to India, who didn’t wish to be named, told HT in Islamabad.

As many as 36 of the 56 suicide attacks launched by Islamist terrorists in 2007 were against the army — the only institution that might be able to hold the country together —despite losing half of Pakistan in 1971.

The army, which showed little appetite for fight in the Swat Valley and preferred the deal route, will “eventually turn around and learn to fight”, Pervez Hoodhboy, a leading Pakistani academic, told HT .

“If this is to happen, there must be better relations with India. Pakistan’s interest lies in strengthening the ability of the army to take on the jihadis. India’s interest, paradoxically, lies in making Pakistan stronger,” Hoodhboy said.

Clearly, the army if it is to take on the jihadis, must have the backing of both the political parties (as usual in disarray) and the people. There is also the issue of will: Does the army have the stomach to battle its own people?

Just like in India and the US, many Pakistani analysts believe that the umbilical chord linking the permanent establishment to the jihadi networks has not been fully severed.

“All state support to terror groups must end. The ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) must be reformed and the education system, including those of madrassas, revamped. Only then can Pakistan begin lifting itself out of the morass,” an Indian diplomat, who chose not to be identified, said.

And, it’s not just an Indian view. “The military and the powerful ISI still dominate, and hamper, counter-terrorism efforts,” the International Crisis Group said in a new report on Pakistan.

The US, fixated on the idea of keeping its homeland safe, must demonstrate that keeping Pakistanis, Indians and Afghans safe is as important as protecting its own citizens.

As the cliché goes, the three “As” — Allah, America and the Army — run Pakistan. They need to act in tandem if Pakistan is to fight the demons within.