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Time to jump sinking ship?

A three-part series by Amit Baruah starting today puts Pakistan under the microscope, examines its fragility and wonders what impact its possible failure could have on India and the rest of the world.

world Updated: Mar 14, 2009 09:35 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times

The entrance to the Allama Iqbal international airport is chock-a-block with people. Some Pakistanis are leaving for Manchester, others for Muscat. A lot of the baggage they are carrying is oversized. It looks as if they are going to be away for some time.

During a week’s stay in Pakistan, almost every well-heeled Pakistani this writer met was plotting to go abroad or had relatives overseas.

Many of them possess dual passports — one Pakistani and the other, say, Australian or Canadian. Many had lived abroad for three years before returning. The “duals” have the option of going back.

“I have told two of my nieces not to return,” said Fiza (name changed), who chose to return after studying at an American university.

“I don’t want them to grow up here — in times of extremism and uncertainty.”

No longer is the fear of Pakistan going under an implausible scenario.

There is increasing despair at Pakistan’s state of dysfunction — a country being torn apart by the cancerous growth of Islamist extremism as well as a political system that begins functioning only to falter.

“The ship of administering governments is steaming into stormy weather rudderless. The present structure of governance makes the present state of Pakistan untenable,” a bunch of leading intellectuals argued in a recent publication. “The crisis,” leading Pakistanis such as Mobashir Hasan, M.B. Naqvi and I.A. Rehman argued in “Making Pakistan a Tenable State”, was in the “bones of our system”.

It’s difficult to disagree with this indigenous assessment. After the promising elections of February 2008, Pakistan is once again facing a political crisis triggered by a struggle between President Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

As the political crisis rages, the Pakistani Taliban are on the march. “They are not just in Swat Valley or in the Frontier province. They are in southern Punjab. We have to tread carefully before we take them on,” a top government official said on condition of anonymity.

It is an open secret that many jihadis fighting in Swat or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas are Punjabis. Ethnic boundaries — otherwise, so hard to transcend in Pakistan — have been successfully leapfrogged by the Taliban.

There is a growing realisation, especially in the country’s print media, that the extremist genie, a product of Pakistani-American collaboration against the dead and gone Soviet Union, is out of control.

As American journalist David Sanger points out in his new book, The Inheritance, questions about Pakistani state complicity in this Talibanisation remain. He terms former president Pervez Musharraf the master of the double game — a man who fought and supported the Taliban at the same time.

The situation is so desperate that leaders such as Qazi Hussein Ahmed (Jamaat-i-Islami) and Fazlur Rehman (Jamiat-ulema-i-Islam) — long shunned by liberal Pakistani society — are being looked upon as saviours.

“If only leaders of religious parties… would take some time out from their busy schedule of TV appearances… and expose those who are destroying this beautiful land in the name of Islam. They would be doing a service to Islam — and this country,” Newsline editor Rehan Hakim argued in a recent editorial.

Tomorrow: What State failure in Pakistan could mean for India and the rest of the world

First Published: Mar 14, 2009 01:37 IST