Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari spoke in compelling terms at the World Economic Forum this weekend about his country’s youth population, liberal economic policies, and Pakistan’s geopolitical location. These strengths are Pakistan’s weaknesses, unless the curse of extremism and its product, terrorism, are brought under control in Pakistan.
When the moderator pressed the president to explain how his government responds to the challenge of terrorism, he sought refuge in stock phrases of Pakistan being a victim of terrorism and how he had lost his own wife, the former prime minister Bhutto, to terrorism.
While these answers elicit sympathy, and they are true, the president cannot expect international investment in his country unless he eradicates this mindset of national victimhood. This self-defeating outlook is compounded in many of Pakistan’s media outlets by constantly blaming the United States or India for Pakistan’s infrastructural and economic challenges.
Under U.S. pressure, and for valid national security concerns, Pakistan has been forced to kill terrorists in various parts of the country. But killing is not enough: where is Pakistan’s national counter-radicalization strategy? What measures are being undertaken to uproot extremist influences in Pakistan’s military? How is the Lashkar e Taybah (LeT) being undermined and contained? What changes are being made to minimize anti-Western sentiments among millions of madrasa students who will go on to become imams? Why is the Islami Jamiat e Talaba (IJT) allowed to operate as a paramilitary organization on Pakistan’s university campuses? And what of intolerance toward Pakistan’s minorities: Shia, Christians, and Ahmadis? Extremism begins with intolerance.
Unlike Saudi Arabia or other Gulf countries, Pakistan has a rich Muslim legacy of Sufism, pluralism, and tolerance. Its religious landscape is filled with the instructive poetry and philosophy of Data Ganj Baksh, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, and Bulleh Shah. Before it is too late, and the pernicious influences of Saudi petrodollars eat away at this inheritance, Pakistan’s president must begin countering the religious and political foundations of terrorism. If blame is to be apportioned anywhere, it must be laid at the door of forces within Pakistan who prefer to look away when extremists raise their heads in public.