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Pakistan and Globalization

Why is the verdict on globalization decidedly mixed from the standpoint of Pakistan?

June 15, 2007

Why is the verdict on globalization decidedly mixed from the standpoint of Pakistan?

Musharraf and almost all of the army's generals embrace globalization not only because most of them are from big cities like Karachi and Lahore, but also because it has brought the army significant benefits since 9/11 — most notably, new helicopters, tanks and weaponry.

Crisis of Civilization
by Akbar Ahmed
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

They also appreciate the KFC restaurants, the Internet, and the links with the West that have sprung up in the cities of Pakistan over the past few years. However, these leaders are selective in the aspects of globalization they wish to embrace: They are happy to accept certain economic, military and cultural gains but are equally happy to ignore other more important positive aspects that the West wishes to promote, such as democracy and human rights.

To them, globalization presents an opportunity to battle a backward and stagnant form of Islam, represented by the tribesmen, for the future of a prosperous and modern Muslim society.

Musharraf himself would at best have a limited understanding of the tribal populations that he was dealing with in the cases of Mukhtaran and Shazia. As someone who grew up in a big city, he would have expected the aggrieved party to contact the local police and let them deal with the problem. This was, after all, the modern way of doing business in a modern state.

Although they are close in terms of distance, the tribes and urban populations in Pakistan are worlds apart in custom, culture and tradition. In Mukhtaran's case, men of the Mastoi tribe believed that by raping her, they were restoring the honor they had lost when her brother spoke to one of their Mastoi women.

In Shazia's case, the Bugti tribe took up her cause, equating her honor with their own, since she was in their territory and their guest at the time of the incident.

Unlike tribal relationships, those in the city are based primarily on financial interactions. Neighborhoods are mixed, and there is no way of deciding who should live next door. As people migrate from rural and tribal areas, their original ethnicities begin to blur. Every immigrant to the city quickly learns new ways of dealing with life: how to trade, behave and interact with a mixture of people.

In contrast, tribal life continues along traditionally demarcated lines. Important decisions are still made by tribal leaders. Commentaries published in Karachi and Lahore may condemn their customs and traditions as a barrier to the march of progress, but the tribesmen would argue that globalization is the menace.

With its intrusiveness and unrelenting momentum, it threatens the very core of their traditional identity and way of life. Although tribal codes throughout the Muslim world are changing as they confront the forces of globalization, they still influence behavior.

In the case of both Mukhtaran and Shazia, their fate depended on the interplay of society's different interpretations of honor and justice, particularly in relation to women.

What is noticeably absent from the discussion of these two cases so far is the presence of Islam. In fact, they demonstrate the collapse of the central features of Islam: justice, compassion, respect for knowledge and the honorable treatment of women.

Both women admirably represent the quest for knowledge: Mukhtaran is a teacher, and Shazia holds a medical degree, though this is still unusual for a woman. Nonetheless, tribal custom prevails in both instances, in spite of Islamic teaching.

At the same time, the tribal code breaks down somewhat in Mukhtaran's case, because the tribes under discussion live in the Punjab, where tribal customs have become less pronounced and their ideals of honor more compromised with the influx of settled communities, greater interference from the outside world and the influence of foreign values.

In other words, such communities are tribes only in an ethnic sense. Unlike the more isolated and "pure" tribes such as the Bugti in Baluchistan or those in Waziristan, these are more tribal in name than in practice.

When I discussed Mukhtaran's case with Farooq Leghari, a tribal chief living in the area where it took place and a former president of Pakistan, he explained: "What we saw in her case was the equivalent of a lynching mob or a posse from the days of the 'Wild West.'”

He continued, “These men had taken the law in their own hands. What we saw in her case was the breakdown of the tribal system, which would never advocate dishonoring women, and the failed justice system of the police."

We were talking in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2006. Aware that the Western media tended to associate precisely such cases with the religion of Islam, he stated emphatically, "The case has nothing to do with Islam."

Musharraf's other dilemma in facing the tribes involved in these two cases stemmed from his economic and political dependence on the United States. Links with globalization gave Musharraf the appearance of a key figure in "modernizing" Pakistan, whose initial sympathy for Mukhtaran and monetary offer would have been met with universal approval abroad.

But to the tribesmen, Mukhtaran had lost her honor, and no material compensation from the highest levels of state or words of sympathy from journalists could restore it. In Shazia's case, globalization enabled Musharraf to gain the advantage over the Bugti tribe, which in the post-9/11 environment could easily be depicted as supporters of the ubiquitous al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

With the West's limited knowledge of how societies differentiate themselves in the Muslim world, the revolt among the Bugti — and in Waziristan — would have seemed to be yet another expression of Taliban resurgence.

However, it was of vital strategic importance to keep the tribes of Baluchistan friendly and politically calm. With the help of China, Musharraf had developed Gwadar, a small fishing town on the coast of the Arabian Sea, as a port in Baluchistan in order to create a new entry point by land to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Gwadar would also be an improved outlet by sea to the Arab world. Trade and imports from all over the world through Gwadar could potentially transform not only the local economy but also impact the national one. With the Bugti revolt spreading and communications being disrupted in Baluchistan, potential investors were growing skeptical about these possibilities.

At the same time, the United States and its Western allies were finding Musharraf's support more crucial than ever. The war in Iraq and on the eastern borders of Afghanistan was not going well, and the Taliban had reemerged and regrouped on both sides of the Afghan border.

Further more, tension was building up around Iran's nuclear program, which the United States was determined to squelch. Hence events in Baluchistan, which shares a long border with Iran, were of strategic concern. Indeed, the Bugti have strong tribal connections with other Baluch tribes straddling the Iranian border.

If the Baluch revolt spreads, troops moving through Baluchistan, either U.S. or Pakistani, will not have easy access to the border, thus making Musharraf an unwitting ally of the Iranians. The fate of the province, the crisis in the Bugti tribe, Shazia's case and the war on terror are now intertwined. The outcome of each will thus have an impact on the others and be a harbinger of things to come in the region.

Editor’s Note: This feature is adapted from JOURNEY INTO ISLAM: THE CRISIS OF CIVILIZATION by Akbar Ahmed, copyright 2007. Published with permission of Brookings Institution Press.