Pakistan: Mother of All Evil?

How much are developments in Pakistan responsible for global terrorism?

June 13, 2002

How much are developments in Pakistan responsible for global terrorism?

Ever since the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was founded — or carved out of India — in August 1947, it has been in a precarious situation even in the best of times.

The creation of a new nation as a homeland for India's Muslims was Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s historic feat. When he died in 1948, however, he had not succeeded in creating the nation's identity.

Millions of refugees poured in from India after partition. They did not make themselves popular by quickly taking over key positions in Pakistan's government, military and infrastructure.

Many of them — current President Pervez Musharraf's family included — came from Northern India, were better educated and had been in similar positions under the British already.

The "other" Pakistanis were simpler folks. Their field of expertise was in agriculture or business — but not in administration. To add insult to injury, the newcomers quickly imposed Urdu as the national language on the reluctant speakers of Punjabi or Sindhi.

Not that life was rosy for the Punjabis or Sindhis before the arrival of the "Indians." Punjabi landlords always had an iron grip on their people. Bonded labor still exists in all but name — and a handful of powerful families have always controlled the province and its politics.

Sindh, on the other hand, has been marred by movements which want to see the province — which is Pakistan's economic foundation — autonomous, if not independent.

Pakistan's first Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951. In 1958, President Iskander Mirza suspended the constitution with the help of the army, only to be forced into exile 20 days later. General Mohammad Ayub Khan then became Pakistan's first military leader.

What followed was a bizarre alternation between military rulers and civilian governments peppered with the occasional assassination, political murder and mysterious accident which have made Pakistani politics so lively.

Benazir Bhutto, who became the country's first female prime minister and everybody's darling in the West in 1988, turned out to be a major disappointment.

From the start, there were allegations that she somehow had a hand in the death of her predecessor, military ruler Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, who was killed in an airplane crash along with 28 senior military officers and the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan.

Zia had been responsible for the execution of Benazir's father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in 1979. Benazir herself now lives in exile in Great Britain and the United Arab Emirates. Her husband Asif Ali Zardari — nicknamed “Mr. Ten Percent” — languishes in jail in Pakistan.

He has been accused of taking bribes, pocketing money from government contracts and for planning “extrajudicial killings” in Karachi, where Mrs. Bhutto’s rivals had been killed by police.

All this seemed poised for a change for the better when, ironically, yet another general — Pervez Musharraf — ousted Benazir Bhutto's successor Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — a Zia protege — in 1998. Pakistanis welcomed the bloodless coup and argued that ever since Jinnah had died 50 years earlier, everything had gone downhill

The terrorist attacks, however, brought back to the surface what has plagued Pakistan since it was founded. An atmosphere which over 50 years ago first discouraged cohesion and national identity subsequently encouraged corruption, lack of respect for any government or its representatives, cronyism and hidden, uncontrollable powers.

The sad fact is that the army has been the only reasonably stable institution in Pakistan. The events following the terrorist attacks, however, might even threaten this last vestige of law and order in the country.

Mr. Musharraf’s previous shilly-shallying over Kashmir and his inability — or unwillingness — to risk cracking down on the militants, have emphasized the foul compromises of Pakistan's society even more.

Much of it became worse during the time of Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. In order to secure his grip on power, Zia introduced "Islamization" in the early 1980s.

This represented a U-turn away from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had been accused of attempting to radically westernize Pakistan.

"Islamization" was to become a watershed for the region. Why? Neighboring Afghanistan was fighting against Soviet occupation. The U.S. government at the time provided financial aid for Pakistan, which had to cope with millions of Afghani refugees.

At the same time, both military and financial help for Afghani resistance fighters was channeled through Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

In order to facilitate training, camps were built in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Clandestine operations bolstered the role of Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI).

With official and unofficial backing the ISI developed into a state within a state. So much so that after Zia's death in 1988, nobody could really figure out who was in charge.

This is now part of the problem in Kashmir. Despite continuous denial by various Pakistani governments, it is almost certain that the ISI supports militants there on its own account.

Given the lack of control, the agency can easily orchestrate any kind of terror act against Indian authorities without the knowledge of the Pakistani administration. On top of that, nobody has full control over the militants who often take matters into their own hands without consulting well-meaning ISI officers.

In addition, much of the period of "Islamization" contributed to the growth of religious extremism. Madrassa is a form of religious schools which sprung up all over the country. Originally conceived as welfare set-ups, many went out of control.

Major funding came not only from Zia's "Islamization" schemes but also from abroad, notably from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

By now, it is estimated that 10-15% of the 45,000 religious schools are affiliated with extremist religious or political groups. During the occupation of Afghanistan, they served as recruiting bases and training centes for fighters. Students also fought in conflicts in Kashmir and Chechnya.

Another worrying trend is that up to 50% of students are thought to come from abroad — from as far away as Indonesia and the Philippines. Once they return to their home countries, they often spread the extreme views taught in such schools.

Thus, the teaching of the Quran quickly went hand in hand with training in partisan warfare to be undertaken against the Soviet infidels in Afghanistan. After the Soviet withdrawal, ties between Afghani Taliban fighters and Pakistan remained close.

So close, that Pakistan was one of only a few countries ever to formally recognize the Taliban government. In fact, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had expressed his admiration for how law and order had been restored in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.

With much of Pakistan's old North West Frontier virtually autonomous, it is no wonder then that local tribes are suspected of harboring old friends — al Qaeda fighters. These fighters have not gone into early retirement. Rather, they are prepared to continue their jihad everywhere.

Given the close proximity of the North West Frontier to Kashmir, it is little wonder that India is particularly concerned about the potential new militant recruits. That is also why it feels justified when it speaks of al Qaeda terrorism and its troubles with Kashmir separatists in one breath.

This is where the whole story comes full circle again. Pakistan’s current troubles have a long and complex history. The al Qaeda terrorist network was — and is — able to take advantage of the muddled situation. From India’s point of view, things are quite clear: the troubles started with the partition of mother India and the creation of Pakistan — the “Mother of All Evil.”

The question is whether the Pakistani government will gain sufficient control of its internal situation so that the rest of the world will not — sooner or later — come to view Pakistan in the same negative light as the Indians do now.