Pakistan against extremism
While speaking to the United Nation’s Security Council, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to United Nations Maleeha Lodhi put forth a multidimensional view of the problem of extremism in the world, which included both national and international factors. In a world in which most of the blame of extremism is unfairly apportioned to Pakistan, such a view is much needed at the international stage to improve Pakistan’s image. Moreover, the propaganda machinery of the west is quite apt in spinning narratives and evading responsibility, and this is why the Pakistani state needs to take on a diplomatic offensive, and tell the world that the policies of the west are partly to blame for this growing menace. However, this does not mean that Pakistan should stay in denial about its local problems, as these too have to be addressed with greater focus. Unfortunately, a delusional state of collective paranoia exists in Pakistan, which attributes all bad things that happen to Pakistan to hidden international forces. This results in a refusal to tackle local issues and an undue emphasis on securitisation.
There are two competing camps in Pakistan that explain the rise of extremism in the country. One side stresses on the unwise foreign policy of Pakistan in which extremist organisations were created by the state to use as leverage in the Kashmir dispute. The other side believes that extremism is the result of imperialist policies of the western world in which perceived notions of historic injustice and unnecessary military interventions created the necessary conditions for extremists to thrive on. While there may be some element of truth to these claims, sole emphasis on either the local or foreign factors creates a discourse that only serves to apportion blame to one party or the other. It must be realised that both local and foreign factors are equally responsible for the quagmire of extremism that the world faces today. And in the context in which unnecessary interventions by western powers have historically been present, the west, especially the United States, cannot put the whole blame of extremism on Pakistan or any other Muslim country.
Ambassador Lodhi correctly pointed out that extremism is being exacerbated by the xenophobia and the anti-Muslim sentiment present in the West. Whether it is the issue of Syrian refugees in Europe or the growing tide of xenophobia manifested in Trump rallies in the US, it seems that western hostility towards Muslims is increasingly growing. Such an attitude acts as self-fulfilling prophecies for both sides, as hostile attitude attitude towards each other engenders hostile behaviour. And this in turn increases feelings of alienation and antipathy, both important ingredients in the creation of extremist mindsets.
However, at home Pakistan’s emphasis should be understanding the local factors that have contributed to the growth of extremism in Pakistan. The most important reason in this regard is the indoctrination that happens at madrassas in which students are taught a parochial worldview. However, this problem is not only present in madrassas as Pakistani society more broadly is intolerant of other people’s views and opinions. This rigid mindset both creates and provides support to extremist movements, and this is where the state should look at in order to eliminate extremism. Extremist organisations have adopted new modes of technology to spread their message, including social media, and this has increased their access and provided them with a much broader scope of audience. Hence, it is in the realm of ideas that extremism needs to be fought and a counter narrative that advances a more tolerant attitude is needed to effectively counter its virulence. Simultaneously, the underlying structural deficiencies also need to be addressed. It is no secret that impoverishment and poverty provides the ground for extremists to spread their vitriol and indoctrinate young minds. Hence, the state should adopt policies that result in an equitable distribution of resources to all regions so that broader change can take root, and extremism can be completely defeated.
Most of the extremism that affects the youth of Pakistan is strengthened by years of subliminal and blatant indoctrination that starts at a very early age. The ‘other’ is the enemy, and thus must be opposed on all levels: social, moral, ideological and religious. This is the mindset that gnaws on the moral and social fibre of a society, and ultimately results in the creation of a state that is bigoted, intolerant and inflexible. Has Pakistan become that state?
President Hussain on Panama Papers
President Mamnoon Hussain, while addressing a gathering of traders and businessmen in Jamshoro district recently, termed the Panama Papers as a “national disaster.” He stated that the Panama leaks brought institutionalised corruption to limelight, adding that the bigger the thief is the more luxuriant lifestyle he enjoys. Moreover, he believed that corrupt officials working in government, whether on lower or higher echelons, should be booted out, as they are blight upon the face of Pakistan. He stressed upon collective efforts to curb the menace of corruption and bring corrupt officials and individuals to justice.
These views of the president of Pakistan are not only brave but also welcoming for it is rare for the head of the state to condemn such things openly. It also possibly signals to his personal dislike for the rampant corrupt practices allegedly being carried out by certain influential bureaucrats and politicians including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet ministers. The recent rejection of the Terms of References (ToRs) and refusal to form a judicial commission by the Chief of Justice of Pakistan for probing the Panama Papers also provide an insight into general displeasure regarding government’s apparently abysmal attitude towards a transparent probe. There seems to be a non-serious attitude among government ministers who are oblivious of the fact that Pakistan’s economic future is at stake due to the data leaked in the Panama Papers. On the contrary, the role of the opposition parties has remained quite mature on the matter as they even proposed collective ToRs for the ruling party that were eventually rejected. Both Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) are making efforts to have Prime Minister Sharif attend a parliament session for facing questions on the allegations regarding his family’s offshore assets.
Although such efforts are quite commendable on part of the opposition, the names of some influential politicians mentioned in the papers that belong to both PTI and PPP should also be a reality check. Charity always begins at home, and all major political parties should initiate a robust and transparent accountability process within their own rank and file. The role of the superior judiciary and parliament should also be such that no influential individuals are able to escape the rule of law and are held accountable for their financial misdeeds.
Not only this, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) must be further empowered to catch corrupt individuals that are involved in economic terrorism. Recent steps taken by the NAB to curb corruption are appreciable, but additional measures are still required for an impartial and transparent investigation process for probing the Panama Papers that the bureau seems to be reluctant to conduct as of now.
Corruption exits on all echelons, at a small scale on grassroots level and in the form of institutionalised mechanism at higher levels. Rampant corruption in a society is a reflection of its own deeds and it does not happen in a vaccum. It is not merely limited to a few influential people as the common man is also an intrinsic cog in the machinery of corruption. President Hussain’s statement is indeed appreciative but Pakistan still has a long way to go before corruption can be contained to the minimum levels. Only collective efforts can root out this menace in society. A corruption-free Pakistan can reach new heights of progress and prosperity.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Tajikistan this week to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of Central Asia South Asia (CASA-1000) transmission line project. Tajik President Emomah Rahmon, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and Kyrgyz Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenbekov jointly launched the transmission line project alongside Prime Minister Sharif. Under this project, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be able to import electricity from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to minimise energy shortage in their respective countries. The project will include a 750-kilometre, high-voltage, direct current transmission system between Tajikistan and Pakistan via Afghanistan, together with associated converter stations at Sangtuda, Kabul, and Peshawar with the capacities of 1,300MW, 300MW, and 1,300MW respectively. Pakistan will import 1,000 MW of power while Afghanistan will receive 300 MW during the summers when there is a surplus in the Central Asian States. The project is estimated to be completed by 2018.
The project is a welcome development for all the stakeholders involved. Pakistan has been facing electricity shortage for years now. Diversification in the sources of power would help Pakistan minimise the energy shortfall. Moreover, there is an understanding between the authorities of the Central Asian Republics and Pakistan to increase the supply in future, which may go up to 2,800 MW in subsequent years. Moreover, the project provides the Central Asian States with a chance to diversify their exports. Being two of the largest producers of hydroelectric power, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have been pursuing the development of electricity trading arrangements, and the establishment of the CASA Regional Energy Market (CASAREM) since 2005. CASA-1000 would prove beneficial for the landlocked republics in this regard, increasing their outreach further to energy-deficient markets.
Although this is a welcome development for the energy sector of Pakistan the project is quite ambitious, a fact that should not be ignored. Around 16 percent of the transmission line will pass through Tajikistan, 75 percent through Afghanistan and nine percent through Pakistan. Security situation has deteriorated post-NATO withdrawal announcement. Due to this reason, the US-led NATO alliance was forced to stay on even after the 2014 deadline for the pullout. In these circumstances, with a significant chunk of the transmission line passing through the troubled area, all the stakeholders would need to chalk out a plan to protect the infrastructure from terrorist attacks. Although the Afghan government has given a sovereign guarantee to protect the transmission line, a comprehensive strategy is required to protect the assets. A thorough and detailed planning will not only protect current projects but will also contribute to the security of future projects including the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project and the trade routes leading to ports like Gwadar.