February 17, 2008

Moderate Pakistan?

I can't say how much weight one should put on this article, Islam Needs Democracy, by Waleed Ziad, but it's damned interesting. I'd keep it in mind. As a general rule, I'd opine that whenever you hear that some country or group or movement is unified, monolithic (and supposedly unbeatable by us disorganized folks) you should be very skeptical. (Thanks to Orrin Judd)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: While it's good news that secular moderates are expected to dominate Pakistan's parliamentary elections on Monday, nobody here thinks the voting will spell the end of militant extremism.

Democratic leaders have a poor track record in battling militants and offer no convincing remedies. Pakistan's military will continue to manage the war against the Taliban and its Qaeda allies, while President Pervez Musharraf will remain America's primary partner.

The only long-term solution may lie in the hands of an overlooked natural ally in the war on terrorism: the Pakistani people.

This may come as a surprise to Americans, but the Wahhabist religion professed by the militants is more foreign to most Pakistanis than Karachi's 21 KFCs. This is true even of the tribal North-West Frontier Province.

Last month I was in the village of Pakpattan observing the commemoration of the death of a Muslim Sufi saint from the Punjab - a feast of dance, poetry, music and prayer attended by more than a million people. Religious life in Pakistan has traditionally been synonymous with the gentle spirituality of Sufi mysticism, the traditional pluralistic core of Islam.

Even in remote rural areas, spiritual life centers not on doctrinaire seminaries but Sufi shrines; recreation revolves around ostentatious wedding parties and Hollywood, Bollywood and the latter's Urdu counterpart, Lollywood.

So when the Taliban bomb shrines and hair salons, or ban videos and music, it doesn't go down well. A resident of the Swat region, the site of many recent Taliban incursions, proudly told me last month that scores of citizens in his village had banded together to drive out encroaching militants. Similarly, in the tribal areas, many local village councils, called jirgas, have summoned the Pakistani Army or conducted independent operations against extremists.

Virtually all effective negotiations between the army and militants have involved local councils; in 2006, a jirga in the town of Bara expelled two rival clerics who used their town as a battleground.

The many militant outfits in the frontier regions are far from a unified popular movement. Rather, they are best characterized as ethnic or sectarian gangs, regularly changing names and loyalties.....
Posted by John Weidner at February 17, 2008 5:30 PM
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