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Letters from Tokyo
Pakistan Faces Internal Threat
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent
Richard Holbrooke, the American special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan

The nation of Pakistan is entering a very dangerous stage because this nation is deeply divided and the current prevailing conditions are very troubling. So can a solution be found to the inner-struggle which is tearing the heart out of Pakistan? Or will these deep divisions lead to more bloodshed, chaos, terrorism, violence, and further divisions?

At the moment, the omens look rather bleak because the spiral of violence and lack of central control is a current reality. If the situation continues on the same path then Pakistan will become "a failed state" and further centralized disengagement will happen.

In truth, centralized disengagement is already happening in parts of this nation and just like the leaders in Afghanistan, who can control only limited areas, then the same now applies to the central government of Pakistan. What makes the situation more alarming, is that this nation is a nuclear state and NATO forces in Afghanistan are being undermined by events in Pakistan.

So what does the future hold for Pakistan? Well, this is the problem because nobody really knows but one thing is for certain, and this applies to the growing power of radical Sunni Islam within this nation. This in itself is a nightmare because you have many minorities in Pakistan and currently the Shia are bearing the brunt of Sunni Islamic extremism.

Of course, the United States of America (USA) is deeply troubled by the crisis in Pakistan. This notably applies to the Swat Agreement which allows Sharia Islamic law to be enforced in the Swat valley and surrounding region. For America, it is not Sharia Islamic law which they are worried about, after all, many allies of America enforce Sharia Islamic law; but the real problem is that this agreement will increase the power base of pro-Taliban forces.

Another major side-effect of this for America is that the Taliban will now have a free reign to cause mayhem in Afghanistan. Also, for many ordinary citizens in Pakistan it is apparent that it is the Taliban which is growing in power and not the government. This is deeply troubling for America, Afghanistan, India, Iran, and NATO forces.

If we look at the Iranian angle, then clearly they fear more anti-Shia pogroms because in recent times many Shia Muslims have been killed in Pakistan by Sunni Islamic extremists. Also, Iran is trying to contain the narcotic trade which flows from Afghanistan and Pakistan and enters into Iran. Another worry for Iran is that if events further erode then once more Iran will have to take in millions of refugees because of the growing crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Therefore, Iran shares similar worries to America and Afghanistan. Richard Holbrooke, the American special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, is also deeply alarmed. Holbrooke stated that "It is hard to understand this deal in Swat" and he further commented that radical Sunni Islamists in this region "…..are murderers, thugs and militants and they pose a danger not only to Pakistan but the US as well."

While nations clearly worry about this issue it is worth remembering the people who actually reside in Pakistan. For many, especially minorities, this deal is a nightmare because Ahmadiyya Muslims, Shia Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and other minorities, all fear the growth of radical Sunni Islam. This is because of constant persecution and murders which are done in the name of "radical Sunni Islam."

Of course, moderate Sunni Muslims are also worried because they clearly understand that a Talibanization of Pakistan would be a disaster for civil liberties, commerce, and other areas of society. Ironically, Shia leaders have been very prominent within the leadership of Pakistan despite belonging to the minority community. After all, the founding father of Pakistan, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, was a Shia Muslim and other notable Shia leaders include the Bhutto family, Muhammad Ali Bogra and Asif Ali Zardari.

Yet just like in Iraq, but in reverse because the Sunni's are a distinct minority in Iraq; it is abundantly clear that many within the Sunni community distrust the Shia. Therefore, sectarian violence is widespread in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

Radical Sunni Islamic organizations based in Pakistan who hate the Shia includes the Taliban, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar i Jhangvi, and al-Qaeda which wonders freely between Afghanistan and Pakistan. While Sunni Islamic scholars like Israr Ahmed declare open hostility towards the Shia and non-Muslims.

Israr Ahmed stated that “The process of the revival of Islam in different parts of the world is real. A final showdown between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world, which has been captured by the Jews, would soon take place. The Gulf War was just a rehearsal for the coming conflict.” He and a host of others declare their hatred towards others and of course the Shia Muslim minority in Pakistan face this Sunni backlash.

The role of education is also a very important area and today you have tens of thousands of Islamic schools which are spreading radical Sunni Islam. Of course, the majority of Sunni Islamic schools are merely teaching Islam and other subjects, however, a sizeable minority (around 10% to 15%) are spreading hatred and jihad. Therefore, unless all schools are regulated then nothing will change apart from more Sunni jihadists being indoctrinated and brainwashed.

Another growing concern is the role of the secret services because the Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan may be splintering or losing control of the political situation. For Steve Coll, from the very important think-tank, the New America Foundation, stated (March 2, 2009) that the “Taliban-led insurgents today control large swaths of territory in Pakistan’s northwest, where they enforce a brutal regime of Islamic justice, and recently signed a truce with the government in the Swat valley. They have mounted a bombing campaign that has reached Islamabad; some of the bombs have been aimed at the Army and the I.S.I., suggesting a loss of control by the I.S.I. over its jihadi clients, or a split within the Pakistani security services, or both.”

Steve Coll also stated (April 6, 2009) that "U.S. policy [in Pakistan] is not going to defeat the Taliban," and he continued by commenting that "Only the Pakistani state can contain and defeat the Taliban."

However is the Pakistan state capable of defeating radical Sunni Islamic forces which desire a radical state based on Sharia Islamic law? Also, given the divisions within the military and ISI then it is clear that opinions differ enormously. Therefore, in the short-term to medium-term it is clear that Pakistan faces further chaos and it will take a major overhaul to put the jigsaw back again.



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Lee Jay Walker serves as Tokyo Correspondent of The Seoul Times. He specializes in int'l relations and geopolitics. He is also involved in analyst work and research on business. After finishing BA degree in East European Studies at the University of London, He earned MA degree in Asia Pacific Studies in Nottingham Trent University. He also studied business at London Institute.

 

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