By Rabia Ahmed
What is there about Pakistan that fosters extremism and terrorism?
I normally write of issues with some lightness, but my heart is heavy following the death of Salman Taseer, and it is not just I who feel this way. The atmosphere in Pakistan following the assassination of the Governor of Punjab on the 4th of January is different to that following previous political assassinations. Despondency this time is more pervasive, almost to the point of saturation. There is a sense of being at the end of the road, any fork in which appears out of sight, and of a certainty fraught with danger.
To speak out means unpleasant repercussions from those who blow people up like others blow soap bubbles. To commit violence against them would be to barter in their own coin. To debate with them is impossible, to live alongside them proven imprudent, to reason with them against their own creed.
And so, now what?
There is a solution to every conundrum, and the solution to this one lies in the question: What is there about Pakistan that fosters people like Mumtaz Qadri and his sympathisers?
On Friday the 7th of January political parties such as the Shabab-i-Islami Pakistan (SIP), Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) and Tehrik Fidayan-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwwat (TFKN) took out processions in support of Qadri, which comes as a rude shock for those of us who appear to have led a blinkered existence in this country; for whom also the catch phrase has been that education is the key to changing the Qadri mentality.
If ‘education’ is synonymous with ‘literacy’ for the purpose of this discussion, then that kills the argument, because Qadri appears to be literate at least, and his fan club savvy enough to set up a page supporting him on Facebook.
If we are referring to an ‘appropriate’ content of education, achieving it means a lengthier process which includes (from my vantage point) changing the mindset of our teachers who after all are members of the same public which does not appear to be amenable to change from the fanatical, intolerant, angry views they hold at present. The result, as Irfan Husain says, is a ‘hydra-headed monster that seems to have become too powerful for state institutions to decapitate.’
It is the underlying cause of this monster’s inception that needs to be addressed, which means improving the living conditions of the Pakistani public which lives in squalor and faces deprivation and frustration at every step.
None of the issues above can be addressed without a) dedication b) planning c) funds.
The last few days has given us proof, if any were needed, of the lack of both planning and dedication to the cause of development by our government. On the 6th of January the Government announced a reversal of the latest hike in fuel prices. For those assailed by misty eyed notions of governmental benevolence, kid yourselves not. It was only the MQM’s withdrawal from the coalition and the subsequent loss of majority for Gillani’s government that led to this decision, not any concern for the people’s plight, a shameful example of our government’s blatant wimpiness when faced with a gun.
The requirement for funds is at present being addressed by means of handouts from the IMF and donor countries. The only alternative is to generate funds from within the country by means of effective taxation, which method is also in the terms of foreign loans to Pakistan.
Says David E Sanger in the New York Times ‘Pakistan’s wealthy elite rarely pay taxes, and the huge divide between them and the country’s desperately poor breeds resentments. Those feelings, in turn, create conditions that insurgents can easily exploit.’
The fact that those responsible for enforcing collection of tax in Pakistan are themselves the worst tax dodgers means that they are responsible to a great extent for the mess we find ourselves in today.
The only conclusion I reach is that my vote will go to the people who can manage to make all tax dodgers pay their dues, and then can re-invest this money into development projects for the sake of the mental and bodily health of all citizens of this sad country, Pakistan.