By Dr. Siegfried O. Wolf
All of us who have visited Pakistan’s famous border crossing to India at Wagah might still have the echoing of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in their ears. But the national slogan to wish the country a ‘long life’ and ‘victory’, which is supposed to stimulate the patriotic sentiments among the visitors of the traditional 'lowering of the flags' ceremony has been distorted through countless traumatic events since its independence.
For example, on November 2, 2014 a deadly and perfidious terrorist attack targeted a large number of people who joined the daily military parade. But the ‘Wagah ceremony’ is more than a colorfully choreographed event. The Wagah checkpoint is a national symbol. Perhaps not comparable with the Jinnah mausoleum in Karachi or the Minar-e-Pakistan (Tower of Pakistan) in Lahore, but it represents an attempt by the elite to offer its people a place to practice ‘Pakistani nationhood’. However, one must also add that Wagah stands for more than merely fostering the construction of collective identity from above, the daily recurring spectacle epitomized the unfortunate trajectories of the country’s political developments and respective ambiguous politics. As such the terror attack was not only a strike against the whole state and society but also a reminder that Pakistan is ‘tendering on the brink’ if the ‘establishment’ does not drastically alter its stance towards Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism, and sectarian violence.
In the past, Pakistan practiced a policy of encouraging domestic militancy and international terrorist groups and allowing them to use its territory as a launch pad for their activities. This founds its expression in following phenomena: First, besides large scale frustration about the defects of Pakistan political system and the rise of terrorism, there is a culture of apathy towards the radicalization and Islamization of Pakistan’s society, including not only people with extremely low income but also especially the middle class. The fact, that Pakistan’s political institutions, foremost the judiciary, has a soft corner for Islamic extremism is a heavy burden for the promotion of pluralistic and liberal norms and values. The entrenchment and strict implementation of the Blasphemy laws and, f. ex. the Asia Bibi’s case is one of the numerous examples which have transformed Pakistani soil into a breeding ground for the spread of a fanatic brand of Islam.
Second, there is active support for militant religious extremists by security sector agents in two ways: In order to keep opposition, sub-national forces and other dissident groups -which are perceived as a threat to the interests of the national government- in check as well as to use them as an operational tool in the country’s foreign policy. Here, one has to be aware, that despite major military operation like Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistan’s conservative security circles are still sticking to the notion of differentiation between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militants. In other words, the bad ones which turn against the Pakistani state and society are in the focus of its new National Action Plan (NAP) on terrorism and the ‘good ones’ operating abroad (but using Pakistani soil) getting conveniently ignored or are still seen as a strategic asset in the country’s relation with India and Afghanistan. This must be seen as an indication that the notion of instrumentalization of militant groups remains as a part of the country’s security strategy. But having said this one also has to realize that the use of fundamentalism was not only to ensure the partisan interests of the establishment but also to strengthen the national fabric. Subsequently, the way how the latest counter-terrorism campaigns were carried out shows that the army top brass and civilian leadership are still on the same page regarding a coherent or unified strategy against the Islamic fundamentalist threat. This is worrying, since the quality of major terrorist attacks in this year -like Bacha Khan University or the recent Quetta Hospital bombing- shows that the militants are still able to challenge the state and society whenever and wherever they want.
However, these incidents also prove that Pakistan’s engagement with the creation and export of militant Islamic fundamentalism as a policy instrument produced a ‘bloody blowback’. The fact that the numbers of terrorist attacks and victims declined since the launch of Zarb-e-Azb obviously does not reflect the reality on the ground. Rather, it seems that the militants are still operating on both sides of the Durand Line –the Afghan-Pakistan border- in order to seek shelter and regroup, marking just another episode of the traditional ‘cat-and-mouse game’ between militants and Pakistan, Afghanistan and US troops. Furthermore, it drastically underpins that religious fanatics are not controllable by actors, which are not legitimated by a non-religious source of power. Having this in mind, the attacks on Iranian soil by Pakistani-based anti-Shia militants can be read in two ways: on one side, as an another indication that Pakistani authorities don’t have internal security under control. On the other side, that Pakistan’s military and intelligence are still using militants to bounce back Iranian attempts to gain leverage within its own borders by instrumentalizing the Shia community.
In sum, the country’s establishment still seems to be deaf when it comes to the realization of the full threat of Islamic fundamentalism. The way how the military is downplaying the growing influence of the Islamic State (IS) in the Af-Pak region is perturbing since it will open further space for the promotion and entrenchment of a fundamentalist ethos. Pakistan’s decision-makers have to finally understand that the costs of the instrumentalizing fundamentalism are much higher than the benefits. However, the price will not only be paid by the country’s troubled minorities but by the whole state and society.
About the Author:
Dr. Siegfried O. Wolf, is Senior Researcher (member) at the South Asia Institute (SAI), Heidelberg University, and Director of Research at SADF (Coordinator : Democracy Research Program). He was educated at the SAI and Institute of Political Science (IPW) in Heidelberg. Additionally, he is a visiting fellow at the National University of Science and Technology (NUST, Islamabad), affiliated researcher at the Pakistan Security Research Unit (PSRU, Durham University), and a former research fellow at IPW and Centre de Sciences Humaines (New Delhi, India).
He is the co-author of 'A Political and Economic Dictionary of South Asia' (Routledge; London 2006), co-editor of 'Politics in South Asia. Culture, Rationality and Conceptual Flow' (Springer: Heidelberg , 2015). 'The Merits of Regionalisation. The Case of South Asia' (Springer: Heidelberg, 2014) and 'State and Foreign Policy in South Asia' (Sanskrit: 2010) and Deputy Editor of the 'Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics' (HPSACP). Furthermore, he has worked as a consultant for the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Germany and is a member of the external group of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Task Force, Federal Foreign Office, Germany.
Cite this Article:
Wolf, SO "OPINION | Pakistan Zindabad! But for Whom? A Comment on Pakistan’s Independence Day" IndraStra Global Vol.002, Issue No: 08, (2016), 0025, http://www.indrastra.com/2016/08/OPINION-Pakistan-Zindabad-But-for-Whom-002-08-2016-0025.html | ISSN 2381-3652