By Manzar Zaidi
Jun 10, 2014
Terrorism is a major national security ambiguity producer for Pakistan. The reasons for this are many and multivariate, and the more you scratch the surface, the more nuances to the problem you will unearth. Generally, the major strategic orientation for Pakistan has been the global war on terrorism, which many Pakistanis perceived as being hoisted upon Pakistan in the aftermath of 9/11. President Musharraf is widely perceived to have colluded with US in joining the GWOT in an attempt to give legitimacy to his undemocratic regime and by propping it up with American financial assistance. What began as tribal uprisings in FATA against this alliance of Pakistan with the US soon escalated into a full blow insurgency in Swat and Waziristans, and saw the rise to notoriety of entities such as Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which are now household names. Even more worryingly, extremism and radicalization has been on rise on Pakistan at an exponential level, not necessarily coupled with the post 9/11 scenario as such, but given impetus by it.
Since Pakistan seems so susceptible to terrorism and extremism, there is a corresponding need to understand these phenomena in context to Pakistan. The irony is, the bigger the need, the bigger seems to be the gap in understanding. When you switch on the television in the west, perhaps the only news you will hear about Pakistan is that related to terrorism. Thus, it is not very difficult to envisage why you would be tempted to think of Pakistan as full to the brim with terrorists or extremists. You may be excused for missing the point, that perhaps there are millions of other ordinary non- violent non- terrorist Pakistanis who have not caught the attention of media because their story is not worth telling. Even Pakistani news channels relish breaking stories of disaster related events or contentious shout out loud debates, which are infinitely more entertaining than dreary stories of mundane everyday issues. When it seemed in 2009 that Taliban in Swat were about to overrun Islamabad, the Federal capital, and the world held its breath in anticipation of a Taliban central in a nuclear Islamic country. Some might still be, but they might be in for a long, maybe endless wait. Pakistan’s armies, the sixth largest in the world, have demonstrated that they can counter the Taliban’s asymmetric terrorist tactics when they have to, and are certainly no push-overs. We start hearing about how terrorism and extremism have seeped into the core of Pakistani society, but if it were true, religious right wing parties should have swept the electoral polls, a feat that they have been nowhere even close to achieving in the past, and may never do. Extremism may certainly be a fringe in the society which is arguably ink spotting towards the centre, but it is nowhere close to pervading the entire society. At the same time, as mentioned above, extremis and incidents of terrorism are on the rise in Pakistan, which is unfortunately also a reality. What then does the real picture look like? It is perhaps also true to say that the Pakistani ethos has not been subjected to intensive scrutiny which generates the murkiness around the issues. This ethos is what drives the security perceptions of Pakistan towards internal security as well as for threats from outside.
I would also like to stress at the outset that it I am quite concerned about the impacts of society on culture on the Pakistani individual. I am also concerned about the impact of Pakistan’s culture and society on groups , whose basic building blocks are individuals, since the fulfillment of basic needs cannot just be an individual matter in exclusivity to the society. Leaving aside the potential for conflict within groups made up of individuals, there are a number of stresses that a Pakistani individual, or any individual for matter, will face in everyday living. Thus, how the culture dictates everyday life, relations between groups, the institutions of society, and the existence and nature and impact of local communities on the individual and families will provide a framework of reference as to how these people will live their lives. This will impact upon how basic desires and needs are met, how children are treated and in turn treat elders, will delineate the poor from the rich and how they will act etc. This will also delineate social structures and statuses of the poor and rich and their social networks. An obvious negative impact is that it may sometimes rigidly define statuses, so as to affirm or diminish people as individuals depending on social status, as has happened in Pakistan. It is a much discussed topic amongst Pakistanis who have been abroad to western societies that even the menial jobholders (as perceived by Pakistanis) such as sweepers and plumbers tend to have equal citizen status in the West. This may seem enviable as discussion topics, but as I explain later, social grouping status wise is so ingrained in the minds of even the most seemingly liberal Pakistanis that they would not willingly adapt themselves to this mindset, even if societal conditions were conducive to producing such an equitable society. Thus, there are certain cultural and societal nuances ingrained within the mind of an average Pakistani which condition him to live within the paradigms of the Pakistani society. Such conditioning is usually necessary for a person to survive within a society, in fact any society. Sometimes, as in the case of not only Pakistanis but many other societal groups as well, this conditioning can also produce a retrogressive mentality resistant to change or innovation. This will also produce a certain orientation towards security and how it is perceived.