Islamists threaten ‘fractious path’ of Pakistan’s democratic transition


Weeks of scathing criticism has apparently prompted a provincial government in Pakistan to review a grant of $3 million it has recently allocated for a controversial Islamic seminary, which some critics refer to as the “University of Jihad,” Ayaz Gul writes for VOA:

Political analyst and author Zahid Hussain sees the funding for the seminary as politically motivated, but warns such attempts could undermine Pakistan’s successes against religious extremism and terrorism.

“Such a move could reverse the gains that have been made so far in fighting militancy and extremism. It is simply a political bribe and nothing to do with any professed effort to de-radicalize religious seminaries and bring them into the mainstream,” he insists. “In fact, favoring one group of a particular sect could encourage bigotry and fuel religious disharmony.”

The development coincides with reports that Pakistan Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights has recommended that the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), be dissolved and government pronouncements that extremist forces will not be allowed to undermine Pakistan’s fragile democratic institutions.

The radical Islamist threat is evidence that Pakistan’s history and its issues of identity have haunted the state right from its inception, notes Raza Rumi (right), a visiting Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy: From the 1949 Objectives Resolution to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Islamization efforts, most notably getting the Parliament to declare one sect as “non-Muslim” in 1974, Islamism has been a strong narrative, though with little electoral basis or mass appeal, he writes in a new book, The Fractious Path: Pakistan’s Democratic Transition- 2008-2013:

Zia-ul-Haq used the well-organised Jamaat-e-islami and powerful mullahs from other Islamist groups to engineer “intellectual” support for a long dictatorship in the name of Islam. His rule also supported sectarian organisations, especially those propagating a Saudi-Wahabi version of Islam with ample financing from West Asia that continues to date.

The only way Pakistan can begin to alter the discourse on militancy, Jihad and the rising tide of Islamism is through a consensus among the stakeholders of the democratic system. Despite several initiatives such a consensus is lacking. A common agreement among the civilian stakeholders will be essential to move towards a strategy to address militancy…

Finally, the international community especially the United States should revise its agenda for Pakistan’s “development,” Rumi adds:

Poverty reduction ought to be the overarching goal but more needs to be done with the education system, madrassa reform and media regulation. Pakistan needs to undertake more research and update its sources of data on militancy for effective policy- making and for providing the right direction to international aid. Otherwise, we may end up once again on our past trajectory of getting too much aid with little or no results.

Current US strategy does not include culture as a tool in its countering violent extremism (CVE) toolbox, according to Rumi and Cynthia P. Schneider, a Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. Occasional successes such as the Burka Avenger (left) comic series, supported by the US Embassy in Pakistan, leveraged the power of popular culture to promote positive social change, but this type of approach has not been systematically integrated. Indeed, to do so would require a substantive change not only of mindset, but also within the relevant institutions, they contend:

The Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs is hamstrung with a Cold War-era mandate of sending American cultural emissaries  abroad, and it is poorly equipped to leverage indigenous cultural leaders. Since the integration of the United States Information Agency into the State Department in 1999, the number of regional cultural experts has dwindled.

But these problems are manageable with a more flexible approach to CVE that acknowledges the power of local voices and the potential of the US public and private sectors to leverage them—a point made in a congressional hearing on June 23 dubbed “Countering the Virtual Caliphate.” The private sector has already recognized the value of this approach for reaching foreign publics. Ask any young Pakistani about his or her favorite music, and chances are the answer will be Coke Studio. RTWT

But Western liberalism’s emphasis on individual choice and autonomy doesn’t speak for all women everywhere, analyst Manini Sheker writes for Open Democracy:

In her research on Islamic schools in Pakistan, for example, Masooda Bano from Oxford University shows that some educated Muslim women freely choose conservative roles that definitely limit their freedom. They cover their hair and bodies, become mothers, and restrict their sexual liberties. They also cultivate virtues that are seen to be pious such as shyness, humility and submissiveness. Some do so because they have a different understanding of freedom. Others make a rational calculation that their economic interests are better served within a stable family: with economic freedom comes the burden to earn, and sexual liberty may lead to constant dissatisfaction.

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