ISLAMABAD — In its eagerness to intensify its fight against domestic terrorism, the government of Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has scored important gains recently.
Unnoticed to much of the outside world has been the arrests of some of Pakistan’s most notorious terrorists, including those accused of multiple murders in the past five years. These successes have begun to take a bite out of hardline militant groups.
The most notorious group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, is badly crippled following the arrest and killing of some top leaders who had openly advocated violence against members of Pakistan’s minority Muslim Shiite community.
Other groups that had dedicated themselves to stoking militancy in neighboring Indian-administered Kashmir, where a separatist struggle continues, are finding themselves out of business. They have been ordered by the government to stop arming and sending volunteers to Kashmir after Musharraf decided to effectively ban all such activism.
But Pakistan now faces the danger of becoming complacent as the fight against militants appears to be succeeding. Musharraf’s regime has indeed gained worldwide recognition for its support of the U.S. campaign against the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
The fallout from this support, though, has been increasing fears that Islamic hardliners are returning to the country from Afghanistan to organize acts of terror. In fact, events this year such as the suicide bomb attack outside the U.S. Consulate and the killing of 11 French naval technicians in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, have sharply escalated concerns about internal insecurity. Pakistan is left with no choice but to fight such militancy tooth and nail, using traditionally harsh law-enforcement measures.
But fighting the roots of domestic terror involves attacking a set of fundamental issues tied to the country’s political, economic and social realities, which together have helped drive militant trends.
In the next few months, Pakistan will prepare to make what appears to be a controversial transition to civilian rule with elections promised for October. There are worries about the quality of the country’s future democratic order. Musharraf has promised to restore parliamentary order, although he seeks to give himself power to sack an elected prime minister and dissolve an elected legislature. Many see the new parliamentary order eventually becoming Musharraf’s order rather than a democratic one.
The danger for Pakistan is that, rather than elected politicians, forces outside the political establishment may return to dominate the national decision-making agenda, including groups dedicated to demonstrating their muscle through street violence.
Pakistan’s economic future is bound to suffer, even as a pressing need exists to deal with the economic factors that have fueled militancy. For months, businessmen have watched as fears of increasing internal insecurity cause unprecedented setbacks to long-term investment prospects. Without a sustainable economic recovery, Pakistan will be unable to create more jobs for the poor.
There has been little progress on a number of economic issues. Pakistan’s traditionally obstructive bureaucracy remains defiant. Consequently, businessmen, beset with bottlenecks, find little reason to step up investments.
In large parts of the country, continuing illiteracy, poor quality of health and the failure of successive governments to mobilize community reforms together have stifled hopes for progress. Recently, Pakistanis were stunned by the reported gang-rape of a woman in a village after her 12-year-old brother — who was also raped by his accusers — was accused of having sex with a woman from a rival tribe. The case is now being reported outside Pakistan as an example of the insecurity faced by women in daily life.
The Musharraf government immediately ordered a high-powered investigation followed by the arrest of a number of suspects. For the victim in this case, justice may have been served, but Pakistan’s dilemma remains. There’s little evidence to suggest that civilian institutions such as the police and judiciary are strong enough to deal with injustices and other challenges at the grass-roots level.
For Musharraf, the militancy he battles against with some success may be just the tip of the iceberg of a set of long-established problems.
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