In the last few weeks, we have witnessed many protests by Muslims against the Danish cartoons of prophet Mohammed. Emotions were running ‘high’ in Middle Eastern countries like Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, etc., in contrast to a ‘mild reaction’ (to paraphrase Beeb) in Pakistan without any loss of lives or great property damage. But the violent protests in Pakistan organized yesterday, a whole week later caught us by surprise with regrettable loss of lives making it a sordid affair.
Trouble started when the (almost daily) protests in the problematic Peshawar turned violent on Feb. 13. Strangely, ‘students’ also attacked Indian and British embassies (none of their papers republished those cartoons) in the diplomatic enclave of Lahore damaging the Indian ambassador’s official car. Even mainstream Pakistani politicians too took advantage of the chance to show their religiosity. It now appears that the protests were well-planned with organized bands directing protestors against specific targets.
Such a level violence which included gun shots unseen even in bastions of Islamism such as Iran and Syria could’nt have happened without the support of the military-ruled government. The rulers of Pakistan wanted to send a message by attacking prominent American symbols like Citibank, KFC and McDonalds (as happened before). Ironically, Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz happens to be a former Citibank executive. It should be noted that several other protests in Pakistan in the recent months such as the nation-wide demonstrations in Dec. ’05 against the construction of Kalabagh dam were incident free. The Jan. 29 ‘mixed-sex’ marathon in Lahore too passed off peacefully amidst opposition from Pakistan’s Islamist parties. The difference is crystal clear - the security forces are able to control violent mobs, only if it wants to.
The recent protests have to be seen in the context of President Bush’s planned visit to the country in March. The Pakistani military establishment usually obtains handsome gifts and financial aid (supposedly worth $40 billion since 9/11) during such visits citing its cooperation in fighting terrorists. A Pakistani doctor Ahmad Javed Khawaja suspected of linked with Al-Queda was shot dead on Feb. 13th in Lahore with some blaming American ‘agents’ for the act. This is apparently to show the level to which U.S. agents are able to penetrate deep inside Pakistan’s security apparatus to eliminate their targets.
But in reality, the U.S.-led Global Offense Against Terror (G.O.A.T.) against Al-Queda has been severely faltering in Pakistan. In the neighboring Afghanistan, there have been daily attacks by suspected Taliban ‘sympathizers’ against civilians (Kandahar), police (Kandahar again), Afghan soliders (Kunar) and U.S. soliders (Ouruzgan) in the past week so much so that Coalition forces had to return fire into Pakistan border. On Feb. 12, Afghan police also seized about 700 home-made bombs being smuggled into Afghanistan from Pakistan. A frustrated Hamid Karzai demanded Pakistan to reign in on the Taliban operating freely in the Pakistan’s NWFP province.
To its American supporters, the Pakistani Army has always been the sole guardian of national unity and a force of stability divided by secratarian and tribal rivalry. The United States wants Pakistan to come down hard on Al-Queda and Taliban while turning a blind eye towards the brutal army action against ‘miscreants’ in Balochistan. This helps the Bush administration to ‘outsource’ counter-terror operations by pouring those aid dollars despite several editorials in the American media warning against Musharraf’s double game. Inorder to prove its worth as a ‘moderate’ force, the Pakistan Army regularly provokes the ugly underbelly of Pakistani Islamism while suppressing the relatively moderate mainstream parties. In that process, it does’nt mind neither maligning the country’s already battered reputation, creating a deep chasm within the country or the loss of innocent lives.
Update: Read this timely report Pakistan: The Myth of an Islamist Peril from CEIP which echoes our thoughts.