What can we say about the inevitable and long-awaited expansion of the US’s war on Islamic self-determination into Pakistan, with tragic results for the millions of people directly affected, and potentially disastrous effects for the country as a whole and everyone in it? Watching developments in Pakistan over the last 18–24 months has been like watching a car crash in slow motion. You can see exactly what is happening, and what the inevitable results will be, but you are powerless to do anything to change them; meanwhile, those involved seem oblivious of the dangers and determined to charge headlong into the disaster. Long before the revelations last summer that George Bush had authorised US forces to launch operations in Pakistan, and Barack Obama described US operations in Pakistan as “a good war” during his election campaign, it was clear that the US was committed to expanding its Afghan policy into Pakistan as an alternative to accepting the policy’s failure in Afghanistan.
Of course, this policy was always likely to be presented as one pursued by the government in Islamabad, with the US performing only a supporting role; but the fact that the strategy was to be dictated and directed from Washington was only minimally disguised. Perwez Musharraf’s inability to maintain the credibility required for this strategy contributed to his downfall, and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, who had been lined up to be the US’s key ally in the country, proved only a temporary hitch. Few expected that Asif Ali Zardari would hesitate to do Washington’s bidding, however damaging for the country he supposedly rules, and so it has proved; although one suspects that he has been minimally involved in strategic and political decisions that have probably been negotiated directly between Washington and the Pakistani military hierarchy.
And yet it is facile to blame any of these actors for the mess in which Pakistan finds itself. Each has done precisely what was expected of them, acting in their own interests. Could anyone really have expected anything different? What possible grounds could there have been — setting aside political rhetoric and empty promises that everyone knew were no more than that — for expecting any of them to consider the interests of the country and its people? They all did precisely what everyone knew they would do, what they were bound to do, what observers had been predicting for months they were going to do; and still the disaster is unfolding before our eyes with little or nothing being done to stop it. Still Pakistan appears as passive as a rag doll, powerless to prevent its manipulation and exploitation.
Frankly, there is little point in blaming our enemies for our plight. If we want to find an explanation for the current situation which offers hope of a solution to it, we must look to ourselves first and foremost; by which I mean to Pakistan’s Islamic movement in general, and the Jama‘at-e Islami in particular. Pakistan’s people have always looked to Islam for solutions to their problems, despite being repeatedly disappointed by the performance of their Islamic leaders.
It is the failure of those leaders that forced Pakistanis into a situation of having to choose between supporting the primitive and often brutal conservatism of the Taliban, and a corrupt and self-serving pro-Western government. It is not only in failing to effectively challenge the political establishment that the movement has failed; it is also by allowing itself to be dominated by conservative and sectarian Islamic groups such as the Taliban and others like them. The problem of the Talibanization of Pakistan’s Islamic culture and discourse has long been recognised and has not been effectively addressed from within the movement. This was a development that the Jama‘at-e Islami should have been ideally positioned to address, given the intellectual credibility of the late Maulana Maududi.
The Jama‘at remains a broad-based movement with highly committed activists in its many affiliated groups, who have been consistently failed by the political misjudgements of its leaders. It remains the most likely source for the emergence of a new leadership inspired by the examples of vision and clarity offered by movements elsewhere, such as Islamic Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas, and capable of challenging the conservatism and sectarianism of groups such as the Taliban. But until this happens, Pakistanis can expect only more difficult times ahead.