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Pakistan’s Challenges and the Need for a Balanced Solution

Pakistan’s Challenges: The Problem of Militancy

The recent crisis between India and Pakistan has been very narrowly defined as a problem that can be resolved if the United States places heavy pressure on Pakistan, or more specifically, Pakistani based militant groups and their infiltration into Kashmir. This viewpoint tends to undermine the complexity of the situation at hand while also reflecting the agenda of New Delhi. As complex as the Kashmir problem is in its political context, the issue of militancy in Pakistan (which is also tied to the Kashmiri freedom struggle) is even more complex. To understand this complexity, and realize the difficulty that Musharraf faces, it is important to closely examine the many faces of Islam in the region.

At the outset, one has to come to terms with the fact that no doctrinally homogeneous Islam has existed for many centuries, especially in the South Asian region. A constant play between varying levels of orthodoxy, each offering respective ways in which Islamic doctrine can be understood and interpreted, has always existed. Such variance in interpretation has had a large impact on the way in which Pakistan has approached the task of resolving certain modernization challenges. Generally there are two tiers of discussions that can be discerned in South Asian Islam. At one level there is the debate between the strict Orthodox (legalistic) and the Sufi (or mystic) Muslims. This debate essentially pits rigid traditional interpretations of Islamic doctrine against more expansive, innovative and syncretistic ones. The result is not necessarily a clash on fundamental principles but a tendency to preach differing dogmas. The second level of debate revolves around certain modernization challenges and their impact on the essentials of faith. This debate, in particular, has a peculiar significance to the creation of Pakistan.

Pakistan was created under the vision of its founders Iqbal and Jinnah, who subscribed to a modern, progressive non-theocratic track that was meant to guide Pakistan into a pluralistic, secular, and prosperously democratic society. Until the time Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was removed in 1977, Pakistan remained on this track. In the decade thereafter, however, a series of events in the region including Zia ul Haq’s rule in Pakistan, revolution in Iran, and Soviet invasion in Afghanistan (particularly the role of Mujahidin in that war) affected Pakistan’s domestic society, pushing the country and its institutions, including the army, away from its original plural modernistic track and towards a definitively more conservative form of policy making. Pakistan’s present day domestic situation is a legacy of these factors.

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Brigadier Feroz Hassan Khan

Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies Program, The Brookings Institution; Former Deputy Director, Strategic Plans Division (nuclear war-fighting office), Pakistan Army

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