Islamabad - Many Western media and policymakers appear preoccupied with the danger of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the hands of extremists – whether small terrorist groups or organized political parties who may try to take power in upcoming elections. Their immediate concern, therefore, is not the independence of the judiciary or the establishment of democracy, but rather Pakistan's internal stability in the immediate-term, and the protection of certain Western interests abroad.
That's a mistake. By focusing almost exclusively on the 'terrorist threat', these individuals are in fact supporting the government's imposition of emergency rule. This focus has helped divide international opinion over President Musharraf's recent declaration of emergency rule: although most commentators share in widespread condemnation of the recent imposition of a state of emergency, international opinion is divided over the undemocratic steps taken by the regime under emergency rule.
President Musharraf took full advantage of these Western apprehensions when he denounced the judiciary as a terrorist ally. However, this argument was turned upside-down when the same judges who had passed orders to release some of the Red Mosque's alleged terrorists were sworn in under the PCO.
There are many indicators that Western worries about terrorism are unfounded. To date, the army has not faced any significant internal strife from Pakistani terrorist groups. Domestically, such individuals have limited social sanctity and are referred to as terrorists, not freedom fighters or revolutionaries. Thus the survival of armed vigilantes in Pakistan, irrespective of who leads the country, is unlikely in the long-run due to their illegitimacy in the eyes of the people.
The same is true for al-Qaeda, which is a foreign outfit with no significant domestic support. The fear that such groups can take control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal seems exaggerated. This is not meant to trivialize real concerns about growing radicalization; however, an exclusive focus on this issue simplifies the situation, ignoring the actual diversity in Pakistani culture and politics.
The Western media is also mistaken regarding the possible electoral success of anti-Western Islamic groups. To date, only the Jamiat-tul-ulama-e-Islam (Assembly of Islamic Clergy) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (Islamic Party) have had any success on the political stage, and they can by no means be labelled threats to Pakistan's stability or to Western security. They have recently cashed in on anti-Western and anti-American sentiment and used it to their political advantage, but have no apparent designs to use force against the West.
Jointly, these parties only obtained twelve percent of votes in the last elections. Their performance was even worse in local elections. Today, they are at loggerheads and are unlikely to put up a joint front against political opponents. With the return of two former prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, establishment and religious parties are again at odds, which will further dilute the vote. Against this political backdrop, it is unlikely that anti-Western Islamic parties will find real support at the polls in the foreseeable future.
Musharraf has been promoting the heightened threat of terrorism for some time to win the support of the West. Although the West cannot afford to underestimate potential threats in this arena, supporting a military dictatorship is not the answer. Rather, the solution lies in strengthening the various institutions required for establishing true democracy, which in turn will lead to stability and security.
Over the last few days, President Musharraf stepped down from his post as head of the military to become a civilian president and announced that he would lift emergency rule in December. That's a step forward. However, there is more to be done.
This unnecessary hype about terrorism, coming from both our country's rulers and the Western media, skirts the real challenges facing democracy in Pakistan: how to restore the constitution, reinstate the deposed judges, lift the bans on the media, release political and human rights workers, and above all, how to guarantee free and fair elections. An overblown and exclusive focus on the danger of terrorism will in the end only strengthen and prolong dictatorship in Pakistan.
Ershad Mahmud is an Islamabad-based researcher focusing on South Asia. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service and can be accessed at GCNews.