Think Pakistan Will Come Around? Think Again

With President Barack Obama’s recent speech declaring the withdrawal of 33,000 surge troops from Afghanistan, all eyes will be on the Pakistanis to step up and take control of the violence that plagues both sides of their border.

Fareed Zakaria wrote recently that neither the U.S. troops nor the adolescent Afghan National Army will be able to save Afghanistan. The 600,000 strong Pakistani military will ultimately decide Afghanistan's fate. Zakaria details the radicalization of the Pakistani military toward Islamic extremist tendencies. While this is a scary thought, it is not the only Pakistani institution that is being radicalized. The population itself is turning as well.

I sat in on a panel at the Hudson Institute about the radicalization of Pakistan and what it means for their future. One of the panelists, Sherhbano Taseer, is the daughter of the late Salmaan Taseer. You may remember Salmaan; he was murdered in January by his own bodyguard for defending a Christian woman charged with blasphemy. His killer was lauded in the streets for the deed.

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are malicious in nature. Originally created by the dictatorial Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980's, the stated reasoning for the laws and subsequent radical Islamization of the country was to gain the support of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. The other reason was so Zia-ul-Haq could shore up his own power and stifle competition, as he had virtually no support outside of the military.

The wording of the laws is vague; any person can turn in another person for alleged blasphemy. According to Pakistan law, blasphemy is any written, spoken, implied, direct, indirect, or overheard statement against any facet of Islam and is punishable by a minimum sentence of life in prison and often times death.

The laws are abused incessantly. Pakistanis turn each other in for a variety of reasons. On March 4, radicals blew up a Sufi shrine because of their beliefs. On May 30, a parliamentary party issued a decree that the Christian Bible is blasphemous. On June 13, the floor tiles in a bank were considered blasphemous because a customer thought the design was anti-Islamic. And on June 14, students created a hit list of 32 people they believed were blasphemers. Neighbor turns on neighbor over petty land disputes, arguments, and even hostile card games.

The other side of the problem is that due process is non-existent. Judges are threatened and murdered for even trying a case. Oftentimes, the alleged blasphemer is killed before he can even stand trial, and even in the slim chance of acquittal, violent persecution will take over.

It is hard to believe that a nation can allow such laws to exist until you see the stats. According to a member of the Hudson Institute panel, 67% of Pakistanis polled favor state-led Islamization, and 75% think of themselves as Muslims before Pakistanis.

The U.S. is putting a lot of stock into a country that is on a moral decline. Our goals of ensuring human rights, countering terrorism, and battling for the soul of Islam rests with a country that hasn't the slightest inclination for any of them.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Joseph Sarkisian

Joseph graduated with a Master of Science in international relations from the University of Massachusetts Boston and was an intern at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. He completed his BA at Arizona State University in political science as well as studied Arabic language, terrorism/counterterrorism, and religion. Joseph also lived in Egypt where he studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo in 2007. Joseph was the Secretary of the Executive Committee for the University of Massachusetts Graduate Student Government, a teaching assistant in his department, and teaches a class on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. His main areas of interest are the Af/Pak region, Iran, Syria, and other current foreign policy issues.

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