Winning: The Pakistani Paradox

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July 10, 2011: Pakistan is accused of supporting terrorists (especially those attacking India), and of creating the Taliban in the early 1990s. In response, Pakistan points out that since September 11, 2001, the war on terror has killed nearly 40,000 Pakistanis, and cost Pakistan nearly $70 billion. But that is not the whole story. As with the original Taliban back in the early 1990s, the main source of current Taliban gunmen are the Madrasses (religious schools) in the tribal areas of Pakistan and northern Pakistan in general. Radio intercepts, prisoner interrogations and captured documents indicate that up to 60 percent of the Taliban found in southern Afghanistan, especially in Helmand province, are Pakistanis, most of them from these religious schools.

The many Pakistanis killed because of terrorism includes many who died from religious violence that has nothing to do with the Taliban, al Qaeda or Afghanistan. Pakistan has suffered from bloody religious strife, between Moslems, and against non-Moslems, for decades. Pakistan has always been a more violent place than India. As for the monetary losses to terrorism, they are correct, up to a point. But corruption is a huge problem in Pakistan, and most of the economic losses claimed here were lost to corruption (theft, mostly by government officials), not damage done by Islamic terrorists.

The big problem is that Pakistan has become the world center of Islamic terrorism, even as it declared itself at war with Islamic terrorism. You could see how this really worked by the fact that Osama bin Laden was found, by the Americans, living in a military town (containing several regiments of troops and the National War College), north of the national capital. So much for the counter-terrorism effort. Even many Pakistanis were appalled by this. But the larger problem is the fact that Pakistan produces so many Islamic terrorists, mainly via a network of religious schools and the tacit consent of the government.

The Pakistani religious schools got a major boost in the 1980s when Saudi Arabian religious charities flooded the area with preachers and cash, as part of the Saudi support for the Afghans battling Russian troops across the border in Afghanistan. The Saudi preachers brought with them the Wahabi form of Islam (which preaches hatred of non-Moslems and the need for forcible conversion of all mankind). Soon, the schools were full of the children of Afghan refugees, and these were the source of the Taliban manpower that entered the Afghan civil war in 1995, and soon defeated or absorbed most of the warring factions. The Taliban was still fighting some of those factions on September 11, 2001, and were soon swept from power when the United States sided with the anti-Taliban factions.

But the Taliban remained strong in Pakistan, where a military government in the 1970s had backed Islamic radicalism as a possible cure for the corruption that had hobbled Pakistan since the nation was created 1947. Islamic radicalism did not work, as the Islamic conservative politicians and leaders turned out to be as corrupt and inept as their less religious counterparts. But that effort, and the influx of Saudi clerics and money for madrasses in the 1980s, left the Pakistanis with a powerful political force that was willing to use terror and intimidation to get their way.

The Taliban are particularly popular with the Pushtun tribesmen along the Afghan border. The government has long (even before there was a Pakistan) been reluctant to take on the tribes. Contain them, yes, but not invade with the aim of changing their attitudes or preventing support for international terrorism. But that is what the Pakistani government is under pressure, from Afghanistan, the U.S. and NATO, to do. As long as the source of Taliban recruits in Pakistan is not cut off, the fighting will drag on.

 


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