From Bahrain and the Gulf’s perspective, Pakistan is crucial to regional security, but it’s time for my country to step up its fight against terrorism.
Pakistan was founded by idealists hoping to show that a country governed by Islamic principles would be a showcase of tolerance, inclusivity and democratic principles.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s vision has been cruelly undermined.
Pakistan today stands on the brink of becoming a failed state. Its main cities are racked by terrorism. Its anarchic tribal borderlands are the global centres of Islamist extremism.
Democracy has repeatedly been overthrown by ambitious generals. The long-running dispute over Kashmir has diverted the lion’s share of the budget to the army, leaving so little for schools that Pakistan now has one of the world’s lowest levels of educational attainment.
The suicide bomber who killed at least 70 people, many of them children, in central Lahore on Easter Day was only the latest fanatic to have brought carnage to Pakistan’s cities.
This year alone almost 500 people have been killed in terrorist incidents across the country, and almost every day bombs are set off by extremist groups vying with rivals to show themselves the most brutally
Terrorism has plagued Pakistan for almost 20 years, proliferating especially after former president Musharraf’s decision to back the US-led battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Islamist movements have split into more than a dozen militant groups, all competing to attack government buildings, target religious minorities, export terrorism, sabotage social and economic reform and render Pakistan generally ungovernable.
To an alarming degree they have succeeded. Most devastatingly, they have created a climate of fear so that no elected official dare challenge the power of the jihadists, men as fanatical as they are corrupt.
The government has closed its eyes to the terrorists operating with impunity in the big cities and has left alone those preaching hatred in the madrassas.
The prompt assassination of the brave politician who spoke out against the misuse of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws sent a signal to judges, politicians and generals alike: Islamists are not to be challenged or thwarted.
The extremists, however, have overreached themselves. Pakistan’s middle class, its well-educated judiciary and its powerful army have watched the rise of fanaticism with growing alarm.
And after the most blatant atrocity of all, the massacre of 134 schoolchildren at a military-run academy in Peshawar in 2014, the government of Nawaz Sharif decided it had to act. The army has declared war on the extremists.
Their leaders have been arrested, their headquarters attacked, their followers driven underground. There has been a crackdown on the madrassas that have sprung up to fill the gap left by the absence of proper schooling in the villages.
And in defiance of the Islamists, the assassin who shot Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab in 2011, was hanged last month.
Once seen by the West as part of a defensive ring around the Soviet Union, Pakistan is now regarded as a strategic ally of China.
A country of 190 million, its security is closely linked to the security of Asia and the world. Sharif has promised no let-up in the fight against terrorists. In the interests of the world, he must not fail.