Note from the chief editor
When the contribution of our Pakistani members for this YouthSpeak reached me shortly after the assassination of Mrs Benazir Bhutto, it spurred me to dig deeper in the backgrounds of this crisis. The article that was sent to me attempts at explaining the current crisis by referring to several aspects that often go unnoticed in the mainstream media.
On the one hand, we see General Musharaf referring to Islamist militants when explaining the current clampdown on civil liberties, even blaming them for the murder of Mrs Bhutto. On the other hand, we read of the army supporting Islamist militants in the border provinces of the country. Furthermore, we hear of the massive repression that is exerted against civil rights activists, mostly lawyers. And finally, Islam fanaticists seem to gain support among parts of the population.
One thing is clear, our humanist comrades are the victims of each and every of these woes. But why is it that this situation is so blurred? And why is president Musharaf so warmly welcomed on his tour, garnering support throughout Europe? Reading through some of Tariq Ali‘s excellent articles on Pakistan’s recent past and the history of the muslim world, it struck me how this is a history riddled by western intervention. Behind the current rhetorics of a War on Terror stands a legacy of support for obscurantist regimes.
In the context of Pakistan, what comes to mind immediately is of course how in the Cold War days the western bloc eagerly supported the Afghan Mujahedeen, Muslim fighters against a Soviet invasion. Ali documents how it was only in the course of the Afghan war that the rallying cry for Jihad was initiated … by an advisor of the US State department.
Once the Cold War over, the country was left to internecine fighting among Mujahedeen factions. This fighting only came to an end with the coming to power of Mullah Omar’s Taleban with support from … Pakistan. Less than a month after “9/11” the latest Afghan war was launched against these very Taleban, and Pakistan became one of the front-line states in the United States’ “War on Terror”. While this may explain the warm welcome the West reserves for President Musharaf, it leaves us puzzled how he and his US allies now fight an enemy which they once willingly armed.
It betrays the divide and rule approach that is so characteristic of imperial power relations. Whereas large parts of the world were colonised, the Ottoman Empire (the Islamic empire that stretched from the Southern coasts of the Mediterranean far into the Middle Easts, and which counts as the predecessor of current-day Turkey) was left more or less untouched by the colonial powers until the First World War. But after an internal revolution gave the final blow to the giant on clay feet which the empire had become, parts of it were put under semi-colonial tutelage.
In other regions however, it was deemed more opportune to nurture local power-holders. Such was the case on the Arabian peninsula, where the British thought fit to leave the rule in the hands of the Saud dynasty. This marks the beginning of an awkward relationship between the West and the royal court of Saudi Arabia.
One the one hand, the house of Saud is well-known for its sponsorship of the most fundamentalist schools of thought within Islam, schools which have clear ties with militant groups, on the other, it is still overtly cherished by the western powers. As recently as last month (as you can read in more detail in this YouthSpeak), president Sarkozy of France commended the country’s civilisational mission whilst easily glossing over the violations of women’s rights that remain commonplace in the country.
In a similar vein, the regime in Sudan was long regarded a stabilising factor in the War on Terror, allowing the world to turn a blind eye on the atrocities committed in Darfour. One could sum up tens of regimes that are internally repressive, violate human rights and verge to obscurantism, but are supported in the interest of …
In the interest of what?, one is tempted to ask. Certainly not in the interest of a more humane world. The story of our Pakisani members is exemplary for the plight of humanists and humanist thought under these regimes. The stories that reach us speak of courageous commitments to human dignity, to values that are firmly grounded in local activism. While we must avoid to replicate the interventionism we criticised, we are compelled to show solidarity with those who suffer from this obscurantism. IHEYO’s 2008 conference will be one of those occasions to revive your international partnerships!