Pakistan – between Democratisation and Talibanisation

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 6 February 2008

Since its independence in 1947, Pakistan has lived under firm control of military and civil burocracy. People have no say in its matters and even MPs openly condemned the parliament as a rubber stamp institution. Pakistan came into being in 1947 but it only managed a constitution developed in 1973 by its Parliament after the secession of Bangladesh in 1971. The constitution adopted after 26 years of independence remained in jeopardy from its conception onwards.

Pakistan remained under direct rule of the Army from 1957 until 1972, when it was defeated by the Bangladeshi movement for independence and the Indian Army. Government was handed over to Parliament under the rule of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto – father of Benazir. Bhutto had come to power with a progressive programme and had the overal support of the impoverished population. As soon as he came to power, he gave in to more reactionary pressure and failed to deliver on his promises. Meanwhile, the Army had maintained a powerful position and, profiting from his waning popularity, as soon as 1977 unseated Bhutto.

Under the military head of state, Zia ul-Haq, Bhutto was hanged. The Syllabi of Schools, colleges and University changed and were Islamised by entering preaching of Jihad and hatred towards other religions. Islamic Teaching was compulsory from primary to the post graduation level (and it still is). Professors and Teachers with liberal and democratic thoughts were fired from services, arrested and even murdered.

The Islamic Extremists Students Groups were supported by the State agencies and they were imparted militant training and provided with weapons like Kalashnikovs. This resulted in violent clashes at campuses, leaving several liberal and democratic students dead.

Going further than influencing education, Zia ul-Haq introduced Islamic Laws. We are still living under these laws, although they have been slightly moderated under the rule of General Musharraf.

The major changes concerned:

  1. Hudood laws, laws about adultery, very discriminatory against women
  2. Criminal Laws /Law of Evidence
  3. Blasphemy Laws, discriminatory agasint religious Minorities
  4. Separate voting and representation for different religions (Now this law has been repealed).

Radicalisation during the Afghan war

During this period, the first Afghan war started, which pushed the country even further towards Islamic fundamentalism, extremism and militancy. The Afghan war opposed the Soviet Union to Afghan Mujaheddeen (Islamic militants), and turned neighbouring Pakistan in a Cold War frontline state. The Pakistani army, and through it the Afghan Mujaheddeen, enjoyed full political, armed and financial support from the so-called free world under the leadership of the USA. While Militants coming from the entire world gathered in Pakistan in the name of Jihad (Holy war), it became a hotbed of Islamic militancy.

The Western world lost its interest in these trained Islamic Militants after the fall of Soviet Union. Their native countries refused to accept these militants while the Pakistani Army embraced them as their allies. They were given shelter, training camps and they were allowed to recruit young people throughout the country. They opened their offices at community level and mobilized young people to join their ranks. Young people were rushing towards them because the young people form poor backgrounds needed clothing, food, pocket money and a Kalashnikov which had become a symbol of honor for marginalized youth.

The Pakistani Army used these trained militants to fan the fire in Kashmir and to disturb the Indian government. These militants went to China, Russia (Chechnya), Arab and African countries, such as Algeria and Somalia. When the dead bodies of these young militants were brought to their homes, rather than expressing their condoleances, people came to their parents to congratulate them as their young son had scarified his life for Islam and had become a Martyr (Shaheed).

After the death of General Zia in 1988, government befell democratically elected Benazir Bhutto. While replicating the meagre achievements of her father, after only two years Benazir Bhutto was removed in favour of her all-time political opponent Nawaz Sharif. Sharif himself had to leave office after two years, to be replaced by Bhutto, who, after another two years, was followed up by … Nawaz Sharif.

Behind this farce of democratic government, the army retained its strong grip on public life and imposed its conditions and preferences upon this government. The process of islamic radicalisation continued at the same pace during this period.

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s took interest in Afghanistan – the army tried to subjugate the country to its control. The Mujahedeen warlords in Afghanistan were dispersed and a new force was raised into being. These Taliban were backed by Pakistan and, more remotely, by the USA. It is ironic that they were supported even by Benazir Bhutto when she was in power, and that her Interior Minister General Naseer-ullah Khan Babar claimed them to be his own children. The Taliban equally garnered support in the tribal areas of Pakistan.


Musharraf and the West

In October 1999 the army again took over the charge directly under the leadership of General Musharraf. This didn’t receive large attention until “9/11”, and the Pakistani army and General Musharraf were accepted and honored by the West as a strategic ally in the war on terror. Sides were shifted from Mullah Omar’s Taliban to the so-called Northern Alliance. General Musharraf knows the jargon and language of the Western World and has got popularity there, while we have to live under his rule for an unknown period.

After 9/11 and entering US Army in Afghanistan, the religious political parties got stronghold among Pashto speaking people called Pakhtoons mainly living in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, the tribal areas of Pakistan, Baluchistan Province and Afghanistan. Pakistani Army Intelligence Agencies played very active role in uniting these religious political parties and disintegrating Pakhtoon Nationalist and other progressive political parties. As a result these Islamic Political Parties swept the political scene in the election and got a tremendous majority in the 2002 elections under General Musharraf’s aegis.

These Islamists parties remained in power in two provinces neighboring Afghanistan for the last five years. They supported Islamic militancy and extremism in the area. The alliance of religious political parties, MMA, was soon nicknamed Mullah (Cleric) and Military Alliance among the public. These Islamic political parties also supported General Musharraf in the Parliament to give indemnity to his ultra-constitutional actions in the past under 17 Amendment in the Constitution.

Recently, as documented in the previous YouthSpeak, we have seen that a single person amended the constitution and when the superior judiciary took a stand to follow the constitution and play its role as Constitutional Court, fulfilling civil society demands, they were arrested, humiliated and dismissed from their services. When the superior judiciary took stand and determined to follow Constitution in its real spirit, the lawyers and media of Pakistan became their main allies. Political parties focused on cashing in on the situation in having deals with General Musharraf and the army.

Now we see that Pakistani civil society is too much divided. Lawyers and some political parties are boycotting the election of 2008 while major political parties are there in the field. During this recent period, the young people of Pakistan are becoming unconcerned and in-aligned to the political matters of Pakistan. Our young people are running out of the country and wish to enter Europe and USA at any cost. Many have drowned in the deep waters at the hands human traffickers.

It is evident form the reports and data presented by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan that the number of suicide cases because of hunger and poverty has increased rapidly during the rule of General Musharraf. Pakistan is among the countries that are on the top of illiteracy lists. A great number of children are out of schools. Education is expensive and the number of people living below the poverty line is increasing day after day. The parents are unable to send their children to schools. Higher education is only affordable for well-off people. Where there is no school for children there are two or three Religious Schools (Madrassas) for them. In such a situation religious schools are attractive to youngsters, because these schools provide free education, clothing, food and guarantee a Palace in the Heaven for their parents.

The other trend which emerged and developed after 9/11 is suicide bombers. Young people having no job no food and no money are joining the Militant Groups. Uneducated and poverty-hit youth have no choice to live; they see it as their only choice to join the Suicide bombers and sacrifice their lifes for their families to get them some money and meanwhile securing a beautiful life in heaven for themselves.


To get Pakistan out of this perilous position, we keep fighting for the following steps:

  • The constitution, free media and a free judiciary must be re-instated
  • The role of the army must be reined in politics and State affairs.
  • Pakistan has to increase its budget for Education and Youth focused employment
  • The syllabi needs to be scientific and secular
  • The approaches of pluralism, tolerance and non-violence should be promoted among young people.
  • Youth focused social activism must be promoted
  • Young people must be made part of decision making at each level (Local, Provincial, National and regional) 
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