Two months ago, when I handed my passport over to the Immigration officer at Dulles International Airport, Virginia, he showed signs of surprise. A few seconds later, he asked me, “Have you ever visited Pakistan?”
“Yes,” I replied.
Half an hour later, he started to ask me when I went to Pakistan and who I went with. I started to feel like a “big fish” for the US security men.
Upon exiting the airport, the first thing I heard on the radio in the taxi on the way to the hotel was a debate over a statement made in Washington about the possibility of the Americans using Pakistani airspace without obtaining permission first. The debate reached a point where the discussion turned to the possibility of attacking Pakistan itself!
This brought up a simple question in my mind: Is it a fear of Pakistan or a fear for it?
Today, I pondered the matter as I recalled the image of Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz and Saad Hariri together at a press conference in Pakistan.
It is clear that there is battle for power in Islamabad between General Pervez Musharraf and his most prominent rival Nawaz Sharif. But Sharif’s plane landed in Islamad’s airport whereas Musharraf’s plane had continued to circle the airspace, unable to land before the coup took place because it was prevented from doing so. When the airplane finally landed, it was almost running on empty!
Moreover, there is superficial political talk that states that the problem in Pakistan lies in the absence of democracy. The truth is that Pakistan is an active bomb that is being tossed between friends, enemies, among its sons and the West without considering the gravity of the outcome if it detonated in their hands.
Pakistan is an undeniable enclave for extremism and lest we forget that the concept of ‘al Hakimeya’ [Godly governance] originated in Pakistan and was attributed to [Abu al Ala] al Mawdudi before it was picked up by Sayyid Qutb and those that followed.
Pakistan is a state that possesses nuclear power and has a population of 160 million. Although its leaders resemble those in the West, its neighbors are Afghanistan and Iran and what a fate that is!
Tehran is doing everything it possibly can to strain relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan whilst also trying to seize control of influential elements inside Islamabad. The wild extremism that thrives in some groups and tribes there only serves its purposes better. However, the tribes are another story altogether and one of the chief beneficiaries is the al Qaeda organization.
This is why there is a shared awareness between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Lebanon, and among the March 14 Coalition forces regarding the importance of a strong and stable Pakistan.
Pakistan falling into the hands of extremists or weakening the Pakistani army; its safety valve, will constitute an Islamic catastrophe and a disruption of the balance of power with Iran.
Thus, Tehran will have been liberated from the Taliban regime, albeit it stands by another party to serve more immediate interests. Today, Iran has better control over Iraq, thanks to the Americans of course, and it now strives to get rid of a strong Pakistan which stands in the way of its ever-growing interest in meddling in the affairs of others.
Pakistan’s extremists do not seek democracy; in fact they denounce it. Those who oppose General Musharraf today, even if they seem to be siding with his enemies, will find themselves confronting the same extremists tomorrow. Those affiliated to the Red Mosque are fighting Musharraf and will continue to fight anyone who occupies his seat after him.
The best approach to Pakistan is to consider the bigger picture rather than fight over a part of it. Pakistan is in danger! And the danger that will ensue as a result of its instability will be even graver.
So, does this impede the progress of democracy? Of course not! However, stability in Pakistan, building its civil and economic institutions and strengthening its army is presently more important than the struggle over power. Furthermore, Nawaz Sharif’s attempted return would have been disruptive to the agreement forged between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto in the UAE which indicates an impending crisis for Pakistan’s stability.