Our internal threats

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

WAS Monday`s attack on the police academy in Lahore the “internal threat” the prime minister spoke about last week?

Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani was addressing participants of the Maaraka-i-Baqa exercise at the National Defence University when he disclosed — probably unwittingly — that Pakistan had been preparing over the years to meet any external threat, but that all along an “internal threat has been evolving beyond our comprehension and has weakened us considerably”. This was confirmed on Monday by the adviser on interior when he admitted that Pakistan has the will but lacks the capability to fight terror.

So those who rule Pakistan — the armed forces were openly in control for 31 years — have been caught napping by our “internal threat”. Any strategic planner worth his salt should have known that in an age when the concept of total war has come to be universally recognised national defence cannot be perceived in isolation in terms of the number of men in uniform, guns, cannons and bombs. Had our military leaders taken a holistic view of national security — as they should have — they would have been quick to observe the “evolving internal threat”. In fact, it would never have emerged.

In the present context, one presumes that the prime minister was pointing to militants who have kept the army on its toes for the last several years. If one were to believe what is now being openly said the military leadership should have known very well who the militants were and how they grew into a major force, so much so that they could launch their terror attacks on countries far and wide from our soil. Many of them were offshoots of the Mujahideen that were spawned by the US and Pakistan`s intelligence agencies in the years of the Afghan jihad in the 1980s.

But that is not all. The kind of insurgency we are facing today requires the appropriate surroundings to grow and flourish in. Practically every government in Pakistan, including the civilian ones who had to take their dictates from the army, created the social, cultural, economic and political conditions that nurtured these “internal threats”.

This was done directly by training and arming the militants to fight the army`s wars in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Indirectly conditions conducive to retrogressive thinking were created by destroying the education system in the country, cultivating irrational religiosity among the people, creating despondency by not eradicating poverty, not generating gainful employment — the biggest panacea for despair — and deepening the class divide in society. Is it really surprising when we find people actually sympathising with the mindset of the militants?

One may well say that such conditions exist practically all over the Third World? Isn`t it burdened with crime, poverty, disease and illiteracy? Don`t these spawn violence? But what should be worrying for Pakistan is that we are not moving ahead and, what is more, our militants are trying to internationalise their jihad from our soil. They have developed a global reach. As a result, Pakistan has become doubly vulnerable — from the militants and from countries which feel threatened by them.

This has made it difficult to address the problem of militancy within our national strategic framework. The injection of religious passions has made it impossible to approach the issue with a degree of rationality and sanity.

The thrust towards militancy could have been neutralised or averted to an extent if Pakistan had sought to strengthen its education base. Education is the only factor that can empower people — but it must be of the right kind. Good education opens the door to employment that brings economic strength. It gives self-esteem and confidence to a person so that he can lead a meaningful life without looking for artificial props to boost his morale. It teaches him the basics of community living. Deprived of this we have failed to evolve into a closely knit nation.

The government claims that education is a high-priority issue on its agenda. But no concerted effort is visible to expand and upgrade education in the country. With the literacy rate a lowly 54 per cent and the primary net enrolment ratio at 66 per cent (Unesco data) — achieved in 61 years — waiting for total literacy and universal primary education amounts to waiting for Godot. The problem is not only one of making education accessible to all. The quality also leaves a lot to be desired.

What is worse is that education is paradoxically becoming a major factor in the stratification of society. If a person is rich he gets a good education that lands him a highly paid job. If he is poor he gets neither. He gets frustration as the hopes and expectations roused by loudmouthed leaders and the jazzy films screened by the electronic media are dashed to the ground.

Without a good job he can never dream of a place in the sun, and this leaves him discontented and angry at the injustice that is part of our system. Some respond by walking into a madressah which offers them a way out of their miserable situation. They are trapped and converted into the “internal threat” Mr Gilani spoke about. They are not special beings. Sabiha Sumar`s film Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters) gives a graphic account of this transformation.
What is to be done now? The terrorists will have to be confronted head on as was done on Monday. One must, however, have sympathy for those cadets who lost their lives because the academy where they were undergoing their training, also part of their education, was not sufficiently protected. This incident again points to the little value attached to human resource development even in how our security is planned.

Mr Gilani`s focus was on security and defence hardware to counter the “internal threat”. There is no denying that this is now important when the country is under attack but not more important than the wealth of human resources we have and that can be empowered only through good education.