Research: Commentary

A Cry For 'Justice'

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, October 10, 2003 | Article

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Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's recent New York statements --that "Islam as a religion is being targeted and pilloried," that the Islamic world has an obligation to reform the religious schools "that preach hatred" and that it must "shun militancy and extremism" but for that to be feasible "the West must join us by helping to resolve all political disputes involving Muslims with justice" -- deserve to be pondered and acted upon.

The unresolved political disputes that roil Pakistan go back to its formation as a state when India got its independence from Great Britain. Wrangling between Hindus and Muslims resulted in two states, Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India, with an exchange of over 10 million people between them.

Pakistan wound up with five hostile ethnic/religious groups and two separate areas with India between them. Giving mostly Muslim Jammu and Kashmir to India at the request of its maharajah resulted in civil war. Kashmir has been divided by a "Green line" between Pakistan and India, with wars and sporadic guerrilla warfare ever since.

Pakistan lost its eastern area to civil war, ending in a separate state, Bangladesh. Its North West Territories and Waziristan, stretching along the Afghan border, have resisted Pakistani political or military control to this day.

Cold War divisions brought benefits to Pakistan when the U.S. saw it as a buffer to India's friendship with the Soviet Union and showered it with military and development aid. When the United States determined to destabilize the Soviets, the CIA funded the recruitment of Middle Eastern fighters (mujahedeen) to overthrow the Communist Afghan government, and Pakistan was a natural for the staging area. Success lured the Soviets to invade.

Soviet defeat left the mujahedeen at loose ends, Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida in its formative stages and Pakistan stuck with religious schools (madrassas) which taught the Taliban, financed by Saudi Arabia.

When the Soviets retreated and Americans abandoned Afghanistan, the mujahedeen engaged in years of looting and destruction. The Taliban invaded, bringing order, but with rigid fundamentalist ideology. The madrassas are still open and thriving on the Afghan border, further complicating Pakistan's problems.

Musharaff made a complete switch in policy by throwing his support from the Taliban to the U.S. after 9-11. But he is walking a tightrope in his attempt to satisfy American demands that he control the Afghan border, sullenly resisted by his military and intelligence officers, while the U.S. has imposed punishing restrictions on its vital textile trade.

The United States used Pakistan to attain its Cold War ends, favored it against India and looked the other way when it began its nuclear program. India developed its own nuclear capability in response. Their saber-rattling has raised fears of a nuclear exchange.

A five-month-old peace initiative between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir border dispute has dissolved into renewed violence, taking more than 300 lives, with no end in sight.

Pakistan has multiple problems that good-faith international negotiations may contain before disaster strikes.

Musharaff's cry for "justice" in political disputes resonates throughout Middle East countries and their restless peoples, for they see American policies as supporting a continuation of Western colonial decisions that drew state borders of convenience, separating national groups and leaving them under the heel of despotic monarchies and dictatorships that sell off their natural resources to enrich themselves and fund their lavish lifestyles. We have set up a ring of military bases in these countries serving to guarantee our control of Middle Eastern oil, angering their citizens who resent loss of sovereignty and control of their patrimony.

They resent our demand that no Middle Eastern country possess nuclear technology -- while Israel refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is reputed to have some 200 nuclear weapons -- and are outraged by our lack of an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Our simplistic approach to the Middle East as "a clash of civilizations" is fostering resentment and hatred. The so-called "War on Terrorism" has devastated two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, already. Terrorist incidents, if anything, have increased.

An even-handed approach in an honest, open effort to solve festering disputes would advance peace and regain the world's respect, which we have foolishly squandered.

Jim Mullins is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., and a resident of Delray Beach.

Copyright 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel.  Original article available here.

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