"The government should have nothing to do with any sect"
-- Ahmed Rashid
Writer and political analyst
The News of Sunday: During the Afghan jehad, the government of Pakistan directly and indirectly supported the Deobandi and Wahabi formations of Islamism. Do you think it will be a good strategy for moderation if the government supports the Barelvi and Sufi aspects of Islam now?
Ahmed Rashid: It is not a good idea because it has nothing to do with the democratic and political processes. The state should not align itself with any of the religious formations. In fact, it is the different extremist religious groups who are trying to align themselves with different political processes. It is actually detrimental to democracy if we now have the Barevli side posturing for more political power because the tide has turned against the Taliban version of political Islam. The state should be a neutral moderator.
TNS: Why did the government support the Deobandi and Wahabi forms of Islam during the Ziaul Haq years?
AR: From day one, Ziaul Haq aligned himself with these ideologies and the link with Saudi Arabia as a major source of funding cannot be ignored. In fact, Saudi Arabia did match the American funding dollar for dollar and, with that, the Wahabi/Deobandi sects were promoted in Pakistan. Later on, these groups were also deployed for the covert operations in Kashmir in the 1990s.
TNS: What is the solution to the religious mess that the government has created in the last three decades?
AR: The government should not support any particular group and seek the help of all the ulema without falling in the trap of sectarianism. In an ideal situation, the government should have nothing to do with any sect or denomination of metaphysics.
TNS: What are the sources of funding for the Pakistani Taliban now that the official, state-sponsored jehadism is over?
AR: There are three main sources of funding: (a) the profits of the drug manufacturing and trade; (b) private donations from Pakistan and the Arabian gulf; and (c) criminal activities. You may have noticed the rise of kidnappings for ransom. It is a major source of funding for jehadist activities in Pakistan.
TNS: What is the main difference between the Bush regime and the Obama regime's policies towards Pakistan?
AR: The Obama administration is more interested in pro-people investment in Pakistan. They will be giving 1.5 billion dollars a year for the next five years for civilian development projects in Pakistan and 400 million dollars as military aid. So you can see what the American priorities are. It will not be like Bush's policies. Musharraf was able to get away with so much without a great deal of accountability. In the Musharraf's regime, almost 80 percent of the aid was channelled towards the army and the civilian processes were not supported. Now it will be different.
TNS: Do you think the way the Americans are trying to link the new aid package with certain conditions is going to help promote democracy in Pakistan?
AR: I think the Americans should not try to micro-manage Pakistan but they can demand a broader set of conditions to be fulfilled. They can ask for deeper democracy, a more durable civilian set-up, and more transparent political processes. But, in the end, they should let Pakistan determine its own future and the pro-people policies.
Published in The News on Sunday
dated June 21, 2009