Aug 20 - 26, 2007

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the realization of the Quaid-e-Azam's dream of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, an independent realm of a secular nature that the oppressed Muslim minority of India could proudly call home. Six decades on, though it may not immediately seem so, we have come a long way from the pitiable, bankrupt, refugee stricken Pakistan of 1947. An historical analysis reveals something that every Pakistani already knows; we, the people of this land have been through hell! Straight from inception, being Pakistani has never been dull, starting with an enemy, many fold our size, determined to destroy this infant nation. A constant threat of Indian invasion loomed over us; this threat provided the necessity for a strong army that would be our protectors, our saviors. Unfortunately that esteemed role failed to satisfy the appetite of our revered armed forces, thus the army decided to show its might on a different kind of battlefields, the ever dynamic theatre of Politics. Skipping past the wars with India, The fiasco in East Pakistan, the bitter civil war in which we lost half the country, the systematic elimination of any leadership deemed genuinely popular or 'loved'; and most of all Coup d'Etats galore, U.S. involvement was not strange to Pakistan, we found ourselves branded with 'U.S. military outpost' status during the Cold War, charged with the unenviable task of bringing the Soviet Union down to its knees in Afghanistan. To help meet that end General Zia-ul-Haq politically engineered 'Jihadi' culture into Pakistani society and laid down the infrastructure for its application, all done with CIA's assistance of course. Unfortunately this culture remained when the Soviets left and has now come back to haunt us. As if that wasn't enough the US abandoned Pakistan after the Cold War was won. Nuclear power status (a colossal accomplishment by any measure) brought with it dreaded sanctions from our old ally. After a short affair with democracy, we returned to what seemed familiar, another Coupe. Then half a world away 9/11 incident took place, things would never be the same again.

Today Pakistan is a crucial frontline state in the ill-defined U.S. 'War on Terror'. Pakistan is, in fact, the most important US ally in this war, and the U.S. needs Pakistan just as badly as Pakistan needs it if not more; The Governments has been highly unpopular at home because of its siding with the Americans in this war, and has resulted in widespread terrorism within Pakistan. However, it was the only sane option that Pakistan could make, after all denying the worlds only 'hyper power' when it is licking its wounds and calling for blood comes with consequences which are best left avoided. However, 6 years of 'War on Terror' have revealed new geo-political realities and challenged the old ones; Pakistan stands at the most vital junction in its history; one path leads to peace, prosperity and grants Pakistan the well-deserved role of an unquestionable regional power and an influential global player; The alternate leads to the oblivion.

Putting things into perspective, to accurately judge which direction Pakistan is heading to, we have to analyze the direction in which the world is heading.

As throughout human history, power has shifted between civilizations and nations continuously, a slow and gradual process taking centuries, causing once great empires to crumble into dust only to be replaced by a more potent, innovative and dynamic power. The new power, eager to dominate the realm, achieves its zenith and appears indomitable only to decline and face the same fate as its predecessor a few centuries later, usurped by a younger more dynamic entity and so forth. This is the nature of history as consistent as the rule of gravity, both can be captured by the same term 'what goes up; must come down'. The pendulum of power always shifts, and now it shifts again.

By most analysis Asia is the Future Power. Modern technology has quickened the pace of the pendulum. What took centuries; will now take decades. Asia with its vast and young population, rising middle classes, untapped resources, rapid industrialization, high economic growth rate and a newfound self-confidence in its people, combine to provide the momentum needed for world power.

A person who follows current events is aware of the two upcoming Asian powerhouses China and India, a resurgent Russia, propelled by its large energy exports and relatively advanced albeit aging Soviet military hardware and technology cannot be ignored either. So where does Pakistan fit into all this?

Taking into account our geo-political location, Pakistan lies at the crossroads of civilizations; India to the East, the energy rich Iran and Arab world to the South West, China to North-East and Afghanistan and the energy rich land locked ex Soviet states to the West and North. The reasons behind the interests and involvement of foreign great powers become apparent. When there is a desire to control a country, Democracy is a mere inconvenience, why bother with a parliament when a dictator is so much easier to manipulate, Tragically the reliance on foreign masters caused the interests of powers like the U.S. to take precedence over the interests of Pakistan itself.

If the 'War on Terror' has taught the world anything at all (even top American officials are starting to admit it), is that such a war is impossible to win militarily. A fight can only be won if the nature of the opponent is understood fully; strengths, weaknesses and unique abilities of the enemy must be understood and countered in an effective manner. This truth holds even more so when the enemy is not a state or a conventional army that would rely on a military infrastructure, which can be targeted and destroyed; but an ideology which appears to have an inexhaustible supply of determined recruits willing to voluntarily lay down their lives for their cause is a completely different sort of opponent that requires a different sort of warfare. Islamic extremism can not be defeated in Iraq or Afghanistan or even in Pakistan through martial means. Such means only reinforce the Extremist elements in Islamic societies and go beyond by proving to impressionable young minds (potential recruits) that the cause of Islamic Extremism, and groups like Al-Qaeda who propagate it, is real. The only way to successfully fight an idea is with another idea

The nightmare scenario for the world, especially our neighbours, is if Nuclear-armed Pakistan fell into the hands of Islamic Extremists, who might not be too inclined to keep those nuclear missiles in their silos. There can be no doubt that the world will stop at nothing to keep that from happening. That steely determination can be used to Pakistan's benefit.

Pakistanis never had an extremist tradition; 'Jihadi' culture was imposed by General Zia. The vast majority of Pakistanis are moderate and centrists, the people are exhausted by an unremitting sense of insecurity that has been drilled into them. The Pakistani people have no desire for terrorism or extreme ideology. What they crave is the same that any other nation does: stability, prosperity, justice and the right to take their destiny into their own hands.

In order to counteract Islamic extremism we have to understand the people who prepare its recruits. People who turn to extremism are not necessarily hard wired fanatics. Circumstances combine to create an atmosphere for Extremism to flourish: insecurity, corruption, unemployment, high inflation and a severe lack of opportunities to improve life. Add to that the idea that there is a foreign power orchestrating a 'Crusade' on your faith; what one finds is an ideal environment for recruiting disgruntled young men to fight.

As I stated that an idea can only be fought with an idea. It seems that we have an unprecedented opportunity; this time the interests off all the powers are inline with the interests of Pakistan. As there appears to be consensus amongst the international community, the only practical way to stop Pakistan from failing, is to stabilize it permanently. This can only be done with the establishment of true democratic institutions, and a stable progressive economy.

One of the new political realities that have surfaced is that China is poised for Super power status in the next 15 years; American strategic planners see this development as a long term threat to U.S. hegemony over the world. American plans to counteract this new threat are already underway; the Americans see potential in democratic India (who herself views China as great threat) to form a counterweight against Chinese domination of Asia, however, even with extraordinary growth, India trails far behind China and the gap is increasing. The U.S. is thus compensating for the gap by not only investments in the Indian economy by U.S. companies but providing India with military hardware and technical know-how that would otherwise be decades out of India's reach. Traditionally, China has long been an ally and a friend to Pakistan united by a common interest to bog India down, and India would concentrate efforts to destabilize Pakistan. In today's world, the Pak-China friendship is a long term strategic alliance. Cooperation between these two states is at an all time high, ranging from Chinese companies developing Pakistan's infrastructure to joint development of jet fighters (JF-17 Thunder); increased Chinese assistance to Pakistan on Nuclear related projects should also be expected as a counter balance to the new US-India N-deal. China's relationship with Pakistan will have a similar dynamic to the U.S-Israel relationship; both great powers assist the smaller regional power economically, diplomatically and militarily. In return the smaller states effectively become a conduit for the projection of the political power and influence of the greater power.

India and China are determined to keep economic growth at their current phenomenal rates, and for that matter there has to be stability in the region. An unstable Pakistan is not even in an arch rival India's interest (at least for the time being). India is home to almost 140 million Muslims, the spread of Extremism into this segment of the Indian population is something that Indian government wants to avoid at all cost. India desires stable energy supplies and a better trade relationship with Pakistan. The recently finalized Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project (costing approx $7 billion) is a step in the right direction and there is talk of increasing trade many-fold between the two. The Arab world, the US and the Chinese are investing huge sums in Pakistan; The Chinese are deeply involved in the Gwadar Port project and see it as an essential hub for securing their energy supplies and holds a prominent role in the Chinese 'String of Pearls' strategy (in which China forms a secure outer band of influence between perceived foreign threats and the Chinese Mainland). Pakistan is also seen as the future energy corridor of Asia; facilitating energy supplies from sources in the Middle East and Central Asia to the Energy hungry economies of China and India. Pakistan also has the potential to fill the role of Leader of the Muslim world; Abandoning Pakistan to its own devices is no longer an option.

Another Chapter, in our saga, arguably the most important chapter, is now unfolding in front of our eyes. Pakistani politics seem more mystifying then ever; at a glance its appears President Musharraf, after suffering a humiliating political defeat at the hands of the judiciary retreated to consolidate what is left of his formerly formidable power through striking some sort of compromise deal with Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. The Mohtarma in exchange receives the Premiership and her assets unfrozen along with the withdrawal of all charges laid on her; to many people this version seems politically plausible. The Mohtarma is being criticized from across the political spectrum for 'betraying' the ARD and colluding with the General in a classic power grab, however, regrettably many of our opposition leaders fail to grasp the gravity of the situation. A look at the situation, with keeping new global geopolitical realities in mind; reveals that in times like these nations are forced to deal with deeper issues and ultimately ask themselves 'who are we and what do we stand for; the Moderates need to end the bickering amongst themselves and recognize a greater threat to the Pakistani Nation as a whole. The stakes are too high this time around. An unpopular General Musharraf no doubt feels cornered, acutely aware that he alone cannot control the Frankenstein of Islamic extremism that the army helped create, and neither the PPP under the Mohtarma nor any other moderate group has the power to counter this monster by themselves. I sincerely hope General Musharraf does not fall into the allure of 'going down fighting'; tragically, if he chooses to do so, he will take the entire nation into the depths of the abyss with him. The immense damage caused by 'Jihadi' culture to the fabric of Pakistani society can only be reversed if all moderate forces led by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and supported by Gen Musharraf present a united front to reincarnate that lost secular Pakistani Identity that the Quaid-e-Azam fought so long and hard for.

The writer is Chairman, Jinnah Rafi Foundation & Honorary Consul of Malaysia, Lahore.