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Pakistan: sum of all America’s fears

Opinion: There can be no doubt that the Islamic threat to the state is growing.

Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, said 60 years ago upon independence: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state."

When I first came to Karachi 40 years ago, there was still some remnant of Jinnah’s dream. No longer. The state has been hardening its Islamic grip with tolerance falling by the wayside. The Shia minority is often set upon and murdered. The tiny Christian minority has been persecuted and burned alive by mobs. The unrelenting Wahhabi version of Islam, imported from Saudi Arabia and practiced by Al Qaeda, is at war with the softer, more tolerant Sufi tradition of the Indus. The blowing up of Sufi shrines is a common occurence, demonstrating the battle for Pakistan’s Islamic soul as the Taliban insurgency becomes nationwide.

Meanwhile the cold war with India continues apace. Pakistanis believe India is helping Baluchistan separatists in that province on the Afghan border. “That’s their way of getting back at us for what we do in Kashmir,” said an amazingly frank military officer. Money flows to developing more nuclear weapons, and most of the army is facing east towards India.

America is driven mad by Pakistan’s coddling of some Taliban groups, but Pakistan believes America is on its way out of Afghanistan, and wants to ensure that it has some friends in the post-American Afghanistan. Meanwhile, American popularity sinks among the average Pakistani. Pakistan may be one of the most anti-American countries in the world now.

There are some bright spots. Pakistan has finally realized that Islamic extremism is a mortal danger. The courts guard their independence from political pressure, albeit not always responsibly. The press is remarkably free.

A commentator named Fasi Zaka, in the Karachi Tribune, recently wrote: “Pakistan, you are a failed state. Not because of Zadari. Not because of America. But because you are a failed people.” I don’t agree with that, but it shows a lack of confidence growing in this country.

Pakistan is not a failed state, but it is increasingly in danger of becoming one. And the stakes for America make Afghanistan seem like a side show.