Today's date:
Fall 2006

Only Democracy Will Break Pakistan’s Terror Link

Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister of Pakistan from 1988–1990 and from 1993–1996 and is the leader of the opposition People’s Party.

London — To some, the disquieting pattern of the links among terrorist plots, attacks against the West and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan may seem irrelevant and coincidental. To me, the pattern is sadly relevant, a direct consequence of the West allowing Pakistani military regimes to suppress the democratic aspirations of the people of Pakistan as long as their dictators ostensibly support the political goals of the international community.

In the late 1970s, the democratically elected government of Pakistan, led by my father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was toppled by a coup led by Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, then the army’s chief of staff.

At first, the international community demanded a restoration of democracy and the holding of free and fair elections. Zia, once he proclaimed himself president, promised elections in 90 days, and then in another 90 days, and then in a year. The West expressed frustration and impatience, but shortly after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the calls for a return to democracy in Pakistan subsided, as the United States saw an opportunity to use events in Southwest Asia to hobble the Soviet Union.

The US funneled aid and training of the fundamentalist mujahadeen through Pakistan, and specifically through the Pakistani military intelligence agencies that Zia had created to cement his iron rule.

This alliance not only brought modern weapons and technology to the mujahadeen, but converted my homeland from a peaceful nation into a violent society of Kalashnikov weapons, heroin addiction and a radicalized interpretation of Islam. The streets of Karachi were given over to guns and kidnapping. And the diversion of resources away from the social sector to the military caused rippling consequences in Pakistani society.

As the government relinquished its responsibility in education, health, housing and social services, the people looked elsewhere for support. The clearest manifestation of this pattern was the spread of political madrassas across Pakistan. These schools exploited the name of Islam to teach a radical and intolerant message with paramilitary-type training given to the students. They became the breeding ground for hatred, xenophobia, extremism, militancy and terrorism.

Once the Soviets left Afghanistan, the West abandoned democracy in Afghanistan, leaving behind the most radical elements of the mujahadeen. Pakistan and Afghanistan became the sources of a political and religious extremist movement that morphed into the Taliban and later al-Qaida.

Jamaat ud Dawa, the new breed of hybrid charitable/terrorist organization, may have—according to current press reports—used the political madrassas model to channel funds ostensibly for Pakistani earthquake relief to the plotters of the terrorist scheme revealed recently to down commercial jets over the Atlantic.

Tragically, two decades after the Zia coup against democracy in Pakistan, another army chief of staff conducted another coup against a civilian government. Still in power today, the Pakistani dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has played the West like a fiddle, dispensing occasional calculated but ultimately disingenuous support in the global war on terror, thus keeping America and Britain off his political back as he proceeded to arrest and exile opposition leaders, decimate political parties, pressurize the press and set back the causes of human rights and women’s rights in Pakistan by a full generation.

The Musharraf regime, claiming that sections of the Pakistani frontier are ungovernable, has relinquished responsibility there to the Taliban and al-Qaida. It is not surprising that Osama bin Laden, a man who funneled money to overthrow my government, has not been intercepted. He releases taped messages with impunity under the nose of the Pakistani military dictatorship protected by military hardliners and militant groups in the tribal areas of Waziristan that the Musharraf regime has failed to control.

The notion that these large blocks of Pakistan are ungovernable is nonsense. During both of my tenures as prime minister, my government enforced the writ of the state through the civil administration and paramilitary troops.

The Musharraf dictatorship doles out ostensible support in the war on terror, one spoonful as needed, to keep it in the good graces of Washington, while it presides over a society that simultaneously fuels and empowers militants at the expense of moderates. And the dangerous political madrassas, which I spent years as prime minister dismantling, now flourish and grow under Islamabad’s military dictatorship.

Why is it that the terrorist trail always seems to lead back to Pakistan? Why is it that second-generation Pakistani émigrés all over the world are far more attracted by this pattern of terrorism than other disillusioned Muslims in the West? What is it about Islamabad in particular that puts it in the center of terrorist plots—from Leeds to London, conspiracies against planes, against buses, against trains and, above all, against innocent people?

I suggest that political systems create particular responses in its civilians. In a military dictatorship, power flows through the gun rather than through law. For decades, the message sent to Pakistani youth through repeated military interventions has been that might makes right.

The West, by supporting Pakistani military dictatorships’ suppression of the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people, has enabled the dictatorships to permeate this message among new generations of Muslim youth. Further, the use of radical institutions to superficially address some social needs is the key to understanding the increasingly clear pattern that links Islamabad to terror-related incidents.

Democracies do not go to war with other democracies. Democratic governments do not empower, protect and harbor terrorists. Democratic societies largely produce citizens that understand the importance of law, diversity and tolerance. A democratic Pakistan, free from the yoke of military dictatorship, would cease to be the Petri dish of the pandemic of international terrorism.