Pakistan: the experiment that failed

Stephen Kinzer, August, 2007
Guardian Unlimited, UK

This week marks the 60th anniversary of an experiment that failed: Pakistan.

Conceived as a secular Muslim state, it has become a cauldron of violent extremism. Forget Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan; the most dangerous country in the word today is Pakistan.

Its regime is weak and under intensifying pressure. Many of its most powerful political and military leaders sympathize with Islamic radicalism. Most significant, it is a nuclear power. Imagine a Taliban-like movement with state power and armed with atomic weapons. The world may be facing that prospect in Pakistan ...

Pakistan could still have become a stable democracy. That was the dream of its founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. His legacy, though, has been all but wiped away. Photos of him that hang in every government office are a cruel mockery. Today's Pakistan is the incarnation of everything Jinnah detested.

Jinnah's ambition was akin to that of another hugely ambitious nation-builder, Kemal Ataturk. He wanted to create in Pakistan what Ataturk had begun to build in Turkey: a modern, open, post-Enlightenment state in which Islam would guide private behavior but not public policy.

Jinnah's death in 1948 - and the assassination of his closest comrade, prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, three years later - killed that dream. Perhaps the same would have happened in Turkey if Ataturk had died soon after taking over leadership of his new state, instead of ruling it for a decade and a half.

Over the decades that followed, Pakistan fell under the rule of military officers. The longest-running of them, Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, who seized power in 1977, proclaimed two goals: building a nuclear bomb and creating a "genuine Islamic order" in Pakistan. He introduced an Islamic Shari a legal code, filled the ranks of the army and intelligence service with officers sympathetic to Islamic radicalism, and encouraged the growth of religious schools where children were inculcated with fanaticism ...

Whether Musharraf survives his current crises politically - or physically - will not determine Pakistan's future. It is bleak. This is the world's next great crisis.

More: Guardian Unlimited

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