Monday, June 04, 2007

Benedict Rogers On Pakistan

Over the weekend Benedict Rogers, of Christian Solidarity and the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission wrote a strong piece for ConservativeHome’s Platform arguing that more needs to be done to protect Pakistan’s Christian population. They certainly face very severe abuse and as a minority religious population in an increasingly radicalised Muslim country their position is clearly a risky one. However, I disagree with Rogers on his portrayal of the political realities in wider Pakistan.

He paints the Christian community’s problems as being very much a choice made by Musharraf. In particular he approvingly quotes Zahid Hussain saying “Pakistan’s failure to curb extremism owed less to the difficulty of implementing reforms than to the administration’s own unwillingness.” If the abuse of the Christian community were the only challenge facing the military leadership this might be an accurate description. At the moment Pakistan’s leadership faces a significantly more varied and large scale set of problems.

There is a touch of unreality in covering the troubles in the border provinces purely in terms of the abuse of and threat to the Christian community. Moderate Muslims are facing serious threats of death and actual abuse in what Gideon Rachmann, Chief Foreign Correspondent for the Financial Times, termed the “Talibanisation” of Pakistan. The border regions have always been somewhat lawless and that makes cracking down on radicalisation easier said than done. This isn’t Britain, or even China; the state’s writ has a distinctly limited authority.

Equally, there are direct threats to the regime’s stability in the cities. In Karachi there has been rioting connected to the Chief Justice’s challenge to Musharraf and his nationwide tour publicising that opposition. In Islamabad there has been Islamist rioting centred around the university. For a regime that can’t take its own existence for granted this is a very alarming development.

While I would on no account want to diminish the sufferings Rogers discusses they only involve a handful of people so far, albeit with a threat to many more, and things could get far worse. The one policeman Rogers describes being sent to defend a church under threat of attack from radicals may have been an insult, how can one man defend a church?

However, on the other hand it could be that he’s fulfilling a similar role to that played by US troops in South Korea. Should radicals assault the church he might stand up to them, they might have to kill him and they might face retribution for that infringement from the state. Were Pakistan to collapse in violent revolution that credible threat of sanctions to abusing the Christian minority would disappear. Then the scale of the horrors facing that community might become radically worse.

As such, it is very much in the interests of Pakistan’s Christian community that the military leadership use their limited resources to ensure stability. Pakistan could collapse in revolution if the military gets things wrong, if troops refuse to crackdown on fellow Pakistanis in the event of renewed riots. A Pakistani I’ve spoken to reckons this is unlikely to happen as the military can try the Roman trick of sending troops from different ethnic communities to enforce their will upon the others. However, it is enough of a possibility to be worrying and if things look bad another general could panic and split the military’s support for Musharraf.

Pakistan needs stability in order to make a steady transition towards democracy. Reform through a violent change would lead to a fragile democracy or, worse, the rise of a Khomeini like figure and a radical regime. In the transition the Christian minority might face an awful fate.

Rogers is right to highlight the abuse and danger the Christian community in Pakistan is facing. Pressure should be put on the Pakistani authorities to do more if they can. However, we should understand the very real hazards the Pakistani regime faces and the costs that all would pay in the event of a collapse.

2 comments:

Henry Mayhew said...

Sinclair, You are a sound man. Thank you very much for that outstanding piece. We should hang out. Do you spend much time in the Gulf or London?

edmund said...

good post (as is the original) I would say in many ways this is really basic to liberal society- the Uk had basic religous toleration of the practice of dissent long before it had democracy- freedom of religion and speech si the basis of any working liberal democracy.

As Long as that is the case (and sadly no muslim country does) then a state can not really aspire to liberal democracy-even a restricted franchise liberal democracy like the Uk in 1890