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'Many people in Pakistan feel that religion is under threat from West'

December 19, 2011 10:53 IST

Pamela Constable, veteran Washington Post foreign correspondent and author of Playing with Fire: Pakistan at War With Itself, said it was striking how bleak the prognosis for Pakistan seemed to be, with even the media playing to the lowest common denominator.

She was speaking a panel discussion on the Future of Pakistan at the Brookings Institution.
 
"If you look at the places that people would like to think of hope, there is always a downside -- the media being one that comes to mind," she said.
 
Constable said that while the media has "an incredible potential for positive change," it had a "terrible downside -- it is not only exposing scandals, it is also pandering to the lowest common denominator in many cases, which is extreme emotionalism, anti-foreigner, anti-Americanism, lots of bad things happening with this great new media."
 
She bemoaned that the judiciary, which had given the country much hope when the Supreme Court chief justice was restored to power which was catalytic in former military dictator Pervez Musharraf being ousted from power, "has also had a disappointing side."
 
"The lawyers' movement, which had a shining moment several years ago, has been quite a disappointment since then -- the nadir of which was in fact the positive reception that Mumtaz Qadri got at the courthouse when he was brought there after having assassinated the appointed governor of Punjab," she said.
 
Constable said that while "it is true that most Pakistanis do not support terrorism," at the same time, "a body of evidence shows that anti-Americanism, anti-Westernism, has never been higher in Pakistan than it is now -- it is across the board."
 
"And, we are not just talking about poor, alienated, struggling people -- we are talking about all kinds of people, we are talking about the broad public sentiment," she said.
 
Constable said she believed there are two reasons as to why this is happening. "One is this growing confluence of not what I call the Al Qaeda School of Thought but other phenomena, one of which is what I call a growing, emotional and very emotionalistic defensiveness about Islam."
 
"People in Pakistan, many of them feel that the religion is under threat from the West," she said.

While acknowledging that she does not believe "this is necessarily true," she argued that since this is the consensus in Pakistan, this is an issue that "needs to be addressed -- there needs to be a much more powerful counter-narrative from the West and from moderates within Pakistan and their supporters abroad."
 
Constable said, "If you just look at what is happening on the campus of Punjab University -- at the appeasement that is going on -- it is ceding space to the radical student movement and it is very alarming."
 
She also said, "Leadership of the Pakistani Army is very worried about more extremist Islamic values and benefits bubbling up from the bottom of the rank and file."
 
Bruce Riedel, who spoke after Constable, said, "As anyone who has spoken to young Pakistani Army officers know, the intensity of anti-Americanism among young Pakistani officers is truly astounding and very, very worrisome."
 
He faulted the Obama administration for believing that drones are the solution to the problem. "Drones are an effective, tactical instrument, but they are not a strategic policy and we need to reset our policy toward one of engagement and containment."

Aziz Haniffa In Washington, DC