Pakistan's religious bigots no longer focused on external enemies

Washington Post:

The brazen occupation of a Pakistani police academy Monday by heavily armed gunmen near the eastern mega-city of Lahore was the latest indication that Islamist terrorism, once confined to Pakistan's northwest tribal belt, now threatens political stability nationwide.


"The realization that this problem is now no longer confined to a buffer zone with Afghanistan must dawn on everyone in Pakistan," said Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani American military expert, speaking from Washington. "Pakistan has the wherewithal to deal with the problem, but does its leadership have the will to do so?"

Pakistani officials, normally given to blaming India or other foreign adversaries for fomenting anti-government violence, were unusually frank in denouncing Monday's attack as the probable work of domestic terrorists, who they said were attempting to destabilize the country.


Witnesses to the siege, including police trainees who managed to escape the compound as the fighting continued, said they heard the attackers speaking in Punjabi and in a southeast Pakistani dialect.


Pakistan has been an incubator for Islamist militant groups for the past several decades. Until recently, they were focused on external conflicts, especially the dispute over Indian Kashmir, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s and the presence of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001.

In the past several years, extremist groups along the Afghan border have turned inward, spreading violence and religious fanaticism among the ethnic Pashtun populace in Pakistan's northwest. Pakistan has tried to contain the problem through a combination of military offensives and political negotiations, which are underway in several conflicted border districts.


Perhaps Pakistan is beginning to realize the threat to itself from the groups it has in the past supported. The rampant religious bigotry that has been cynically used in the past against others is now threatening Pakistan itself. Tamping down that bigotry will not be easy.

For much of the last seven years, the government of Pakistan has acted as if this was not a real problem. Now that it is apparent, will it have the will to do something about it? If it does not, the military is likely to step in again.


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