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Terrorism, Democracy And Poverty 2
Dr.Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: Daily Times
Dated: December 12, 2002

Combat Versus Preventive Diplomacy

In this second part of our article, we will elaborate the policy implications emanating from the proposition formulated in the first part (published last week). We had defined terrorism as political violence designed to induce fear in the avowed enemy by an individual or group against non-combatant members of another group within the same state or in other states. Such violence is rooted in protracted economic deprivation, or a sense of unmitigated political injustice.

It is obvious that we live in a world where resource extraction and resource use are globalized by international markets for commodities and finance. It is equally obvious that international institutions (both political and military) are in place to ensure the smooth flow of raw materials, manufactured goods and capital across the globe. These features of a globalized world are vividly perceived through satellite television and the internet. It is not surprising therefore that some of the have-nots would tend to attribute their deprivation to this global system of production, finance and power. That is why terrorism is global as is necessarily, the war against it. Therefore, essential to the 'war against terrorism' is defusing the time bombs of hopelessness and rage, rooted in the breeding grounds of poverty or political injustice. Let us examine this imperative with reference to the historically unprecedented growth of poverty and the emergence of extremist social forces in Pakistan.

The decade of the 1990s was marked by a protracted economic recession, a sharp increase in poverty and a deteriorating law and order situation. During this period, political instability, massive corruption by the top leadership and the worsening law and order situation had a significant adverse effect on private investment and GDP growth. Yet these factors merely accentuated the tendency for growth to slow down as a result of structural features of the economy that were manifest even in the 1980s. The failure of successive governments in this period to address the deteriorating infrastructure and the emerging financial crisis further exacerbated the unfavourable environment for investment. (Investment as a percentage of GDP declined from 18% in the period 1988-92 to 16% in the period 1993-97). This decline in investment was accompanied by a decline in the productivity of capital thereby accentuating the decline in GDP growth rate. The sharp decline in the GDP growth rate was accompanied by an unprecedented increase in poverty. In terms of the calorific norm the percentage of the population below the poverty line increased from 17% in 1987-88 to 32% in 1999-2000. While one third of the population was hungry the majority of the population was deprived of access over basic services such as education, health, sanitation and safe drinking water.

Pakistan's demographic age profile shows that as much as 49% of the population is below 18 years of age. These young men and women are living in families, which in one third of the cases are hungry, where the elders are predominantly sick and without adequate medical treatment. In most cases the young women and men are not only subject to the pressures of hunger and untreated illness in the family but have little prospects of education or employment. These are desperate circumstances that are in some cases are inducing suicide and in many others constitute the social base of religious violence. It is not surprising therefore that a number of Madrassas that were linked to armed militant groups and provided food, shelter and a sense of group identity, found ready recruits. During the 1990s acute political instability, combined with official tolerance of armed religious groups gave them an opportunity to increase recruitment and enlarge their political constituencies particularly in the provinces of NWFP and Baluchistan. (In these provinces large sections of population had kinship and ethnic ties with communities across the border in Afghanistan). As the Taliban regime consolidated its hold over Afghanistan during the 1990s it found loyal support from some of the armed militant groups functioning in Pakistan.

After 9/11, the Government of Pakistan wisely joined the international coalition in the war against terrorism. Courageous policies were undertaken by the government to provide logistical support to coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time the government took up the challenge of taking action under the law against some of the armed militant groups that were operating within the country.

Pakistan is to-day at the cross roads. It can emerge as an enlightened, moderate and modern Muslim country that can make a significant contribution to world peace and human civilization in the 21st century. Pakistan's society has a deep rooted tradition of religious tolerance and is imbued with universal values of humanism. It also has a talented and creative human resource base. For Pakistan to actualize its great human potential, the support of the international community is necessary to strengthen the institutions of democracy and to undertake a process of rapid economic development. Poverty must be quickly overcome and access over education, health, transport and housing must be provided to those currently deprived of these basic facilities.

Terrorism at a psychic level involves a divorce from the wellsprings of reason and humanity that give to the individual his sense of wholeness and relatedness with others. The pursuit of global peace and security must involve systematic international economic and political efforts to arrest the drift into hopelessness and rage in the specific flash points of deprivation. This is necessary, so that people can love and reason rather than hate and kill. If Pakistan is to avoid becoming a breeding ground of terrorism in the future, then poverty and illiteracy must be overcome. This is as important to nurture democracy in Pakistan, as it is to sustain the global war against terrorism.

Note: This is the second of a two part article based on a paper presented last month at an international conference on Terrorism in South Asia, in Kathmandu.

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