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Asia

Interview: Domination of extremists in Pakistan

Gregor Enste, who spent five years in Lahore working for the Heinrich Böll Foundation, that is closely linked with Germany's Green Party, spoke about the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan to DW's Grahame Lucas.

Pakistani children studying the Quran at a religious school in Lahore, Pakistan

Many of Pakistan’s religious schools serve as breeding grounds for violent extremists

In the last few years extreme Islamist sentiment has been on the rise in Pakistan. In the past three decades thousands of religious schools have produced a generation of young people with an anti-western mindset whose primary goal is the establishment of state run on religious lines. Islamist terrorist organizations have been operating with a great deal of freedom in Pakistan for years, sometimes with the support of ISI, Pakistan's military intelligence service, which is believed to have close ties with the Pakistani Taliban. The recent murders of prominent liberal Pakistani politicians, including Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, who supported the repeal of the controversial Blasphemy law, were accompanied by widespread expressions of public support for the suspected perpetrators.

Deutsche Welle: Five years in Pakistan. What is your conclusion about the future of this country?

Gregor Enste: I don't have any conclusions. I have one perception that Pakistan is definitely unfortunately, and I say that with a heavy heart, going in the wrong direction, but not yet descending into chaos, as Ahmad Rashid put it in his famous latest book. Not a descent into chaos, but definitely unfortunately in a descent into a more religiously fundamentalist society. A society with shrinking spaces for liberals, for openness and unfortunately a society and a political sphere which is in self-denial.

How did you see the public response to the murder of Mr. Taseer?

A great shock. Simply a great shock. Especially the way youth, the educated youth reacted. What I have perceived is that the radicalization of the mindset of the Pakistani youth within elite universities like in Lahore is frightening and the second very frightening reactions came out of what two years back was the ray of hope for Pakistan, the lawyers' movement. It is unbelievable that this elite, the lawyers' movement, is representing an elite in Pakistani society which is fighting to uphold the rule of law, for a more democratic Pakistan and they are showering the murderer of Governor Taseer with rose petals.

So, this was a shock for a man like me who left Pakistan after five rewarding years, who has left Pakistan as a friend, as an individual friend of Pakistan. So it was a complete shock to me. I have no understanding for the reactions within Pakistani society.

Do you think that the Pakistani government is doing enough to combat the spread of extremist religious sentiments?

No, definitely not. And I fear that it might be too late even to combat the real enemy within. The enemy within Pakistan is the radicalization of the mindset, is the domination by radical militants – a militant minority dominating the majority. And the Pakistani government is definitely not doing enough. Let me give you an example. Last year, when I was working and living in Lahore I noticed for a couple of weeks, that banners were being put up at junctions, at market places in Lahore, condemning or blaming the Ahmadis as non-Muslims and saying that the Ahmadis had to be killed. Big banners in public spaces in Lahore tolerated by the Pakistani, Lahore authorities. They are definitely not doing enough. And what happened then? A bomb blast, an attack on an Ahmadi mosque with over 60-70 people killed and a very disastrous response by society, by the media, which I regard as a conspiracy of silence.

Secondly, I have to come back to the PLMN government in Punjab. A couple of months before that incident, Shabaz Sharif, the elected Chief Minister of the province of Punjab, in a statement, embraced Tehrik-e Taliban, the home-grown Pakistani Taliban by saying, "Please dear brothers, why are you attacking us, at the end of the day we are compatriots, we are fighting against the same enemy, we are fighting the Americans on our western border". I don't call that a real fight against extremism within Pakistan.

I could refer to other statements, for example just shortly after the Mumbai attacks, when obviously an organisation backed by ISI or Pakistan intelligence attacked the Mumbai hotels. And then for a couple of weeks there was this debate within the India-centric political arena about how to respond to India and so on and so on. And there was one statement by Nawaz Sharif , the leader of the PLMN, saying: When it comes to fighting the real enemy on our eastern border, the Taliban will join us as compatriots. That's what I mean by, let's say, at least a very, very weak response to extremism and fighting extremism by the Pakistani government.

That means basically that the Pakistani elite is so obsessed with India that they'll accept all of this going on behind their backs.

Unfortunately, yes. That is my perception.

Author: Grahame Lucas

Editor: Ziphora Robina

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