Ancient Native American tribes inhabiting the cold tundras of North America had to contend with the constant threat of predators such as wolves. Some tell a story of Natives hunting the wolves with a blood-knife; the Natives would put a drop of blood on a blade and stick it in ice. When the wolf wandered upon the blood-dripped blade, he tasted the blood and began licking it. And while he thought he was eating, the wolf was slowly killing himself drinking his own blood. This story mirrors Pakistan’s development as a nation choking on the blood of its own people, currently through terrorism, and the question remains: do you blame the wolf for eating or the Native for putting the blade in the ice?
The “blade” has appeared throughout Pakistan’s history always manifesting in a frantic and violent repulsion to foreign intervention instead of a focus on the nation’s immense social welfare issues. Military dictators, who lacked the legitimacy of being elected, firmly set the blade in the ice by continually pointing their fingers to “foreign actors” and gaining credibility from this paranoia. A shining example of the “Native” was Zia Ul-Haq who acted as a proxy for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to eliminate the threat of a Soviet Afghanistan.
General Zia formed the blade through an Islamic jihadist ideology to battle the “Godless” Soviet Union, but this discourse took over the nation’s cultural fabric from its education to the Army. In order to formulate a comprehensive challenge to the Soviets, Zia indoctrinated both the people and his own Army with the ideals of militant Wahabbi Islam exported by Saudi Arabia.
Not only did the intelligence organizations create working relationships with many of the extremist groups that now threaten the state, they shared a common world-view. An often-used analogy for the ISI’s relationship with extremist groups is that of rabid dog and owner, as they have nurtured the organizations since the 1980’s. This has greatly complicated the ability of Pakistan to stop drinking its own blood from the blade of extremism.
The U.S. was part of General Zia’s tribe, as they funded and encouraged the mujahiddin who espoused a profitable anti-Soviet rhetoric. But when the Afghan War ended and the U.S. withdrew, this rhetoric changed to an anti-Western sentiment that inflamed the people’s paranoia toward foreign intervention. The anti-Western criticism morphed into a direct anti-Americanism as Washington carried out back-door deals with Musharraf post- 9/11. This has fostered the development of a full-blown obsession with American intervention in Pakistan, manifesting in theories from Blackwater roaming the streets of Islamabad to the C.I.A. organizing and funding all extremists in Pakistan.
Consequentially, the socio-political landscape of Pakistan changed from a developing modernizing nation to one mired in militant religious extremisim with an Army and populace who have sympathized with the jihadis. The parameter of political discourse has been far more limited by a populace who has become accustomed to finding foreign influences to blame for their domestic woes.
This self-defeating attitude is furthered by a political leadership who plays to its audience and delivers condemnations of U.S. drone attacks rather than attacking militant religious ideals. In fact, the public’s undisturbed focus on foreign elements has fostered failures in democracy; as public officials are not held accountable for their corrupt or inept actions so long as they appease religious sentiments and blame America.
With an exorbitant amount of legal and social issues yet to be resolved, little has been done to ameliorate the condition of half the population who is illiterate and the millions who live below the poverty line. The nation has now become accustomed to the taste of its own blood from the blade of religious fanaticism, anti-Americanism, and the frantic fear of foreign intervention.
This comparison could lead one to lament that just as the wolf, which drinks his own blood based on his instinct to survive, Pakistan’s state will follow the path to self-destruction. However, as human beings we have the innate ability to look beyond our present physical needs to achieve goals and objectives for the good of all.
It seems as though the Pakistani people have come to realize the taste of their own blood, as the ideological tides have turned against jihadi groups. After the Dara Darbar bombing, there were protests to push the government to act with a heavier hand against extremist groups. Further, after facing violent attacks, the ISI and Army have realized that their support for jihadi groups is a self-defeating strategy. However, unless the country can learn to walk away the blade, it will choke on its own blood.