The faith of Pakistan’s middle class

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The Article

Under pressure both domestic and foreign, the Pakistan government of Asif Ali Zardari has reinstated Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. This is a particular victory for the relatively liberal (in various senses) lawyers and educated middle class who have been mounting demonstrations on their behalf since November 2007, when the judges were sacked by the previous government of Pervez Musharraf, for putting selective constitutional punctilios ahead of national survival. The independent, secular judiciary was not only a symbol but a pillar of the constitutional order with which Pakistan began, three score years ago.

Having become fully politicized, by “events,” the judges are no longer a pillar, and while they remain a symbol, the meaning of that symbol has changed. They have instead become something like the tribal leaders of Pakistan’s secular middle class, whose outlook corresponds to that of “liberals” in the West. That is to say, they have a naïve faith that public order, safety, and wealth are self-creating; that words are the same as things; that by manipulating words one may manipulate reality; and that all the problems of the world could be solved if people would just be nice and agree to a fairer redistribution of their belongings.

This is a touching faith, at its roots shamanistic. Though outwardly materialist, it is inwardly transcendental. It hinges and has hinged since the Enlightenment on the discernment of “progress”—the mysterious transcendental good that is idolized by all the right-thinking, politically correct. Today, a constitution like that of Pakistan is to be upheld, a constitution like that of the United States is to be subverted, to the common end of “progress.” Progress means one moment fighting Islamist terrorists, the next moment surrendering to them.

In the Swat Valley, a province within Pakistan’s North-West Frontier, once praised by tourists for its resemblance to Switzerland, the opposite arrangements are now being made to those in Islamabad. The Zardari government recently negotiated “peace” with the Taliban, under their local leader Sufi Mohammad. By this deal, the Pakistan government will cease to take an interest in how he governs his fief, and in return, his several thousand psychopathic “militants” (as our western media call them) will cease to ambush and kill Pakistani soldiers. Since the latter have been withdrawing, the temptation to do so is anyway being removed.

Even with up to 10,000 Pakistani troops present, according to one American estimate, Sufi Mohammad and cohort had succeeded in torching 180 “secular” schools, publicly executing about 1,200 of their choicest “secular” adversaries, and turning several hundred thousand more of the denizens of this verdant quasi-Switzerland into refugees. This is how they became a “peace partner” with the Pakistan government.

A few hours before Chief Justice Chaudhry was reinstated, all the surviving district judges in Swat were sacked, or more precisely, warned that they would be beheaded if they turned up for work. Since many of their colleagues had already been beheaded, it was truly a word to the wise. They may well be beheaded anyway, in due course; but the doomed often prefer tomorrow over today. They are to be replaced entirely with Shariah courts under “qazis” or Islamic religious judges, who will now put a definitive end to such outrages as little girls attending schools.

The group which issued this order, who currently call themselves the Tehrik-e-Nifaaz Shariat Muhammadi, incidentally counts as one of the more “moderate” Taliban factions, thanks largely to their mastery of radio propaganda from a pirate FM station. That their ultimate intention is to put all of Pakistan under the direction of qazis, should go without saying: their propaganda makes no secret of this ambition.

The Obama administration in Washington has the misfortune—as Bret Stephens parsed out in the Wall Street Journal yesterday—to be gearing up for a manly stand in Afghanistan, on yesterday’s liberal adage that unlike Iraq, Afghanistan (and by extension North-West Pakistan) is a necessary war. And to be doing so just when the liberals are moving on to the idea that Afghanistan, too, should be abandoned.

As he writes, “Call it another instance of that old logic, reductio ad Vietnam. That’s the view that every U.S. military action lasting more than the flight time of a cruise missile is likely to descend into a bloody, stalemated, morally and politically intolerable Sartrean nightmare.”

While I never agreed Iraq was less important than Afghanistan, I observe now Afghanistan goes with Pakistan. I further observe that the “morality” of abandoning the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan (as well as the Iraqis) very much against their will, to the sort of government now commanding Swat, stinks to high heaven.

Yet what amazes me is not the spectacle of abject confusion in Washington, where we await President Obama’s declaration of an actual policy on the region. Instead I am struck by the ability of the “liberal intelligentsia” within Pakistan itself to fiddle while Swat burns.

David Warren
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