Preventing a Taliban victory

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

A few thousand mountain barbarians, even if trained by Al Qaeda’s best, cannot possibly seize power from a modern, well-armed state with 600,000 soldiers. The spectre of Pakistan collapsing in six months — a fear expressed by a senior US military adviser in March — has evaporated.

But there is little cause for elation. Daily terror attacks across the country give abundant proof that religious extremism has streamed down the mountains into the plains. Through abductions, beheadings and suicide bombings, Taliban insurgents are destabilising Pakistan, damaging its economy and spreading despondency.

Look at Islamabad, a city of fear. Machine-gun bunkers are ubiquitous while traffic barely trickles past concrete blocks placed across its super-wide roads. Upscale restaurants, fearing suicide bombers, have removed their signs although they still hope clients will remember. Who will be the next target? Girls’ schools, Internet cafes, bookshops, or western clothing stores with mannequins? Or perhaps shops selling toilet paper, underwear, and other un-Islamic goods?

The impact on Pakistan’s women is enormous. Throwing acid, or threatening to do so, has been spectacularly successful in making women embrace modesty. Today there is scarcely a female face visible anywhere in the Frontier province. Men are also changing dress — anxious private employers, government departments and NGOs have advised their male employees in Peshawar and other cities to wear shalwar-kameez rather than trousers. Video shops are being bombed out of business, and many barbers have put ‘no-shave’ notices outside their shops.
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