Pakistan in balance

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(Host) Commentator Shahid Khan is concerned that the war in Iraq is damaging American alliances with countries like Pakistan.

(Khan) I’m a naturalized Pakistani-American citizen who has lived in the United States since 1972. I recently returned from a two week trip to Pakistan for the first time since the terrorist attacks on September 11 in 2001. In the days immediately after 9/11, I was worried that being a Pakistani-American Vermonter, I might become the target of anti-Muslim feelings. However, my faith in the community in which I have chosen to live, was rewarded by a genuine concern for my safety by not only friends, but people who hardly knew me.

My trip to Pakistan, though has left me worried that the American-led invasion of Iraq will actually make us less safe from terrorist attacks and we as a society less free. I also believe that the world will be a less safe place because the Bush administration’s policies are fueling further hatred for America in Muslim countries, and escalating what some are calling a “civilizational conflict” between Islam and the West.

For example this past October, Pakistan – one of our front-line allies in the war on terrorism – held national and local elections. To the surprise of just about everyone, a coalition of Islamic parties known by the acronym MMA won nearly one-third of the seats in Pakistan’s national parliament and clear majorities in two of the country’s four provinces. The MMA won their seats on a single issue: anti-American sentiment, based on our actions in Afghanistan and the supposed sellout of brother Muslims by the government of General Parvez Musharraf.

Already in Peshawar and Quetta, the capitals of these two provinces, Taliban-style restrictions are being imposed. No national leader has seen fit to challenge these policies. More significantly, the two provinces border Afghanistan and are staging areas for Taliban. Al-Qaeda supporters are now said to be preparing for a major push against coalition forces in the spring.

In the past two weeks, the MMA and their supporters have staged large antiwar demonstrations in the streets and Musharraf is in the awkward position of publicly opposing America’s actions in Iraq while trying to maintain his country as an ally in the war on terrorism. If fundamentalist elements in the military see this as an opportunity to take control of the government, they might gain control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and technology, which in the long run could be a greater threat to us than Saddam Hussein.

The American invasion of Iraq will surely strengthen the hand of the Islamists in Pakistan, as well as other Muslim states traditionally allied with the U.S. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan come to mind. I hope I am wrong, but I believe that President Bush’s policies are shortsighted and will prove to be counterproductive to the goals of international peace and a reduction of violence as a means of political change.

This is Shahid Khan in Brookfield.

Shahid Khan worked for many years in international business development.

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