Slouching Toward Fanaticism in Pakistan

President Bush's comparison of the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (reputed to have planned the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon) to the liberation of Paris in 1944 was certainly hyperbolic, but the arrest was a political blessing for the US President all the same. For Pakistan's General Pervez Musharaf, Mohammed's apprehension is a mixed bag: it gained a pat on the back from Mr. Bush but simultaneously revealed the falsity of General Musharaf's claims that Pakistan is largely Al-Qaida free. Indeed, it is now starkly apparent that much of Al-Qaida and its top leadership prefer refuge in Pakistan to any other place.

The reason would be obvious to anyone who witnessed the recent "million man march" in Karachi organized by Pakistan's newly formed coalition of religious parties, known as the MMA. Called to protest America's impending attack on Iraq, marchers set effigies of George Bush and Tony Blair on fire as smiling portraits of Osama bin Laden, draped with fresh flowers, looked on. Speaker after speaker accused General Musharaf's government of treachery and denounced its cooperation with the FBI in nabbing Al-Qaida members.

Before the terrorist attacks on America and the ouster of the Taliban in next-door Afghanistan, Pakistan's religious parties had few seats in either the federal or provincial assemblies. Resentment against the US after the bombing of Afghanistan rocketed the religious alliance's popularity sky-high. The religious alliance has now formed governments in two of Pakistan's four provinces, the Frontier and Baluchistan, and openly declares its intent to shatter Pakistan's pro-American policy.

The rise of the MMA is sure to make a fundamental change upon not only Pakistani foreign policy but also upon the country's society and culture. Almost immediately after assuming office, the new governments ordered an end to music in public transport, required public buses to stand still for the five daily prayers, and closed down video shops and cinema houses. Folk singers have been threatened, abducted, and forbidden to sing in public. Cable television operators see their premises ransacked.