"Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong. They are conflicts between two rights." - Friedrich Hebbel
Two wrongs never make a right. But blatantly wrong policies adopted by successive rulers and governments to further their so-called rightful 'national interests' have repeatedly helped right-wing elements gain legitimacy or at the very least given them an excuse to resort to violence. It has for long been a case of several wrongs making the right relevant, transforming seemingly fringe elements into a potent force that gains the political space that it would otherwise never have occupied. To make matters worse, instead of learning from the mistakes of the past, similar wrongs have been committed again and again causing havoc and despair. In most cases, the wrong policies have badly backfired and the blame for the same has gone only one way - to the extremists.
Let us begin with Afghanistan, which has been a largely secular country for ages. Even during the reigns of the likes of Ahmed Shah Durrani, Wazir Akbar Khan and Nadir Shah, different cultures, languages and ethnicities co-existed within the country. However, things took a turn for the worse when one superpower decided to curb the growing influence of the other, using proxy war in the form of Taleban, a loose combination of local and foreign fighters cobbled together at the behest of the West. What happened thereafter is history. Yet the entire issue is seen only through the prism of extremism based on religion that only invokes aversion and disdain. While millions are spent on using powerful war machinery to eliminate the Taleban and rid the region of extremism, little or no interest is paid to the root cause of the issue and what should be done to avert such a tragic turn of events in the future.
Saddam Hussein may have been a tyrant and a ruthless dictator but few can label him deeply religious, leave alone an extremist. He used his might to keep the Shia-Sunni divide in Iraq under wraps. But he was then gradually turned into a villain and his country invaded under 'wrong' assumptions. The result was catastrophic and every stakeholder in the country, including the invaders, is suffering as a result of that. It is nothing but another case of a wrong move causing chaos and ultimately leading to an incendiary situation that breeds extremism. And guess who is blamed for the rise of this extremism? It is the right-wing extremists again. They cause bloodshed. Fair enough. But who should take the blame for turning a reasonably prosperous country into a walking graveyard? Where were these right elements when Iraq was under Saddam Hussein? Hasn't the 'wrong' strengthened the right?
Pakistan is an even more startling example. In its 60 years of existence, the country had never witnessed the rise of extremists to power - neither at the provincial nor the federal level. Even when the Taleban had begun to show their ugly side in Afghanistan, popular opinion in Pakistan was very much that of regret and condemnation. There have always been rogue elements that identified with the religious right but they neither had mass support, nor did they occupy significant political space. It is not without reason that the religious right in Pakistan has grown side-by-side America's war on terror. According to a Congressional Research Service Report on international arms sales, the US delivered nearly $8 billion worth of weapons to Third World countries, which is around 40 per cent of all such arms transfers. Pakistan was the largest third world buyer of weapons last year, purchasing just over $5 billion worth of arms. The arms sales have been made to show commitment to Pakistan as an ally in the war on terror, something that is proving counter-productive with the masses actually turning against America throughout these years of turmoil.
According to a Pew poll released in September 2006, the United States is viewed less favourably in Pakistan than even the arch-rival India with which Pakistan has fought several wars. Only 15 per cent of Pakistanis had a favourable attitude towards the US. An August 2007 poll suggests that Musharraf was less popular than Osama bin Laden. It goes on to show that you cannot fight terror by continuing to sell arms to the region which already has nuclear weapons and lending support to rulers when the masses are opposed to your policies. It seems to be just another case of a wrong policy fueling the right. If you mirror these arms sales to the United Nations Millennium Development Goal for water and sanitation, the figure stands at $10 billion, intended to reduce by half the population in the world without proper access to drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015. The arms supplies are booming at a time when around 1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to a minimal amount of clean water.
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There are other examples, elsewhere in the world, where similar situations have been dealt with differently. Take Cuba for example. The country has never been in the good books of Washington at least throughout the rule of Fidel Castro. He has not just been a critic of the United States, he has transformed anti-Americanism into an art-form. Far from being amused, the US has indeed tried to overthrow rulers such as Castro, but through covert means. But despite close proximity and sometimes even more grave threats from Latin Americans, things have hardly gone beyond threatening gestures and diplomatic gaffe. There has been no effort to use brute force to topple governments and fight fire thereafter.
It is also pertinent to raise another related issue. Almost the entire world tends to label all extremism with the religious right and sees them as be all and end of violence and bloodshed. But isn't it time to explore whether the so-called secularists can also be extremists in their own way? Shouldn't we dissociate ourselves from a black and white game of blaming the right for all the wrongs facing our societies? What happens to the extreme form of violence a war brings to a country? What if an elected government carries out carnage of ordinary mortals and political opponents? Shouldn't that government be called an extremist one? There are rules of engagement for enemies and there are extra-constitutional methods to bring "terrorists to justice" but why doesn't anybody talk about prosecuting elected leaders who have waged wars without sufficient evidence and killed hundreds of thousands of people? Like most things modern, there are more questions than answers in this domain.
North Korea and Zimbabwe are other examples of rulers challenging the might of the West. They have exercised all means at their command from boycotting negotiations and thwarting advances to conducting missile tests in broad daylight. Yet they have been dealt with in a manner befitting accepting global norms of diplomacy and negotiations. There are several such examples in the Central Asian republics and elsewhere. This level-headed approach is probably the reason why we do not come across extreme cases of extremism there.
As far as Pakistan is concerned, a mix of blind support to the establishment alongside supply of arms and severe crackdown on extremists amounts to 'several wrongs propping up the right'.
Dr Shahid Masood is the group director of GEO TV network and a prominent political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2007 Khaleej Times