FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 14, 2006
CONTACT: Jennifer Linker, 202/939-2289, jlinker@carnegieendowment.org

Late last week sectarian violence on the Shiite holy day of Ashura killed at least thirty-one people in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. The news reported the tensions between the Shiite minority and a Sunni majority with jihadist political faction ties as the spark for the conflict; after the violence, Pakistani military troops moved in. If one were to believe the headlines, Pakistan is seemingly susceptible to an Islamic take over at any point and the Pakistani army provides the ultimate protection.

This muddles reality with myth, argues South Asia expert, Frederic Grare. “By focusing on only Islamist militancy, Western governments confuse the consequence and the cause: The army is the problem,” he writes in a new Carnegie Policy Brief, Pakistan: The Myth of an Islamist Peril. Grare challenges the status quo and argues that the risk of an Islamist takeover in Pakistan is a myth invented by the Pakistani military to consolidate its hold on power. To read go to: http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/45.grare.final.pdf

The fact is that religious political parties and militant organizations are manipulated by the Pakistani Army to achieve its own objectives, domestically and abroad. The army, not the Islamists, is the real source of insecurity on the subcontinent, Grare contends. Sustainable security and stability in the region will be achieved only through the restoration of democracy in Pakistan.

He gives three major policy implications in debunking the myth:

  • President Musharaf should be pushed to crack down on militants in Kashmir and Afghanistan for fear of causing his overthrow by extremists.
  • Arms sales to Pakistan increase the Pakistani military’s leverage to block major internal reforms, and are understood as implicit approval for the military’s policies.
  • Invoking the “Islamist threat” as reason to support the military regime contributes to the perception in the Muslim world in general that democracy is something to be applied selectively.

Grare suggests that the West should actively promote the demilitarization of Pakistan’s political life through a mix of political pressure and capacity building. Enlarging the pool of elites and creating alternative centers of power will be essential for developing a working democracy in Pakistan.

Frédéric Grare is a visiting scholar with the Carnegie Endowment. A leading expert and writer on South Asia, Grare served most recently in the French Embassy in Pakistan and, from 1999 to 2003, in New Delhi as director of the Centre for Social Sciences and Humanities. Grare edited the volume India, China, Russia: Intricacies of an Asian Triangle
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