What Pakistan Needs to Do? Zhou Rong Suggests the Need for the Early Elimination of Elements Currently Sabotaging Pakistan's Future Stability and for International Assistance in the Process

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I have now lived and worked in Pakistan for more than six years. In that time, I have taken part in or listened to many discussions on the country's future. They have reached no solid outcome. People here like to stress the importance of Pakistan's 'strategic geo-political position'. They refer to the concept of the so-called 'corridor of energy and trade' from Central to South Asia or from the Persian Gulf to China. Yet to date there is no effective concrete plan for making that concept a reality.

People in Pakistan like to blame the weaknesses in the country's performance on others, especially the United States, India and Israel. Anti-American sentiment is strong, although al-Qaeda's popularity is waning. When there is a suicide blast, people want immediately to criticise America even without convincing reasons for doing so.

Westerners find it difficult to fully understand Pakistan. Even Pakistani people are often confused by the stories their own media carry. This is not surprising because the media itself does not always have access to the details of incidents, and articles can be based merely on rumour or a limited grasp of the facts. Local and Western media can produce very different versions of the same event.

In Pakistan, there appears to be a strong belief that Washington's primary goal has been to destabilise Pakistan and to weaken and divide the Islamic world. That is how people explain why the Taliban is not often blamed for atrocities but America usually is. And this is despite polls suggesting that 80 per cent of Pakistan's population regards al-Qaeda and the Taliban (more often referred to as 'militants', not terrorists) as the destructive forces that are damaging political and economic stability.

In reality, the struggle taking place in Pakistan is not an ideological war. It is a conflict between very small groups of terrorists, whose only weapons are fear and the threat of assassination, and a very large group of innocent people who are poorly equipped to protect themselves.

There is no reason why Pakistan's future should be shaped by extremism. Despite all its massive problems, Pakistan has a strong secular foundation; a religious dictatorship is hard to imagine given deep divisions between Shiite and Sunni and within Sunni. The society is naturally resistant to extremist ideas and the use of violence. That dislike of extremism is what protects Pakistan from falling completely under the control of terrorism. It explains why terrorists may strike regularly in the heart of Pakistan's urban centres, but they cannot and will not ever constitute a genuine political force. Without the support of a serious political apparatus and the general sympathy of the people, the only weapon the terrorists have at their disposal is indiscriminate murder (suicide terrorist attacks), which has already claimed more than 7000 victims and will surely claim more. Each victim is a tragic loss.

Pakistan is a country of 180 million people. On more than 25 TV news channels, resort to violent extremism is rejected in poll after poll. In fact people prefer to talk politics rather than discuss the latest terrorist attack. Pakistani people do not appreciate that each such attack helps strengthen the risk that the country is in danger of being seen to be or actually becoming a 'failed' state. Instead, their approach tends to be: 'the more terrorist attacks that occur, the more justified is our request for outside financial assistance'. The belief seems to be that without the repeated terrorist incidents that are occurring, the international community may not consider that Pakistan really needs substantial help, and urgently.

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Contrast the situation in China. Some people there and perhaps elsewhere do not understand why China does not use military force to win back the territory (both sea and land territories) occupied by some neighbouring countries or disputed with others. …