Taliban making inroads in Pakistan

With refugees pouring out of the Swat region where the Taliban has set up their own government and courts and no let up in terrorism, the Pakistani government appears to have finally woken up to the threat and is set to reestablish its authority in the tribal region.

But is it too late? And do the Pakistani people actually prefer Sharia law to the secular courts?

This is what has observers so worried about Pakistan at the moment. The rampant corruption of the secular government has so disgusted citizens that they may turn to the harsher but less corrupt Sharia courts for justice.

And while the Taliban appears to be in bad odor in much of the country, fundamentalist Islam seems to be gaining in popularity although Pakistan has a history of accepting a more relaxed and moderate form of the religion.

At bottom, people simply don't trust the secular politicians. And that leaves an opening for more conservative political parties who practice a more fundamentalist brand of Islam.

The immediate crisis, as this piece by Pamela Constable in the Washington Post points out, is the "Talibanization of the Mind" that is beginning to affect daily life in Pakistan:

Criticism of such draconian practices, which faded after Zia's death in 1988, has suddenly revived as horror stories of Taliban-style justice have filtered out of the Swat Valley. Newspapers are filled with letters from readers expressing outrage at the perversion of Islam being perpetrated there and warning that the Taliban is trying to force a modern country back to medieval times.

And yet some observers have noticed a subtler, more insidious trend. It is not only the fire-breathing sermons by radical mullahs calling for a "sharia nation" or the rantings of Taliban leaders who accuse the entire Muslim government of being "infidel."

These observers describe a creeping social and intellectual chill that several have called "the Talibanization of the mind."

It is a growing tendency for women to cover their faces, for hosts to cancel musical events, for journalists to use phrases that do not offend powerful Islamist groups, for strangers to demand that shopkeepers turn off their radios.

"With each passing month a deeper silence prevails," columnist Kamila Hyat recently wrote in a widely circulated article. The public is afraid, uncertain and retreating into religion because the country's leaders are failing to address its problems. "Just as we fight to regain territory" from the Taliban, Hyat wrote, "we must struggle to regain the liberties we are losing."

Fear is a weapon the Islamists are using to great effect. And with little or no reform apparent in actions taken by the government, it leaves open the question of if - or when - the Pakistani military might act. They have staged coups twice in the last few decades and the key has been that the army is the one government institution that everyone respects and trusts. When the corruption paralyzes the civilian government, the military has shown no hesitation in taking matters in their own hands to save the state.

One wonders if this "Talibanization of the mind" continues and if the Taliban continues to enjoy success, if the army won't come to the "rescue" of the country once again.

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