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Patrick Cockburn: The Truth About Pakistan

I always find Patrick Cockburn's articles about the Islamic world to be the most balanced and illuminating of those by any of the journalists I read. In The Independent on 8 October he had an excellent piece on Pakistan. He writes:

The country's high standing in [a survey of failed states by the Foreign Policy magazine in Washington] tells one more about the paranoid state of mind of Washington post-9/11 than what is actually happening. There is no incentive to play down the "Islamic threat to Pakistan" on the part of any journalist who wants his or her story to be published, think-tankers who need a grant, or diplomats who seek promotion. The influence and prospects for growth of small jihadi organisations are systematically exaggerated. Over-attentive reading of the Koran is seen as the first step on the road to Islamic terrorism. Overstated claims about their activities by fundamentalist Islamic groups are heavily lapped up and repeated.

Cockburn goes on to explain that reports that militant Islamists were practically the only providers of relief after the monsoon floods are nonsense. Similar claims were made after the Kashmir earthquake in 2005, but according to a recent survey of 28,000 households in 126 villages, only 1 per cent of aid came from those sources.

Stories about large-scale indoctrination of children in terrorism by madrassahs (religious schools) are equally suspect. Only 1.3 per of children go to these schools, compared with 34 per cent who go to non-religious private schools. In any case, most jihadists are educated at state public schools.

It is true that there is widespread support for the Afghan Taliban, but this is mainly because they are thought to be Pushtun national liberationists fighting a foreign occupation. Extreme Islamists seldom do well in elections in Pakistan.

Cockburn concludes: "The Pakistani state may not function very well but it is not failing and - a pity - current crises may not even change it very much."

For me, Cockburn's articles would be a good enough reason in themselves to go on reading The Independent.


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