Over the weekend, several prominent Pakistani activists disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Activists from Pakistan are speculating that the government is behind the spate of disappearances in which at least four but possibly up to nine activists were kidnapped. Supporters of the missing activists have taken to the streets to demand they are recovered. They are sharing messages of support on social media using #RecoverSalmanHaider and #RecoverAllActivists.
Here are five reasons we should all care about what’s happening in Pakistan:
These are the people fighting against the ideology of extremism
Pakistan is a large country which in the past has sheltered radical Islamist groups such as the Taliban. It’s where Osama bin Laden was able to hide out for years before he was finally brought to justice. One of the two founding fathers of modern extremist Islam, Abu A’la Maududi, was Pakistani.
Yet there is a growing movement of secularists in Pakistan who are struggling against the extremism within their country and who want to make Pakistan a better place. If they succeed, what we will see coming out of Pakistan is more and more educated integrated anti-extremist Muslims and less and less extremists affiliated with groups like the Taliban.
This will have a knock-on impact internationally and will reduce the amount of extremism in the world, including the amount of extremism in the United States. Their success will protect those who value secularism as a way of life around the world
If the activists currently disappearing in Pakistan are wiped out, Pakistan will become more extreme which will lead to the Muslim world in general becoming more extreme.
Pakistan Has Nuclear Weapons
Pakistan just tested a nuclear-capable missile from a submarine. This development reportedly gives Pakistan second-strike capabilities, meaning that even if the country is wiped out by a nuclear strike, Pakistan would be able to respond by firing nuclear warheads from strategically-placed submarines.
If a country with such capabilities eliminates all its secularly-minded and rational thinkers and becomes completely overcome by theocratic Islamist ideology, then this nuclear arsenal will be in the hands of Islamist extremists.
That would be a serious national security risk to the United States of America.
Other Countries Will Follow Suit
If the persecution of secularist and anti-extremist activist continues in Pakistan unabated and without significant international opposition, other countries will take note. Pakistan is a U.S. ally and the beneficiary of significant sums of aid money for decades. Last year, President Obama proposed $860 million in aid to Pakistan, which was a significant drop in the aid usually provided by the United States.
If America or other countries which have relations with Pakistan do nothing to stand up for the rights of secularists in Pakistan, countries such as Turkey and Indonesia will take note. The Turkish parliament is currently discussing increased powers for the Islamist President Tayyip Recep Erdogan. Indonesia is currently putting the governor of Jakarta (a non-Muslim) on trial for alleged blasphemy.
These countries may see America’s failure to protect secularism in Pakistan as a green light to persecute activists in their own countries.
Refugees Will Increase
If Pakistan eliminates secularist voices, then the country will see an increased number of emigrants seeking to escape an increasingly extreme country. While those fleeing persecution ought to be welcomed, an influx of refugees at a time when there are already a large number of refugees seeking to enter the West from Islamic countries will put added strain on an already stretched immigration system. This situation may also be exploited by extremist groups seeking to infiltrate the West.
A Free Pakistan Will Have A Stronger Economy
If Pakistan retains its free thinkers and is open to creating a civil society in which people are able to question established traditions, such an environment will be foster for economic growth. A country in which people are afraid to speak their mind due to fear of reprisals from a regressive religious establishment puts itself at an economic risk.
In today’s globalized marketplace, the strength of the global economy is reliant on the strength of individual countries.
Increased innovation in Pakistan will create a stronger trading partner which can benefit the United States greatly as well as Pakistan itself.