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On the face of it, things could scarcely be worse for Pakistan’s liberals—the minority committed to electoral democracy, cooperation with the West, and peace with India, and implacably opposed to Islamists seeking the imposition of Shariah law. According to a recent Pew Global Attitudes Project poll, only four in ten Pakistanis favor democracy, the lowest proportion in six Muslim countries surveyed. More than eight in ten Pakistanis want the law to strictly follow the Koran, the highest percentage in the Muslim world. (In Turkey and Lebanon, fewer than two in ten hold similar views.) Three out of four Pakistanis call America an enemy.
In politics, an activist Supreme Court may soon turf out the second elected Pakistan Peoples Party prime minister in as many months. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, riding high in opinion polls, hobnobs with radical Islamists and derides his liberal compatriots as “the scum of Pakistan.” A paranoid hyper-nationalism that sees a conspiracy theory behind every criticism dominates cable news and the influential Urdu press. The liberal elite’s pet causes—defanging a draconian blasphemy law and ending official discrimination against the persecuted Ahmadiyya sect—lack traction beyond a handful of Twitter feeds and the editorial pages of English language newspapers hardly anyone reads.
Against this grim backdrop, you can’t be blamed for regarding the average Pakistani liberal as a kind of exotic hothouse flower with no roots in the country’s forbidding soil. This, however, is a mistaken view. As I argue in Friday’s Wall Street Journal Asia, Pakistan’s liberals may be down but they’re not out. Moreover—with their understanding of the radical threat, pragmatic view of relations with the West, and culture of introspection—they alone hold out the promise of a better future for Pakistan. The international community should do what it can to support them.
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