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Musharraf Must Assert His Authority

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Pakistan has been passing through from a critical phase as the terrorists have been been trying to create a state of terrorism. President Pervez Musharraf has now been showing some sincerity, but unfortunately the team with him has still been supporting the terrorism. Most of his team members are corrupt to the core and this is the reason that the situation has been worsening with each passing.

It is ironic to note that Musharraf has been relying on those people, who are responsible for creation of terrorism. Actually in the past Musharraf was misguided about the situation in tribal areas. The reality is that situation in tribal areas can easily be corrected if there is a will. These corrupt officials always defied the order of the President. The President has joined the war on terrorism, but the officials have joined the al-Qaeda and Taliban. Now the same people who have deteriorated the situation in tribal areas by giving refuge to some dreaded terrorists have now changed their tone. These people are totally unreliable as they are corrupt to the core. Their only aim is to fill their pockets with dollars.

The newspapers continued to write editorials and comments in growing terrorism as suicide attacks and bomb blasts have increased drametically after the Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Commenting the situation a political analyst Ijaz Hussain wrote that the bloody Lal Masjid operation is over and with it the attempt by the Ghazi brothers to impose Islamic Sharia on Pakistan through the use of force. The denouement of the whole drama has been nothing short of traumatic for the Pakistani nation, despite the fact that it has over the years become somewhat accustomed to the culture of violence.

Honestly speaking, after what we have gone through since early this year when the crisis broke out, it cannot be business as usual unless we are utterly indifferent to what happens to us as a nation. There is therefore an urgent need for reflection on the event, as suggested by President Musharraf in his speech.

The starting point must be the critical question as to what led to the Lal Masjid tragedy and how we can avoid its repetition in the future.

The crisis erupted when CDA demolished seven mosques in Islamabad, leading to the occupation of the adjacent children’s library by Jamia Hafsa students. Soon the protest assumed ominous proportions when the Ghazi brothers unleashed their vigilante brigade on the hapless citizens of Islamabad and called for the imposition of Sharia in the country.

Two things stood out as a result of this development. First, the two brothers wanted Talibanisation in Pakistan, or what Ghazi Rashid euphemistically described as Islamisation because of the respectability attached to that term. Secondly, they wanted to achieve their objective through the use of force.

Now, as far as Talibanisation is concerned, it represents a worldview of Islam that is highly illiberal and obscurantist, as shown by the Taliban’s outlook on women, fine arts, human rights and democracy. It is true that not all of our traditional ulema embrace the Taliban philosophy. However, most of them sympathise with it in varying degrees. The statement by a top Pakistani cleric in the 1990s, when Taliban were ruling the roost in Kabul, that it reminded him of the glorious period of the rightly-guided caliphs, says much about the mindset of our ulema. Given the fact that the interpretation of Islam that most of our ulema espouse today is utterly incompatible with the requirements of modernity, one wonders how one can live with it in the 21st century. Today’s youth clearly rejects it and our ulema need to ponder how far their retrograde worldview is responsible for making Islam look irrelevant in the contemporary world.

While the debate about the kind of Islam that we want to have in Pakistan is important, it is perhaps even more important to thrash out how should be enforced. In other words, we have to decide once and for all whether it is to be done through peaceful means or by the use of force. We know that the ulema are not amenable to easily abandoning the worldview of Islam that they hold. However they can at least agree to introduce it through peaceful means. This is absolutely imperative because failure to do so would be disastrous for Pakistan.

One may argue that the ulema apparently subscribe to this viewpoint. However, this is no more than lip-service. Were this not the case there would neither be sectarian mayhem nor the IJT and the students’ wing of JI acting like a bull in a china shop in academic institutions.

Ulema should therefore make an unequivocal commitment to pursue their objective of Sharia in Pakistan through peaceful means. They should at the same time commit themselves to ostracising anyone who departs from the non-violent path. To show their seriousness in the matter, they should as a first step denounce the Ghazi brothers for having resorted to violence in pursuit of their objective. Incidentally, this course of action against the brothers is also justified because through their actions they brought Islam, Pakistan and madrassahs into disrepute and violated the Islamic precept that entitles only the State to enforce Sharia, to the exclusion of any individual or entity.

Since the Lal Masjid tragedy also took place because of the blunders of the Pakistan government, it should undertake the following steps:

First, Musharraf should decide national issues on the basis of Pakistan’s interests rather than his own. For example, in the present instance a military operation may have been in his personal interest, as he was looking for Bush’s support to stay in power. However it is a moot point that it was in Pakistan’s. If the use of force were the panacea against terrorism the US would be winning in Iraq and Afghanistan. One would not be surprised to learn at some date in the future that the Americans vetoed the deal with the Ghazi brothers or that the government from the start of the negotiations was driven by the consideration to please the Americans. No wonder that on hearing of the operation, Bush joyously exclaimed, “I like [Musharraf] and I appreciate him.”

Secondly, the government should seriously revisit madrassa reform. The best way to go about it would be to abolish madrassa education altogether, because while very few madrassas may be involved in terrorism, all of them brainwash students and do not let their critical faculties develop. I cannot forget the 12-year old madrassa student who told me sometime back that Shias deserved to be killed because they believed that the Quran has 40 chapters.

However, abolishing madrassas with a stroke of the pen may be neither feasible nor desirable. The government should immediately ensure that madrassa syllabi aim at letting students develop their faculty of independent thinking. More importantly, it should introduce free compulsory education up to matriculation, which will at once raise the literacy rate and dry up the catchment area from where madrassas recruit pupils.

Thirdly and lastly, the government should seriously address the growing chasm between the “haves” and “have-nots” if it wants to avoid a future blood bath in the country. It is true that Ghazi Rashid talked in terms of Sharia rule in the country. He had to do so because he was a cleric and also because people immediately relate to this idiom. However, while doing so he preached, among others, jihad against rampant poverty, social injustice and corruption in the society, which unambiguously alluded to the affluent strata. Even the message of fight against immorality was directed against the rich, as they are supposed to indulge in it. This was an Islamic version of the “liberation theology” once popular in Latin America. Incidentally, was it a mere coincidence that Ghazi Rashid wore a red cap rather than a green one, or did it carry a hidden message?

The foregoing is indeed a heavy agenda. Given their rigid positions on contentious issues and their tendency not to learn from a catastrophe, introspection on the part of the government and the ulema looks like a doubtful proposition. However, I would love to be proved wrong.

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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur District, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is (more...)

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