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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2553

‘Enlightened’ and ‘moderate’ Pakistan

By Tukoji R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

It appears that the Pakistani president, Gen Pervez Musharraf, is not only fighting the so-called war on terror in a cavalier fashion but is also lukewarm to his own message of ‘enlightened moderation’ spreading to the level of masses in his nuclear-armed Islamic nation. Some bizarre incidents around Islamabad’s Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), and its attached madrasssa, Jamia Hafsa, which has separate sections for boys and girls, compel the thought that the idea of Pakistan becoming a nation of ‘enlightened moderation’ will remain an illusion.

Some weeks ago, outsiders became aware of this mosque-madrassa complex in the made-to-order Pakistani capital when the authorities declared that the structure had been built illegally and ordered that it be pulled down. When bulldozers arrived for the demolition, gun-totting female madrassa students were in the vanguard of protests. By Pakistan’s own standards of encouragement, maybe sometimes clandestine, to religious extremisms and violence, the militancy of the female students had come as a surprise to many. The female students were also well guarded by men students, also well-armed, who had formed an outer ring of protection. The protests became a ‘mass movement’ as many clerics joined the students.

Like in the past, now also, the government buckled under the protests. The demolition drive was cancelled and the government promised to restore the mosque. The gun-totting female students of the seminary had shown whose writ runs in the Pakistani capital—and by now the world also knows whose writ runs in the tribal areas of Pakistan. It is clear that the Musharraf programme of making his country one of ‘enlightened moderation’ has found few takers in his country and nor will it.

The government pretends that it has not bowed before the female students and is only going through the motions of talks with them to wear them out and thus avoid bloodshed. Well, there are not many takers after they have seen the ‘student power’ forced brothels to be closed and launched Taliban-style morality patrols against music and video shops. Lal Masjid - Jamia Hafsa management has served even an ‘ultimatum’ of one month to the government: enforce the Sharia laws throughout the country.

As if to prove that it is not an empty threat, Maulana Abdul Aziz and his brother Ghazi Abdul Rashid, who run the Lal Masjid - Jamia Hafsa complex have set up a ‘Qazi court’ for delivering ‘quick’ justice. For the two clerics, Sharia is a matter that cannot be left in the hands of unwilling government.

The ball has been set rolling with, of all the persons, a woman police constable becoming the first complainant at the kangaroo court, alleging that she and her female colleagues are sexually harassed by their male colleagues. The clerics took the complaint seriously and launched a hunt to trace the ‘guilty’ - a job that in all other countries, whether or not enlightened and moderate, would be entrusted to the police.

And what is the government response to all this? According to media reports, the authorities have promised to take ‘amicable action’ against the militant clerics. The religious group that had propped up Musharraf in power has expectedly joined the clerics. ‘Amicable action’ is a quaint Pakistani term that will not be understood beyond its shores, for action in certain matters that challenge the authorities can hardly be ‘amicable’—unless police assaults, imprisonment, torture at police station etc are all considered ‘amicable’ in that Land of the Pure.

The only worthwhile ‘amicable action’ till date is the ban on the Lal Masjid web site because it was ‘spreading’ sectarianism. The mosque clerics ridiculed the ‘ban’. After the ritual of lamenting the attack on ‘freedom of speech’, Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, declared: ‘…there are several other means of communication available to public and we will continue with our mission.’

After the catastrophic events of 9/11 left him with no choice but to make a public announcement about Pakistan turning away from overtly promoting jihad and terrorism, Musharraf has had to show some action against the religious extremists in his country. Some seminaries in the country were accused of encouraging extremisms and religious intolerance. But no firm action was taken against anyone and there has been no radical change in the ‘curriculum’ of these seminaries. A few extremist outfits were even ‘banned’—but allowed to function as freely as before after a change in name. And those who openly talk of carrying out acts of terrorism in India are hailed in Pakistan as ‘freedom fighters’ by virtue of which Pakistan does not feel the need to take any action, amicable or otherwise, against them.

The White House is no longer amused by the kind of charade that Musharraf plays in the name of fighting the ‘war on terror’ and is not sure if Pakistan is moving in the direction of ‘enlightened moderation’. Nearer home, the Pakistani elite who are generally hand in league with the rulers are also said to be getting disillusioned with Musharraf.

The General whose cunning, cleverness and ambition had led to the Kargil war with India is apparently not too worried because he has already thought of his next manoeuvres to outsmart his growing number of critics. He will not be bothered if the former playboy cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan, once an ardent fan of Musharraf, calls him Pakistan’s ‘worst dictator’. Musharraf has opened a line to another clever and crafty leader, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who enjoys her ‘secular’ image. He had virtually banished her after sending into exile Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister he had thrown off to grab power.

Now Musharraf is about to align himself with the daughter of a politician who was hanged by the previous military dictator of Pakistan, Gen Zia-ul-Haq. A red-corner Interpol notice for the arrest of Ms Bhutto and her husband, Asif Zardari, has been withdrawn and the ‘daughter of East’, charged with corruption, is free to land in Pakistan without the fear of being arrested. Benazir Bhutto, erroneously described in the West as a ‘secular’ politician, joining Musharraf will, however, make no impression on the ‘enlightened moderation’ programme. If anything, it will recede further into the background as Musharraf turns his attention to battling his political adversaries. But there is another reason for this.

Since its inception successive regimes in Pakistan, military or civilian, have only encouraged their countrymen to harbour nothing but ill-will against India, a country of ‘infidels’. The many religious leaders and clerics who have always commanded a great deal of influence on the lives of Pakistanis expanded this theme of hatred considerably. And it cannot be denied that the strongest foundation on which Pakistan stands is hatred towards India, never mind the so-called bonhomie that is supposed to be exhibited at photo ops by sections in the two countries.

A policy of ‘enlightened moderation’, as ordinary Pakistanis see it, will weaken this foundation. The Pakistani military, the de facto ruler of the country under all dispensations, believes even more strongly that there should be no dilution in the feeling of hatred towards India. ‘Enlightened moderation’ is and will remain a mirage in Pakistan unless the miracle of a drastic change in the mindset of the ruling takes place and percolates to the ‘aam aadmi’.

- Syndicate Features -

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