WASHINGTON DC, July 19, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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A Madrassa near Peshawar, Capital of NWFP

Top MMA Leader Tries to Convince Pentagon, NSC on Hardline Islamic Law

Special SAT Report

WASHINGTON, July 19: As the guest of a Christian organization which calls itself “a Think Tank with Legs”, the Chief Minister of Pakistan’s North-western Province, NWFP, Akram Khan Durrani, has used the legs of the think tank to reach the Pentagon and Washington’s thinking elite.

And the Opposition religious coalition, Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA), leader has been preaching the US decision-makers a word or two about the controversial Hasba Act, the recently passed law which, critics say, means Talibanization of Pakistan. It is being introduced by the Provincial Government to appeal to its conservative constituency in the backward province before the Local Government elections later this month.

It is the Law against which the Federal Government of General Pervez Musharraf has petitioned the Supreme Court of Pakistan claiming it was against the Constitution and should be declared null and void. The MMA says it will contest forcibly in the SC.

“Yes I visited the Pentagon and gave them a copy of the Hasba Act,” Durrani (above) told the South Asia Tribune on Saturday night, explaining that it was not at all odd that he was trying to convince Washington that the Act was not meant to Talibanize the Pakistani society.

Durrani has been in Washington from July 9-19 as guest of Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) which, according to its web site, was “created to develop sustainable environments for religious freedom worldwide, and to inspire and equip emerging leaders with faith-based methodologies of engagement.”

Founded by Robert A. Seiple, the first-ever US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, “IGE uniquely combines strategic analysis with an operational component that seeks solutions to complex political and religious problems in difficult parts of the world.”

“In this age of widespread religious conflict, pluralism, and change, finding such solutions requires a deep understanding of geopolitical realities as well as an approach that is "shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves," the web site of IGE says.

To meet this challenge, IGE partners with governments, religious organizations, scholars, practitioners, and international advocacy groups to take on innovative projects that strike at the root of religious intolerance and educate emerging leaders to take religion seriously in their consideration of international affairs.

“We're a "think tank with legs," or if you're feeling less poetic, a "think-and-do-tank." What does that mean? We recognize that thinking is simply our initial step. We're also committed to praying and acting on the basis of our thought and research,” the IGE web site explains.

Chief Minister Durrani has been in Washington with his three sons, one Principal Officer and an Interpreter, all hosted by IGE for 11 days in the US capital and New York. “I had a wonderful trip, my children also saw America and we had good meetings with National Security Council and Pentagon officials. I gave every one a copy of the Hasba Act,” Durrani told the South Asia Tribune.

The religious leader from the radically Islamized province has been trying in all his meetings to convince the Americans that his party was not as radical as perceived and they could do business with the Americans on the same terms as any one else.

But as a slip of his tongue in one of the TV interviews, Durrani claimed that after he explained the provisions of the Hasba Act to Pentagon officials, they almost approved it and gave a green light to go ahead. But he quickly stopped making the remark to other media channels and when he was specifically asked by South Asia Tribune whether he was able to convince the Pentagon, he was non-committal and said it was for Pentagon to give their opinion.

He was asked whether the Hasba Act, now in the Supreme Court of Pakistan after it was challenged by the Federal Government as violative of the Constitution, would still be pursued if the Court ruled against the MMA, and whether MMA would accept the Court decision, Durrani was a little uncomfortable answering the question saying “Let us think positively as our legal brains have studied the Act in detail and they can successfully argue that it does not come into conflict with the Constitution.”

Durrani was, however, almost sure after his round of meetings with think tanks and NSC/Pentagon officials in Washington that his Government in NWFP would not be dismissed by General Musharraf because of the Hasba Act.

“I did say that we will wreak havoc if Governor’s Rule was imposed, but I am sure that stage would never be reached as we have worked with the Center on many sensitive issues in the past and reached a mutually acceptable solution,” he said.

But Durrani could not convincingly respond to the question that by bringing up the Hasba issue at this stage, the Opposition MMA had actually played into the hands of the Musharraf Government and diverted the focus of national politics from the up-coming unity talks and a possible alliance between the MMA, PPP and PML-N on the more basic issue of getting rid of a military dictator.

“We are talking to the Opposition parties for a joint struggle at the Federal level but provinces can legislate and opposition to local laws does not mean we would stop talking to each other at all levels,” he said.

Yet the fact is that MMA has hijacked the national agenda by introducing and passing the Hasba Act in a hurry which prompted other major parties including PPP to sharply attack the MMA and condemn it. No one would have been happier than General Musharraf with this political move.

And MMA itself is almost in a win-win situation because if the Hasba Act is enforced, they will have a new Islamic Police at their command which can ultimately be used politically against the Center and other political opponents.

On the other hand, if the Act is not allowed by the Supreme Court or if the NWFP Assembly is dismissed, MMA would emerge as “martyrs of Islam” and would be able to recruit more supporters for its hardline policies.

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