Years of Musharraf We are Still at Enlightened Crossroads
August 1: Many questions that had been prompted by 9/11 have acquired
a sharp focus in the wake of the London bombs. Indeed, the backdrop
against which terrorism has surfaced in London, if mainly in the
underground, defines a particular historical moment.
existing global equilibrium may be at risk. In that sense, Pakistan
is in the frontline of not just the war on terror. But do we have
the capacity to understand the momentous events that are whirling
around us and then draw a strategy to find our destiny?
One problem, though it may not
be of a seminal nature, is that our role in the war on terror
is seen to be very ambivalent. With all the successes that our
Government has claimed in apprehending Al Qaeda activists and
destroying its network within the country, some western commentators
believe we have been playing both sides. It would seem ironical
that religious militancy has apparently gained strength in recent
years. The London bombs have raised some intricate issues in the
light of the alleged inspiration that three July 7 bombers of
Pakistani origin had received religious education from our religious
While Britain surely has to come
to terms with its own problems in the context of the evolution
of an open, multicultural society that has accepted such a large
number of Muslim immigrants, Pakistan faces the challenge of convincing
the world that it is not a launching pad of Islamic militancy
and jihadist beliefs. Beyond this, Pakistan has to transform itself
into a modern polity that can keep pace with the realities of
this respect, we have President General Pervez Musharraf's prescription
of "Enlightened Moderation". But what is "Enlightened Moderation" and how can we translate this vision into collective
action? Unfortunately, the steps taken by the Government and the
policies pursued by the establishment provide no well thought-out
guidelines. Some of the confusion that emerges from the official
management of the national affairs may be attributed to our congenital
penchant for "double talk". We do sometimes hold contradictory
views at the same time. By flagrantly suppressing democratic practice,
our rulers have sought to promote democratic values.
the need for a primer on "Enlightened Moderation". The
concept should be made easy for people to understand. That would
be "Enlightened Moderation" for dummies --like the popular
series designed to help people understand confusing topics and
issues. Incidentally, the publishers of the series claim that
their "teach yourself" books are not meant for dumb
people but for those who feel frustrated and intimidated by something.
Here, it is interesting to note that "Enlightened Moderation"
is not meant for us only. Musharraf has recommended his vision
to the entire Muslim Ummah
In our pursuit of "Enlightened Moderation", the first task would appear to be the eradication
of religious militancy, extremism, and intolerance from our society.
This should also entail the promotion of an environment in which
a rational debate is possible on all seminal issues. Now, the
battle against religious militancy and terrorism has seemingly
continued since immediately after 9/11. How well has it progressed
may be judged by the fact that it was on Friday, July 29, 2005,
that Musharraf announced the new measure of expelling foreign
students from our seminaries.
This decision has obviously come
in response to the continuing reverberations of the London bombs.
A crackdown, once again, is mounted against militant groups. This
is a message particularly for the world at large. On Friday, the
President was speaking to a group of foreign correspondents. Already,
many religious schools were raided and arrests made after the
terrorist attacks in London on July 7. There was that address
to the nation on July 21, coincidentally the day of another terrorist
scare in London.
On Friday, Musharraf also pledged
to enforce a ban on anti-western hate speeches that are either
made in mosques and transmitted through loudspeakers or circulated
in audio recordings. This should have a lot to do with popular
perception of the west, particularly of the United States and
should call for a serious discourse on an intellectual level.
Our tragedy is that we generally encounter these issues in an
emotional or even irrational frame of mind.
Not unexpectedly, one foreign
correspondent asked about the seriousness of the arrest campaign.
And expectedly, Musharraf said: "I have never done anything
not seriously". If this is so, we should still hope for some
tangible advance towards "Enlightened Moderation". But
the problem is that it has always been difficult to assess Musharraf
-- for us as well as for foreign observers. At times, he does
inspire hope about his resolve to suppress the fanatics and uphold
liberal values. For instance, he struck the right note when he
addressed the inaugural ceremony of the Rawalpindi campus of the
National College of Arts on Wednesday.
As an aside, let me point out
that on the same day in London, Prime Minister Tony Blair presented
a formulation we are so familiar with. Speaking at a joint press
conference with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, he called
for promoting "the true face of Islam" in the international
battle against terrorism. He said that combating extremist Islamists
through promoting moderate Islam would stop extremists swelling
brings us back to the present status of the official drive for
"Enlightened Moderation". The more you contemplate the
present situation, the more you are likely to deduce that the
existing arrangement is not built to deliver "Enlightened Moderation". In fact, the unenlightened religious parties
should be grateful to the establishment for not providing an enabling
environment to the progressive civil society organizations for
forging ahead. Instead, there have been occasions when the high
officials of this Government, including Musharraf himself, have
cast angry aspersions on social activists campaigning for human
rights and emancipation of women.
After being at the helm for almost
six years, longer than a term allowed to an elected president
in the United States or a prime minister in Britain, Musharraf
is constrained to say, as he did on Wednesday in Rawalpindi, that
Pakistan stands at crossroads of challenges and opportunities.
And he added, "the status quo will not be tenable".
This phrase, being at the crossroads, he had used in his first
address to the nation in October 1999. Does this mean that "Enlightened Moderation" is still the road not taken -- and has that made
all the difference?
be fair to Musharraf, he represents an institution that, with
the awesome power that it wields, may serve as the ultimate barrier
to progressive social change. Besides, our present failure must
also be shared by our supposedly progressive political parties.
They have also teetered on the edge of their respective crossroads.
When will we have a leader who has the courage to take the road
less traveled by?
writer is a senior Pakistani journalist and intellectual. Email: