WASHINGTON DC, Aug 27, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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What Musharraf Must Do Before He Talks to the American, World Jews

By Shaheen Sehbai

WASHINGTON, August 27: When Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf takes the podium on Sept 17 in New York, before the world’s most important Jewish forum, he will appear and claim to be speaking for Pakistan and the entire Muslim world.

But that may probably be the only misleading statement he may make in his historic speech. The rest of his address to the Jewish world would be well rehearsed and well-considered.

Musharraf has been invited by the American Jewish Congress because he says so many nice things about enlightened Islam and, more importantly, because he signs on the dotted line of the script that Washington writes for him. Thus it was not insignificant that AJC Chairman Jack Rosen candidly admitted that before asking Musharraf to come, he had consulted and sought approval of President George Bush in his Texas ranch.

What Musharraf will say will be frank and tough and mostly right because that kind of message should have been delivered by Pakistan to the Jewish State decades ago and Pakistan and Israel should have been as good or as reliable friends as any Israeli Arab neighboring country.

But Musharraf's problem is that his claim of speaking for Pakistan will be bitterly contested and while he may make some commitments on behalf of the Pakistan Army, he would appear to be lacking credibility when he would make commitments on behalf of a pre-dominantly Muslim Pakistan or an angry Islamic world.

It is true that what Musharraf wants to achieve by trying to resume a normal diplomatic relationship with Israel cannot be done by any other political or religious leader or party in Pakistan. But this is also true that Musharraf alone cannot do it either.

This is so because it is Musharraf’s Army which has been the main stumbling block in improving relations with India or taking a realistic position on Israeli-Palestine issue. The Army has for the last three decades or so pushed Pakistan into the extremist, almost fanatic mode, where even talking or shaking hands with a Jew was considered to be a sin.

While Arabs were recognizing Israel and resuming normal relations, Pakistan Army and its B team of Mullas, religious fanatics, Jihadi fighters and mercenary militants from around the Islamic world had forced on Pakistan a completely unrealistic aura of puritanism which did not allow even looking at a Jew.

That is Musharraf’s heaviest baggage, now that he wants to pull Pakistan out of the box it has been caged in for years.

So when the General tells the American and world Jews that he means normal business, and they would love to hear it, he will have a hard time convincing himself and the others that the rest of Pakistan will also be behind him. Thus the word of a military dictator on such an issue may mark a radical change in track, but it will hardly mean acceptance of this change without a fight.

Jack Rosen has also admitted this part of the deal when he quoted Musharraf saying in his Memo to Jewish leaders that Musharraf had tested the waters and had failed because recognition of Israel was linked to the Palestine issue. So it becomes clear that Musharraf did try to fly solo in the past and conceded he could not get anywhere.

But still the opportunity Musharraf has got as a Pakistani leader should not be wasted to create a workable understanding with the Jewish lobby in the US and Jews in general, especially on issues which now bother every civil society.

What Musharraf can, and should, do is to try and get genuine representatives of public opinion join him in this quest as there would be nothing better in Pakistan’s national interest to have the Jewish world on its side or at least render it neutral on major issues concerning Pakistan. In US a sympathetic Jewish lobby means the world of difference on all key US-Pakistan security and defense related issues.

Thus before he prepares the draft of his speech, Musharraf should forget about the dubious past and consult with Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Qazi Hussain Ahmed to convince these representative sections of the society of the importance of his mission.

He should even talk to Choudhry Shujaat Hussain, who now happens to be gaining recognition as a political player in Pakistan in his own right, to the extent that even US diplomats consider him some sort of a challenger to Musharraf, because of his political base or because of his secret connections with other Army Generals.

Pakistan should speak with one voice when dealing with the world Jewry and if Musharraf has been chosen to do the talking, be it so. But he should eschew his political differences or his personal vested interests on this issue and show the vision of a genuine leader of a country who can rise to the occasion to talk to the world for Pakistan.

If he fails to do this, Musharraf will prove that he has no potential to become a world player because his word, without a national consensus or even support of the majority of the mainstream public opinion, would mean meaningless chatter of a tin pot dictator who was catapulted on the world stage by 9/11 and made his mark by compromising on all national issues just to survive in power.

That will be a disaster for Pakistan and even the Islamic world as the Jewish lobby of the world will not be extending such a hand of friendship to Pakistan anytime soon again.

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