WASHINGTON DC, Aug. 1, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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After Six Years of Musharraf We are Still at Enlightened Crossroads

By Ghazi Salahuddin

KARACHI, 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.

The 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 schools.

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 our times.

In 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.

Hence 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 in number.

This 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?

To 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?

The writer is a senior Pakistani journalist and intellectual. Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

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