Pervez Musharraf: The Emerging Leader of the Muslim World?
Shuja, Sharif, Contemporary Review
PAKISTAN is the most powerful Muslim country in the world, in terms of military strength. With total active armed forces exceeding 600,000 and a reserve of more than half a million, it has one of the ten largest armed forces in the world. And Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, is one of the crucial figures in today's world. He is making a determined bid to lead the Islamic world out of the sense of hopelessness and anti-Western hostility that has characterized it over recent decades. Today no single Muslim polity exists, and this is part of the problem, or identity crisis, which the Islamic world faces. Can Pakistan become the leader of the Islamic world and play a key role on the world stage? Musharraf desires to be a big player, a global leader. Those close to him say that his ideas have become grandiose, that he sees himself in a different league, a league of frontline leaders of the world. And this, they say, is a new addition to his oft-repeated belief that he is the best salesman Pakistan has.
The 2003 Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) summit in Malaysia gave Musharraf another opportunity to hold forth on his grand vision. In his speech, he unfurled a view that was transnational, big on the theme of the Muslim Ummah being in dire need of rescue and rehabilitation. At the end of the conference, he was self-congratulatory, proudly claiming that the OIC's acceptance of Pakistan's proposal for restructuring the organisation was a diplomatic gain for the country.
Preceding the OIC performance was Musharraf's theory that the road to the Islamic world's salvation lay in 'moderate enlightenment'--a suggestion that the Muslim world needed to pursue the path of moderation and enlightenment in order to come out of its present impasse.
Why has the Muslim world in general, and the Middle East in particular, had such a rough time in the modern world? In many Muslim countries, political dissent is simply illegal. Yet, year by year, the size of the educated class and the number of young professionals continue to increase. These people need space to express their political and social concerns. But state control is total, leaving no room for civil society to grow. It is the sense of alienation and the perception that the world is against them that nurtures bitterness among those who resort to terrorism.
Today extremists lure adherents from among the poorly educated and unemployed by preaching a return to the true religious values of former times. The religion they preach is a cover for advancing their political agenda and their lust for power, an ideology more akin to Fascism and Marxism than to the Islamic faith. Fanatics are perverting the Koran's message of tolerance. The Muslim moment of truth has arrived, because if Muslims continue to be hijacked by the vested interests of fanatical terrorist and extremist elements, then the future is bleak.
Muslims from different backgrounds should unleash a learning process in key areas of human development so that the gap, which one can see between them and the Western world, is narrowed. It is this very gap which has served the interests of Muslim radicals so well. Islam, it is often said, is the religion of the marginalised. Radical leaders have become adept at exploiting those many millions who are indeed marginalised, both politically and economically.
Illiteracy, poverty, high unemployment, absence of democracies and good governments, and a lack of development and political institutions in much of the Muslim world are immediate causes of extremism. Like radicals throughout history, Islamic radicals become moderate once accommodated and incorporated into the socio-political mainstream. If they do not, they perish or become irrelevant.
Therefore, extremism can best be reduced through gradual democratisation, a process and a system of governance which the West is not actually encouraging in the Muslim world. The need for the West to encourage moderation and democratisation in the Muslim world is obvious. The West, led by America, will need to take a greater interest in the Muslim world if it is to check growing anti-Western sentiments. The huge sums of money and other aid given to Indonesia after the catastrophic Tsunami is a large step in that direction. Efforts should also be directed to expedite the transition to democracy in the Muslim world. They should be made to feel that the West is on their side, particularly if the movements that precisely champion the values of democracy arise there.
We need to discuss the proposition that any religion is a source of terrorism. Such arguments seek to discredit one of the great religions of the world. No religion prescribes violence against innocent people. Our battle is against extremist elements, who misuse and misinterpret religion to justify terrorism and incite violence. The need for Muslim societies to address their internal social and political development has become more urgent than ever.
Bernard Lewis, the leading Orientalist and expert on Islam, in his recent book The Crisis of Islam, makes it clear that the bulk of Muslims are neither fundamentalists nor terrorists, and have little sympathy for their cause. If the majority of Muslims pursue a better, more peaceful option, then there are hopeful prospects ahead.
If real change is to occur in the Arab and Muslim world, it must come from within. The great failing of Arab intellectuals is that, rather than looking inward with a critical eye, they have looked elsewhere for people to blame. And where the intelligentsia have gone, the Arab people have followed. For that reason, Arabs have been stuck in a cycle of victimisation and self-delusion. Only when they can take a cold look at their own cultural shortcomings will they be able to emerge from the mire of economic stagnation and social malaise. A proper orientation must also be developed for Muslim engagement with the world at large.
In recent times, President Musharraf has spoken openly against militancy, sectarianism, benighted mullaism, and other ailments of misapplied faith. Mix this with his generally secular take on life and the result is fairly interesting: a powerful military leader, propounding a moderate vision for a world of Islam locked in a multiple crisis of confidence and future direction. Recent developments on the international front may also be encouraging Musharraf's ambition to speak from a pedestal higher than that of a national leader.
The Islamic world's traditional pillars of leadership have all but collapsed. The House of Saud is shaking. As the momentum builds in the US--the Saudis' diplomatic life-support--against the status quo in the Middle East and in favour of democracy, the rulers of Mecca and Medina are too consumed by the battle for survival to think of the challenges confronting the Muslim Ummah. Elsewhere, the picture is just as grim. Saddam Hussein has gone, Syria and Libya are on a weak wicket and Iran is totally taken up by the growing international pressure concerning its nuclear programme.
The parts of the Islamic world that have traditionally been the source of leadership are in a situation which is getting worse rapidly. There are no leaders to be found. Mahathir Muhammad of Malaysia is controversial and, in any case, is no more (see Contemporary Review, January and February 2004). Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has been tainted by the Israel deal, and Turkey is seen as too Euro-centric.
If Musharraf looks around in his near and distant diplomatic neighbourhood, he does not see too many towering personalities. There are none. None, at any rate, who represent a significant militarily potent Muslim country, with exceptional geographical location, and at the same time acceptable to the West.
President Musharraf can be described as a modernist. He and other modernists believe Pakistan should play a leading role not only in the Muslim world but also in the international community as a whole, and they are open to Western scientific advances. The modernists, in short, believe that time-honoured tenets of Islam sit easily with a progressive political outlook.
General Musharraf has never made any secret of his modernist view. He gave an early indication of his thinking when he described the Turkish secularist Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as his hero. And in his first address to the nation on 17 October 1999, Musharraf included a passage on Islam:
And now for a few words on exploitation of religion. Islam teaches tolerance not hatred; universal brotherhood and not enmity; peace and not violence; progress and not bigotry. I have great respect for the Ulemo and expect them to come forth and present Islam in its true light. I urge them to curb elements which are exploiting religion for vested interests and bring bad name to our faith ...
Even if he chose his words carefully, in the context of Pakistani political discourse, the general's meaning was clear: he was distancing himself from the Islamic radicals. While Zia ul Haq had used his military might to Islamicise Pakistan, Musharraf was indicating that he wanted to modernise the Pakistani state. From the moment he took power, Musharraf had made it clear that he wanted to make Pakistan a moderate state. And he knew that many millions of Pakistanis agreed with him.
In June 2001, well before the attacks on the twin towers in New York, he gave a keynote speech to leading Pakistani Islamic scholars and clerics in Islamabad. His comments comprised one of the clearest statements of Islamic modernism ever made by a Pakistani leader. 'How does the world look at us?' he asked:
The world sees us as backward and constantly going under. Is there any doubt that we have been left behind although we claim Islam will carry us forward in every age, every circumstance and every land ...? How does the world judge our claim? It looks upon us as terrorists. We have been killing each other. And now we want to spread violence and terror abroad. Naturally the world regards us as terrorists. Our claim of tolerance is phony ... We never tire of talking about the status that Islam accords to women. We only pay lip-service to its teachings. We do not act upon it. This is hypocrisy.
This June speech was a major political event in Pakistan. Since the 1950s no Pakistani leader had dared to speak to the clerics in this way. He considered sectarian violence to be an abhorrence that had to be eliminated. This was an issue about which Musharraf felt so strongly that he was prepared to act with great determination. He made it clear that he considered those involved in sectarian violence to be terrorists.
Ever since its creation, Pakistan has grappled with the issue of what role Islam should play in the state. When he called for the establishment of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah advanced the two-nation theory. Muslims and Hindus, he argued, constituted two nations that could never live together. A strict interpretation of the two-nation theory has led some Pakistanis to conclude that the country was always intended to be an Islamic state. But others have a different view. They believe that Jinnah was trying to create a country in which Muslims could live in safety, free from Hindu dominance. In my opinion, most Pakistanis do not want to live in a theocracy: they want their country to be moderate, modern, tolerant and stable.
The country has been torn since birth between conflicting cultures. It has a tribal and feudal social structure, an Islamic ideology and a legal and political system that is British in origin. Islamic and secular law battle each other. Tribal loyalties, religious tensions and feudal social structure distort the national building process. These factors have created Pakistan's political and economic uncertainty, thereby contributing to its social integration problem.
While Islam is a major force in Pakistan and many Pakistanis are considered devout followers, adherence to the faith has not prevented the development of considerable strife between the various nationalities which comprise Pakistan. This strife has, in fact, done much to undermine the national structure, and, in turn, contributed to ethnic conflict.
In August 2001, Musharraf felt strong enough to ban militant organisations, such as Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan (TJP), Lashkar-e Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. Furthermore, he banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi which attempted to assassinate the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The bans marked a significant development which indicated that Musharraf was prepared to take some risks in confronting the Islamic radicals. Musharraf thus laid down the foundations of his policy towards religious extremism and, after September 11, he was to build on it.
Then, on 19 September 2001, Musharraf in a speech said,
Some scholars and religious leaders are inclined towards making emotional decisions ... They are poised to create dissensions and damage the country. There is no reason why this minority should be allowed to hold the sane majority as a hostage.
Musharraf also expressed determination to control the madrasas (religious schools) which had played an important role in fostering Islamic militancy. At the time of Pakistan's independence there were an estimated 250 madrasas in the country. During Zia ul Haq's rule madrasas grew significantly, and they won a well-deserved reputation for producing highly motivated anti-Soviet fighters. As a result, foreign funds, chiefly from the US and Saudi Arabia, flowed into the madrasa system. By 1987 there were 2862 madrasas producing around 30,000 graduates each year. In 2001 General Musharraf said that there were 7,000 or 8,000 madrasas in Pakistan, and between 600,000 and 700,000 students attending them. He has taken some steps to control them.
It should be noted that during the 1980s, General Zia ul Haq advanced the cause of radical Islam. He ruled for twelve years, and throughout that period he consistently promoted the role of Islam in the state. Indeed, the moment he grasped power, Zia made Islam the centrepiece of his administration. Zia's campaign affected every aspect of the Pakistani state. The militant groups remain well-organised, well-armed and well-financed. Musharraf is trying to dismantle Zia's legacy. His attempt to downplay the role of religion in the state directly challenges the interests of well-entrenched and highly motivated elements of Pakistani society. His success or failure will have far-reaching implications not only for Pakistan but also for the region and the international security system as a whole.
After September 11, and joining the US in the war on terror, Musharraf concentrated his attack on radicals. 'We must finish off religious extremism', Musharraf said. 'We must not use mosques to spread hatred. We Muslims have become too emotional.' In this he seems genuine. The radical organisations have played a destructive role in Pakistan's nation and state-building process. They have simultaneously pursued anti-state and transnational activity.
Musharraf's decision to join the US in the war on terror brought immediate financial benefits to Pakistan. By January 2002 Pakistan had secured US$3 billion worth of external assistance in the form of debt relief and the rescheduling of interest payments. And while the decision helped Pakistan's balance sheet, it also benefited Musharraf's international political standing. Before September 11 he was perceived as a military dictator who should announce, and abide by, a road map for the restoration of democracy. After September 11 his status was transformed: the Western world had a stake in his survival.
Musharraf had won friends in the West but within Pakistan he had made enemies. He was always aware that his decision to back America would provoke a furious reaction from many Pakistanis. Thousands of Islamic radicals, swearing loyalty to their Islamic brethren in Afghanistan took to the streets in the major cities of Pakistan. The administration insisted that those opposing Musharraf were only a minority who represented no more than 10 to 15 per cent of the Pakistani population. There are some good reasons that justify this opinion. It is a fact that throughout Pakistan's history no religious leader had been able to translate the possibility of a mass-based Islamic revolutionary movement into reality. Although some religious parties have participated in elections, they have never done well. It is often said that they have never won more than 5 per cent of the vote in federal elections. They may have done better in provincial elections in Balachistan and North West Frontier Province (NWFP), but not in national elections. There are various explanations for their lack of success, of which the most obvious is their unpopularity.
The point stands that the religious parties have never come close to winning power in Pakistan. The two most significant parties are Jamiat Ulema-e-Islami (JUI) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). The JUI's political heartland is in the Pashtu speaking areas of Balachistan and NWFP where the party has control of a large number of radical madrasas. It is a grass-roots party that not only promotes Islam but also campaigns against social injustice. The JUI has won seats at the national and provincial level and has joined coalition governments in NWFP and Balachistan. Unlike the highly disciplined JI, the JUI has long suffered from factional splits.
While the JUI is a largely rural party, JI draws its strength from the urban middle classes. It is a well-organised and ideological party, and advocates nothing less than Islamic revolution. Its specific policy objectives include the imposition of Sharia Law, the banning of interest payments and the establishment of common Muslim defence arrangements so that occupied lands such as Palestine and Kashmir can be liberated. Some elements of Jamaat argue that the party should not participate in parliamentary elections but, rather, press exclusively for revolutionary change.
Despite being well-organised, Jamaat has always remained on the margins of Pakistani electoral politics and has posed little threat to the ruling establishment. Its credibility has always suffered from the fact that its founder, Maududi, was a strong opponent of the Muslim League's campaign for Pakistan. He viewed the Muslim League leadership, including Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, as Westernised elitists with no legitimate claim to represent the Muslims of the subcontinent. Ever since that major miscalculation, JI leaders have consistently shown a remarkable lack of political acumen.
The third significant Islamic party is the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP). The JUP has proved to be a far less resilient organisation than either the JUI or JI. Repeated electoral failures have persuaded many in the JUP leadership that their organisation should become a pressure group rather than an electoral party. The religious parties, especially JI, have always had a reputation for being able to organise impressive displays of street power. But their repeated electoral failures led Musharraf to conclude that his opponents were not strong enough to destabilise his regime. He believed correctly that most Pakistanis did not share the Taliban's interpretation of Islam, and on 19 September 2001, in a televised address to the nation, Musharraf said,
I appeal to all Pakistanis to display unity and solidarity and foil the nefarious designs of such elements who intend to harm the interests of the country.
Even if many people had reservations about his policy of backing the United States' war on terror, they also realised that Pakistan had little choice. Furthermore, many Pakistanis supported Musharraf's statements against Islamic extremists, and they thought that his regime was notably less corrupt than the civilian administration of the 1990s.
While Musharraf has a clear idea of the type of reforms he would like to introduce, he had not had much success in implementing them. The Kashmir dispute, the nuclear proliferation programme, the relationships with India and the United States and the need to define the role of Islam are only some of the issues that confront the Musharraf administration today. His path, or ambition, to reach the pinnacle of the Islamic world's leadership is strewn with fault lines. And these start from home. He is not a leader who is ruling Pakistan by consensus.
His power still flows from the barrel of the military's guns, and the political chessboard he is playing on is tricky. The issue of the legitimacy of his rule has not gone away; nor has the power of the opposition weakened in any significant measure. He cannot be a credible leader at the international level if the domestic ground he stands on is not built on consensus.
The lead role that Musharraf has on the global stage is because of the tactical adjustments that he has made so far. These include: timely help in the war against the Taliban; the fight against Al Qaeda and capture of some of its top leaders; firm action against militant organisations at home; slow but steady show of flexibility towards India and positive engagement with Hamid Karzai's regime in Kabul.
These make him a good tactician, but not a strategic visionary--the quality that enables leaders to have a real and lasting impact on the world stage.
Sharif Shuja will conclude his analysis of the role of Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, in a future issue.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Pervez Musharraf: The Emerging Leader of the Muslim World?. Contributors: Shuja, Sharif - Author. Magazine title: Contemporary Review. Volume: 286. Issue: 1669 Publication date: February 2005. Page number: 88+. © 1999 Contemporary Review Company Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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