Pervez Musharraf: The Emerging Leader of the Muslim World?

Article excerpt

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. …