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The General’s Isolation - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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“Pakistan is like your shoulder that supports your RPG; without it you couldn’t fight. Thank God Pakistan is not against us.”

This comment was made by Mullah Momin Ahmed, Taliban commander and member of the Taliban Shura (leadership council), in an interview in the latest US edition of ‘Newsweek’ magazine. It is a remark that points towards a major aspect of the crisis in Pakistan.

With the establishment of its political system in August 1947, Pakistan has had an interesting story since the ambitious Mohammed Ali Jinnah led the Indian Muslims to unite under the banner of the Muslim League, which symbolized the aspirations of Muslims in North India. Pakistan’s relationship with Islam and with religious identity is a complex and intricate one that has been deeply intermingled with politics since the beginning.

Pakistan gained its independence from the motherland, India, for fear that its Muslim community would be outnumbered despite the fact that they represented a quarter of the population. This fact is mentioned by Stanley Wolpert in his biography of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. However, like many Muslim leaders and liberal activists, Jinnah felt that the Indian National Congress Party (INC) held steadfast to its Hindu inclinations, and thus he insisted upon highlighting the religious identity of the Indian Muslims so that democracy would not slip to become an instrument for tyranny in the hands of the Hindus. Jinnah, it is worth noting, was among the leadership of the INC.

During the Indian national movement to liberate India of its British occupation, the ongoing controversy was purely Indian. National claims were made under an Indian slogan; however Jinnah, a brilliant lawyer who had obtained his degree in London, felt that there were two tendencies among the INC’s Hindu elite. The first group was obsessed with being the founder of the Indian national culture and the one to establish the general social and historical framework; meaning that they wanted to be the ones to create the Indian identity based on the local culture that is entrenched in the ancient roots of Hinduism. Mahatma Gandhi spearheaded this trend. The other trend believed that liberal values and secularism would prevail in India and that the religious concerns of Muslims were not justified. This movement was led by [Pandit Jawaharlal] Nehru; however the ‘liberal’ wing did not agree with Nehru’s assessment of the strength of liberalism, and was likewise dissatisfied with Gandhi’s attempts to dominate over India and marginalize the Muslims.

It is a long and elaborate story that features intensive and convoluted political clashes within the united India. However, the story ended with Mohammed Ali Jinnah and his comrades succeeding in seceding from India and establishing the Pakistani state following the departure of the British forces and the ensuing liberation of Pakistan.

Thus, it may be said that Pakistan was established upon the basis of religious identity. However, this preliminary judgment is ostensibly deceptive since Jinnah himself, the leader of the movement, was a liberal man, as were the majority of the leaders of the ‘Muslim League’. In other words, they were liberals and reformists in the general senses of the word; there was no presence or impact of a fundamentalist inclination. Islam, in this case, was a national melting pot not a revolutionary religious slogan. Jinnah himself was incapable of adopting a hardliner approach; he was born Agha Khani [Ismaili Shia Muslim] and was said to have converted to the Shia Twelver [Ithna Ashari] doctrine. He was an Indian Muslim who sensed the catastrophe that would befall the Muslims in India if they handed over the leadership of the INC (with its Hindu majority)  and this alone was the driving force which he acted upon. Further proof of this is that when Pakistan was founded, it did not resort to fundamentalist ideology to govern its internal and external affairs and was a modern state.

Does this mean that the religious-political issue did not create a crisis in the history of Pakistan? Certainly not. The evidence of this is that the main political Islam theorist of the time, [Sayyid] Abul Ala Maududi, had grown up during this period, which coincided with the emergence of Pakistan. He published his writings at the time and they had a considerable impact on Islamists worldwide through the mediatory efforts of Sayyid Qutb, of course.

During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan, then under Zia ul-Haq’s rule, offered support to the jihad movement that was led by the mullahs of Afghanistan and some of its Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, such as Rabbani and Sayyaf, and also with US backing.

However, when the leaders disagreed over the shares of victory, the Taliban movement was born. This took place with Pakistan’s support; namely, with the backing of the intelligence authorities and the blessings of President Pervez Musharraf. However, following the events of 9/11 with the US setting out to pursue Al Qaeda and Bin Laden in Afghanistan and to eliminate the supporting pockets that were based in Pakistan; Musharraf kept his word and backed the efforts to combat terrorism. The general facilitated the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a senior Al Qaeda operative and the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, as well as [Ramzi] Ibn Shibah and Abu Zubaydah [notorious Al Qaeda figures]. Moreover, Musharraf turned a blind eye to some of the missile raids conducted on Taliban leaders and their supporters.

But General Musharraf’s ability to continue this partnership had begun to weaken with the increasing fundamentalism and the rising pressures exerted by old enemies, such as Nawaz Sharif, whilst other enemies within Pakistan, including cricketer Imran Khan, had turned the cold shoulder and manipulated the danger of terrorism in an opportunistic manner. Suffice it to say that Musharraf was subjected to three assassination attempts that were very close calls. Moreover, Bin Laden and al Zawahiri incited their followers to kill him.

The problem that Musharraf confronts today is complicated and multifaceted. He is criticized of being a military dictator who governs his state with an iron fist on the one hand, and yet is a wanted figure by the fundamentalist forces at a time when he receives no support from the civilian political forces. Even the US and the West do not provide him with support  at least not publicly. In fact; Musharraf only receives the support of the Pakistani army, and even that is not completely without fundamentalist tampering here and there.

The Pakistani army was the one to interfere and support the Taliban’s mujahideen and as such, some believe that the army was founded on the principle of jihad and revering the heroism of the mujahideen. Aside from that; the army in the Pakistani community is part of the societal ‘situation and status quo’.

The magnitude and impact of extremism has affected critical aspects in the Pakistani military institution. A Western military official based in Islamabad who agreed to speak to ‘Newsweek’ magazine on condition of anonymity maintained that he believes that some activist intelligence officials and retirees have dealt with the Taliban in the past and continue to do so.

Some believe that the problem with Musharraf lies in his single-handed governance  and yet Zia ul-Haq was quite similar in this regard. Others believe that Musharraf’s dismissal of the President of the Supreme Court [Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry] was the reason, however perhaps we would be exaggerating the keen democratic sense of the Pakistani people if we said so. There are some, however, who believe that other generals have caused internal conflicts through incitement, in addition to the never-ending trials between the military officers and those in power.

I believe that the problem with Musharraf is that he is fighting a battle that is not supported by the public; and thus, he is not supported or protected by the public. The main reason behind the public’s absence may be attributed to the Pakistani people’s empathy towards movements such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which stems from cultural reasons and conviction that their plight is valid and justified, and that Bin Laden and Mullah Omar are Islamic heroes. Other reasons for this support are due to the people’s discontent with Musharraf’s regime owing to reasons related to livelihood or to cases of successful instigation caused by some of Musharraf’s political opponents.

The root of the problem is that General Musharraf is battling alone and in an exposed battlefield. The graver danger lies in watching what is happening in Pakistan; the same Pakistan of Maulana Sami ul-Haq, religious seminaries, al Maududi, Waziristan, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the youth responsible for the London 7/7 bombings, al Zawahiri, Bin Laden and finally, the nuclear bomb.

This is a truly grave and troubling issue in a country that had been hailed by its founder as “the land of the pious” and “the land of peace.”

We cannot predict, at least in the near future, whether yesterday’s dreams will become tomorrow’s nightmares.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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