The Saudi delegation received a festive welcome upon arriving at the Pakistani capital. General Ihsan Al Haqq, Pakistan’s head of intelligence told me at the Prime Minister’s headquarters that all regional governors had traveled to Islamabad to personally welcome King Abdullah. Two F-15 fighter aircrafts greeted the king as his plane entered Islamabad’s air space, in addition schools were given a two-day holiday in celebration of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques visit. All these gestures, are a first in Pakistan’s history.
On this official Saudi tour of Asia, I personally found the visits to Peking, India, Hong Kong, and Malaysia very enriching, but on the other hand, I felt the visit to Pakistan illustrated a number of contradictory elements that I personally experienced first hand.
While at Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s palace, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of government officials, religious leaders and advisor’s to the Pakistani leadership. Mushahed Hussein, the former Pakistani information minister, introduced me to a man that he had jokingly described as “a friendly fundamentalist.” his name was (Arabic and Urdu for a religious mentor) Samee’u Al Haqq, the leader of a major Pakistani fundamentalist group. I asked him, “Are you really a friendly fundamentalist in much the same way a fire is friendly?” His reaction was laughter. He then went into a rant about America being the real fundamentalist-extremist power and not “us.” He criticized American animosity towards Islam. The man has written extensively on the subject including several books. At the end of our conversation, he gave me his business card with his information on it. I was amused at his title of Senator and I quietly laughed to myself at the oxymoronic contradiction between his unofficial and official titles.
At the same gathering, I met Akram Khan Durrani, The North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) Chief Minister, with who I had a very heated discussion with. Durrani believes in adopting Hesbah (an Islamic religious-legal principle where any citizen could take the law into their own hands against another for what they viewed as a moral and religious transgression.) Durrani believed that it is a general public need in his regional constituency, adding that the law would be a moderate one, and included for example the banning of music in public places. I do not know if this includes the Pakistani national anthem. He also said that the would not require women to cover up their entire faces in public, but would enforce a law requiring them to partly cover faces. Later on during our discussion, he explained to me his concept of democracy, to which I pointed out to was similar to America’s understanding of democracy. He laughed at my observation and pointed to the friendly fundamentalist Mawalna Samee’u Al Haqq and said “That makes me more moderate than him then.”
During lunch, I met the other side of the Pakistani political and religious spectrum. Among those I met were a presidential advisor, the Agriculture Minister, and other top officials including a woman. The conversation was different from the ones I had with the fundamentalists except when America was mentioned, as they were all unanimous in their criticism of it.
I also listened to what they envisioned as the “Pakistani Dream.” One official spoke elaborately about attracting foreign investment, improving education, and combating extremism. Another was really interested when I told him about the benefits gained in Saudi Arabia from our National Dialogue, to which he asked me to provide him with more information with the possibility of holding a similar forum in Pakistan. I asked an official about animosity towards the west despite state efforts to attract western Investors, to which he replied, “on an individual level Pakistanis are liberal, but collectively they are conservative and have an aversion towards America”.
In Islamabad, I witnessed and heard a number of internal and external contradictions at both the political and economic levels, and first and foremost on a religious one.
Over all to understand Pakistan today, one must understand the contradictory combination that is “Mawlana” and “Senator”.