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Home Media Reports 2004 Mr Musharraf’s vision and the clergy
Mr Musharraf’s vision and the clergy
Daily Times
Friday, February 20, 2004

EDITORIAL: Mr Musharraf’s vision and the clergy

On Wednesday, President Pervez Musharraf again spoke to a bevy of clerics at the Ulema and Mashaikh (religious scholars) conference in Islamabad. In a repeat performance of what he has been saying to the clergy on various previous occasions, Mr Musharraf again emphasised the dangers latent in a literalist exegesis of Islam and requested the nearly 2000 clerics present at the conference to work towards eradicating ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’. Mr Musharraf also asked the provincial chief ministers and governors to carry forward the movement against extremism by interfacing with the clergy and co-opting the religious scholars in interpreting religion in light of modern requirements.

This is all very well and we have always appreciated Mr Musharraf’s efforts to this end. But true also is the fact that the silt accumulated by past policies cannot be cleaned up so easily. The task has especially become a problem in the current geopolitical environment even as it has become urgent for the same reason. Only recently the chief election commissioner, chief justice (retd) Irshad Hasan Khan, has reversed an earlier move by the government to purge voters list of the requirement to disclose religion. The practice to identify the Ahmadiyya community through voters’ forms has thus been revived. Surely, this would not have been possible without a nod from the government. Justice Khan’s announcement is in the same league as Mr Musharraf’s own retreat on the issue of procedural amendments to the blasphemy law in the face of clerical brouhaha Even at the political level, Mr Musharraf has been clearly more eager to strike a deal with the religious parties under the banner of the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal than with, for instance, the Pakistan People’s Party which shares his progressive agenda.

We point out these anomalies not because we do not appreciate Mr Musharraf’s concern on the issue of rising extremism but because it indicates that the situation is very complex and many of the tactical steps taken by him do not seem to gel with his overall strategy. The deal with the MMA is significant because it indicates Mr Musharraf’s immediate concerns regarding the ongoing operation in the tribal agencies as well as his aversion to allow the regular political parties to come into the political mainstream. The latter possibility is especially worrisome for him since allowing these parties to play their natural role is likely to pit them at some point against the military’s political and corporate interests.

This oscillation is informed by a host of factors. The sympathetic view would be that it does not mean that Mr Musharraf is not sincere in his efforts to modernise Pakistan and purge it of extremism. And we would tend to stick to this view. Perhaps he feels that there is no correlation between opening up the political system and development and progression. Whether such a correlation exists or not is a difficult issue and the jury is still out on it. Those who believe in development without political openness cite the example of Southeast Asia. But the 1997 meltdown there brought to the fore many fissures — political, ethnic and linguistic — that economic progress had managed to push below the surface. The example of China is also instructive in this regard. Efforts at modernising China have seen a gradual opening up of the process, though that country still has a long road to traverse. The leadership has sensed, however, that some form of opening up is essential to ward off the demands for freedoms that attend economic progression.

Mr Musharraf also needs to heed that logic. He may think that the clergy he has got around him can deliver but that is unlikely. Already, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, has described those who attended the Wednesday conference as sarkari (official) scholars. The disconnect between what Mr Musharraf wants for this country and what the MMA wants will only grow as things move. The MMA is smart enough to make a deal when it suits its purpose but there are limits to how far it can, or would, want to go without jeopardising its own ideological standing with its voters. On the fringe of course there are groups whose agenda runs totally contrary to Mr Musharraf’s vision. Hafiz Saeed of the banned Al Dawa organisation says Mr Musharraf is wrong when he avers that jihad can only de declared by the state. Mr Saeed’s vision is informed by Ibn-e Taymiyya’s fatwa and revolves around the concept of jahiliyya. He will not be enamoured of Mr Musharraf’s logic.

The only way out of this morass is for Mr Musharraf to not only move slowly but surely towards what he is doing but to co-opt the right elements in the civil society to help him reach there. The media, especially television channels, are an effective source of influencing the public. In the past the state used them unabashedly to push a regressive agenda. That process needs to be reversed now. The economy is beginning to pick up so it will have its own positive impact on peoples’ thinking. But none of these elements will begin to gel in the absence of a viable political process, which is the only way of aggregating interests. The present situation has its own eccentricities and no one really thinks Mr Musharraf can open the system in haste, or even that he should do so. What is required of him is to take the correct steps towards it. He can begin by giving political parties like the PPP a role in governance. This will be in keeping with his vision of a progressive Pakistan that can take its place in the world. In essence, movement towards the goal he has correctly set for the country would need a mix of many strategies. But he cannot afford to lose sight of the main strand, which is to make the country viable on all counts: political, economic and social. *

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