An Islamist Challenge?
By A. R. Siddiqi
The US media and quite
a few of their intelligence experts almost untiringly
keep repeating their prognostications regarding
'Islamist' zealotry in Pakistan as a challenge to
President Pervez Musharraf's 'strategy' of 'enlightened
The latest to join the ranks of the Cassandras happens
to be the Director of the US Defense Intelligence
Agency, Vice-Admiral Lowell Jacoby. The Admiral
told the Senate Intelligence Committee recently
that the 'extremist Islamist' politicians would
gain greater influence in Pakistan.
The Admiral was of the view that the 'majority of
the population' in Pakistan held a 'favorable' view
of Osama bin Laden. Interesting. Osama bin Laden,
Not many in Punjab or the interior of Sindh would
have even heard of Osama not to speak of the threat
he is supposed to pose to global peace. Pakistan's
problem province Balochistan has trouble enough.
This is overwhelmingly political and economic without
any religious overtones. None of the Baloch sardars
invoke Islam while spitting fire against the government's
mega projects like the Gwadar port and the coastal
Trouble in and around the Sui gasfields and elsewhere
and the periodic flare-ups between the Bugti, Mengal
and Marri sardars remain a part of the endemic center-province
It does become a matter of national shame and gross
violation of human rights when it comes to the rape
of a lady doctor on duty in a Sui hospital and the
official prevarication in dealing with it.
As for the NWFP, the Pathan, despite his popular
image as a fanatical jihadi fighter, in the tradition
of the Mehdi of Sudan, remains firmly wedded to
Pakhtunwali, his traditional code of honor and life.
In the matter of local laws and customs, he would
rather adhere to Pakhtunwali than to the canon law.
Women are disinherited under the Pakhtunwali contrary
to the Sharia, which allows them one-fourth of the
Pakhtunwali, in spirit, underscores the basically
secular character and customs of the Pathans. Its
three main pillars are: badal (revenge), nanawatae
(sanctuary) and melmasti (festivity).
In fact, their jihadi spirit in essence is germane
to their traditional code of chivalry and tribal
hubris. They must have a duel with a friend or foe
on a matter of honor when wise counsels fail.
As for Al Qaeda and Taliban, the origins and emergence
of both owe to external factors -- essentially mercenary
and foreign-inspired -- than Islamic. But for the
US-aided and armed proxy war against the Soviet
Union (1979-1989), Al Qaeda and Taliban would have
been either totally non-existent or a minimal force
hardly to be reckoned with.
As for the 'fundamentalist' threat to Pakistan,
it has historically drawn its strength from patronage
by a politically weak government of the day rather
than from the people at large. The mullahs suffered
the military regimes of both Ayub Khan and Yahya
Khan. Hardly any religion-based party, whether Barelavi
or Deobandi, is known to have raised a finger against
Yahya's plutocracy or Ayub's undisguised secularism,
at least until his use of the Kalima in his address
to the nation on Sept 6, 1965, the day India invaded
Pakistan. The Jamaat did not hesitate to certify
the Islamic contents of Yahya Khan's draft constitution
framed by Justice A.R. Cornelius.
The 'Islamists' since Zia's 11-year theocentric
rule have become a part of Pakistan's socio-political
landscape. However, the MMA's great compromise in
accepting the Seventeenth Amendment underscored
their ideological flexibility to meet their political
The Musharraf regime may not have turned the corner
in Pakistan's transition from a theocentric to a
politico-economic order based on his 'strategy'
of enlightened moderation. There should be little
fear or concern, however, for Pakistan ever going
the Taliban way. Pakistanis as a whole are good
Muslims backed by a long record of an essentially
secular political order unlike Afghanistan.
After Musharraf who sounds more like a rhetorical
than a rational query? The American Admiral would
still maintain that Musharraf "remains at high
risk, although no known attempts on his life have
occurred since December 2003" - a typical example
of a fixed idea or perception attaining a kind of
pathology, an obsession not easy to shed.
In Pakistan, an Islamic Republic, the 'Islamist'
element must stay as a political force. However,
to conjure up the prospect of its ever becoming
a decisive, defining force in the affairs of the
state would be paranoid, plain and simple.
(The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan
Army. Courtesy Dawn)