Major obstacles to enlightened moderation

Daily Times, April 25, 2005
VIEW: Major obstacles to enlightened moderation —Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

While addressing the joint session of the Philippines parliament on April 19, President General Pervez Musharraf highlighted the notion of enlightened moderation and called upon Muslim states to “reject extremism and intolerance and promote socio-economic development”. He supported the efforts of the government of Philippines to seek a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and called upon the Moro leaders to give up violence. This advice was coupled with a call to the Philippines government to “respect the rights, tradition and culture of its Muslim minority”.

President Pervez Musharraf’s statement was welcomed in the Philippines because its government is faced with an insurgency in the southern region. Because it was made outside Pakistan, the statement also attracted international attention. The global interest in this statement could be compared with the attention given to President Musharraf’s article on enlightened moderation published in Washington Post in June 2004.

One can hardly question enlightened moderation at the normative level. It is in consonance with the political views of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal who viewed Islam as an identity-making force and an ethical foundation for the society and the state. Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah coupled the principles and teachings of Islam with the modern notions of state, participatory governance, constitutionalism, rule of law, and equal citizenship for all irrespective of religion, caste, creed, and gender.

He offered a sound basis for an enlightened, modern and democratic state that was inspired by the Islamic ideals of socio-economic justice, equality, accountability of rulers, and rule of law. Religious extremism and socio-cultural intolerance figured neither in the theory nor in the practice of the Islamic state; nor still in the political disposition of Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan and other early rulers of Pakistan.

These principles got blurred in the wrangling over the constitution and the power struggle that have since characterised Pakistani politics. The conservative Islamic elements availed of the opportunity to expand their role. The government of General Yahya Khan (March 1969-December 1971) was the first military government to invoke the notion of the Islamic ideology of Pakistan to undercut the autonomy movement in what was then East Pakistan. The hard-line religious elements made some significant gains in the late 1960s and the early 1970s but Pakistan continued to be a relatively tolerant and plural society.

The situation drifted towards religious orthodoxy and extremism after General Zia ul Haq assumed power. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, the state — ruled by the military — patronised religious orthodoxy and militancy in the early 1980s. By the turn of the century, a generation had imbibed these values. It had been taught to believe as an article of faith that the Jews, Hindus and the West (i.e. Christians) were responsible for the suffering of the Muslims. The military-dominated state derived political dividends from the transformed Islamic profile of the Pakistani society, especially from militancy and jihad, which got closely linked with its policy towards Afghanistan and Kashmir.

However, the international and regional situation has changed so much that Pakistan’s present military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, is trying to rediscover Pakistan’s original moorings. He has repeatedly talked of curbing extremism and terrorism and promoting moderate and tolerant political and cultural values. The prime minister, federal ministers and the stalwarts of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League also express similar views and support his enlightened moderation.

The emphasis of the government’s policy of enlightened moderation is on issuing policy statements, taking punitive action against the activists of some hard-line and extremist groups, and redefining the relationship between Pakistan’s security agencies and the militant Islamic groups. While relevant, no doubt, to changing the profile of the Pakistani state and the society, these efforts alone are not going to produce the desired results.

Until the end of 2004, the government’s power interests obstructed the pursuit of the policy of enlightened moderation to its logical end. It sought the support of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), although the MMA was opposed to enlightened moderation and represented the political face of Islamic militancy in Pakistan. Now, the MMA and the government have developed serious differences but there are people in and around the presidency and in the ruling PML who continue to lean towards the MMA.

The insertion of the religion column in the new passports and the inscription of the state’s full name, i.e. Islamic Republic of Pakistan, on its cover is a clear concession to the MMA and the elements in the government and the PML who share the MMA outlook.

Another incident that reflects ambiguity in the government policy is the inclusion of Maulana Sami ul Haq in the parliamentary delegation that visited EU countries. What kind of image did the government of Pakistan want to project in Europe by sending some one known for his links with the Taliban movement, support to Al Qaeda, and opposition to Pakistan’s war on terrorism? The official Pakistani protest to the three EU countries might be correct in order to keep the record straight but one wonders what diplomatic purpose was served in including an individual in the delegation who could not engage in a meaningful dialogue with the hosts. Delegations are sent abroad to cultivate goodwill. Therefore the sensitivities of the hosts have to be taken into account before dispatching them.

Unfortunately, domestic considerations often determine the composition of delegations. The experience suggests that many Pakistani official delegations to North America and the European countries include free riders who lack the capacity to effectively project the Pakistani point of view in these regions. This also applies to Pakistan’s delegations to the UN General Assembly’s regular sessions. Most members are only interested in how their visit is reported in Pakistan rather than the impact in the host country.

If Pakistan is to build a soft and positive image, the official delegations visiting abroad (especially North America and the EU) should be constituted purely on the basis of merit and competence of the members to engage in serious and quality dialogue on the issues that concern the official as well as non-official circles in the host countries. The government must also take into account the sensitivities of the host countries.

President Musharraf cannot turn the slogan of enlightened moderation into a reality simply by issuing statements or executive orders. He needs to adopt a holistic approach. All areas of policymaking and management need to be revised and support built for his policies among political circles that openly espouse the cause of religious and cultural tolerance and political pluralism. If political convenience or power maintenance remain the supreme consideration, the government would have to retreat or pamper the sworn adversaries of the major contours of Musharraf’s domestic and foreign policies. The government needs to break out of the habit of relying on Islamic hard-liners for its stay in power so that the proverbial military-mullah partnership ceases to be a reality.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

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