April Issue 2005

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 15 years ago

Once again, the mullah has had the last word — and the religion column has been restored in Pakistani passports. General Musharraf’s passionate sermons on ‘enlightened moderation’ are beginning to sound more and more like empty slogans full of sound and fury signifying no meaningful change in Pakistan’s life.

His liberal persona notwithstanding, the general has continued to cave in before the might of the mullahs. Whether it was a minor amendment to the blasphemy law, or the recommendations for change in the Hudood Ordinances, or the madrassah reforms or the proposed amendments to the karo-kari bill, Musharraf’s government has cut a sorry spectacle by backtracking on every issue.

This is in great measure due to the alliances and deals his advisers have struck in order to strengthen the general’s grip on power. His major partner, the PML(Q), head by Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain, is no less conservative than the mullah. And when they join forces with the MMA, they can succeed in defeating Musharraf’s grand design of an enlightened, moderate state.

But that is only one of the general’s problems. Post September 11, the US wants to see Pakistan, its major ally in the war against terrorism, eliminate all forms of extremism, reform the education system — and that includes the madrassahs — and work towards restoring democracy in the country.

So, with both the mullahs and the US breathing down his neck, Musharraf is caught between a rock and a hard place. And to extricate himself from awkward situations, he has often resorted to sending mixed signals. On the one hand, he wants to engage with the liberal political forces like the PPP and the PML(N), ostensibly to sideline the MMA, on the other, he continues to maintain that Ms Bhutto and Mr Nawaz Sharif will not be allowed to return to Pakistan and that general elections will not be held before 2007. Also he continues to offer lame excuses for his government’s volte face on major issues that stand in the way of his vision of an enlightened Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the MMA, puffed up with its most recent victory on the passport issue, is gearing up to extract even more concessions from the Musharraf government. Its current target is the Aga Khan Examination Board, that it views as being inimical to its own interests. The time has come for the general to take the mullah by the beard, and confront the medieval mindset that presents itself in the shape of the MMA. General Musharraf’s one step forward, two steps back approach is not going to work anymore. Either he dances to the tune of the mullahs, or he abandons them if he wants to steer his ship out of the currents of fundamentalism towards enlightened shores.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.