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Pakistan: Islamabad Totters Between Moderation And Extremism

By Ayesha Khan Pakistani soldiers inspecting a land-mine blast site in Baluchistan in January (epa) Islamabad's new and much-used slogan -- "enlightened moderation" -- stands for a moderate and progressive practice of religion. However, in Pakistan, where a conservative religious movement is gaining momentum, the impact of the government's slogan is questionable. The boundaries of Pakistan -- which shares borders with Afghanistan and Iran -- present their own set of complexities.

PRAGUE, May 22, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistani Minister of State and Senator Anisa Tahirkheli says "enlightened moderation" is a philosophy initiated by Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf in 2003 to bring moderation to Islamic practices while maintaining the spirit of Islam.

"There is a misunderstanding of the [Muslim] religion across the globe and it's high time that the whole Islamic world should really gear up its effort to give the true image and true reflection of Islamic teachings, which means peace," Tahirkheli said.

Words And Deeds

However, Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and the author of "Taliban," says there are inconsistencies between the government's slogan and Islamabad's actions. Rashid believes the government has not taken effective measures to curb extremism.

"President Musharraf insists that enlightened moderation is not something that should be applied at the tactical level," Rashid said. "He claims that it's a strategic direction that he would like to take Pakistan in. [But] President Musharraf's rhetoric does not match his practice on the ground. What we are seeing is that the religious parties have been part of the alliance with the military. In the elections in 2002, which were very widely rigged by the intelligence agency, the religious parties were given a large number of seats [in provincial governments]. They are [even] ruling two provinces now [Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan]."

Some observers suggest that the anti-U.S. sentiment that is often heard in Pakistan foments religious extremism. Others say that Musharraf has a contemporary ideology that does not truly represent the more conservative mind-set of most Pakistanis.

"After 9/11 it is a very dangerous situation where the reminiscence of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribal areas of the Northwest Frontier Province are now having a very dramatic effect in radicalizing the local population." -- Ahmed Rashid

But Pakistani Federal Minister Sheikh Rashid thinks that Islamabad's stand in favor of enlightened moderation actually does counter extremism.

"Enlightened moderation is against extremism," Rashid said. "Enlightened moderation means that there must be a start [to introduce] other subjects into the madrasahs. People are [leaning] more toward religion than they did before. The reason is they think that American hegemony is not good for the Muslim [community]."

Taliban Rising?

Imran Khan, a member of Pakistan's parliament and leader of the Movement For Justice (Tehreek e-Insaaf) party, notes the phenomenon of the Taliban in Pakistan. The increased presence of the Pakistani military in the tribal areas has given rise to the insurgency, he says. The Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) has witnessed aggravated incidents of violence, and there have also been more violent events in the Waziristani town of Miranshah.

"Who are these Taliban?" Khan said. "From what we can gather, [they are] whoever wants revenge [on] the Pakistan Army. This has got all mixed up [and] we don't know who is Al-Qaeda, who is Taliban, and who are the tribal people opposing the Pakistani Army. The military government -- at the insistence of the Americans -- launched a military operation and now what has happened in Waziristan is that the entire population has turned against the Pakistani Army. As more civilians die -- which they are bound to die the way the army is operating there -- [it is] quite the same situation as what the Americans are doing to the Iraqis [and] the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians."

Kabul and Islamabad have had political tensions over Pakistan's NWFP, which borders Afghanistan. Both governments have blamed the other for the violence along the border. Ahmed Rashid says more and more people are joining the militancy.

"After 9/11 it is a very dangerous situation where the reminiscence of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribal areas of the Northwest Frontier Province are now having a very dramatic effect in radicalizing the local population," Rashid said. "That is, the Pakistani Pashtun tribes along the border. [They are] setting up an Islamic state much as the Taliban had done before 9/11 in Afghanistan. Pakistan is also saying now...that Al-Qaeda militants are arriving from Afghanistan and stirring up trouble in Waziristan."

Along The Borderline

The border between northern Pakistan and Afghanistan is porous, which results in an influx of people from both sides of the border.

Minister Tahirkheli talks about the justification of the Pakistani Army presence. According to her, the post 9/11 situation has brought with it a lot of complexities. She says that there are foreigners from Islamic countries within the insurgency.

Tahirkheli says the tribal belt in the NWFP is complicated by the geographical terrain there and that the army is mainly there to protect the border.

"The army is there to man the check posts along the Durand Line [a disputed 2,640 kilometer border between Afghanistan and Pakistan]," Tahirkheli said. "There are so many check posts, which have been established so that cross-border infiltration is regularized. But when somebody attacks the army convoys or army establishments they are, in fact, trying to create a situation where the army is [confronted] by the locals. This is not to be tolerated in any circumstances. The offer that has been made by the government is that the army will be withdrawn if the local tribesmen perform their traditional role and try to get rid of all the elements that are living here unlawfully. [If that happens then the army would not be needed] in these areas except where the [border] posts are."

A Moderate Military Dictatorship?

Parliamentarian Imran Khan says that Islamabad is merely playing with words with the new slogan. He adds that the military coup that brought Musharraf to power contradicts democratic values -- something that is a necessary part of enlightened moderation.

President Musharraf in an undated file photo (CTK)

"[Enlightened moderation is] all part of the sound bites used by [Pakistan's] military government to appease the Americans," Khan said. "Try and pretend that only the government is holding back these hordes of fanatics and terrorists, and [if Musharraf's government was] not there this country would be [overrun] by extremists. All Muslim dictators and autocrats are supposedly fighting terrorists and automatically when they are fighting terrorists then they become moderates. So this term is really part of this whole propaganda to propagate themselves as some sort of liberals and moderates. How can a military dictatorship be considered liberal and moderate?"

Tahirkheli refutes Khan's claim that Islamabad's enlightened moderation is being done simply to satisfy the West. She believes that Pakistan's government is doing all it can to counter religious extremism.

"[Enlightened moderation] is not to please the West, it is to really put things on the right track within our own country," Tahirkheli said. "The image of the country has been really put at risk and we need to really rectify that. This philosophy was floated by the president of Pakistan as the resolution to our problems in regard to our image and our positive projection in the world."

Islamabad's new slogan and the actual reality on the ground seem to be at a crossroads. Prevailing domestic issues will make it difficult to reach the goals envisioned by enlightened moderation.

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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