DAWN - Features; March 31, 2007

Published March 31, 2007

A new London plan in the offing?

By M. Ziauddin


DATELINE LONDON

MAULANA Fazlur Rehman’s visit to London this week is not all that what it looks like on the face of it. On his way to Libya he has taken a long detour of London ostensibly to meet Nawaz Sharif to review the current political situation in the country, revive the proposal of APC and discuss with the PML-N chief the possibility of persuading Benazir to join a grand opposition alliance against President Pervez Musharraf.

But informed circles here do not rule out the possibility of the British government taking advantage of Maulana’s presence here to seek his assessment of the latest Taliban-related developments in Afghanistan and in the two border provinces of Pakistan. It is no secret any more that the Maulana was instrumental in getting the militants of North and South Waziristan to sign peace agreements with Pakistan and also that he had played a crucial role in the defunct peace agreement between the elders of Helmand and the then British-led Nato troops.

The Maulana, it is believed, also has his own agenda for a meeting with British government representatives, if at all such a meeting takes place. He is said to have come here prepared to submit a forceful plea to the West to let him use his own strategy to curb and control Talibanisation in the region as an alternative to what he calls the ‘ineffective’ military strategy that is being used for the purpose by the West, the US and Gen Musharraf.

To some it has appeared as no accident that the JUI leader has come to this important world capital at a time when a town in the MMA-ruled province of NWFP had just been daringly attacked by what looked like a regular Taliban army and the baton-wielding, burqa-clad girl students of one of the Islamabad’s Madressahs located in the heart of the capital kidnapped three women and two security personnel and were also still holding the children’s library they had taken over a couple of weeks ago.

In both these incidents the response of the state had appeared to be too weak to be true, creating an impression in the process that the state is retreating in the face of aggressive Talibanisation of Pakistan. The administration which did not hesitate to manhandle the Chief Justice in broad daylight on the streets of Islamabad was seen failing miserably to handle a woman brigade of Taliban in the capital, and in Tank it had seemingly let regular Taliban formations to come unchallenged into a settled town bordering the tribal belt, ravage it and then go back unscathed.

When asked for his comments on the recent attack by non-state actors in a town of NWFP at the press conference which he and Nawaz Sharif addressed here jointly on Wednesday, he called the event first as an ‘incident’ and then said one should look at it as an accident and finally dubbing it as a foolish act of some people. He surprised his listeners by promising ostensibly on behalf of the attackers that such incidents would not happen in future.

And more surprisingly, he appeared to own the incidents in a roundabout manner as he asked: “When we demand a peaceful settlement in Iraq and Afghanistan why would we take up arms in our own country to settle similar issues?”

Though he subsequently condemned both the Tank incident and that of Islamabad mosque and said such incidents damaged MMA’s cause, but the underlying threat was quite clear.

After recounting how military strategies of Gen Musharraf in Pakistan and that of the US and the West in Iraq and Afghanistan have failed to curb and control extremism in the last five years and how instead these strategies have only caused it to rise to violent new peaks, he implied that MMA alone had the answer to the rising extremism.

“We can defeat extremism through logic and politics,” he claimed sitting in London where he knew he would be closely monitored by interested ears and eyes.

And then he warned these eyes and ears that if the MMA was pushed to the wall through what he called manipulation (alluding perhaps to the behind-the-scene efforts of the UK to help Musharraf and Benazir come to some kind of an understanding before the next elections) then the situation could further deteriorate and finally fall completely into the hands of the extremists. One could clearly see that it is in the interest of both the MMA and Gen Musharraf that the US and the West do not put all their future political eggs in the basket of the mainstream secular political parties like the PPP and PML-N. Both know that in a fair and free election in which Benazir and Nawaz Sharif would be physically leading their respective parties in Pakistan, the elements patronised by the military and the religious alliance would be completely routed.

So, perhaps the reason why the Maulana chose to visit London at this important juncture in Pakistan’s politics when Gen Musharraf is finding it increasing difficult to ward off the groundswell of opposition to the continued military rule in the country which suits only the religious right and which had the best of the both worlds since 9/11 in Pakistan.

In the past five years both Musharraf and the MMA have ruled the country as a joint enterprise with the latter hunting with the hounds and running with the hare, while the former used all legal and illegal means to politically destroy the PPP and PML-N both of whom pose a serious threat to him in Punjab and Sindh and to MMA in the NWFP and Balochistan.

It is the MMA which rules the NWFP where Tank is located and which was conveniently attacked by regular troops of Taliban while the federal troops seemingly looked the other way and it is Gen Musharraf who rules Islamabad with an iron hand and where a few burqa-clad women Taliban have established a state within the state while the military regime gives the impression of being too gender sensitive to use force.

But those who have seen Gen Musharraf and the MMA operate in unison over the last five years refuse to rule out the possibility of one last desperate joint effort by the two to save their respective fiefdoms from falling into the hands of the people of Pakistan.



© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007

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