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PAKISTAN - On A Razor's Edge, March 2004

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "On a Razor's Edge"

Assessing Musharraf's Predicament

The Brink of Peace

Reporting on the Nuclear Scandal

Background, Government, Issues

India/Pakistan Relations, Islamic Fundamentalism, Media Resources




VOICES FROM THE WHIRLWIND: Assessing Musharraf's Predicament

Sami ul-Haq: Powerful Religious Leader

Sami ul-Haq Sami ul-Haq, senator and founding member of Muttahida Majlis-e-Ama (MMA), a coalition of powerful religious parties, discusses the rise of Islamic fundamentalism inside Pakistan and the repercussions of Musharraf's secularization efforts. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why do you think so many attempts are being made on President Musharraf's life?

Actually, he's a victim of dual pressure. Foreign forces and Islamic enemies have formed an alliance against Islam. They have made Pakistan their target. They have applied pressure on our president, Mr. Pervez Musharraf, and want him to perform acts which are contradictory with our traditions, our perspectives and our history.

One way was for Mr. Musharraf to plant his feet firmly and make a stand. He could have opposed them by saying that we are a free nation and we have our own identity, our own personality, and we will not change ourselves despite your perseverance; we are a proud and self-sufficient nation and you should leave us as that. We will continue our friendship with you, but do not make us perform measures which conflict with our traditions, our national identity and our religion.

However, that poor man is trapped in their plan or may be thinking that he will be able to protect the country. Other organizations -- like those who sacrificed lives in Afghanistan -- are extremely displeased with some of the steps which he undertook.

And the situation of Iraq and America's intentions are clearly before them, and they believe that our freedom may be being snatched away from us. These people, as a reactive measure, may have been responsible for the [assassination attempts]. ...

This has happened before as well, during Benazir's era, during Nawaz Sharif's era, and [those politicians] used to be kept under pressure too. But they treaded each step very carefully. But the General's style is more ... he succumbs to their pressure, or maybe it is his conviction that this is the best decision for the country, otherwise this nation might become a desolate land too.

Do you think America has its eye on Pakistan's nuclear missiles and arsenal and that it may be attempting to acquire them?

Ever since Pakistan planned to develop such technology, America did not want to see this effort come to fruition. They do not want any Islamic state to strengthen itself in terms of defensive capabilities.

Their plan is to control the Islamic world, capture them, enslave them. How will they tolerate the fact that we could even keep a gun? However, our progress continued, quite tactfully, and America was aware of the developments too. But it wasn't able to take measures because there were international issues of further import at that time. There was the Afghanistan problem and the Russian war. They figured that Pakistan should not be made an enemy at the moment. So, Allah Almighty bestowed such situations that the Americans, even after being fully aware, held back their retaliatory activities. But they later stated that this entire [nuclear] program should be rolled back.

After September 11, everything is clear for you to see. How far and wide the negative repercussions of the event were felt. Afghanistan was utterly destroyed, and it was robbed of its freedom. The world has witnessed that and is screaming in protest, that this is far too unjust. And look at what happened in Iraq. It was attacked and no weapons were found. Now President Bush is saying that they were contemplating to build such weapons.

Without the aid of cannons or bombs, we have been attacked but the world does not feel the echoes of these attempts. Everything of ours has been snatched away. Our well-being, our freedom, our self-reliance; everything is finished.

We have suffered far more than Iraq or Afghanistan. More than 57,000 air raids were supported to destroy Afghanistan. Just to please America, we have been capturing innocents, and without trying them in courts we send them to Guantanamo. The government proudly confesses that we have captured 600 men and have submitted them to the mercy of the Americans. The FBI is strutting here smugly. Our airports are still under their control ... nearly one dozen, small and large. Whenever they feel like, they set off on an operation in the tribes and in the hills. So our freedom and our self-assertion, which we have struggled to achieve, has been snatched and the world is blind to it.

We have been harmed in the same manner as Afghanistan and Iraq, quietly, without a shot being fired. Surreptitiously, the U.S. has forged an elaborate scheme to strip Pakistan of our nuclear technology.

... America gave Israel nuclear capabilities. Then Israel and India traded nuclear technology. Russia was also involved in these deals. If this is a crime, then why aren't these nations accused? After Russia's defeat in the war ... I know, I saw it myself in Kabul and in Peshawar. People would carry these weapons on their heads ... selling them like groceries. In Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, these atomic weapons were being sold on streets and in markets.

... As for this recent pressure on the atomic scientists ... the U.S. was aware of it for the past 15 to 16 years. Why were they silent for so long? ... I believe they remained silent because [they] never anticipated that they'd ever be able to tackle this issue and disturb our atomic scientists. They have found a great opportunity in the form of Pervez Musharraf and the best moment to accomplish whatever they want.

I think that they will keep on applying pressure and then say, "Fine, we will not deal with your nuclear capability." They will agree to discard all issues, on the condition that we assist them in the spring operation, [in which] the Americans will enter our soils and they will not only invade Afghanistan but also intrude in our tribes. They will carry on their advance military exercises and they will leave our borders in shambles.

After all this is over, they will revert back to the same issue and ask us to hand over our atomic power to them because our scientists are unreliable. They will say, "Your rulers and your generals are untrustworthy as well, and we cannot afford to leave these weapons in your hands."

And therefore the only Islamic nation with nuclear technology will be robbed of its honor. Why doesn't President General Pervez Musharraf understand that this [is] all part of their plot? ... I think that if this happens to Pakistan, then no Islamic country will ever remain safe.

So you are of the opinion that America wants Pakistan's nuclear technology because this is a Muslim nation and that had it not been so, the nuclear capabilities would have been left alone?

It is abundantly clear. The moment the bomb was created, they titled it "the Islamic Bomb." At that very instance, their hatred for us came to surface. A bomb doesn't have a religion. Before this, when the Americans crafted a bomb it wasn't known as a "Christian Bomb." When China built a bomb it wasn't known as a "Communist Bomb." When Israel made a bomb it wasn't titled a "Jew Bomb." When India constructed their bomb it wasn't called "the Hindu Bomb." When Muslims attempted to make a bomb, they named it "the Islamic Bomb."

Do you think that the Pakistani people are pleased with President Musharraf?

Those who are close to the government or in the government or they have a vested interest; or those who are under pressure to comply or else the noose of NAB [National Accountability Bureau, set up in Pakistan in 1999 to investigate and prosecute corruption cases] will be tightened around their necks, those who are corrupt -- even they believe that his policies aren't best for the country, but they have to agree to his decisions.

The people are crying tears of blood. You go into the market, in a hotel, at a barbershop -- everyone is having the same discussion, [saying that] everything which was ours is being looted.

President Musharraf led a severe crackdown on religious organizations and jihadi groups. Yet it seems that more organizations are cropping up every day. Why do you think that is?

There are two kinds of people in the world: the victims and the punishers. Right now the Americans and the Western forces have all formed alliances and are the punishers. And us Muslims, the free nations, not counting our leaders, are the suffering victims. Whatever the punishing countries wish, they do to us and make our leaders do their bidding. If they rob a place, they tell the watchman to aid them.

The more you try to suppress or punish a helpless victim, the more will he try to struggle in order to break free. So if you keep on suppressing a group without any proven cause ... then I don't think that those victims will accept such treatment as long as they live.

Dr. Qadeer Khan recently confessed on television his crime of selling nuclear secrets. Do you think this has shamed the public?

It made no difference ... to the public. The public believes that [Khan] has been forced to do this and that he was shamed. Musharraf went on sinking deeper in the quicksand. So to save himself, instead of sacrificing himself, he let the disaster fall on the poor scientists. And to help their generals escape from their doom in their quicksand they're trapped in, these scientists took the blame on themselves. At least this is the opinion of the public.

... [Dr. Qadeer Khan] must have been intimidated. They must have told him to say what they want him to say, otherwise he too shall be sent to Guantanamo. "We will surrender you to America, and then you will suffer like they did." ... All of these allegations and investigations and arresting him before trial and making him confess ... doing this to die-hard loyalists of your country was not the right thing.

So you believe a conspiracy is at hand?

I have already explained this. They will not rest until they have completely taken away all of our resources. Now is the time where we decide if we want to live like slaves or die free. Conspiracy is obviously at hand.

What do other personalities, like yourself, who are players in the political setup, think about President Musharraf? Should he hang up his uniform? Should he leave his position?

All intellectuals, and political groups and the parliament do not think that this is the right approach. Pakistan's People's Party, when it was in power, and other parties that have ruled before, used to enjoy very good relations with America. They even commended many of Musharraf's decisions. But in this matter, even they are protesting. People's Party parliamentarians and the Nawaz group are vehemently protesting against the path that he is following and say that it will lead to doom. I don't think there are two opinions in this matter.

It has been said that the young officers in the Pakistan Army are very religiously inclined and say that Musharraf is not walking on the path prescribed by Islam.

It is obvious that an army whose motto is "Faith, Conviction and Jihad," which is displayed on top of every barrack and every gate and is the principle upon which the army's teachings are based ... that they have to perform jihad, which is a noble form of worship to Allah.

So do you think there is danger of a civil war of sorts happening inside the Pakistan army?

I don't think there is any such immediate danger. Our army is quite tolerant and intelligent. The ones at the lower level, they keep a keen eye on matters. If a civil war does begin, God forbid, then the dreams of the enemies will be automatically fulfilled. ... So the soldiers are aware that if a civil war ensues, then we will be doing our enemies great service. ... However, the higher-rank departments are responsible for addressing the concern: For how long will this disturbing situation prevail? It should be ended.

Do you think that President Musharraf is like a puppet being controlled by America?

We're not saying that he has been only obeying orders. It may be his view that this is the best way -- but we do not conform with his perspective. He handles every matter too expressively and is transforming the country into a secular state. He speaks of conditions where secularism is given importance over Islam. He is dreaming of forging [Pakistan] into a state similar to Turkey or Morocco. The very basis of forming Pakistan was [Arabic for, "There is only one Allah ..."]. Pakistan did not come into being because of some national, ethnic, boundary-based or geographical qualities. This is a country upholding the spirit of "There is only one Allah." And if someone thinks about altering this principle and fashioning us to match Turkey or Morocco's style, then he is doing great injustice to his country.

Currently [Musharraf] is imposing restrictions on religious schools and is looking to upgrade them. What do you think about this?

This has been a long drawn-out process. These forces that target Islam, Islamic education and Islamic schools are in a sensitive position. Muslims can survive through two sources: one is the Islamic perspective, which is achieved via Islamic education, Islamic way of life etc. So from an Islamic perspective, a Muslim commands a certain position. It provides the salvation of his soul. The second thing is his defensive capabilities. ...

So one is the Islamic perspective, which reaps him benefits, and the other is his defensive capabilities, which help him survive. The torchbearers of the Islamic perspective are the religious institutes, religious organizations, mosques, maulvis [religious clerics], khanqa [Islamic seminary], schools, Islamic education, Islamic course. They all give Islamic perspective its footing. The main attack is on them, so that these guides of Islamic perspective are demolished. [Then] in matters of defensive capabilities ... the enemies are trying to eliminate this. ... They object to the fact that we possess [nuclear weapons].

If we gave it to Libya, then what is the crime? If all of Europe can share this technology between them, then it is the duty of all Muslims to share any technology or knowledge they posses. Knowledge is not anyone's property. We should disseminate that knowledge. If Japan is allowed to distribute its technology across the world and Europe is distributing, practically giving away, its defensive capabilities to everyone ... so if we did it, then what is our sin? ... I think that as soon as any technology or knowledge is acquired by an Islamic nation, then they should distribute it to the rest of the world. Education is a light, a glow which should not be kept in a locked room. ... If a nation insists, "I will keep a bomb as well as a Kalashnikov and you are not even allowed to keep a pocketknife," then it is highly unjust. And history has proven that the villains never succeed.

If a Muslim lacks defensive capabilities, then the basis of his faith gives him courage and instills in him the passion for jihad. So much so that even a female is left with no choice but to blow herself to bits. So what is this passion that drives them to blow up their own body? It is religion, faith and Islam.

Islam does not instruct you to commit terrorism. Islam ordains that if someone brutalizes you, destroys and robs your home, and if your honor is no longer safe, then [you should] be ready to sacrifice everything. In such an instance, you keep focused on the afterlife -- that you will be a living legend. After your martyrdom, you shall live a promised life.

The attacks on President Musharraf showed a Muslim suicide bomber attempting to kill another Muslim. How can he be considered a martyr?

We do not approve of such acts. Especially in an Islamic nation. It could be the efforts of the enemy to create doubts and conflicts. Or this seed must have been implanted in their minds that this too is jihad. Everyone cannot be watched at all times. ... If the fire burns in the people of Islam, then who knows how many people are harboring this flame. ...

Pervez Musharraf must contemplate why he was attacked. America must contemplate why the September 11th event took place -- what were the reasons behind it -- instead of creating a commotion about arresting people needlessly. They should ponder over their policies and ask everyone to think about it. Seminars should be arranged, experts and scientists should be invited, a roundtable conference should be arranged and then discuss what went wrong.

Ahmed Rashid: Critical Journalist
Jugnu Mohsin: Newspaper Editor
"Shahzad": An Underground Militant
Lieutenant General Hamid Gul: Defender of Islam
General Mirza Aslam Beg: Former Army Foe of Musharraf
Sherry Rehman: Opposition Parliamentarian
• Sami ul-Haq: Powerful Religious Leader

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