Frontline World

PAKISTAN - On A Razor's Edge, March 2004


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

VOICES IN THE WHIRLWIND
Assessing Musharraf's Predicament

INTERVIEW WITH SHARMEEN OBAID
The Brink of Peace

ESSENTIAL BACKGROUNDERS FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES
Reporting on the Nuclear Scandal

FACTS & STATS
Background, Government, Issues

LINKS & RESOURCES
India/Pakistan Relations, Islamic Fundamentalism, Media Resources

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VOICES FROM THE WHIRLWIND: Assessing Musharraf's Predicament
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

The voices of opposition and dissent are closing in on General Pervez Musharraf, the embattled president of Pakistan. He rescued Pakistan from the brink of political collapse, only to find himself threatened by a rising tide of opposition from both Islamic fundamentalist groups and liberal political parties, who view his military rule as a betrayal of the nation. While fending off these dissenting factions, Musharraf also must struggle to balance a hefty load of explosive issues. His historic peace accord with India has averted the threat of nuclear war, but it ignited the ire of radical Pakistani groups who lay claim to Kashmir. He is cooperating with the international community to dismantle the nuclear weapons black market, but having to confront emerging revelations about Pakistan's central role in the growing nuclear scandal. FRONTLINE/World reporter and producer Sharmeen Obaid journeyed across her native Pakistan in early 2004, talking with people on the ground about the president's predicament. The following interview excerpts, featuring some of Pakistan's leading voices, illuminate the complexities and contradictions playing out inside Pakistan and the razor's edge on which its president is now walking.

Ahmed Rashid: Critical Journalist

Ahmed Rashid Ahmed Rashid is an internationally known Pakistani journalist and an authority on Muslim extremist groups. He is a correspondent with the Far East Economic Review as well as the author of Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia and Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. In this interview, Rashid traces the roots of Pakistan's internal struggles to Musharraf's contradictory policy toward extremist groups that he once supported but now has outlawed. "He has banned them and restricts them," Rashid tells FRONTLINE/World reporter and producer Sharmeen Obaid. "At the same time, the intelligence services have worked with them very closely, especially in Kashmir and backing the Taliban.... I think all these chickens are coming home to roost now."

Jugnu Mohsin: Newspaper Editor

Jugnu Moshin Jugnu Mohsin is the publisher of the Friday Times Newspaper, one of Pakistan's leading liberal newspapers. In this interview, Mohsin explores the personal contradictions of Musharraf the man as a way to understand the current contradictions in Pakistani policy. Musharraf, she says, is molded in the staunch, authoritarian traditions of the military, yet has a progressive, open-minded worldview. He is at once a dyed-in-the-wool soldier and a "regular, liberal guy," Mohsin tells FRONTLINE/World. As a consequence, Pakistan is struggling to reconcile the security-obsessed and insular worldview of the Pakistani army with the openness and transparency demanded by the age of globalization. Musharraf "could do better," in this regard, Mohsin says, principally by scaling back the military's role in government. But, she maintains, "... it would be tragic for Pakistan if at this juncture he wasn't there to lead us. I think he must lead us to the other side ... to the safe side."

"Shahzad": An Underground Militant

“Shahzad”   "Shahzad," whose true identity is concealed, is an outlawed jihadi fighting for Kashmir's independence from India. This interview takes us inside the struggle for Kashmir, illuminating the conflict and its effect on Pakistan's stability. Jihadis support Musharraf's efforts to broker peace with India, Shahzad tells FRONTLINE/World, but Kashmiris must be consulted in the peace talks if the violence is to end. He maintains that recent assassination attempts on Musharraf had nothing to do with Kashmiris, who see the president as an ally. "[I]t is my opinion that Mr. Musharraf is our Muslim brother and he will never betray the trust that the Kashmiris have vested in him. He is a patriot, a Pakistani, and will never betray the blood which has been spilled in Kashmir."

Lieutenant General Hamid Gul: Defender of Islam

Lieutenant General Hamid Gul Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, retired, was the director of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's military intelligence agency, from 1987 to 1989, during the time of the rise of the Taliban. He is known for his sympathies to Islamic radicals, and in this interview with FRONTLINE/World, he defends the rights of militants to fight for an Islamic system of government. Pakistan would become an Islamic state, Gul argues in this interview, if it were not for the United States. "[It] ... is part of the global design of the imperialist powers that Pakistan should not be a democracy. Because whenever it becomes democracy, it will be an Islamic democracy. And that is what the Americans don't like."

General Mirza Aslam Beg: Former Army Foe of Musharraf

General Mirza Aslam Beg General Mirza Aslam Beg, retired, was the chief of staff of the Pakistani army from 1988 to 1991. Many accuse him of being on the inside of Pakistan's underground nuclear proliferation program, an allegation he denies in this interview with FRONTLINE/World reporter and producer Sharmeen Obaid. "If my government wasn't aware, how was I aware?" General Beg asks, adding that the United States and England should be held responsible for failing to reveal what they knew about Pakistan's nuclear activities. "They are a party to the crime that was committed," he says, "by not revealing the facts to the responsible people in Pakistan either."

Sherry Rehman: Opposition Parliamentarian

Sherry Rehman Sherry Rehman is a liberal parliamentarian as well as an outspoken critic of President Musharraf. In this interview, she argues that more robust democratic institutions, and not continued military rule, are necessary to guide Pakistan through the current political crisis. Rehman acknowledges that in the wake of 9/11, Pakistan was faced with extraordinary challenges requiring strong leadership. And she concedes that Musharraf served his nation well during that difficult time. But that time has now passed, and, she says, military authority still goes unchecked and must be replaced with the electoral process. "What happens with us," she tells FRONTLINE/World reporter and producer Sharmeen Obaid, "is the military establishment takes control and therefore becomes accountable to no one."

Sami ul-Haq: Powerful Religious Leader

Sami ul-Haq Sami ul-Haq is a senator and founding member of Muttahida Majlis-e-Ama (MMA), otherwise known as the United Action Front, a coalition of religious parties that gained unprecedented victories in 2003 elections. Ul-Haq, who still supports Taliban ideology, is best known for his madrassah, or religious school, which is considered the most famous in Pakistan for having trained thousands of students who went to fight in Afghanistan and Kashmir as jihadis. In this interview, ul-Haq tells FRONTLINE/World that Pakistan's enemies object to the country's possession of nuclear weapons, but that "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 possess."

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