Pakistan Ruler under Pressure Move towards Islamic Fundamentalism
July 7, 2008 - 8:07 PM
(CNSNews.com) - Militant Islamic groups in Pakistan and elsewhere are challenging the newly-installed military regime to move the country away from the United States and towards a more fundamentalist position.
Military ruler General Pervez Musharraf responded to one challenge over the weekend by restricting the movements of the leader of the country's most influential Muslim party, whom the authorities accused of "activities prejudicial to public safety and maintenance of good order."
Jamaat-e-Islami Sunday said it would contest the ban on its leader Qazi Ahmed, who has been forbidden to enter his home province for 30 days. The party warned that the ban could incite its followers and lead to a clash with the military authorities.
In recent days Ahmed declared that Islamic revolution was Pakistan's "destiny," and said the country would not accept the appointment of "American agents" onto a National Security Council that Musharraf has said he will form.
Ahmed also criticized Musharraf for holding up Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's secularist ruler in the 1920s and 30s, as a role model.
Islamists have seen the October 12 seizure of power by army officers as an opportunity to achieve their vision for a fundamentalist - and nuclear-capable - Pakistan, as a Muslim vanguard against what they see as U.S. domination.
Anti-American sentiment continues to be reported in Pakistan. On Friday a Muslim activist tried to burn down a Christian church in Lahore because, local newspapers report, he was protesting against U.S. policies in the region.
Ousted President Nawaz Sharif was accused of being too eager to accept American dictates, particularly after the U.S. mediated an agreement for Pakistan to withdraw its troops from disputed Kashmir last summer. The decision, which may have averted all-out war with neighboring India, was seen by Muslims and the military as a humiliating reversal.
In the weeks before the coup, Sharif also was showing signs of bowing to U.S. pressure to scale back official ties with the Taliban.
Jamaat-e-Islami called for the exclusion of pro-American figures, and the appointment of Islamic experts onto the NSC, a joint military-civilian body Musharraf says will help run the country.
Another party, considered even more militant, has backed the call, saying the appointment of Islamic figures will prevent a move towards secularism.
This group, Jamiat-e-Ulema, has organized anti-U.S. and pro-Taliban demonstrations, and backs Osama bin Laden, the Afghanistan-based terror chief wanted by the U.S. for the bombing of embassies in Africa last year. Washington accuses the Taliban of sheltering Bin Laden
A leading body of Muslim scholars, the Council of Islamic Ideology, has also called for religious figures to sit on the NSC and for the "islamization" of Pakistan to be accelerated, the English-language Dawn newspaper reports Monday.
Council chair Dr. S. Zaman said the body wanted to ensure that any legislation passed was in accordance with Islamic law. He accused the electronic media of failing to safeguard "Islamic identity and culture."
An international Islamist group, Al-Muhajiroun, has asked Musharraf for a meeting to discuss a range of proposals it says he should implement.
In a statement, Al-Muhajiroun suggests the following proposals: The establishment of an Islamic entity to which all Muslims could swear allegiance, operating on strict Muslim principles; the replacement of "secularism, liberalism, Western democracy, socialism and capitalism" by Islam; the closure of all foreign embassies until relations "based on Islam" can be established; and support for Muslims everywhere to overthrow their "illegitimate governments."
"We are willing to give you allegiance and to declare you as the supreme leader of the Muslims in the world if you implement the Islamic constitution which has been specified," Al-Muhajiroun promises.
But although Musharraf has not indicated a willingness to bend to the Islamist pressure, he is attempting a balancing act. He said during a televised address to the nation a week ago that "the strengthening of brotherly ties with the Islamic countries will be central pillar of our foreign policy."
Monday Musharraf left on his first visit abroad since the coup, to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Both countries have welcomed the coup in Pakistan, and they are the only two Middle East states to have recognized the Taliban militia's rule in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been the main sponsor of the Taliban.
The News of Islamabad says cash-strapped Pakistan will be looking for financial aid from Gulf states.
During his current nine-nation tour of the region, Defense Secretary William Cohen reportedly discussed the Pakistan and Taliban/Bin Laden situations with the Saudi and UAE governments.
The Taliban announced on Saturday that it was willing to discuss Bin Laden and other issues with the U.S.