Unit Durbar – Circa 2001

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One feels sorry for the “Holinesses” used as “fillers” of the empty spaces of the Conference Hall by the minions of government, in their wildest imaginations they would never have anticipated such a blunt and focussed tirade. Mostly “friendlies”, the Maulanas were expecting to hear sweet nothings, then depart full of tea and samosas (and maybe a few government perks), the blistering speech stunned them into silence. The message was unambiguous, Musharraf was not going to be a holier-than-thou “Mr Nice Guy” any longer, “join the mainstream of civilization or “bug” out”. One revelled in the dressing down Musharraf meted out but felt sorry for the recipients since they had braved the anger of the extremists to attend the event in the first place. Shell-shocked, they have been left in limbo between a rock and a hard place even though the CE’s message was mostly meant for the rather militant extremists who were not present. Such militants, who are in a minority, are out of sync with real Islam, a moderate religion preaching peace and harmony.

The CE was very right in lambasting the narrow sectarian agenda of some unscrupulous religious zealots, bringing strife to the land by exploiting the ignorance of the masses. Even then his speech should not be taken by the liberals among us as a denouement against Islam. Neither should anybody be skeptical about his seriousness of purpose. The CE needs to take initiative to rid the public of the perception that nothing will come out of his threats to deal with such militants. Musharraf did not say anything to offend the broad mass of Muslims, targetting only those bigots who misuse Islam for their own selfish motivations. Nothing signified a deviation from any Islamic principles, what he did do was to encourage religious scholars to emphasize Islam as a simple, rather Spartan religion, tolerant of other’s views. Extremism has not been ordained by God, the narrow interpretation is that of man. Islam preaches moderation throughout, it never preaches hatred. The very fact of praying together is an act of equality not found in any other religion, the Ummah line up shoulder to shoulder without any boundaries for being rich and poor, of being educated or ignorant or of their place in society. There is no concept of rank to obtain any privileges, very contrary to the availing practice in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. There is a downside, what the Chief Executive said was at a cost, adding to the growing international perception that religious leaders in Islam are usually extremist.

The lack of hypocrisy in the Chief Executive stands out, he is what he is and he means what he says. He arouses deep loyalty because he goes out of his way to help his friends and associates when required. While he is not vindictive, he does not feign false affection for those he does not have affection for. Musharraf is not a dual or triple personality as most soldiers tend to become as they go up in rank. He does not savour the company of green-turbaned Ulema as some hypocrites tend to do, spending hours in useless debate with them about religious edicts while their professional duties suffer by default of attention. Never satisfied with five-star accommodation, even temporarily, they have to have six-star comfort, wallowing in luxury at State expense and they have the effrontery to call themselves Muslims! Sometimes they wear a beard for identification with religious practice, but they are something else to your face and something quite different behind your back, they lack the courage of looking into your eyes for fear that the darkness inside them will become public knowledge. Let people do in private what they want, let them take liquor even, so what, drinking is between them and God. But when they profess to be saints, there is something wrong. Such men need reminding that a Muslim believes in simple living and even if he craves for comforts, it should be at his own expense and not that of the government. When favours are dished out they are rendered equally, not confined only to relatives and select friends. When such people support criminals in their “business” activities, does it make them any less criminal? In attempting to fool others with their multiple personalities, they are only fooling themselves.

Musharraf has a great ability in coping with his colleagues. In successfully banding a disparate group as one single contiguous unit, there may be hope after all. As any other human being Musharraf has his good points and some maybe not so good, increasingly one sees the strengths overwhelming his weaknesses. Some of these aberrations are that of emotions, in my measuring scale that is a plus point. The helm of affairs has given him tremendous on-the-job training (OJT), this OJT is backed up by good knowledge and intelligence. When Musharraf goes to Delhi, eventually, he will not be “the simple-soldier-pushover” for Vajpayee & Co as some friends and most foes alike seem to believe. On display for the religious right the emotions were intelligently portrayed, a signal needed to be sent to them and to the rest of the world, “enough of nastiness under the guise of religion, come back to the real world”. The real world of a Muslim is sparse, simple living, prayers, community spirit, tolerance, etc. Those who use violence in the name of religion need to be hunted down, anybody bearing arms without authority to do so deserves to be shot on sight.

The Government has finally launched a de-weaponization programme, encouraging illegal weapon owners to turn in their arms by June 20 “no question asked”. The results of the “amnesty” have so far have not been very encouraging but at least it is a start. Some people may well deposit their weapons, normally law-abiding citizens who have obtained weapons for self-protection in a very bad law & order environment. Hard-core criminals, hardened terrorists, whether sectarian, ethnic, etc will not turn the other cheek and meekly turning in the tools of their “trade”. Moreover the government’s threat to raid houses and homes is a non-starter, this mind-boggling exercise will send “bulls into a china shop”, despite their best behaviour those who take part in the raids are likely to be crude, it will only invite international approbation about human rights, civil rights, violation of privacy, use of excessive force, ethnic intolerance, religious discrimination and what have you? etc. Searches should only be carried out on a case-to-case basis and only on obtaining credible information. Care must be taken to exercise the right of self-defence only when fired upon, no excessive force to be used.

Except for the tribal areas, person in civilian clothes should not be allowed to carry weapons, only soldiers, para-military forces and members of the police who are on “Watch and Ward” duty, this “arms quarantine” must be applied immediately. People do need weapons to protect themselves, but only within the confines of their homes, similarly a guard at a bank or any other installation but only in uniform and only within the premises, etc. On the public streets except for a few authorized persons, and those too in uniform, no one should be allowed to bear weapons. Private security companies should conform to bearing weapons within the premises only. Anybody in civilian clothes found with weapons on his person on the streets would be liable to be “shot on sight”. By restricting the display of weapons, this quarantining “paints” the terrorists, their movements can then be easily monitored by an “informer system” of the “great silent majority”. Presently so many people in civilian clothes move about carrying weapons with impunity that one cannot distinguish between the ordinary citizens and terrorists.

Once-upon-a-time everyone in Afghanistan bore arms, even setting up illegal “action” posts. The Talibaan militia simply declared that anyone not with the militia and found carrying arms would be shot. The remedy is rather harsh, it is also true that sometimes innocents will get caught in the crossfire, we have to accept that there will be some collateral damage. To stop sliding into anarchy it is vitally necessary to de-weaponize society, by ruthless means if necessary, but certainly pragmatic ones that do not complicate the situation.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.

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