Extremism threatens both Musharraf and US interests
WASHINGTON: Extremism in Pakistan seriously threatens President Pervez Musharraf and American interests, argues an editorial in the Washington Times on Monday.
The leading article notes that religious extremists have shown their potential for subterfuge by twice coming close to killing President Pervez Musharraf. The United States, given its reliance on General Musharraf to rein in Al Qaeda, therefore has an interest in estimating what kind of power these extremists have, and those who sympathise with them. While the Pakistani leader has been able to strike a broad bargain with Islamic parties, it is questionable if he has been able to “co-opt extremists through political patronage. Institutional tolerance of Islamic jihadism represents a real danger in Pakistan,” it points out.
The editorial notes that Muhammad Jamil, one of the suicide bombers was a member of the Jaish-e-Muhammad and was released after repatriation from Afghanistan. The Jaish later changed its name to Khuddam-ul-Islam and continued operating, until that group was also banned on November 15 last year.
“This regrouping of banned organisations is, unfortunately, part of a general trend in Pakistan. Jamil and his group had been in the grasp Pakistani authorities, but were never subject to due process,” says the newspaper. “Another important dimension to the power of Islamic fundamentalists is political. Islamic parties in Pakistan, such as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), are Gen Musharraf’s allies on many domestic issues, but oppose counter-terror efforts and a rapprochement with India. They are in the enviable position of being both courted by and in opposition to Gen Musharraf,” the editorial said. It quoted an International Crisis Group report which said that with Gen Musharraf’s patronage, “the religious right is fast expanding its political space while the military is hesitant to intrude upon the mullahs’ traditional spheres of influence, which include the madrassa sector”.
The newspaper says that the broad consensus among Pakistan watchers is that Gen Musharraf has successfully eliminated the presence of extremists in senior military and intelligence posts. The middle ranks are believed to be fairly professional, but in terms of counter-terror efforts, they are believed to be generally willing to do only what is minimally necessary to placate their superiors and the United States. And some who sympathise with the efforts of militants may be willing to turn a blind eye at critical moments. “Gen Musharraf has tried to strike a difficult balance with extremists in his country. But the scales appear to be tipping, indicating the president should think about realigning himself with the mainstream political parties. Although these parties have traditionally been Gen Musharraf’s rivals, they are surely willing to negotiate with the president,” the editorial concluded.