Pakistan's mullahs thrive on anti-war
By M B Naqvi
The burnings of United States flags and effigies of US
President George W Bush have now become de rigueur for
frequent demonstrations and rallies organized by the
religious parties in Pakistan against the war on Iraq.
Indeed, against this backdrop, the religious
right in the country is positioning itself even closer
The loudest critics of US policy on
Iraq are the religious parties that have united in the
Muttaheda Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), which comprises a third
of the national parliament and wholly controls the North
West Frontier Province (NWFP), has a dominant share in
Balochistan province adjoining Afghanistan and is
present in Punjab and Sindh provinces.
call for general strike last Friday which led to
widespread shutdowns throughout the country. It was a
success in NWFP and Balochistan provinces, but was only
sporadic in Punjab and Sindh.
and groups are cashing in on a widespread pan-Islamic
sentiment, a characteristic of South Asian Muslims. They
see the war on Iraq in black and white, as a clash of
religions: Christian America and West - forget the
actual facts - against a Muslim country, Iraq.
More pan-Islamic propaganda by mullahs has
acquired a lot of paranoia and some xenophobia against
the West. It curiously ignores "old Europe's" opposition
to America's war and the worldwide demonstrations by
millions of people of all religions or none.
Naimatullah Khan, a prominent MMA leader of
Karachi who is also city's mayor, enjoys the reputation
of being moderate and level-headed. He observed, "This
war has no justification; it is against the UN charter
and indeed will deal a blow to both UN and international
Astute politician that he is, he did not
bring in the religious bit at all, realizing that he was
speaking to an international audience. The MMA is
exploiting the religious sentiments of Pakistani Muslims
to gain power. This power drive by the mullahs has posed
the secular elements in the country - an influential
minority - a dilemma. They, too, object to the war on
political and legal grounds, but their demonstrations
are smaller. The majority among the West-oriented
politicians is secular, but their shibboleths are taken
from the mullahs.
Those who lead big, right-wing
parties court the United States for support. But their
politics, god and country, is heavily garnished with
vacuous Islamic rhetoric. They have ended up
strengthening the mullahs far more than themselves.
In short, the MMA is having the best of both
worlds: On one side, it is cashing in on the widespread
anti-US feelings, stealing anti-imperialist slogans from
the left and, on the other, is bargaining with the
generals. The generals are still the only people who
matter in giving a share in power. But they dread the US
The generals, the silent puppeteers
behind the show of the technically democratic government
of Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali, and their chief,
President General Pervez Musharraf, are at sea regarding
what policy to adopt toward the US and the Iraq war they
Government views are carried
by the media. But the generals are falling between two
stools of reflecting popular feelings, with
genuflections toward the MMA, and the need to remain on
the right side of the US, on whose support they depend.
In the event, neither objective is achieved, the US
takes a dim view of what Islamabad is doing.
Mainstream right-wing parties stand crippled by
the generals, except for the turncoat toadies who once
belonged to the then Pakistan Muslim League of former
Premier Nawaz Sharif, and are now the ruling party as
the PML (Quaid-i-Azam).
They are dwarfed under
the shadow of Musharraf and are not taken seriously.
Their many efforts to woo the MMA to join the government
have produced no result. The mullahs are aiming higher
and treat the ruling party with contempt. The US, too,
The other mainstream party that
polled more votes than it got seats in last year's
polls, the Pakistan Peoples Party of ex-prime minister
Benazir Bhutto, is keeping aloof from all anti-US
demonstrations, keeping a low profile. It is afraid of
annoying the US.
Sharif's PML is also in the
dumps with fewer seats in parliament, thanks to the
peculiar results in the October 2002 election. Its
rhetoric is borrowed mostly from MMA and does not really
The left is only a dim memory from
decades ago. Its atomized remnants are found in many
non-government organizations. Their old allies, the
regional nationalist parties, were never left-wing in
texture, are marked by factionalism, and fast becoming
Balochistan continues to live
in the Middle Ages and is represented by mullahs and the
rich tribal chiefs or sardars. Only one regional
nationalist party counts electorally because it emerged
the second largest party in the last polls the Muttahida
Quami Movement of Altaf Hussain.
Sindhi groups regard MQM's nationalist credentials with
suspicion because of accusations of its fascist
tendencies. It is the backbone of Sindh's provincial
government as the largest party of the ruling coalition.
It has a deserved reputation of being pro-US.
But one of its leaders, ex-senator Nasreen
Jalil, repeated a populist line on Iraq and emphasized
the humanitarian factor. "Too many Iraqi lives are going
to be needlessly lost. There is no real justification
for it. Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, clearly
questionable, would not be unique; so many others,
especially Israel, have them. Would the US fight against
Asked about the war, Hamza Alvi, a
leftist intellectual, disassociated himself from all
that nonsense about a "clash of civilizations" or of
religions. He said, "'The US is set on a course of
enforcing a new, updated version of imperialism. Bush's
immediate objective may be oil and giving Israel more
"But the vision behind the current
American quest covers most of Asia, aiming at the
encirclement of China and putting Russia in its proper
place. It has all but secured South Asia and is well on
its way to dominate Central Asia," he added. "Their
nemesis - popular reactions and struggles - may seem far
away. But they might not be all that far away either,
including the many fooled Americans," Alvi said.
(Inter Press Service)