by MB Naqvi
(IPS) KARACHI -- The convoluted politics of the Middle East might have a new player. It could be Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf.
He has just completed a tour of Latin America, U.S., Britain and France in which he emphasized the need of removing the root causes of terrorism. Musharraf added that if it was not done, then the world would just be treating the symptoms and leaving the causes of the ailment unattended.
What are the roots of terrorism?
Musharraf defines them functionally to be two. The first is the Arab-Israeli dispute, due mainly to the indefinite military occupation of Palestinian territories and human rights abuses allegedly committed by Israeli troops. The second is the grievous violations of the Kashmiris' human rights by Indian military forces in the Kashmir Valley.
These human rights abuses are breeding terrorists. This is what keeps the Middle East heavily destabilized. And this is what makes South Asia a hot spot where fears of a nuclear war persist.
Without doubt, there is a heavy input of Musharraf's new role in Pakistan's domestic politics. The president is engaged in lobbying for international support for a solution to the Kashmir dispute with India -- one that is favorable to both Pakistan and the Kashmiris.
He hopes greater Western support will be forthcoming by his advocacy. Musharraf also has dexterously bracketed the Kashmir issue with the Palestinian-Israeli problem and expects to cash in on the sizeable political capital he has accumulated as a fighter against terrorism in both Afghanistan and back home in Pakistan.
His entry into Middle East politics seems to have been welcomed by the United States. This became clear when Musharraf met President George W. Bush in his recent visit to the White House.
He was able to get a pledge from Bush that the U.S. administration remains committed to a Palestinian state and that Washington will continue to be engaged with this problem. Musharraf can only hope that praise of himself by Bush will translate into greater U.S. understanding of Pakistan's case on Kashmir.
The Pakistani president has also made his international stature stronger by bringing up Iraq and referring to the state of affairs there as "a mess." By saying that the war was wrong, he has sent signals to Washington that he can be an independent thinker, not tied to Bush's coattails. Also Pakistan supports UN.
According to many observers of Pakistan that certainly augurs well for Musharraf in his efforts to be a credible Third World leader.
But these stances are not likely to lead to any weakening of existing bonds with the U.S.
On the contrary, Pakistan's anti-terrorist policies are firmly grounded in U.S.-Pakistan cooperation and it is slated to grow. Indeed, U.S. dependence on Musharraf in fighting Islamic extremism in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is unlikely to diminish any time soon.
For Washington, Musharraf is the key to the issue of abating extremism in the Islamic world -- one in which Pakistan plays a pivotal role. Behind the continually repeated U.S. commitment of a long-term engagement with Pakistan, lies the realization that Musharraf's regime is crucial in putting the lid on Islamic seminaries, which have been called the breeding ground for religious fanaticism.
In this context, the problems of Palestine and Kashmir are interwoven. Religious teachers and clerics in both places are blamed for manipulating the minds of young Muslims, causing them to hate the U.S. -- and conveniently blame the North Americans for every problem in the Islamic world.
In South Asia, it produces terrorists that seek to fight India and annihilate Musharraf.
The Islamic zealots see Musharraf as engaged in seeking a deal with India that can only involve selling the Kashmiris down the river. Since both issues -- Kashmir and Palestine -- are extraordinarily complex, no quick fixes can be expected. But that means that opinions are apt to go on hardening on all sides with the delays involved. That is, if extra efforts are not put in by the U.S., Israel, moderate Palestinians, and India and Pakistan to solve these problems.
Musharraf's additional role in the Middle East is notionally predicated on Pakistan's own standing in the Muslim world, in the midst of serious flaws in that region.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regional peace-making role has been made irrelevant. The Saudi monarchy is wobbly and afraid of democratic reforms. And the region is turning into a fertile breeding ground for terrorists fuelled by sentiments against the perceived U.S. unconditional support for Israel.
While it is still unsure whether Washington will respond positively to Pakistan's pleas over Kashmir, one thing will be certain. Musharraf will be encouraged by the Bush administration to assume a more positive role in the Middle East.
The spin-off in the continual engagement of Musharraf will be a win-win situation for both the United States and Pakistan.
The Pakistani president wants to reform the 'madressas' -- as the religious seminaries are called -- and tackle Islamic fanaticism at its roots. In turn, he wants to transform Pakistan into a moderate and modern Islamic country.
This would give Musharraf credibility to be an interlocutor in the Middle East.
Without doubt only the United States can rein in Israel and find a workable solution to the Palestinian problem. But for that to happen, they need an honest broker -- someone who's acceptable to both the Muslim world and the West.
As it is right, now, Musharraf might just be that man.
December 8, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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