To gauge the true depth of moral and intellectual decline of the ruling elites in the Ummah, one has only to see their reactions to the plight of the Muslims in Iraq and Palestine under their occupiers. With the exception of the Rahbar of Islamic Iran, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei, not one Muslim ruler has uttered a word against the brutalities being inflicted on these hapless peoples, much less done anything to help them. But this is only one aspect of the problem. Most Muslim rulers are themselves so brutal and ruthless against their own people that expecting them to help suffering Muslims in other lands is unrealistic. In any case, there is a close connection between the tormentors of the Iraqis and Palestinians — the Americans and Zionists respectively — and the illegitimate rulers of Muslim lands. Because they have no support among their own people, dismissing them contemptuously as uninformed, backward and irrelevant, the ruling elites of Muslim countries are forced to rely on support from outside for survival.
Let us look at the example of general Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. He has launched a vicious war against his own people in order to appease the US. Before September 11, 2001, he was treated as a pariah in Washington; a single phone call from Colin Powell, then the US secretary of state, on September 12 dramatically changed his fortunes. In return for agreeing to whatever the Americans demanded, including abandoning the Taliban, hitherto supported by successive Pakistani regimes, Musharraf was transformed into an international statesman and a key member of the US’s alliance against “terrorism”. In his eagerness to appease the US, he even turned on those within Pakistan who dared sympathize with the Taliban. Now, with the Taliban reduced to near-insignificance, Musharraf’s war continues unabated, against all those who continue to oppose the US’s occupation of Afghanistan and its plans for the region.
There is a supreme irony in all this. The Muslims of the subcontinent owe their very identity as such to the very people targeted by Musharraf today. Had it not been for the armies and Sufis from Central Asia and Afghanistan, there would be few Muslims in what was a predominantly Hindu- and Buddhist-dominated subcontinent. Pakistan owes its existence directly and exclusively to these historical realities. True, India’s borders have remained fluid throughout history, extending east and west whenever it had a strong central ruler, and shrinking when a weakling ruled in Delhi, but the fact is that Muslims survived in India only because Muslim rulers in Afghanistan and beyond were willing to come to their rescue. Names like Mahmood Ghaznavi, Muhammad Ghauri and Ahmed Shah Abdali are etched into the memory of every Muslim man, woman and child in the subcontinent with even a rudimentary knowledge of history. Pakistan even names its missiles after these illustrious forebears, yet such memories are being erased by Musharraf, the local satrap of a crusading America.
The people being targeted by Musharraf—the tribesmen of Waziristan, Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and those from Central Asia and beyond who participated in the struggle against the Red Army—include many of the very people who sacrificed their comfort and lives in order to protect, in effect, Pakistan itself. Had the Red Army succeeded in establishing a foothold inAfghanistan, Pakistan could not have survived. The Pakistan army’s greatest achievement has been to hold out for only 17 days before surrendering to the invading Indian army in 1971. If it is no match for the Indians, what chance would it have against the Red Army? Yet Musharraf displays extreme ingratitude by killing those whose sacrifices ensured Pakistan’s survival. He attempts to justify his joining the US-led crusade on the pretext of protecting Pakistan’s “national interest”. This is a shallow excuse. Every retreat—from the U-turn on Afghanistan, the abandonment of Kashmir, and now the killing of Pakistan’s own people—has been done under this pretext. In effect, Musharraf has given the US everything it asked for, in order to avoid having to stand up to the Americans: a policy of appeasement that has never worked in international relations.
Killing one’s own people and destroying or ignoring one’s history is a recipe for disaster. History will deliver a very harsh judgement on Musharraf; but perhaps he is not concerned about history. His worries are more mundane and immediate: to survive in power despite the anger and hatred of Pakistan’s people, by doing everything possible to appease the US, regardless of the interests of the Pakistani people, let alone any principle. Even that may be a tall order: the US has a habit of ditching allies when they have served their purpose. The Shah of Iran, Marcos of the Philippines and Samosa of Nicaragua were all cast aside once their services were no longer needed. Musharraf’s fate is unlikely to be any different.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) in Toronto, Canada (www.islamicthought.org).