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Options for Pakistan
By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

If Pakistan is to stand shoulder to shoulder on the world stage with developed nations it must see that its options are not, —as it would appear at first sight—between military and democratic rule, but between remaining in its present state of impasse or extricating itself from it.

As in any other nation, there have been moments in its history when national progress has come to a standstill. In the case of Pakistan, the need of the hour is for bold decision-making to re-start it on its onward journey. But since revolutionary ideas often clash with public sentiment, it will take the clout of a military ruler rather than the persuasion of a democratically elected leader to push them through.

A classic example dates back to the twelfth century, when Salahuddin Ayyubi (d.1193), heading the army of Sultan Nooruddin Zangi, played a historic role in saving the Muslims from the onslaught of the crusaders. If he had the political power to do so, it was because on the death of the Sultan, he usurped the royal princes and placed himself on the throne. Muslim writers have generally held this act to be lawful, if unconstitutional, as it resulted in great political advantage.

Another telling example is that of Charles de Gaulle (d.1970), a general in the French army, who rose to the position of President of France by seizing political power at a crucial juncture in the nation’s history. Condemned by some as an undemocratic act, this led, in fact, to France’s salvation. An elected ruler could never have acted so independently of public sentiment as to take the realistic and intrepid path chosen by De Gaulle, namely the unconditional de-colonizing of all French colonies, in particular Algeria, which was exactly what France needed to elevate it from being the "sick man" of Europe to being a front-ranking world power. A democratic leader would have let his nation stagnate, politically and economically, rather than imperil in his own popularity.

The present situation in Pakistan somewhat resembles the pre-De Gaulle days in France. Indecisiveness at the political level or wrong decision-making has allowed the state of undeclared war by Pakistan on the question of Kashmir to drag on for so long that it has ruinously undermined Pakistan’s own interests. The world now looks upon Pakistan as an unsafe country, and world monetary organizations are unwilling to invest in it. Public unrest has produced a civil war-like situation, and religious, educational and cultural organizations, in becoming centres of destructive activities, have lost all moral and rational orientation. Then with only its "hate India" policy to bring about internal unity, it has certainly fallen in global esteem.

The worst consequence of these evils is the brain drain. Individuals from all walks of life naturally aim to better their prospects by going to western countries, when all their own country can offer is instability, a constant threat of war, poor or non-existent infrastructure, meagre rewards for hard work and scant opportunities to develop human potential. If Pakistan could offer peace, stability and a reasonable degree of prosperity, the entire country would be well on its way to progress. But while emphasis continues to be laid exclusively upon making a "change in the status quo" vis a vis Kashmir, the emergency-like situation is bound to continue.

The unrealistic policy of Pakistan regarding Kashmir — one tenaciously clung to for over half a century — has not only proved infructuous, but has also served as a barrier to the rising tide of global progress, leaving the country lagging far behind other nations. There is only one way out: Pakistan should sedulously adopt the policy of availing of opportunities for its own internal advancement rather than persist in tackling extraneous problems head-on. The practical course at present for Pakistani leaders would be to accept the status quo in Kashmir, both geographically and politically. There would be nothing new in this. During the prime ministership of Jawaharlal Nehru, the governments of both sides were willing to proceed on this basis. It was only untimely demise of Jawaharlal Nehru which prevented this. A conciliatory approach should, therefore, be adopted and the present line of control should, with the necessary adjustments, be accepted as the official border between the two countries, — if that is what would quite finally end the ongoing conflict and enable an equitable settlement to be arrived at. To be realistic, that is the kind of unsentimental and detached decision-making which can be done only by an autocratic ruler, for on this score a democratically elected leader would be too swayed by his party’s imperatives and too afraid of the erosion of his own popularity to be able to act independently.

In my view, there is no one who could play this historic role better than President Parvez Musharraf. Those who question his right to rule should consider the example of former President Muhammad Ziaul Haq. He too wrested power from his predecessor, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, then declared himself president. At that time, everyone from the Islamists to the American Foreign Affairs Department accepted him in that role as a matter of sheer necessity. This precedent in itself is enough to warrant the acceptance of President Musharraf. His coming to power and then being sworn in as president on June 20, 2001 are no doubt unconstitutional, but these events must be seen as serving the need of the hour. In this case idealism has to give way to pragmatism. Islam itself advises that when the ideal is unattainable, "reconciliaton is the best." (Qur'an, 4:128)

How this policy can benefit a country formerly on a collision course with a powerful adversary is illustrated by the case of Japan right after the second world war. By ruling out militaristic solutions to its problems of national rehabilitation after a devastating defeat by the U.S.A., and by following a policy of total reconciliation, Japan was able not only to pull itself out of the doldrums, but to become a leading figure on the world economic scene.

One really bold step in the direction of reconciliation by President Musharraf would bring the state of undeclared war between India and Pakistan to an end. The ensuing peace would open the doors to bilateral commerce and mutually beneficial exchanges in the fields of education, culture and tourism. Given the pre-existing cultural similarities between the two countries, this could bring the two neighbours as close to each other in brotherly feeling as they are in geographical location.

If Pakistan could bring itself to solve the Kashmir problem by a permanent acceptance of the status quo, this would not harm the interests of Pakistan or of the Muslim community in general. Even if Kashmir never becomes a part of Pakistan, it will continue to be a predominantly Muslim region. And it is worth noting that the Muslims of the subcontinent who remained in India have made far greater progress than their counterparts in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Very significantly, today, the wealthiest businessman, not only on the subcontinent but in the entire Muslim world, is an Indian Muslim living in Bangalore.

A conciliatory move by Pakistan would, moreover, engender a positive outlook among its people. Their sense of national unity would then be based on motivations which were no longer anti-Indian but rather pro-Islamic. This would have such a salutary effect, that it would be no wonder if this opened wide the door of God’s mercy to Pakistan.

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