March 17th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: East Timor elections: Australia's role

EDITORIAL: East Timor's democratic alternative

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Can Kevin Rudd handle the heat?

OVERSEAS TRADE: Wheat's single selling-desk under threat

QUARANTINE: Parliament must not shirk its responsibility

STRAWS IN THE WIND: He knew not what he done, guv ... / Bring back our demonstrators - official! / Inspector Rex meets Robert Mugabe / The Balibo Five

MERCHANTS OF SLEAZE: Destroying our daughters' innocence

ABORTION: Winning over women one at a time

OPINION: Freedom of speech under threat

GOOD READING: We still need tales of bravery and heroism

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Rare mineral's use in miniaturised gadgets

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Angling for a greater role on the world stage

Anti-Americanism (letter)

Green radicalism (letter)

Green hoaxes (letter)

BOOKS: AMERICA ALONE: The end of the world as we know it, by Mark Steyn

BOOKS: THE GREAT WAR, by Les Carlyon

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Angling for a greater role on the world stage

by Sharif Shuja

News Weekly, March 17, 2007
Pakistan's pivotal role at the epicentre of the War on Terror could transform the country's President Pervez Musharraf into a formidable world player, writes Sharif Shuja.

Recent developments in Pakistan - such as Islamabad's signing of the terms of the Waziristan Accord with the northern region of its country called North Waziristan; the release and promotion of President Pervez Musharraf's memoir In the Line of Fire; and his meeting with President George W. Bush - have gained media publicity.

General Musharraf's book provides some important insights into Pakistan in its role at the epicentre of the war on terror, and shows Musharraf as a formidable leader of our times.

Musharraf's book is selling like hot cakes in Pakistan, a country not well known for its book-reading habits. Most people assumed earlier that the book would only be about Musharraf's private life. But once the media hype began, people realised that the book was about Pakistani politics and significant state issues, and their curiosity grew.

Almost all newspapers in Pakistan have been plastered with headlines from Musharraf's controversial statements - such as his claim in a TV interview that the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, had threatened to "bomb Pakistan back into the Stone Age" - or excerpts from the book on contentious issues such as the Kargil War, the coup that toppled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the A.Q. Khan nuclear network and Pakistan's support for the U.S.-led "war on terror".

Questions have been raised about the appropriateness of a serving head of state and army chief writing on issues that have a direct bearing on relations with other countries and national policies. Pakistan's English-language daily Dawn (September 26, 2006) in an editorial asked:

"Is the president entitled to take a public stance on important issues some of which may still be officially classified and state secrets - at least for 30 years under the law?

"Obviously, his will be a one-sided account and, in the absence of authentic and documented information on the events about which he has written, the book will stir controversy.

"Worse still, each and every word can have a profound impact on state policy and the country's external relations, coming as it does from the presidential pen."


Predictably, the Opposition and others have disputed Musharraf's version of events and dubbed it a "personal public relations exercise".

No one is quite sure, however, why Musharraf has chosen to come out with his version of history at this precise time. Is he following in the footsteps of another Pakistani military ruler, Field-Marshall Ayub Khan - who published his famous Friends, Not Masters in the 1960s - in an attempt to boost his stature on the world stage?

Or is he signalling a more independent direction for Pakistan, unbound by the dictates of Washington? Given the numerous times Musharraf has survived assassination attempts, some think it may also be that the soldier-president feels he will not have the luxury of retirement to put forward his point of view on events.

Some commentators wonder whether Musharraf is planning to retire, or if he seeks reassurance from President Bush of the U.S. commitment to a long-term relationship.

President Musharraf is making a determined bid to lead the Islamic world out of the sense of hopelessness and anti-Western hostility that has characterised it in recent times.

Can Pakistan become the leader of the Islamic world and play a key role on the world stage? President Musharraf desires to be a big player, a global leader. Those close to him say that his ideas have become grandiose, that he sees himself in a different league, a league of frontline leaders of the world. And this, they say, is on top of his oft-repeated conviction that he is the best salesman Pakistan has.

Musharraf's theory is that the road to the Islamic world's salvation lies in "moderate enlightenment" - a suggestion that the Muslim world needs to pursue the path of moderation and enlightenment to come out of its present impasse.

Muslims from different backgrounds should undergo an ambitious learning process in key areas of human development so that the gap that is perceived between them and the Western world is narrowed. It is this very gap that has served the interests of Muslim radicals so well. Islam, it is often said, is the religion of the marginalised. Radical leaders have become adept at exploiting those many millions who are indeed marginalised, both politically and economically.

Illiteracy, poverty, absence of democratic and good governments, and a lack of development and political institutions in much of the Muslim world are the immediate causes of extremism. Extremism can best be reduced through moderation and gradual democratisation. So the West, led by America, will need to take a greater interest in the Muslim world if it is to check growing anti-Western sentiments.

Efforts should be directed to expedite the transition to democracy in the Muslim world. Muslims should be made to feel that the West is on their side, particularly if the movements that precisely champion the values of democracy emerge there. And the need for Muslim societies to address their internal social and political development has also become more urgent than ever.

If real change is to occur in the Arab world, it must come from within. The great failing of Arab intellectuals is that, rather than looking inward with a critical eye, they have looked elsewhere for people to blame. For that reason, Arabs have been stuck in a cycle of victimisation and self-delusion.

Only when they can take a sober look at their own cultural shortcomings will they be able to emerge from the mire of economic stagnation and social malaise. A proper orientation must also be developed for Muslim engagement with the world at large.

In recent times, President Musharraf has spoken openly against militancy, sectarianism, benighted mullahism and other ailments of misapplied faith, and is propounding a moderate vision for a world of Islam which currently seems to be suffering a crisis of confidence and future direction.

The Islamic world's traditional pillars of leadership have all but collapsed. The House of Saud is shaky. Elsewhere, the picture is just as grim. Iraq's Saddam Hussein has gone; Syria and Libya are on a weak wicket; and Iran is totally taken up by the growing international pressure over its nuclear program. Malaysia's controversial Mahathir Mohamad is no longer in power. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been tainted with the Israel deal, and Turkey is seen as too Euro-centric.


If Musharraf looks around in his near and distant diplomatic neighbourhood, he does not see too many towering personalities. There are none - none, at any rate, who represent a significant militarily potent Muslim country, with exceptional geographical location, and at the same time acceptable to the West.

But Musharraf's path, or ambition, to reach the pinnacle of the Islamic world's leadership is strewn with obstacles. And these start on his home territory. He is not a leader who is ruling Pakistan by consensus. His power still grows out of the barrel of the military's guns.

- Sharif Shuja is an international relations specialist in the School of Social Sciences at Victoria University.

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