Likely Trends in the New Millenium


Lt Gen Eric A. Vas [Retd]

Muslims make up one-sixth of the world's population. They form the majority population in more than 30 countries. They form 20 per cent of the Indian population. For these reasons alone no major government, and least of all India, can afford to ignore the world of Islam. Many cliches about Muslims and their political beliefs are repeated endlessly by some observers, but virtually none, including the favourite one that Muslims refuse to accept any distinction between the realms of religion and the realm of politics, stands up to historical reflection. Muslims reside in a world of independent states, and these states are composed of groups with competing domestic and international interests, as well as cultural diversity

The aim of this paper is to examine how Islam, as practiced in a global environment, varies widely by social class, regions and political systems.

Misconceptions and Realities

The world community of Muslims [the ummah] is an abstraction, not a cohesive political force. The overwhelming majority of Muslims do not support or join Islamist movements and do not favour any single interpretation of Islam and its dictates. When any world power is palpably insensitive to the suffering of Muslims, a momentary consensus can be catalysed. But episodes where global outrage comes to the surface are rare, because Muslim states are often divided among themselves. Islam was a dynamic force for social change in the 6th, 7th and 8th Centuries. Thereafter, for various reasons, the Muslim wave lost its impetus. In 1899, Qasim Amin, an Egyptian writer, published a seminal treatise blaming his society's backwardness on its oppression of women. Hundred years later we find that in a majority of Muslim societies discriminatory laws continue to bolster patriarchal attitudes and hold women back from political, professional and personal advancement. Those who attempt social reforms are accused by fundamentalists of bowing to Western notions of femininity. However, female education is slowly improving throughout the Muslim world and changes are taking place.

The revolution in Iran has captured the imagination of a large number of Muslims, and has revived the idea of Islam as a resurgent force. This has also become an idee fixe of some Western foreign policy establishments. However, Iran represents the Shiite faction of Islam, which historically has always opposed the Sunni orthodox followers of Islam. Anyway, we are too near events and should guard against exaggerating the significance of the Iranian revolution or predicting the emergence of another coherent Islamic political wave.

Like any other world state, Muslim majority countries display three distinct but interrelated levels of politics: at the domestic, inter-state and international levels. Each of these merits discussion. At the domestic level, like other regions of the world, Muslim majority states are seeing a rising level of popular dissatisfaction. Domestic pressures result in political parties often exploiting Islam to maintain the consent of the governed. Political parties, which call themselves Islamists, adopt radical tactics with a greater emphasis on Islamic symbolism in the hope of winning popular support. They claim that "Islam is the only solution" to the ills plaguing their societies. Although this may prove to be a debatable proposition on examination, many Muslims prefer the untested promises of the Islamists to the demonstrated failures of the ruling party.

Presently there is disagreement in the Muslim world on the wisdom of permitting Islamists to enter the political system The debate centres around the basic question in democratic theory : is it possible to create a democracy without democrats? Those who oppose the Islamists argue that there is a cultural precondition for democracy, including individualism, civility and willingness to compromise in the interest of harmony; Islamists lack these basic essential qualifications. Islamists should therefore be kept out since they seek to subvert democracy and impose a fundamentalist-type dictatorship. It is claimed that it is impossible to organise a society where secular and religious rules can live side by side. It is a choice between one or the other. An analogy is made with communism and capitalism. Both these systems cannot exist together in one country, so whenever one is in control it tries to suppress the other. In Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and Algeria, challenges from reform-minded Islamist opposition movements are treated with suspicion and in some cases repressed.

Others claim that an opportunity to share power will moderate the views of the fundamentalists. They argue that democracy is a problem-solving system, and that democrats evolve over time as people become habituated to the rules of the game. Historical evidence suggests that when Islamist movements have been permitted to function within the rules of the game, they adhere to them and are no less democratic than any other human society. In Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait and Yemen, Islamist parties are accepted as legitimate participants in the political system. At the state-to-state level, political pragmatism often overrules idealistic Islamic rhetoric. Iran provided a good example of this. In 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini emphasised that interests of the state precede the interests of Islam. Thereafter, Iran has tilted dramatically towards Christian Armenia in its conflict with Azerbaijan, even though the Azeri people are, like the Iranians, almost entirely Shiite Muslms. This reflects Iran's interest in curtailing any irredentist ambitions on the part of Azerbaijan towards the contiguous Azeri regions of Iran, which is far more compelling than the ideal of solidarity among Muslims. We can expect that the foreign policies of Muslim states will be influenced more by geopolitics than by Islamic values At the international level, an idea that once dominated the political consciousness of all Arabs was the hope of pan-Arabism, which postulated the existence of a single Arab Nation behind the fašade of a multiplicity of sovereign states. At the height of its influence, under the charismatic leadership of President Nasser of Egypt, the rallying cry "one Arab Nation with an immortal mission." attracted wide Arab support. Pan-Arabism made individual Arab regimes look like petty nations headed by selfish rulers who resisted the sweeping mission of Arabism because they were sustained by outside powers who feared the one idea that could resurrect the classical age of Arabs. But by the mid-60s pan-Arabism was on the defensive. By the end of the 70s it no longer attracted the support of the Arabs. Today, the concept of several independent Arab nations prevails.

A pan-Islamic movement has never prospered because relations between some of the key players are invariably strained. Former Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan's fantasy of a global Islamic alliance quickly became a target for derision in Turkey. Today, such forums as the Organisation of Islamic Conference [OIC] reveal the complexity of the Muslim world. When representatives of Muslim states meet periodically, diffused Islamic themes are proclaimed by Sunnis, Shias, reformers, moderates, revolutionaries and hard-line extremists. All however condemn any form of terrorism.

Five avowedly "Islamic states" now exist. Of these, Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the US and a major consumer of US arms exports, Pakistan has been an anti-communist ally of the US during the Cold War and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Iran and Sudan have proclaimed radical objectives. Afghanistan is dominated by the Taliban, a fundamentalist militia group. Each of these five countries has, at times, demonstrated missionary zeal for exporting its distinctive Islamic model of governance. These efforts sometimes pose a challenge to their neighbours, and American and Western interests.

The Spread of Technology and Globalisation

Satellite communications, personal computers and the internet have created an international technological community . The spread of this net is being accelerated each month. The entire Industrial Revolution enhanced productivity by a factor of about a hundred, but the Microelectronic Revolution has already enhanced productivity in information-based technology by a factor of more than a million- and the end is not yet in sight. Globalisation implies industrialisation, the spread of knowledge, commerce, individual communications through electronic mail [e-mail], trade and an unprecedented exchange of cultural values [food, dress and language]. Not everyone finds the prospect of globalisation appealing. Anti-technologists make a compelling case for the damage and dangers that have accompanied industralisation. Their arguments are subtle and carefully developed and they gather quite a following among intellectuals, anarchists, violent extremists, environmentalists and humanists. Their appeal somewhat resembles the Gandhian approach to industrialisation. Persuasive expositions are made of the psychological alienation, social dislocation and environmental injury done to a country by the spread of technology. They further argue that an industrial society undermines individualism, freedom and democracy because modern technology and globalisation results in a unified system in which all parts are dependent on one another. Unfortunately the solution proposed by anti-technologists to give up the pursuit of technology and revert to simple living is just not feasible, because technological change, like any other evolutionary change, cannot be ignored or prevented

Some recommend that governments should get rid of the "bad" parts of technology and retain only the "good" parts. Little reflection will tell us that this is rarely possible. "Take modern medicine for example. Progress in medical science depends on progress in chemistry, physics, biology, computer science and other fields. Advanced medical treatments require expensive, high-tech equipment that can be made available only by a technologically progressive, economically rich society. Clearly you can't have much progress in medicine without the whole technological system and every thing that goes with it."

The material gains of technology and globalisation are obvious: economic advantage, the shaping of material resources to meet many desired needs, the extension of our life spans, improvements in health and so on. It is these material gains that seduce societies down the path of globalisation. Few realise that apart from these visible material gains, the primary though less apparent gain is opportunity to expand human personalities, extend learning and advance the ability to create and understand knowledge as a spiritual quest - an essential step for the survival of the species. Perceptive anti-technologists recognise this dilemma.

Pro-technologists accept that the advance of technology is not automatically beneficial and mankind may some day ultimately regret its technological path. But they argue that although the risks are real, since the accelerated growth of technology is unavoidable, one might as well make a virtue of necessity, face the risks and benefit from the potential gains. Wise political leaders must ensure that technology is adopted in a phased and controlled manner, so that psychological alienation, social dislocation and environmental damage is kept to a minimum, and so that the spiritual gains rather that the material gains are kept at the forefront of political planning.

A Clash of Civilizations

The United States of America dominates the world's business, commerce and communications. Its economy is the world's most successful. Its military might is second to none. America's leading position as a global power results in the spread of its economic and cultural values, and makes it a key factor in the process of globalisation. Many non-government organisations from developed nations oppose globalisation. This was evident during the summit meet of the World Trade Organisation [WTO] in November 1999, where the US was trying to gain support for a new global trade policy. There were militant demonstrations on the streets of Seattle by an unusual coalition of trade unions, greens anarchist, anti-technologists and even consumer groups with a single clear aim: to derail the talks and disrupt global governance. The protesters said that WTO's rules advance big companies' global ambitions at the expense of jobs and the environment. They also attacked the WTO for being secretive and unaccountable. The demonstrators sincerely believed that they were on the side of the poor, and against multi-nationals, international conglomerates, exploitation and pollution.

Seattle represented a high point of globalisation in general and free trade in particular. Those in favour of globalisation reminded the delegates that the economic benefits of globalisation, which the world has enjoyed in recent years, cannot be taken for granted. Technology and globalisation cannot be avoided and must therefore be nutured wisely, so that it leads to greater prosperity and becomes a means to improve working conditions and the environment. During formal meetings, India urged that the WTO confine its deliberations to trade issues and avoid linkage human rights and labour laws which are better dealt with by specialised UN agencies that are structured to debate such matters. Though no consensus could be achieved, the summit has provoked a rational debate on globalisation. The airing of differences has bred a sense of international responsibility towards the lesser developed nations., and has prepared the ground for the next WTO meet at Geneva.

All admitted that globalisation was unavoidable. The gains, which it brings of greater openness, faster growth, cheaper exports, new technologies, and the spur of foreign competition can create losers who naturally dislike the change. Shutting off parts of the world from free trade is no answer to this problem. The concerns of the disadvantaged should not be dismissed but should be alleviated by compassionate planning. Delegates have come to realise that globalisation must embrace a vision of a world in which hunger, poverty and economic exploitation are eradicated. India, which for four decades had pursued policies of anti-globalisation in order to protect its growing industrial base, has now begun embracing globalisation.

However, many continue to fear the process of globalisation. Protestors are to be found in every country throughout the world. This paper will confine itself to the Muslim world where many envy American power and at the same time fear it. This offers an irresistible temptation for some Muslim politicians to mobilise anti-Western [American] support whenever they face a crisis. Thus in 1998, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, when faced with the collapse of the Malaysian economy, assailed American influence in the International Monetary Fund [IMF]. He also blamed the greed of Western financiers and asserted that their manipulations of the currency market was the root cause of Malaysia's ills.

Many Muslim leaders aspire to surmount the economic and social difficulties that afflict their society by adopting a twin approach: firstly attempting to insulate themselves from economic globalisation and Western culture, and secondly searching for an Islamic solution. [This is very much like Hindu extremists who seek a swadeshi solution to India's economic problems.] Hassan Hanafi, a distinguished Egyptian Islamic scholar, describes globalisation as the "new colonialism." He accepts that globalisation and modernisation have their benefits, but he is committed to sustaining the uniqueness of his society.This is in marked contrast to China's attitude of an overwhelming national desire to modernise and reform its economy. Thus, at the international level, friendship with the US becomes a primary Chinese foreign policy goal in order to facilitate technological transfers. At the domestic level, there is an overwhelming passion by teenagers to learn the Roman script, English and become computer literate.

The problem facing any developing country is how to reap the benefits of science, technology and globalisation without disrupting the social fabric or undernining the country's values on the altar of free market capitalism. There is no single Islamic solution to this dilemma any more than there is a Hindu or Christian answer. The process of evolution and change cannot be avoided. Good leadership can ensure that the process is not too painful by helping a society to modernise wisely.. American officials take pains to emphasise that the US Government does not view Islam in adversarial terms, except when Muslims engage in terrorism or seek to undermine US peace objectives. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the US is frequently viewed, by a wide cross section of Muslims, with scepticism if not enmity. The popular Turkish Islamist writer Mustapha Ozel has written extensively on the theme of the Islamic world as a great culture. Ozel is unabashed in his view of the US as an adversary of Islam. Harvard University professor Samuel P.Huntington in his book A Clash of Civilizations depicts the Muslim world as a growing behemoth, destined to clash with the West. This view is not supported by US foreign policy makers and has been strenuously repudiated by President Bill Clinton who in a public speech to the Jordanian parliament in 1994 said that "there are those who insist that....there are impassable religious and other obstacles to harmony; that our beliefs and our cultures must somehow eventually clash...America refuses to accept that our civilizations must collide." Nevertheless, Huntington's idea of an Islamic front persists in many Western minds. The secretary general of NATO accepted that thesis in the mid-1990s when he pointed to the Islamic challenge as the major threat confronting the West [NATO].

Few Muslim governments qualify as democracies. Given the declared US policy of promoting the development of democracy, Washington is often silent on the question of democracy in the Muslim world , specially in West Asia. This leads many to accuse the US of double standards when it comes to protecting their oil interests. US human rights policy intersects with the promotion of democracy. Few Muslim governments enjoy favourable assessments of their observance of human rights. Muslim reformers accuse the US of not wanting to promote human rights out of fear of eroding the legitimacy of states that are friendly with the US. They claim that this was exemplified by the impact of President Jimmy Carter's advocacy of human rights on the Shah of Iran. However the example of the fall of the Shah should not be seen in simplistic terms since his regime was weakened on many different fronts, not the least being a general deterioration in the Iranian economy and the Shah's unfortunate tendency of surrounding himself with sycophants.

Having briefly discussed some of the myths and realities prevailing in the Muslim world, the dilemma leaders face in dealing with the pressures of modernization and globalisation, and the reason why some Muslim states fear the rise of Islamist groups, it will be interesting to examine how all these factors influence the domestic politics and inter-state relations in key Muslim states. This is best done region-wise.

West and Central Asia

No Muslim state is viewed with more suspicion in American policy circles than the Islamic Republic of Iran. Despite continued US attempts to contain its influence and restrain its power, Iran has not only maintained a flourishing trade with Europe, India and Japan, but has also normalised its diplomatic ties with most states in the Persian Gulf region. Although it no longer stalks its intellectual adversaries and political opponents around the globe, and plots their murder, it supports the Hezbollah's war of resistance against Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. It expresses enmity for Israel and condemns the US-sponsored peace process in West Asia. Hatred for the US government has been the corner stone of the Iranian revolution. Rightly or wrongly, many Iranians believe that US hostility towards Iran stems from America's unwillingness to accept Islam as the central premise of the Iranian Republic. The presidential victory of Mohammed Khatami in 1997 represents a new phase in the political evolution of Iran. It has opened up scope for dialogue with the US.

Khatami, in an interview with CNN in early1998 called for interaction with American teachers, athletes, artists and intellectuals. However, any progress towards better US-Iranian relations will have a low priority on Khatami's foreign policy agenda as long as his domestic reforms continue to be fiercely resisted by hard-liners To the north of Iran lie the five land-locked Muslim states of Central Asia which are rich in natural resources. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan has emerged as the dominant state in the region. It hopes to retain its secular character in the face of intrusions by fundamentalist groups based in Afghanistan. Iran is keen that Central Asia remains a stable region and becomes its major trading partner. It has begun constructing railway and oil pipe lines from its northern borders with Central Asia to its southern port cities. These long-term plans can some day alter the economic balance of power in the Gulf region

To the east of Iran lies Afghanistan. Over two-thirds of the country has been occupied by the Pakistani-backed Taliban militia, which has occupied Kabul This Pushtun-speaking group of fundamentalists is being opposed by northern non-Pushtun speaking Afghan groups.. Their government has been recognised only by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. Iran brands the extremist conduct of the Taliban as "un-Islamic". India backs UN efforts to arrange an agreement that will facilitate the formation of an all-party government in Kabul and an end to hostilities. Meanwhile, Taliban-occupied areas of Afghanistan have become a haven for a variety of Islamic terrorist groups. The UN and US have imposed sanctions on the Taliban for failing to hand over Osama bin Laden for trial for terrorist attacks against US embassies in Saudi Arabia and Kenya. The US would welcome a stable Afghanistan so that this could become an outlet for the rich resources of Central Asia through Pakistan.

Iran and its western neighbour, Iraq, have recently fought a long and inconclusive war. This was followed by Iraq's disastrous occupation of Kuwait. After defeating Iraq, the UN imposed sanctions on it. Iraq continues to be subjected to air attacks by US war planes whenever it violates the no-flying zones to the north and south of Baghdad. Reports of infant mortality rates and general misery in Iraq because of the sanctions are only sporadically reflected in the US media, but are constantly reported in the Muslim world. US officials argue that the sanctions, placed by the UN Security Council, persist because of Saddam Hussein's obstructionism of UN resolutions. Many do not accept this argument. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has said the US will not permit the lifting of sanctions as long as Sadam Hussein rules in Baghdad. This deepens cynicism about the purpose of sanctions against Iraq.

Underlying the suspicion of America's motives is a wide perception that the West, exemplified by the US, applies double standards when the rights of Muslim's are threatened. Few Muslims are willing to admit that the sustained US-led NATO air bombardment of Christian Serbia in support of the rights of Muslim Kosovo reflects US [Western] even-handedness. No matter how uneasy the Muslim world may be about the plight of ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia, conflicting political views have left it without a clear unified opinion on Kosovo. Libya and Iraq who have been at the receiving end of US bombing raids, were quick to condemn NATO. Egypt and Jordan have made a gesture of support of NATO's action in Kosovo. Syria criticised the strikes as lacking UN Security Council endorsement. Yasser Arafat confined himself to saying that he hoped that NATO's actions would yield a positive result, but Palestinian students demonstrated against Yugoslavia. Saudi Arabia condemned Serbia's actions in Kosovo as "a criminal matter" about which the world should not remain silent. Iran reacted cautiously and expressed deep regret over the human catastrophe and the tyranny on Kosovo Muslims.


Egypt is one of the states friendly with the US. In December 1995, President Hosni Mubarak's government made a mockery of free elections by permitting opposition candidates to win 14 of the 456 parliamentary seats. The election evoked no more than a diplomatic "frown" from the US, to which the Egyptian government paid no notice. In October 1999, after his 18 years rule, the President carried out a wide-ranging shuffle. He appointed one of his longer-serving ministers, Atef Obeid, as Prime Minister. Obeid named a 33-member cabinet, a third of whose members are new to government. [Some of the outgoing members had been functioning longer than Mr Mubarak himself.] A number of presidentially appointed posts from provincial governorships to chairmanships of state agencies also changed hands. The President has issued a series of stern policy directives to the new appointees, demanding stricter standards of honesty, greater openness and more concern for the poor. The new prime minister while accepting the job declared that he intends to allow ministers the freedom to pursue their own goals. He also spoke of cultivating second- and third-tier officials for future leadership, something that Egypt's hyper-hierarchical administrative structure has historically rejected. Mr Obeid says that intends to accelerate the process of economic reform and privatise industries such as telecommunications and banking. The Islamist left has described the shake up as "an IMF-sponsored coup d'etat". Most Egyptians do not agree with this leftist-view, but many feel that these changes are irrelevant. The cast of the new ministers, mostly grey-suited technocrats in their 60s, looks little different from previous teams. Moreover, however well-intended the changes may be, the fact that the public at large had so little part in making it. has begun to rankle.

In Sudan there has been a long-standing dispute between the northern [Muslim] ruling government and the southern [Christian] rebels over the question of power-sharing. Ten years ago, at the height of the civil war between the north and the south's rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Army [SPLA], a military coup deposed Sadiq el Mahdi, leader of the then ruling Umma Party, and brought the National Islamic Front [NIF] to power. Omar Hassan Al-Bashir took over as President. The deposed Umma Party and other Muslim dissidents joined the SPLA to form a National Democratic Alliance. Over the years, Hassan Turbi, an Islamic philosopher, emerged as the strong man and head of the ruling NIF with the proclaimed aim of creating an Islamic state. Repression by the NIF has failed to break the loyalty of most Sudanese to the old established sectarian parties, notably the Umma Party, or regional and ethnic groupings.

Although the SPLA claims to be fighting for a unified secular democratic Sudan, a majority of its members are separatists at heart. El Mahdi and his colleagues consider secularism akin to atheism. This has created a rift in the NDA. Madeleine Albright has reaffirmed US backing for a unified secular democratic Sudan.. In early 1999, President Bashir signaled the government's readiness to talk to the SPLA. Two peace initiatives, one involving Libya and Egypt, and the other a US-backed forum of East African states, got under way to end the conflict. At the same time, Turabi met Sadiq el Mahdi, in a bid to wean some of the Muslim conservatives from the NDA to the government's side. He believed that if el Mahdi and other Muslim leaders aligned with the NIF it would isolate the SPLA, which would then have to sue for peace. In fact, an Islamic coalition would probably strengthen separatist sentiment in the south.

Meanwhile there were signs of increasing friction between the President and Turabi who was planning to introduce constitutional amendments to curb the president's powers. On 13 December, President Al-Bashir declared a state of emergency for three months. He dissolved parliament in a move to thwart legislation that would have reduced his powers. He said that the election authority would set a date for a new national assembly election. If a fair election is held, it is estimated that the NIF would not get much more than 5 percent of the vote, which is what it had won at the last multi-party contest in 1986. Whatever the outcome of the elections, it is evident that the Sudanese army and the rebel SPLA are both exhausted by a war that has dragged on for more than 16 years. There is general agreement that neither side can win outright. There appears to be no alternative to settling differences, accepting pluralism and forming a secular government if the unity of Sudan is to be preserved. Nigeria, like Sudan, consists of a predominantly Muslim north and a more pluralistic but largely Christian south. The massacre of thousands of Christian Igbos in northern Nigeria in 1966 was one of the factors that led to the Biafran civil war. President Obusgun Obasanjo who came to office under a new constitution after more than 15 years of military rule, is an enthusiastic born-again Christian of the Yoruba tribe.

Zamfara is a rural and obscure state in northern Nigeria. Its capital, Gusau, has a small Christian population composed of Igbo and Yoruba migrants from the south who live peacefully in an overwhelmingly Muslim state. In September 1999, the newly elected governor of Zamfara, Ahmed Sani, dropped a bombshell by announcing the introduction of Islamic law [sharia]. He said that he intends to enforce this law strictly, as in Saudi Arabia, which means that thieves could have their hands amputated and people caught drinking could be flogged. He argues that this will reduce crime, and restore morality to a corrupt and wayward society. He says that Zamfara's Christians will not be affected as they remain under the jurisdiction of the existing legal code.

Sharia courts will not go into operation until January 2000 to allow time for judges to be trained in Saudi Arabia. But the new policies are already beginning to have an effect. It is now impossible to buy alcohol in Gusau. Boys and girls are soon to be educated in separate schools, and men and women are starting to travel in separate buses. Mr Sani has said that only men with beards will be awarded government contracts. Christians across Nigeria have reacted with outrage at Sani's declarations. Some say, "The sharia will surely affect us, because we are a part of the state." Others less tactfully say, "How can we allow this nonsense at the dawn of a new millennium?" Muslim leaders have either welcomed the change or chosen to remain silent. A prominent northern politician said, "People can't openly oppose this thing. If you do, you will open yourself to the accusation that you are un-Islamic." Mr Sani is on uncertain legal grounds. The Nigerian constitution does have a provision for the introduction of sharia but restricts its authority to family law, such as divorce and inheritance. The governor argues that the fundamental right to freedom of worship which is in the constitution, justifies the introduction of Islamic law and that "without it, Islam has no value." Ironically, the most prominent dissenting voice from the north has been that of Nigeria's outspoken Islamic radical, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zak Zaky, a Shia Muslim. He believes in a theocratic state, but draws inspiration from the Iranian model. He derides Sani's attempts to justify his actions within the terms of the existing legal framework. President Obsanjo has decided to say nothing in public for the present. Any public condemnation of Islamic law would inflame passions. Moreover, quite apart from the religious aspect, many would feel he is favouring his own Yoruba people at the expense of Nigeria's other ethnic groups.

Southeast Asia

In contrast to West Asia, religion does not count as a significant political factor in Malaysia and Indonesia, though both are majority Muslim states. Although Malaysia is the home of 185 million Muslims, which is more than the Muslim population of all the Arab countries combined, it has never been considered an Islamic state. Thus, Vice President Al Gore, while addressing the financial crisis confronting the states of East Asia, made a frank speech in Kuala Lumpur in November 1998 in Dr Mahathir's presence. Gore linked democracy with economic reform and argued that "people will accept sacrifice in a democracy, not only because they have had a role in choosing it, but because they rightly believe that they are likely to benefit from it.....People are willing to take responsibility for their future- if they have the power to determine that future-....Among nations suffering economic crisis, we continue to hear calls for democracy and reform...We hear them today, right here, right now- among the brave people of Malaysia...All who love freedom are obliged to redeem people's faith in self-government. Investments move in the direction of strong and deep democracy- and so, too, has our world history."

In September 1999 Dr Mahathir, while embroiled in domestic politics, ordered the arrest of Anwar Ibrahim, his free-market oriented deputy prime minister, on charges of sodomy and corruption. This arrest and subsequent ill-treatment of Anwar who was sentenced to a term of imprisonment, united Dr Mahathir's diverse opponents. They formed an Alternative Front composed of the Islamic Party of Malaysia which champions a wider use of Islamic law; moderate Muslims of the National Justice Party led by Wan Azizah, the wife of Anwar; and ethnic Chinese voters of the Democratic Action Party. Despite their differences, all three parties agreed on one thing- they loathe Dr Mahathir.

In October the Alternative Front issued a common manifesto which devoted much space to economic management. Its proposals were almost embarrassingly mundane and covered aspects which Dr Mahathir has handled quite well over the past 18 years. This was probably an attempt at shrewd politics. With the economy reviving, voters were being reassured that the Alternative Front was not a revolutionary alternative; the opposition was promising that it will be business as usual. The Alternative Front was hoping to reduce Dr Mahathir's overwhelming majority in the general election scheduled in mid-2000. Sensing the growing coherence of his opponents, Dr Mahathir, in September, suddenly announced that the elections would take place in November 1999. With little time to prepare, the Alternative Front nevertheless managed to make a dent in the two-third majority of the coalition led by Dr Mahathir, which won 56 percent of the vote , ten percent less than it won in 1995. Significantly, no party appealed directly to religious issues.

Indonesia's 200 million people make it the fourth most populous nation in the world. 30 percent of the population is Muslim. With its 7000 inhabited islands and 300 languages and dialects, it is at the best of times a difficult place to run.. In June 1998 Indonesia held its first democratic election in recent years to choose a legislature. The winning party was that of Megawati Sukarnoputri, popular daughter of Indonesia's first President Sukarno, and staunch critic of President Suharto who succeeded him. Megawati's party however failed to win enough votes to give it a majority in the People's Consultative Assembly [PCA], which is the body that chooses the president. In October 1999 the PCA opted for Abdurrahman Wahid as President.. This disappointed many protesters who saw Megawati as the pre-eminent people's choice. Their sense of having been cheated was muted by the subsequent selection of Megawati as Wahid's vice-president.

Wahid, an erratic Muslim scholar, is intelligent, charming and witty. He is honest, respected and widely known in Indonesia. He represents a clear break with the past. Wahid has recently suffered a stroke. He is frail, almost blind, with no experience of government, and faces a hard task. He is not a supporter of the old regime. Although he owes his position to his leadership of a large Muslim organisation- the world's largest- he is a firm believer in secularism and democracy. He knows that the great majority of Muslims are uninterested in a religious agenda. However, many Muslims lament that their compatriots lack religious zeal and would like to see the country more Islamic. Wahid owes his victory to the votes of these people. He must now resist them if they demand any erosion of the separation of mosque and state. His second preoccupation would be the economy which requires careful nursing. His third priority would be control of the spread of corruption. This process is going to be painful for some, but is necessary if Indonesians are to feel they now enjoy the rule of law.

Even more important than the country' moral integrity is its physical integrity. The secession of East Timor in October 1999 convulsed the nation which is still trying to rebuild its economy after a devastating economic collapse. However, the departure of the annexed territory of East Timor, sanctioned by the PCA, lifts a burden from Indonesia which has prevented it from enjoying the weight it deserves in world councils. But this does no mean that other restless outposts of the archipelago, such as Aceh and Irian Jaya, must also depart. Apart from the threat of seccession, ethnic and communal riots have flared up on isolated islands between Muslims and Christians, and between local islanders and migrants of Chinese descent. Wahid's main task will be to hold Indonesia together and to curb communalism whilst persuading dissidents in far-off places that the rule of Jakarta is benign, not autocratic.

South Asia

Many mistakenly look upon the Kashmir dispute as a continuation of a Hindu-Muslim cultural conflict that has been taking place over the past thousand years and will continue forever. India has been warding off invasions from northwestern India long before the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. After the advent of Islam, the First Battle of Panipat (1556) was fought between two Muslim armies. This was a simple power struggle. Indians welcomed the Moghul Emperor Akbar. The world's history books refer to him as Akbar the Great because he was a wise and tolerant ruler who understood the Indian psyche and embraced the country's traditional concepts of unity in diversity. Akbar's policies laid the foundations for stable Moghul rule, which lasted over 200 years. It is only when Emperor Aurangzeb adopted intolerant laws, which violated the acceptance of pluralism and diversity that his empire began to crumble. He provoked dissent from his subjects and tore the delicate fabric of unity, which resulted in the eclipse of the Moghul Empire. (Not surprisingly school history books in Pakistan extol Aurangzeb and not Akbar.)

Britain's East India Company's initial aim was to expand its commercial operations in India. When Moghul rule began to crumble, they attempted to safeguard their economic interests by raising mercenary forces and arranging alliances with cooperative Indian rulers. The Great Indian Mutiny of 1856 was a joint Hindu-Muslim attempt to revive Moghul rule and fight against creeping political rule by foreigners. The attempt failed. But Britain's parliament was forced to intervene, curb shameless commercial depredations, freeze the territorial boundaries between British India and the princely states, and establish formal governance over the Indian sub-continent under its jurisdiction. The Raj replaced commercial greed by the rule of law, appointed enlightened civil servants, provided tolerant governance and projected the prospect of preparing India for eventual self-rule. Over the years, which followed, India was made to face the Industrial Revolution. It also came to respect British administration and laws, admire its new educational systems, and welcome its inspiring political doctrines of democracy and liberty, and learn the English language. As a group, Hindus were quick to educate themselves, learn English and face the challenges of the industrial age. However there were many, including Mahatma Gandhi who welcomed scientific knowledge but opposed the evils of industrialization. Muslims, who made up over 30 percent of the population were reluctant to accept scientific knowledge and modernisation because they believed that this challenged the wisdom of the Quran. The majority rejected modern private and government schools and clung to their traditional maddrasas. Since the roots of their religion were outside India, many looked to West Asia and other foreign Muslim communities for guidance. The gradual establishment of elected local civic bodies, municipal corporations and provincial assemblies gave British Raj credibility and stability. This was a period of a bourgeois Indian Renaissance, which threw up a galaxy of outstanding Indian scientists, writers, politicians and leaders in every walk of life. Then the Raj began to lose its credibility. Anglo-Indian relations, which had been based on democratic ideals deteriorated into an imperial master-slave relationship. The Raj lost its reputation for impartial governance when it began encouraging religious differences in an attempt to divide and rule. It hoped that it would survive as a neutral arbitrator between warring communal forces and a British presence in India thus be perpetuated. Indians resented this and fought for freedom from repressive rule. There was never a religious quarrel between Hindu India and Christian Britain. It was, as always, a freedom struggle between arrogant autocratic rule and democracy. The Indian Congress, a secular political organisation, spearheaded the struggle for freedom. Mr. M.A.Jinnah was a shrewd barrister and a staunch member of the Congress party. He enjoyed eating pork and drinking wine. He was a strict disciplinarian who believed in the rule of law. He resigned from the Congress because he disagreed with Gandhi's mass disobedience movement. He joined the Muslim League, and took advantage of Britain's "divide and rule" policy to side with the British and thereby gain a political edge over the Congress. He tactics were to keep branding the Congress as a Hindu organisation during the freedom struggle and thus play on Muslims' fears of Hindu hegemony. He appealed to the religious fervour of simple people in order to win his short term political objective. Ironically after Partition more Muslims remained in India than the number in Pakistan.

Jinnah knew that religion was a poor foundation for statehood. He felt that once he came into power, he could control events to suit his larger purpose. . After partition, he tried to wipe the communal slate clean. In his inaugural speech to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947, he publicly launched a plea for secularism when he said, "In course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities will vanish.....We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.....I think we should keep that in front of us as an ideal, and you will find that in due course of time Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Hindus and Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state." But Pakistan's feudal elite lacked his perception and did not share his views on secularism. Jinnah soon came to realise that he had awakened communal forces, which were beyond his control. On his deathbed he confessed to his doctor that "the creation of Pakistan has been the greatest blunder of my life."

In August 1947, the people of newly created Pakistan expected the Muslim-majority State of Jammu & Kashmir [J&K} to join Pakistan. The Maharaja could not make up his mind on whether to accede to Pakistan or India. He would have preferred to keep his state independent. Neither India nor Pakistan wanted this. The sparsely populated northern districts of J&K supported by local militia units, which were officered by the British, declared that they were a part of Pakistan. The Few State Force units, which were located in that area, withdrew into walled forts and later surrendered when they ran out of food. There was very little violence. Elsewhere in J&K, State Forces attempted to maintain law and order in a rapidly deteriorating environment.

Encouraged by the prompt secession of the northern districts, and the knowledge that India had no direct road communications with J&K, Pakistan felt that it could take over the whole state without much difficulty. It launched several militia columns along the main roads leading from Pakistan into J&K. These were commanded by army officers. State force units fought gallant rearguard action as they fell back towards Naoshera, Poonch and Srinagar. When the Maharaja finally made up his mind and opted for India, Pakistani sponsored guerrillas were threatening Srinagar airfield. The Indian army was flown in using civilian Dakota aircraft. This operation would not have been possible without the whole-hearted support of Sheikh Abdullah and Muslim workers of the National Conference who rallied public support to provide the army with civil trucks and food..

J&K's accession to India was constitutionally legitimate. India took its complaint of Pakistani aggression to the UN Security Council. In a three-part resolution, the UN firstly asked both parties to accept a cease-fire. Secondly, Pakistan was ordered to pull out of J&K and hand over charge to a UN peacekeeping force. Lastly, both were to accept a UN supervised plebiscite to ascertain the will of the people of J&K. Both countries accepted the UN resolution and a cease fore came into force on 1 January 1949. Pakistan refused to carry out part two of the resolution. So part three, the plebiscite, was never possible The aberrations of the Cold War prevented a rational debate of the Kashmir issue in the UN. Meanwhile, within India, Muslims form 20 percent of the population, a substantial minority group, which is spread all over the country. To begin with they were bewildered and felt that they had been abandoned by Muslims who had migrated to Pakistan. Extremist Hindu organisations accused them of being Pakistani fifth columnists and told them they were not welcome in India and should migrate to Pakistan. The wounds of Partition took some time to heal. Hot-headed Hindus and Muslims were quick to pick a quarrel. If the police were slow to react, this would flare up into a major communal riot. However, the dust of those dark days slowly settled down. India kept faith with its ancient philosophy that all religions lead to God, and with its tradition of tolerance. Over the years that followed, India was able to hold numerous fair and free elections to state and central assemblies, create an independent judiciary, uphold a free press, and effect a steady economic growth. The establishment of numerous independent democratic institutions strengthened Indian secularism and the concept of unity in diversity.

During this period, a strong industrial base was established. However, little political will was displayed to control population growth and to remove illiteracy. Regional cultures and languages were encouraged by different state governments.. By this process, India's 200-year advantage in the use of the English language was neglected. Thus, though many competent and powerful regional leaders emerged, they were unable to project themselves at the all-India level because English continued to remain the only effective link language. Neglect of English also hampered Indian leaders from projecting their rightful stature on the international TV media. Some states are attempting to amend this shortcoming because English has become the language of globalisation. Meanwhile, satellite communications, personal computers and the internet had begun to create an international technological community . The spread of this net is being accelerated each month. The entire Industrial Revolution enhanced productivity by a factor of about a hundred, but the Microelectronic Revolution has already enhanced productivity in information-based technology by a factor of more than a million.

Twenty-three years after Partition, South Asia was to witness a political power struggle between Muslim West Pakistan and Muslim East Pakistan. India was not directly involved in that ethnic struggle. But because of West Pakistani repression, over six million Bengali Muslim refugees poured into India; which was forced to enter the fray as a concerned third party. There was nothing religious about the Indo-Pak War of 1971, which undermined the rationale of Pakistan as a separate religious state. No wonder a law has been enacted in Pakistan making it a criminal offence to discuss the desirability for the creation of Pakistan. The penalty for violating this law is imprisonment. In order to unify their country successive Pakistani government has perpetuated the myth of Islam under threat from Hindu infidels.

During the first 45 years of its existence Pakistan lived in the shadow of US power and the Cold War. This blinded it to the realities of history and geography. It built up an inflated image of its role in nation building and its military potential in South Asia. Pakistani leaders wasted those formative years warring with India and feeding their people with negative and intolerant ideas. Because it failed to build and consolidate democratic institutions the country's political system was never able to establish healthy roots. This lead to a succession of military dictators who kept on using the J&K issue as an excuse for perpetual confrontation with India so as to remain in power. Many Pakistanis have begun to believe that this is the only way to keep their country unified. This further undermines the growth of democracy During that time, Muslims in Indian learnt to exercise their electoral rights as free citizens. They have broken out of their "minority" complex. Today, many have become Indian icons in the fields of art, literature, music, sport and in the film world. Many Indians of all denominations regret the partition of India, but few have any quarrel with Islam or the existence of Pakistan or the people of Pakistan. But all condemn those who sponsor senseless cross-border terrorism. Pakistanis who know this and understand the practical need for friendship with India dare not to speak the truth. Those that do speak out are beaten up and branded as traitors. Pakistani religious zealots, like their Hindu counterparts in India, fear literacy, democracy, modernity, diversity and tolerance, a free press and the liberation of women. It would be wrong to look upon the past 52 years of tension on the border with Pakistan as a Hindu-Muslim quarrel. From that day in August 1947 when Jinnah delivered his inaugural speech to Pakistan's Constituent Assembly, till today, there is a power struggle taking place within Pakistan between the forces of intolerant oppressive religious bigotry and liberal Islam. (This is not unique. Ideological struggles take place continually within India, and within other societies all over the world because the struggle to uphold truth and freedom is never ending.)

India's stand in J&K rests on acceptance of four realities: firstly, both India and Pakistan have divergent interests in the state; secondly, these differences cannot be resolved by force; thirdly, ascertaining the wishes of the people is important, lastly, this dispute can only be resolved by bilateral talks as outlined in the Simla Accord. Nawaz Sharif won a two-third majority in Pakistan's parliamentary elections on a "friendship with India" pre-election manifesto. Serious Indo-Pak talks to resolve the Kashmir issue began in early 1998. The Indian Prime Minister traveled by bus to Lahore to meet his counter part and both reaffirmed their commitment to the Simla Accord. The talks were suspended in May 1999 when Pakistan launched an attack across the Line of Control [LOC] in the Kargil sector. The attack was repulsed. India regretted that the trust which had been engendered by the Lahore Declaration had been shattered. Talks could now only resume if Pakistan abides by the Simla Accord and Lahore Declaration.

On 11 October, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the premature retirement of General Musharraf, the COAS, whilst the latter was flying home from Sri Lanka in a commercial aircraft which was ordered to divert and not land at Karachi. The Army in Pakistan reacted swiftly. It placed the PM under house arrest and took over Karachi airport. After landing at Karachi, Musharraf resumed command of the army. He later announced the suspension of provincial and central assemblies. Nawaz Sharif faces serious charges of kid-napping, hijacking and terrorism. He could face a death sentence if found guilty.

These tragic events are a symptom of the continuing internal power struggle taking place in Pakistan. It is a combination of many factors which came to a head with the sacking of the COAS. The military believes that it has a special place in Pakistan's ideology of nation-building. Nawaz Sharif has been challenging this special position when he earlier got rid of two naval chiefs and one army chief. He felt that he was strong enough to do the same to Musharraf who was a mohajir [migrant refugee from India.]. He hoped to replace him with Lieutenant General Ziauddin, who was not in the established chain of command for the assignment of COAS. He failed to appreciate that the army was not prepared to tolerate any further political interference in its accepted sphere of administration.

General Musharraf in his initial appearance on Pakistan Television spoke to the nation in English and projected an image of a modernist. He later said that he hoped to follow in the footsteps of his ideal, Kemal Attaturk. History tells us that it is easier to alter the political boundaries of a state than to change the mindset of its people. If Pakistan attempts to follow Turkey's path to secularism and modernisation, it would be a drastic change in a country which is perceived as a state that harbours extremist elements who are obsessed with Islamic fundamentalism and have a visceral hatred for India. Peace with India would radically alter the ethos of Pakistan's army, which has cultivated a schizophrenic mindset detached from economic and social realities about its military capabilities. It would mean that it would have to come down to earth and give up its romantic dreams of presiding over the break up of India. Can General Musharraf do all this and survive in power?

It is for the people of Pakistan to decide what type of governance they want. If liberal democratic forces prevail, there will be peace on India's western borders. If the religious bigots or irrational autocrats prevail then there will be tensions on the western border. The direction in which Pakistan is likely to move in the coming years is uncertain and unpredictable. Meanwhile, the Indian Prime Minister has said that he is willing to resume meaningful talks with Pakistan provided and atmosphere of trust is restored and the military rulers accept the Simla Accord and Lahore Declaration


The internal politics of Muslim states, like that of any other state, will throw up rulers and opposition parties. Radical Islamic opposition parties, which have been permitted to come into power, soon learn the rules of the game and become moderate rulers. Nevertheless, some Muslim states are not prepared to permit fundamentalists to come into power for fear that they will subvert democracy and establish a harsh dictatorship. A serious reflection on the realities of contemporary Muslim societies indicates a clear picture of diversity and competition rather than anything resembling a united international Islamic Front.

USA is the most powerful nation in the world. Its cultural and economic power has a direct and indirect impact on every other society and on the process of globalisation. It is unreasonable to expect that any state, can adopt a rigid uniform foreign policy towards other states. It is therefore not surprising that America's approach towards the Muslim world also varies and is dependent on geopolitical realities. Islamic states also display pragmatic policies while dealing with their neighbours, and have sometimes given geopolitics greater priority than Islam. The authoritative US National Security Council document "A National Security Strategy for a New Century" prepared in May 1997, avoids any coupling of the ideals of democracy or human rights with West Asia. This document emphasises that America's primary interest is security in that region; it does not consider the promotion of democracy in West Asia a particular aim. The regional goal is defined as "peace and stability".

The US is concerned about control of Pakistan's nuclear weapon programme and Pakistani-based terrorism. It is therefore likely to suppress its repugnance for the military coup d'etat in Pakistan in the interest of furthering its primary concerns. Its policy towards Pakistan will be "peace and stability". The omission of the words "democracy and human rights" in US goals for West Asia and Pakistan is in sharp contrast to other areas such as Africa and Southeast Asia where promotion of democracy is the central focus of US policy. It would be simplistic to characterise this as proof of double standards.

But it is difficult for any country to morally justify a two-track diplomacy when faced with blatant criminal acts of terrorism as displayed in the last week of 1999 when five Pakistani terrorists hi-jacked an Indian Airline plane whilst it was in flight from Kathmandu [Nepal] to Delhi. One passenger was killed and one wounded before the plane eventually landed in Kandahar [Afghanistan]. After prolonged negotiations, all hostages were released in exchange for three Pakistani militants who were being held in Indian custody. India alleges that there is enough evidence to show Pakistan's complicity in this terrorist act. Pakistan denies any complicity in the hi-jack. It assures the international community that the hi-jackers will be apprehended and tried should they seek asylum in Pakistan.

It is imperative that India tackles terrorism methodically and professionally, rather than through knee-jerk reactions and panic measures when faced with a crisis. This creates an illusion of security and does more harm than good. What is required is well-trained security forces and good governance so that perpetrators who are apprehended are dealt with swiftly by our courts. [In J & K the courts have yet to punish and sentence a single act of terrorism.] The greatest violation of human rights is a lethargic administration and an ineffective judiciary that refuses or fails to punish perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes, and abandons the common man to the savagery of the forces of disorder.

Our projection of terrorism and the management of the media leave much to be desired. We must stop looking upon terrorism in communal terms. Terrorism is the employment of merciless violence against innocent civilians for a variety of ends. There is no Islamic, Hindu, Sikh or Christian terrorist. There are simply terrorists who should be dealt with as common criminals. Our diplomats should tone down their frenetic campaign to have Pakistan declared a terrorist state. Cold evidence of Pakistani complicity should certainly be presented but without fanfare. This will have a greater impact on the international community. Even if we convince the world of Pakistan's perfidy, we should accept that others will continue to be guided by pragmatic geopolitical considerations and national self-interest rather than moral principles. We have to protect our defenceless citizens against terrorism entirely by ourselves, and we have to get our house in order to do this competently.

Meanwhile India, like many other nations, is being subjected to the pressures of science, technology, global communications and a free-market economy. It is impossible to escape these influences. It is unreal to expect that things will somehow remain the same. Change and the process of evolution are inevitable. Many leaders blame America, globalisation and modernisation for their internal problems. They fear that the life styles of their respective societies are under threat. Some Muslim states believe that the best counter for this is Islamisation. In fact there can be no Islamic, Hindu, Christian or Buddhist answer to the process of technological evolution. One has to rely on reason and search for truth with open eyes. Wise leadership can attempt to lessen the pain by preserving core values of a society.

The most wrenching by-product of the Scientific Revolution has been to render untenable many of out most cherished and most comforting beliefs. The tidy anthropocentric certainties of the old religions have been replaced by a cold, immense, indifferent Universe in which humans are relegated to obscurity. However, individuals do not have to abandon their religious faith, even when they can see "the emergence in our consciousness of a Universe of a magnificance, and an intricate, elegant order far beyond anything our ancestors imagined." The scientific certainties of the 19th Century have been equally disturbed by the ambiguous implications of quantum mechanics, which even the great Einstein found unacceptable when he famously protested, "God does not play dice." It would seem that the Universe is sufficiently sublime for "the essentially Western objective view of consciousness arising from matter and the essentially Eastern subjective view of matter arising from consciousness [to] apparently coexist. Clearly, consciousness, matter and energy are inextricably linked." Not surprisingly, quite a few scientists have begun developing a sneaking fondness for simple mysticism.

Charles Darwin had explained that it is not intelligence and strength alone, but the ability to adapt that ensures the survival of a species. The most profound challenge facing all communities, irrespective of their religious or scientific beliefs, is to acquire the understanding and wisdom to come to grips with the revelations of the 20th Century and the exponential growth of knowledge and technology that is going to occur in the 21st Century. It is heartening that the Indian Prime Minister in December 1999 declared that his government is planning for the emergence of India as a knowledge-based super-power. [It is even more heartening that some chief ministers have pre-empted the Prime Minister and already begun the process in their respective states.] This gives an opportunity to all Indian boys and girls, irrespective of their castes or creeds, to develop their personalities and become better Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists etc, so that they learn to share and care for one another, and prosper in diversity.

Source Material
  1. Rethinking United States Policy toward the Muslim World; by Augustus Richard Norton; Current History, February 1999,P51
  2. The Clash of Civilizations? , by Samuel P. Huntington. Foreign Affairs, Winter 1993
  3. When cultures collide, by Samuel P.Huntington, Civilization, June/July 1999, . Issue 3. Page 75
  4. The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil, Viking, 1999
  5. The End of Pan-Arabism, by Fouad Ajami, Foreign Affairs, Winter 1978-79
  6. Science and Technology in the 20th Century: Good & Bad, by Carl Sagan, New Perspective Quarterly, 1999,Vol 16, Issue 3, Page 25
  7. India's Response to Globalisation, by Lt Gen E.A.Vas, Indian Initiative for Peace Arms-control and Disarmament [INPAD] Research Paper January 2000.