Pakistan's 'Silent Majority' Backs Musharraf's Anti-Terrorism Stance

By Akhtar Jamal | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Karachi, Pakistan ( - Pakistan's "silent majority" has broken its silence, enthusiastically welcoming a weekend anti-terrorism speech by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Pakistanis portray it as a move that could usher in a modern Islamic society and improve ties with the West.

Politicians, academics and even some fundamentalists have spoken in favor of Musharraf's address, in which he rejected terrorism while continuing to back the "self-determination" struggle of the Kashmiri people.

A former ambassador and defense analyst, Brig. Ismet Saeed, said of the speech, "This is an unprecedented and most courageous step ever made by any Pakistani leader." He praised Musharraf for going the "greatest favor to the nation."

Professor Khalid Mahmood, director of the Institute of Regional Studies in Islamabad, lauded the measures taken against terrorism as a new initiative to achieve peace in the region.

Many ordinary Pakistanis, expressing their views through newspaper columns and on television talk shows, supported the moves, particularly bans on armed groups which some said had given their country a "bad image" in the eyes of the world.

Amid the biggest military buildup in decades, Musharraf Saturday said he would ensure that his country would not be used as a base for terrorism and to crack down on religious extremists.

He also banned five militant Islamic groups, including Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed - groups that India blames for attacking its Parliament on Dec. 13.

Pakistan-based groups have been fighting Indian rule in part of disputed Kashmir.

Most surprisingly the pro-Taliban former chief of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), Gen. Hameed Gul, said Musharraf had taken "a firm stand based on national policies." Until recently Gul has been a harsh critic of Musharraf's support of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.

Not all the reaction has been positive, however. Two mainstream parties, Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party of and the Muslim League of the imprisoned former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, have criticized what they see as Musharraf's bowing to the dictates of India and the West.

The five groups banned by Musharraf also expressed dismay, and some promised to challenge the bans in court.

Syed Salauddin, spokesman for a 30-party alliance called the United Jehad Council, said it regretted the bans on the groups fighting for Kashmiri "liberation."

Apart from the two Kashmir-oriented groups, Musharraf also outlawed three sectarian groups who have been blamed for violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims inside Pakistan.

They are Sipah-e-Sahaba, a Sunni group believed to have close ties to Saudi Arabia, another radical Sunni party, Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammedi (Movement for the Enforcement of the Law of Mohammed), and Tehrik Fiqah-e-Japfria, a Shi'ite group with alleged links to Iran.

Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammedi leader Sufi Mohammed is already in police custody and facing treason charges for sending thousands of Pakistanis to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban.

Many independent Western observers were reluctant to accept Musharraf's claim - made at the time he backed the U.S. coalition against terror in October - that Pakistan's "silent majority" was in favor of his policies.

Analysts here agree that the majority is no longer silent, having given its backing to the anti-terror moves announced by Musharraf.

"The enthusiastic welcome of [Musharraf's] decision to ban militant groups, reform the country on modern lines and reject terrorism in its all forms by the majority of Pakistanis shows that Pakistan can re-gain its lost reputation in the world community," commented a regional expert, Afaq Ahmed Siddiqui.

Positive reaction from the West has also been welcomed by Pakistan.

"We are highly encouraged by the reactions from Washington, London, Berlin and [the European Union] and our government is ready to extend full and most sincere cooperation against terrorism with all the states of the world," said a top government official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official did not rule out the possibility of such cooperation even extending to traditional rival India, as well as the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan, a long-time enemy of Pakistan.