Walking the tightrope
For many nations of Asia, especially those
with large Muslim populations, the war
against terrorism leaves them between the
proverbial rock and a hard place.
The dilemma is best illustrated in Pakistan and
Indonesia where fundamentalist groups are large
and powerful enough to cause plenty of trouble.
As is the case among many Middle Eastern nations,
the governments of Pakistan and Indonesia cannot
afford to appear careless of Muslim lives.
While the bulk of the populations in both countries
are more or less "middle of the road," they
can be easily influenced by the religious clerics
if unnecessary casualties begin to mount.
Both countries have long histories as fertile
grounds for the growth of independent religious
In Pakistan, the madrasah religious schools
cater to the poor offering them free education and
support. It was here that Taliban
supremo Mullah Omar received his training.
Indonesians have a tradition of Muslim messianic
movements centered around a prophesied righteous
leader known as Ratu Adil.
Leaders in these countries as in many other Muslim
nations tend to give a good deal of leeway to
religious leaders and their movements.
In many cases, leaders are forced to say one thing
on the domestic front and something totally different
when dealing with other nations.
When Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri was promising
to help the United States fight international terrorism,
some groups back home were "sweeping" for Americans.
Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf's initial refusal to allow
U.S. forces to use his country's bases was calculated not to
give extremists any extra ammunition. Even allowing the use
of Pakistani airspace sparked riots and he was forced to
detain a number of religious clerics. It's a very difficult
situation for him.
If the United States should expand its military activities
to other Muslim countries besides Afghanistan, the situation
could get even worse. The Arab League, which has endorsed the
current campaign, has said that the U.S. and its allies should
not expand military operations to Arab countries.
Given the fact that Iraq, Sudan and Somalia, three countries often
cited for such operations are Arab League members, it's not a very promising
The road is going to be long with many bumps along the way.