Can Musharraf reform jihadi culture?

Pakistan's president is trying to quell militancy while avoiding a backlash.

As Pakistan Gen. Pervez Musharraf walks the delicate political line between quelling Islamic militancy without inciting violent backlash, one of the biggest questions is whether he will be able to transform the jihadi culture, bred in the Islamic schools that spawned the Taliban. But if 16-year-old Hafeez is any indication, Mr. Musharraf may be on the right track.

Hafeez comes from a village in the line of fire from the Indian Army in the divided Himalayan region of Azad Kashmir. He says Musharraf's recent speech, declaring a crackdown on Islamist extremist groups and a push to modernize the education system, was fabulous. "The president took a revolutionary step to upgrade the standard of education at the Deeni madrassahs," says Hafeez at a tea house here in the capital of Azad Kashmir, where he attends a government-funded Islamic school. "If you only have religious education, you're only option is to be a [religious teacher]. But now he wants to introduce computers, and math, and other general subjects, so more professions will be open to us."

Indeed, Musharraf's plans to round up 2,000 suspected militants has received widespread support here. Nevertheless, some Islamabad intellectuals are skeptical that the jihadi culture which was bred in these very madrassahs and fostered by the Pakistani intelligence agency can be easily shut down.

"The thinking of Pakistani officials is that mullahs resort to violence only because they are not aware of modern sciences like math and geography," says Arif Jamal, a journalist with the Pakistani daily The News who has written about jihadi groups for years. "The problem is, they don't understand the mind-set of these people. If you teach them English, they'll teach jihad in English; if you teach math they'll tell you Allah has multiplied jihad for God by 35,000."

There are two deep-rooted sources of Islamic violence, Mr. Jamal says: religious scriptures, and grinding poverty. "The Koran says clearly that Christians and Jews should be killed. You can't ban the words of the prophet, and you can't ban the Koran," he says. "The second is poverty, absolute helplessness, and dictatorships, which make the ground fertile for people to grasp irrational solutions to their problems.... Unless these root causes are eliminated, Islamic terrorism will continue."

Complicating Musharraf's struggle to redefine Pakistan as a progressive Muslim state is the Pakistani support for the Kashmiris, who are variously called freedom fighters or terrorists. Today's armed movement began when the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a political organization founded in the 1970s, detonated two bombs in Srinegar in the summer of 1988. The idea was to force India to fulfill the UN resolution of 1948 which allowed for a plebiscite to be held by the Kashmiri people.

As the years went on, however, other militant groups sprang up - some wanting to accede to Pakistan, others, like JKLF, fighting for independence. With the withdrawal of Russian forces from Afghanistan, Pakistan's ISI, which trained and supported the mujahideen with money from the CIA, turned its attention to Kashmir, and helped to convert the indigenous insurgency into a jihad that included many Pakistanis trained in Afghanistan.

"After two or three years, our movement was hijacked by religious extremists, and we were crushed by both India and Pakistan," says Amanullah Khan, the founder and chairman of the JKLF, which has its offices in Rawalpindi. In 1994 the party abandoned militancy and adopted a wholly political pro-independence party line.

Now Musharraf is in a bind. He can't abandon Kashmir - as he said in his speech, "Kashmir is in our blood" - and yet that's what the Americans are pressing for.

Meanwhile, the Kashmiris are squeezed between Pakistan and India. In Muzafarrabad alone, the Pakistani side of this divided territory, some 20,000 Kashmiris from the Indian side have been living in refugee camps for 10 years.

Salim and Mukhta, who live in the border town of Kerin, recall many humiliations at the hands of the Indian Army, but now they are suffering a new devastation. Not long ago, their 14-year-old son disappeared for evening prayers and never returned. "He was young, but he was so emotional about his motherland," says his mother, Mukhta. "He crossed the cease-fire line with the freedom fighters. One day, our eldest son saw his name in the newspaper. He was killed just eight days after crossing."

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