Sir Salman vs Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry

Rushdie’s knighthood is a godsend for Musharraf

It is only natural for the Islamist political parties to get agitated over such things as Britain’s decision to confer a knighthood on Salman Rushdie.

But the stars of the anti-Rushdie protests are not the leaders of the Islamist political alliance. On the contrary, they are members of political parties supporting General Musharraf. Its parliament passed a resolution—introduced by the ruling party—in condemnation. Ijaz-ul-Haq, General Zia’s son and the leading Islamist in Musharraf’s cabinet, predictably justified suicide bombing, again. The chief minister of Sindh conveniently announced that he would return the honours that the colonial government bestowed on his forebears (and threw a political gauntlet at the opposition, calling upon them to do the same). And the speaker of the Punjab provincial assembly declared that he would personally kill any blasphemer he encountered.

Not exactly the most responsible statements at a time when a Pakistani “traders’ association” has announced a reward of Rs 10 million for beheading the newly minted knight. Or at a time when the Pakistan Ulema Council bestowed an ‘equivalent’ honour on Osama bin Laden in return. But there is a good reason for this irresponsibility.

Religious outrage has always come in handy for Pakistani politicians facing difficult times. But the controversy over Rushdie comes as a godsend for Gen Musharraf and his beleaguered political supporters. They have every incentive to fuel the anger against a faraway blasphemer: both to divert attention from Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry’s hugely popular rallies across the country, and to re-inflate the bogey of an Islamist take-over for the benefit of Western observers.