The Muslim world is in a surge of awakening. Rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen have been ousted; Syria is in a state of civil war and disturbances are spreading. The US involvement is visible everywhere, since it is their security compulsion to keep control over the region. They pursue this through political intrigues, financial arm-twisting, use of brute force and exploiting disputes amongst Muslims, the most potent being the Shia-Sunni divide. Consequently, the Muslims have come to view the US, backed by Europe, as ‘Enemy Number One’. A great divide has been created and the emotional gulf is widening. There is no going back now.

The current unrest, with a backdrop of years of resurgence in Islamic thought, carries the seeds of Muslim unification. We may not  be farsighted enough to recognise this, but those who play at the global level think in longer terms. So dynamic is this awakening and so vital is this game to US ambitions that the coming few years might witness major upheavals. Obama’s last term is likely to be consequential for the Muslims, unless they can get their act together.

Although the reasons for these uprising have been tyrannical regimes, concentration of wealth, corruption and economic decline, but when a Muslim community comes under duress, it gravitates towards religion as a rallying point. This then becomes the centre of gravity of their resistance. The West recognises this, and for years has been denigrating the concept of political Islam. The notions of jihad and ummah being significant impediments in US design, colossal effort is directed to suppress these thoughts and shrink religion to mere private existence. However, such dynamics have now been created that the more they crush these thoughts, the more they spread. Muslims from all over the world rise to resist, and their numbers continue to increase.

For many years, our critical vulnerability has been self-centred rulers in reprehensible pursuit of perpetuating their hold; keeping the people at bay by creating harsh laws, maintaining self-serving systems and taking refuge behind religion or some national security hoax, like the so-called war against terrorism. The entire organism is based on subjugating the populace through oppression and deceit. Akin to any mafia, most of our rulers seek shelter from the bigger mobster - the US. However, given their tarnished regional history and current involvement, alignment with the US is now becoming a political vulnerability. For our government, it will soon amount to a political suicide.

Pakistan today stands precipitously fragmented, on every conceivable political, social and religious issue. The most damaging is the Islamist-secular divide, fashioned to garner support for our alliance with the US and title its fallout ‘our war’. The split between traditionalist and modernist outlook has been magnified by pushing secular ideals to the centre stage of our intellectual debate with such intensity that Islamic leaning expression stands inhibited, out of fear of being branded uncultured and backward. This perception is now changing.

The mantra is that there is an extremist version of Islam, which is generating militancy, so this war has actually to be won in the minds; and if this nation is to be saved, it has to be brought on to a moderate version of Islam, implying that jihad must remain short of militancy. These westernised thoughts, belittling religion, are reinforced by the heritage of intolerance and extremist ideals held in certain cleric circles, historical legacy of the Afghan Taliban and terrorism sponsored from across our border. Neither the legitimacy of the Afghan struggle is brought under debate, nor is our partnership in US massacre of our neighbours questioned. The trump card being brandished is the sustenance of our economy. No linkage of our foreign policy to our internal situation is shown and we are given to believe that domestic terrorism is a standalone issue. The man on the street, with greater religious inclinations, perceives this violation of Islamic injunctions an elitist trend and considers secularism to be the cloak under which we hide our new gods. Given the current psychosocial dynamics in the country, this has come to enhance the rich-poor divide, with explosive potentials.

Today we stand divided and disputing; with the nation in total disarray. Our disagreements have become more meaningful to us than the future of this country. Either we unite or we sink. Unless we hold on to our moorings, overcome our differences and carve out our own destiny, we cannot prevent a Syria type catastrophe that is looming on our horizon.

Instead of a leg in either boat, we need to decide which side of this great divide we stand on as a nation. True that there is no Muslim unity to stand with, but here is our opportunity to lead. If we want peace in the region, the US must leave and Afghanistan must get stabilised. Both these objectives are achievable, if Pakistan and Iran unite.

The embrace of historical rivals in Afghanistan is the only means of ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan as well as inside Pakistan. There is no other way of putting this genie of terrorism back in the bottle and driving the US out. Afghanistan will automatically become part of this alliance. This block will emerge as a new regional power centre. It will prevent our isolation and economic collapse, on parting ways with the US. It also carries the seed of greater Muslim unification and will be a precursor to phenomenal changes in regional and global dynamics. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad made a significant remark (offer?) during his recent visit to Pakistan, saying that Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was neither Sunni nor Shia but a Muslim, and if Muslims unite under this one point, there will be no strife or sectarian problem. The only beacon of hope for us, as for the rest of the Muslim world, is this reconciliation. And its time has arrived.

The writer is a retired lieutenant general and former corps commander of Lahore. Email: azizshahid10@gmail.com