December 2001 News

Burnt by Islamic bigotry

10 December 2001
Hindustan Times
Amulya ganguly

New Delhi: Pakistan has never been in deeper trouble. Even at the time of its break-up in 1971, China offered moral support and the US sent its warships into the Bay of Bengal to frighten India. Today, China is as concerned about Pakistani support for Islamic terrorism in Xinjiang as India is about the same menace in Kashmir, while the US is keeping a wary eye on Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal. A basic cause of Pakistan’s predicament, in 1971 and 2001, is the absence of democracy. It is no surprise that in both these years, a military dictator has been in charge in Islamabad. While Yahya Khan considered it absurd to hand over power in 1971 to a Bengali from the then East Pakistan simply because he won an election, Musharraf had convinced himself that he would have his name written in golden letters in history books by grabbing Kashmir to compensate for the loss of East Pakistan. To be fair, the idea is not his alone. Ever since another dictator, Zia-ul Haq, encouraged Islamic fundamentalism to consolidate his hold on power, successive Pakistani leaders, including civilians like Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, went along with the idea of using religion to prise Kashmir away from India. But it was Musharraf who decided (behind Nawaz Sharif’s back?) to take the proxy war to its logical conclusion by virtually launching a formal war in Kargil. During the process of encouraging the jehadi enterprise in Kashmir, the Pakistani establishment was evidently taking a huge risk so far as their own country was concerned since zealotry was bound to raise its ugly head in Pakistan as well. That there was a faint realisation of the danger posed by the growing clout of the bigots was evident from the ban imposed on extremist Sunni and Shia outfits in Pakistan and the stern lecture given by Musharraf to a gathering of clerics about how the Muslim world was falling behind the other countries in many respects. But if Musharraf nevertheless believed that his government’s policy was a ‘correct’ one towards the Taliban, as he said in a BBC interview, it was because he presumed that any damage which Pakistani society might suffer because of the Taliban’s extremist influence would be more than made up by the acquisition of Kashmir. But the best-laid plans can go awry. In any event, Musharraf’s Kargil misadventure probably showed that he had realised that time for grabbing Kashmir was running out. As always, a Pakistani military junta had underestimated India’s resilience, as any ‘strong and silent’ dictatorship does when dealing with a noisy democracy. Besides, Islamabad was also becoming aware of the fact that the rest of the world was waking up to the threat of Islamic militancy. The remarks of President Clinton during his visit to India showed that the US had taken note of Pakistan’s involvement in the insurgency in Kashmir. Even then, Musharraf might have continued with his ‘correct’ policy towards the Taliban but for the fact that each country, even an Afghanistan functioning in close liaison with Pakistan, will have its own agenda. In this case, the Taliban’s guest, Osama bin Laden, had his own axe to grind. He may not have been averse to the jehad in Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere. But the US was the bee in his bonnet. However, his game plan did not suit Pakistan. The latter was interested in the jehadi campaign only in Kashmir. But Islamabad did not adequately take into account how the spread of Islamic terrorism will undermine its endeavours in the Indian province also. So, when Osama, the loose cannon, and his host, the Taliban, upset Pakistan’s plans by taking on the Big Satan himself, Pakistan was wrong-footed in a manner it clearly did not anticipate. As a result, what was a ‘correct’ policy of sustaining the Taliban till September 10 became its opposite the next day. The somersault has landed Pakistan in a quandary. In a way, its present travails are worse than what happened in 1971. The loss of its eastern wing was perhaps a blessing in disguise. It was an artificial arrangement anyway, whose structural flaws date even further back than the anti-Urdu agitations of 1952 in East Pakistan, which are widely regarded as marking the beginning of the rift. However, as Sir Malcolm Hailey, Governor of UP, noted way back in 1925: “They (Punjabi Muslims) see that they can never have quite the same interests as Muslims in the provinces with large Hindu majorities and they seriously think of breaking away from the All India Muslim League and starting a Federation of their own. This will seek to embrace the Punjab, parts of UP, the North-West Frontier, Baluchistan and Sind... this in itself is only a preparation for a larger Federation which shall embrace Afghanistan and perhaps Persia. “You will notice that the dream of the future... does not include Bengal. For the moment, the northern Indian Moslem has given up his co-religionist in Bengal as hopeless...” Commenting on this passage, David Page writes in the Prelude to Partition that “twenty years before the creation of Pakistan and forty-five years before the creation of Bangladesh, these were prophetic insights”. But even if the distance between the north-western and eastern parts of the subcontinent is vast, Pakistan might not have disintegrated if it was a democracy. Only a military junta could have thought of crushing the uprising in East Pakistan by the sheer use of force. Similarly, only a dictator could have sought to use Islamic terrorism in a bid to acquire Kashmir. True, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif pursued virtually the same line. But, first, they inherited the policy from an earlier dictator. Secondly, the army and the ISI were probably not totally under their control. And, thirdly, Nawaz Sharif did remove the aggressive Gauhar Ayub from the foreign ministry and showed signs of moderation in Lahore. But, more than anything else, a civilian ruler might have shown greater awareness of the threat posed to Pakistani society by the fires of fundamentalism. Three decades after the loss of its eastern wing, Pakistan has lost its ‘strategic depth’ in the west also. Even a neutral government in Kabul, let alone an India-friendly one, will be a cause for Pakistan’s despair. The reason will have less to do with Pakistan’s vulnerability than with the collapse of its entire Kashmir policy. All its puppets — Hurriyat, Hizb-ul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Jaish-e-Mohammed — will realise that the revulsion against terrorism will rule out their modus operandi — mindless acts of violence. Pakistan’s misfortunes are its own creation. Formed on the basis of a theory whose fatuity was exposed in 1971, it never evolved into a modern State whose indispensable ingredient is democracy. The country has been ill-served by its leaders — the tinpot dictators and venal politicians. It has been ill-served by its friends as well —- the US and China, the latter helping it with its nuclear programme and the former turning a blind eye to its misdemeanours. Such coddling convinced Pakistan that it could use the Taliban to harass India. But it only hurt itself.


Return to the Archives 2001 Index Page

Return to Home Page