Monday, November 12, 2007

THE BUDDHA FALLS IN PAKISTAN: WHAT NEXT?

On November 11, 2007, I was literally shocked to read in the Hindustan Times that Vir Sanghvi had discovered that Pakistan wanted to annex Kashmir on the basis of religion only at a breakfast meeting with President Leghari of Pakistan a few years ago. And that he believed that Pakistan now had a more nuanced position on Kashmir, whatever that means.

Earlier, Barkha Dutt had informed the nation in another editorial in the same paper on October 19, 2007 that Benazir Bhutto, with a degree from Oxford (because of it Barkha?), was secular, liberal and anathema for the religious orthodoxy in Pakistan. To Dutt, religious extremists of Pakistan are no more than a few ‘lunatic elements’, as she had once described them on NDTV.

These articles can be found here and here.

These views, tragically, reflect the fact that many of our leading opinion makers have little sense of even contemporary history, much less earlier history. They repeatedly refuse to see what is being slapped on our faces virtually everyday, almost as if they are pretending to be analysts of the West seeing developments in our region in a far-away superficially theoretical manner, concerned mainly with aspects that directly affect the Western World.

On November 11, 2007 itself, it was briefly reported in sections of the media that Pakistani Taliban rebels had attacked a historic 40-metre tall Buddha statue in the Swat valley, destroying its head, shoulders and feet, and had threatened a third and final attack on the statue to reduce it to rubble. Swat, falling in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, has a priceless Buddhist heritage, dating to the time of Emperor Ashoka. This is now facing destruction. In 2001, Talibanis had similarly destroyed the famous Buddha statues in the Bamian province of Afghanistan.

These acts of religious intolerance are not new; nor can they be simplistically dismissed to be the handiwork of a few ‘lunatics’, a stance that conveniently enables us to avoid the difficult and unpleasant task of looking deeper into the darker aspects of the mindset that demands such acts.

It has to be understood that the Taliban, meaning students of Islam, represent a revival and resurgence of the medieval mindset of Islam which had led to the rapid expansion of that religion and the extinction of all others that came in the way, till it was stopped by Christianity in the West and various Indian and Indian born religions in the East. A relatively peaceful status quo has been prevailing among the great religions of the world for some time now.

It is universally known that the western educated Muslim elite of India led by Jinnah refused to co-exist with Hindus who were in a majority when the British left, resulting in the creation of Pakistan. Kashmir, a Muslim majority state, opted for India, which to Pakistan was against the very basis on which India was partitioned. Ever since then - I thought everyone knew it, till I read Sanghvi’s article - Pakistan has made relentless efforts to annex Kashmir to complete its ‘incompleteness’. That has been the ‘core issue’ that has openly animated Pakistan for sixty years. Yet, our ‘thinkers’ continue to wear blinkers. If only they had watched mainstream television programs aired by that country over the years for educating Pakistani citizens on this ever burning issue.

The Taliban were a conscious creation of the westernized, educated Pakistani establishment, during the rein of Benazir Bhutto, to harness the explosive force of religious intolerance to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Ideologically identical branches of this very force were created and deployed to drive the Indians out of Kashmir.

The destruction of the Buddhas in Pakistan and Afghanistan has its mirror image in the almost total elimination of Hindus from Kashmir Valley, accomplished much earlier, while the Indian nation and its otherwise alert media watched with almost complete disinterest, possibly because they did not want to antagonize the elements in the Valley which they thought were secular. Make no mistake: temples there are still intact only because of the presence of the Indian Army. Had the Talibani type elements had a free run there too, the 'secularists' would have joined them seamlessly and there would have been no Shankaracharya temple or Amarnath shrine by now.

Musharraf’s fixation with Kashmir seems to have become more ‘nuanced’ now. What has happened between the two countries to prompt any fundamental change? Nothing at all. Then why the shift that some of us in India are so ecstatic about?

Is it a genuine change of heart or a kick in the unmentionable given by the US after 9/11 that has prompted the rulers of Pakistan to change their ‘clothes’? Suddenly, Benazir, the daughter of the even more westernized Bhutto, seems to have forgotten her father’s vow that he would “eat grass” and fight a “thousand years war” with India to get Kashmir. Even more quickly, she has been adopted as a champion of secularism by Indian analysts, hell bent on misleading their countrymen about the increasing dangers that continue to emanate from Pakistan.

Talbani type of Islam, which many believe is the real, pure Islam that the Prophet preached, has now begun to assert itself in large parts of Pakistan. It would be naïve to imagine that it is being able to do so without local popular support. The establishment and the Army are now being forced to fight it only because the US is pushing them hard, having made it clear after 9/11 that if Pakistan does not join the US in the war against terror, it will be bombed back into the stone age.

The Talibani extremists, and their numerous supporters, are not fazed by American threats at all. They are programmed to kill and die for their version of Islam, irrespective of the consequences; virgins are waiting for them after they lay down their lives in the Jehad against those who oppose them.

The idea has worked since the time of the Prophet and has successfully ensured that Islam has prevailed in many parts of the world. The Taliban type Islamic fundamentalists, many ordinary Pakistanis and most of the educated, liberal Pakistanis who initially created these terrorists, have no reason to believe that it will not work now. Even if some are privately skeptical, they dare not give it a voice, knowing that death will certainly follow if they are found out.

That is why Musharraf stands almost isolated today for having joined hands with infidel America, even though the poor fellow has no alternative if the nation state of Pakistan is to survive. The increasing reach of fundamentalists into the heartland of Pakistan is but a natural outcome of the policy consciously chosen by Pakistan to reclaim Afghanistan and Kashmir for itself in the name of Islam. How can Pakistan itself not be ‘reclaimed’ by the very form of Islam which it has chosen as the major instrument of state policy?

The destruction of the statue of Buddha in the Swat valley of Pakistan is one more of the thousands of indications we in India have been ignoring in our efforts to understand the dynamics and dangers of this extreme form of intolerance, which has its roots in the very creation and mindset of Pakistan. As I have said earlier too, that has to be tackled decisively if the war on terror has to be won.

Can this war be ever won by a nation obsessed with a weird type of secularism responding to religion with a peculiar sense of guilt, or by one adopting the way of the atheistic ostrich, conveniently ignoring the historical power and force of religion altogether?

The Buddha has fallen again to extremists, this time in Pakistan. Unless the core issues which have led to the rise of this religious terrorism are addressed without blinkers, we will remain stuck in the same old reactive mode of trying to guess 'what next', and where, while the Talibanis and their like continue to cause more and even more havoc and suffering without any remorse whatsoever.