Thursday, December 27, 2007

BENAZIR BHUTTO'S ASSASSINATION: LESSONS FOR INDIA

The tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi today was an event fated to happen, sooner rather than later. Bhutto apparently fell to the bullets of the very Taliban and Jehadi elements that she, according to many analysts, created when she was Prime Minister of Pakistan.

In some ways, her assassination is similar to the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards. The only real difference is that while Mrs. Gandhi was killed after she very belatedly took out the Sikh separatist leader she had created herself to secure an electoral victory for the Congress party by dividing Sikh votes, Benazir has fallen just before she could take her much promised action against Islamic terrorists after the elections in January 2008, which she was certain to win.

The situation in Pakistan is, however, infinitely more serious in Pakistan today then it was in India when Mrs. Gandhi fell.

I have been writing extensively on the dangers posed by and to Pakistan due to the Islamic terrorism that it has assiduously nurtured as a weapon of state policy, particularly since the days of General Zia ul Haq.These posts can be found here.

After Pakistan was born in a bloodbath of horrific proportions, its rulers thought that Islam was enough glue with which they could not only keep Pakistan together, but even beat ‘India’ again to reclaim the lost glory of ‘Muslim’ rule over the whole of India. The adoption of this view point as the sole basis for defining the state of Pakistan led to the single minded pursuit of the policy of “bleeding India through a thousand cuts”.

The weapon of Islamic fundamentalism that Pakistan forged for bleeding India has, not surprisingly, mutated beyond its control and turned inwards to Pakistan itself. Pakistan is now a dangerous and divided land where the rule of law is being increasingly usurped by gun totting radicals bent on violently enforcing their totally intolerant version of Islam on Pakistan.

The Jehad put in place by Pakistan to bleed India is now bleeding Pakistan itself. And the blood, it appears is gushing out of the jugular almost unstoppably, perhaps terminally.

Only a couple of months back, a surfer, Amir Khan, had almost prophetically described Pakistan’s condition on the Washington Post website. Commenting on an article entitled Why Not Dissolve Pakistan Too? posted on November 3, 2007, by Ali Ettefagh, he wrote: “Religion brought violence and chaos to the country, rather than unity…Pakistan has become a chimera, a virtual state, quite ungovernable by normal institutions. Even the iron hand of the military is no longer sufficient... There is no substance to the country anymore, no substance that any authority can control; all has become fluid and formless. Its end lies in its beginnings.”

Bhutto’s assassination has very chilling lessons for India too. And these call for an urgent and honest recognition of the problems that Jehadi terrorism is creating in India and will do in the future, if not squarely faced and tackled before it takes deep and firm roots, somewhat like it has in Pakistan. The lesson should have been learnt from the growth of Sikh terrorism which was ignored till it acquired a dimension and momentum which should never have been allowed in the first place.

Islamic terrorism can, if ignored similarly, become far more dangerous and violent and destructive than Sikh terrorism ever was. India is home to almost 15 crore Muslims, well spread throughout the country, unlike the Sikhs who live mostly in Punjab. Like the Sikhs, Indian Muslims are patriotic and peace-loving citizens. But, when religion is viciously used to destructively achieve political objectives, emotions can easily be swayed and simple ordinary men and women can be quickly turned into ruthless killing machines.

Even if 0.1 percent Indian Muslims fall prey to and join such elements, we will have 1.5 lakh militants wreaking havoc in the misplaced name of Jehad. When that happens, one can now not even imagine the chaos and destruction that the vortex of violence, both ‘Jehadi’ and retaliatory, will cause.

Talking of and facing Islamic terrorism has, unfortunately, somehow got mixed up with talking for or against Indian Muslims. The divisive politics of communal vote banks has stymied any serious talk and timely response to Islamic terrorism, even though the country has been fighting it for decades. Perhaps because it is so far largely limited to one corner of the country, our leaders can afford to ignore it over the more immediate need of securing Muslim votes which, somehow, they think they will lose if they act.

This viewpoint should actually offend Indian Muslims. They should, in fact, be more concerned about the spread of Islamic terrorism in their country as it brings a bad name to the whole community. Remember what the nation felt about Sikhs at the height of Sikh terrorism and the violent response that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination?

Sadly, no Indian Muslim leader of any standing has so far stood up to demand tough policies to check and stamp out Islamic terrorism from the country. Did not the same happen in Punjab? Perhaps concerns of personal safety override the larger concern for the safety of the community and the country. Be that as it may, our rulers simply cannot afford to be guided by considerations of political expediency, even immorality, that are clearly likely to endanger the safety and security of the country and its citizens in the future.

Lakhs of Army and para military personnel who have served in Kashmir during the last 60 years have already effectively informed crores of Indians about the actual realities in Kashmir and about the people who live in that small valley of Kashmir that has got the country by its gut. No media personality will ever get to see or hear that hard reality that has silently seeped into the collective consciousness of the real Indians who live outside the metros. The thousands of body bags that have been coming regularly from there have also been carrying loud messages to the remotest corners of the country, even though they have not been heard in Delhi yet.

For Pakistan, Bhutto’s assassination may well mark the beginning of the end which lies in the beginnings of the country. That is possibly the price to be paid for a path deliberately chosen by its policy makers who, it is now clear, could never rise above the mindset of petty tribal chieftains knowing no other method except violence to get what they covet, rightly or wrongly.

For India, it is one more of the many wake-up calls which have so far not disturbed its Kumbhakaran-like slumber. Only this time the call is shatteringly loud and demanding to be heard. India can no longer afford to sleep over the danger posed by Islamic terrorism to the country, to its Hindus and Muslims alike. This scourge has be ruthlessly tackled and uprooted from this country with a renewed sense of urgency.

There is simply no other option if we want to avoid the inevitable violence and bloodshed that will hurt Indians of all communities in the future, if we turn over and go back to sleep again.