Monday, October 26, 2009

PAKISTAN: THE IDEA IS SELF-DESTRUCTING

Pakistan is an idea that was doomed to fail the moment it got the shape of a state. Although MA Jinnah himself divided India into two on the basis of religion, he held on to the exactly opposite belief that had it not been for the the "angularities" between Hindus and Muslims, and communities within them, "we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this." Ironically, these words by were uttered just three days before Pakistan became a reality.

For many reasons, Jinnah could not see that there was a fundamental and irreconcilable clash between what he had done and what he believed, not just for his Pakistan but for the whole of India that he belonged to till August 14, 1947. That is why, despite doing what he should never have based on a set of his own beliefs, he visualised Pakistan as a state that would have nothing to do with the only one dimension along which it had been created: Islam. He did not want his creation to fall into the same trap that had divided, weakened and subjugated India in the past, and that he had pushed it into, again.

One can only speculate what would have happened had Pakistan become a secular state and had not systematically driven out/converted almost all Hindus and Sikhs who became its citizens on August 14, 1947. May be the recurring fear in some sections of Pakistan that it would have re-merged with India would have come true. It is equally possible that it may have flourished as an Independent country.

The way events have unfolded over the last few decades, and as they are playing out right now in Pakistan, it is becoming increasingly evident that the new nation sealed its future the moment it decided to define itself only on the basis of Islam, after Jinnah's demise. It is worth repeating here that Pakistan is the only multi-ethnic, multi-lingual state created from nowhere on the basis of Islam. Perhaps Jinnah was aware that the Arabs from whose land Islam emanated, and who were all Muslims, had never been politically united by their religion. Despite one language, one race and one religion, they are now divided into 22 countries. In fact, it is likely that had it not been for oil and the Americans - who are there and keeping things under tight control because of their need for that oil - not only would Arabs have remained pathetically underdeveloped, the many countries that they have created would have been at each others' throats.

Those who guided Pakistan after Jinnah obviously did not learn any lessons even from subsequent developments in the Arab word. Had they done so, they would have seen that all efforts to unite Arabs ended in failure. The brief unification of Egypt and Syria as United Arab Republic lasted just three years between 1958 and 1961. The Arab Federation between Iraq and Jordan lasted all of five months in 1958. The effort that survived the longest was the Federation of Arab Republics between Egypt, Libya and Syria that lasted five years from 1972 to 1977. Why could people of one race and one language not come together? Why did Islam fail to unite them? Was it due to various erroneous, intolerant, conflicting and violent interpretations of Islam that the concept of Muslim brotherhood could not be translated into political unity?

The first jolt to the idea and ideology of Pakistan was given by the breaking away of East Pakistan in 1971. That division was not an aberration. It could not have happened any other way. West Pakistan would never have ceded control to the more populous Eastern half; religious affinity was not strong enough to reconcile the practical demands of political power. The remaining part of Pakistan, the one known as Pakistan today, could possibly have been kept intact after that split, had its leaders learnt the right lessons and not tried to 'invent' Pakistan as a logical entity by manufacturing India's history solely on the basis of Islam, with the attendant rejection of and hatred towards all other influences and developments that are integral to this ancient land, to which they still belong as much as any one else does, even though they want to pretend otherwise.

But, Pakistan's leaders decided to take what is going to prove to be a catastrophic turn, by turning towards Wahhabi Islam, the version of the religion that is followed in Saudi Arabia. As per William Dalrymple," Saudi Arabians have invested heavily in madrasas in the North-West Frontier Province and Punjab, with dramatic effect, radically changing the religious culture of an entire region." The Taliban and the Al Qaida are the visible militant faces of this version of Islam which is completely intolerant of all other faiths. They were encouraged to flourish in Pakistan and Afghanistan because they were thought to be the perfect ideological weapons, forged on an erroneous interpretation of the concept of jihad, that could be exploited to oppose both the Western world and India, with the ultimate aim of ushering in the political rule of Islam all over the world.

Wahhabi Islam is so radical that it rejects all other versions of Islam, including Shia, too. It should, therefore, have been anticipated by the handlers and trainers of the Taliban, Lahskar-e-Toiba etc that whenever these groups thought there was an opportunity, they would try to establish the rule of this version of Islam in the whole of Pakistan. It should also have been anticipated that men following this ideology would penetrate the military too. There is little doubt that has already happened over a period of time, with the military brass turning a blind, even indulgent eye to it. The extent of the penetration is not yet fully known to outsiders, and I suspect that this will prove to be critical in the months ahead.

In February 2009, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari had admitted that his country was fighting for 'survival' in the face of the onslaught of the Taliban. No one took him seriously then, given his dubious track record. But the speed at which developments have unfolded over the last eight months proves that he was speaking the truth. The danger is real and grave.

Pakistan first tried to bury disturbing developments in the Swat Valley by buying peace with the Taliban by handing it over to them and allowing them to introduce Sharia there. Within weeks, however, the army had to go in to clean them out and re-establish control of the state. In the middle of all this, over two million people fled Swat, creating a huge humanitarian crisis. That did little to get things under control and terror attacks have continued unabated till now.

In October, a number of terror attacks, including a day long siege of the army headquarters, took place in three of Pakistan's four provinces. More dangerously, they involved not only Pashtuns but also Punjabi and Kashmiri factions nurtured and trained by the ISI to fight India. These have forced Pakistan's armed forces to launch military operations in South Waziristan where the Taliban are based, employing jet fighters, attack helicopters and tanks and around 28,000 troops. They have captured Kotkai, home town of Taliban Chief Hakimullah Mehsud, and claim that militants will be flushed out within a month. Is the story going to end there? It has only begun.

The reaction of the Taliban to the latest military offensive has impacted the whole of Pakistan like never before. Schools and colleges were shut in all four provinces following an attack on the Islamic University in Islamabad. Terror is now no longer confined to Pakistan's wild west. Also, for the first time ever, Pakistani Army has made the startling admission that the country faces a serious threat from coordinated attacks by Punjabi, Al Qaida and Taliban militants who include soldiers in their ranks and span the whole country.

In July 2009, former Pakistan President Perez Musharraf, the cocky commando who invents victory even in humiliating defeat, boasted in an interview with Karan Thapar that he foresaw no danger to Pakistan from the Al Qaida or Taliban "as long as the armed forces are there".

In that assertion was the unspoken admission that Islam, instead of keeping Pakistan together, has achieved exactly the opposite, and that the state of Pakistan survives only because the military is in a position to hold it together through the use of force. 63 years after Pakistan was created, the glue that brought it together has turned into an explosive. There is now effectively nothing left to keep the people bound together in a natural union.

The military has held out till now, even though it is having to fight the very forces that it once created to act as its 'force multipliers', as weapons of the Pakistani state against infidels in the East and West of the country. Learning from history, it has reportedly deployed non-Pashtun troops in its ongoing operations in South Waziristan. But with Punjabi extremists also beginning to join the fight against the state in the form that it exists today, a state that supports the Satan US in its ground operations in Afghanistan and drone attacks in Pakistan against 'pure Islamists', it is perhaps only a matter of time before the military faces a serious rebellion from within. Whenever that happens, Pakistan will unravel even faster than we can imagine now. It is only a question of time.

Fatima Bhutto, niece of slain leader Benazir Bhutto, can also see that Pakistan is hell-bent on self-destruction. Manufacture of fear, she says, has become its chief industry and made it a country of debilitating Chinese whispers. "What happens to a Pakistan that can no longer defend itself from its own people?", she asks. The answer to that question must be haunting many Pakistanis.

History has already proved Jinnah wrong. No one has suffered more from the Partition of India than the very Muslims for whose empowerment Jinnah forgot his own secular understanding of the factors that led to India's subjugation. Divided in three countries, they have lost the power and influence that they would have wielded in a united India. Those who are now Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have also lost the opportunity of being a part of an India that is rapidly emerging as an economic super power. They are now huddled into two small nations. Bangladesh is an almost inconsequential country while Pakistan has made such an unpardonable mess of itself that, no matter what political shape its geographical area takes, bar the shouting their bankrupt country/countries will henceforth be remote-controlled by some external power or the other. Subjugation is back.

The "angularities" between and within religions that Jinnah spoke of have, thanks to the path Pakistan has chosen, become irreconcilable ideologies - Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilisations - with no common ground for peaceful co-existence. But, no matter what anyone might say, the harsh reality is that in a changed world, Al Qaida, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Toiba and similar Islamic extremist groups are not going get Pakistan anywhere by pursuing the violent path of intolerance of and confrontation with those whose beliefs and practices are at variance with theirs. On the contrary, as is already more than evident, they are only going to rapidly drive Pakistan into poverty, deprivation and eventual self-destruction.

Perhaps this is one of those lessons that will be learned only after a violent course has destructively spent itself fully.

Picture: The Guardian
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