Sunday, June 6, 2010

DEALING WITH PAKISTAN: LESSONS FROM HISTORY

The recent attack on a mosque in Lahore belonging to Ahmediyas, a Muslim sect that has been declared heretic, by Punjabi Taliban, has once again brought to fore serious questions about the shape Pakistan has taken, the direction in which it is headed and the manner in which India should deal with it. At stake is the future and shape of not only India but the whole subcontinent. Dr Manmohan Singh is right when he says that India cannot not achieve its full potential unless it solves its problems with Pakistan. But can it really do so on the path that Dr Singh has chosen, or is that going to lead India into just the abyss that Pakistan wants?

I am no historian but I do know that history is rarely written objectively, particularly about events, personalities and ideologies that are not only alive but can also impact future events. When it comes to the history of medieval India, a continuing story that led to the Partition of India in 1947 and that is shaping developments even today, this is all the more glaring. One only has to do a comparative analysis of the versions that India and Pakistan have officially adopted to understand how politics on both sides of the divide has corrupted and distorted India's history to create a political future desired by those who control the state.

In Pakistan, history as taught to children in schools is designed to generate hatred towards India. Little is taught about Pakistan's long pre-Islamic history; the focus is on the glories of Islam and Mughal rule in India. As per a detailed study carried out by the Sustainable Policy Development Institution (SDPI) of Pakistan, history text books "are "full" of material "encouraging or justifying discrimination against women, religious and ethnic minorities and other nations," and four themes emerge from the curricula: 1. Pakistan is for Muslims alone; 2. that Islamic teachings, including a compulsory reading and memorization of Qur’an, are to be included in all the subjects, hence to be forcibly taught to all the students, whatever their faith; 3. that Ideology of Pakistan is to be internalized as faith, and that hate be created against Hindus and India; and 4. students are to be urged to take the path of Jehad and Shahadat."

Now this is not the handiwork of some illiterate Mullahs steeped in Wahhabi or Deobandhi-inspired extremism and intolerance. This is the deliberate creation of educated Pakistanis who believe that their nation has to be defined by Islam, sustained by implacable hatred towards India, and kept energised by the objective of claiming Kashmir and the rest of India for Islam. Out of this basic mindset has flown the hatred towards the rest of the non-Muslim world, with Pakistan appropriating for itself the role of the leader of the Islamic world and becoming the breeding ground for global terrorist outfits like the Al Qaida and local terror groups with global ambitions. It is easy to blame the Pakistani military establishment, particularly Zia-ul-Haq, for this slide into violent extremism. But, one would do well to remember that almost the entire Pakistani elite, including its civilian political leadership, is equally responsible for shaping Pakistan into the dangerous disaster that it has become today, one that has, to cite one example, produced educated, affluent terrorists like Shahzad, the Times Square bomber.

Pakistan, according to reports, is now producing 10,000 potential jihadis annually out of 500,000 graduates from 11,000 madrassas. These nurseries of terror have not sprung up on their own. They have been assiduously planted and nurtured to provide extremely motivated fodder to the establishment in the furtherance of its strategic objectives. Although the situation appears to have gone out of control in some cases after 9/11, if the Americans leave Afghanistan without tying every loose end up, a near impossibility, it will be pulled right back with use of brutal force, if necessary, by Pakistan's military.

Free India's Hindu rulers, on the other hand, have consciously de-linked religion from the state, despite the trauma of Partition on the basis of religion and the developments in Pakistan thereafter, to create a secular nation. It is largely due to their vision that Indians can be proud of, that a modern India is almost ready to claim its place among the great nations of the world. This political decision has had another fall out. It has seen the emergence of a rare unanimity in one political objective that is dear to both liberals and Marxists: to prevent "Hindus" from gaining political power. What better tool than history to push this through, to influence minds of Indians born after Independence? The net result is that the colonial view of history has not only continued to prevail but has been distorted even further by 'de-Hinduising' and sanitising it, the latter by purging history text books of nearly all negative aspects of Muslim conquest and rule. This unwritten censorship imposed by historians and intellectuals is so effective that, as Jacob De Roover notes, not only are disparaging beliefs about India's Hindu past being propagated but that "if one makes positive noises about the contribution of Indian culture to humanity, one runs the risk of being associated with Hindu nationalism."

This has created a small but powerful group of men and women who have almost completely severed their ties with and belief in the religion of their birth. It is this elite that is driving India's Pakistan policy, that is convinced that a strong and stable Pakistan is in India's supreme national interest, that wants India to make concessions to that nation in the hope that genuine friendship will be possible thereafter, that believes that Indians and Pakistanis are same people divided by the "accident of Partition" which we must put behind and move beyond. In short, it is this elite that, thanks in no small measure to the history it has taught and been taught, is simply unable to look at the challenge that Pakistan has posed since Independence in the manner that India needs to, to develop a winning response.

That is primarily why 63 years after Pakistan was born in blood, India finds itself in the reactive, fumbling mess that it is in despite four wars and an ongoing two-decade old proxy war.

It is, therefore, important that a very basic reality is understood once and for all by the deracinated elite that is steering India to nowhere with respect to Pakistan and due to whose blinkers lives of Indian soldiers and civilians may continue to be lost for decades, even centuries. No matter how allergic some of us may be at being called a Hindu nation - and rightly so too - Pakistan has always seen India as a Hindu country only. Pakistan, when looking at India, does not see its constitution or secular structures of the state; its only sees that Red Fort, from where the Mughal Emperors once ruled India, is now under the control of much-hated Hindus. We can keep saying the ours is a composite culture with influences of all religions; the likes of Barkha Dutt who can be found in significant numbers in most media houses, can keep saying they are atheists: as far as Pakistan is concerned, they are not Muslims, they have Hindu names, they are Hindus. Period. Sonia Gandhi may have been born a Christian but to them she too is the bearer of the Hindu flag.

It is, therefore, vital to understand that when it comes to developing a response to the state of Pakistan as it exists today, what you think of yourself or your country is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what view Pakistan has of you, what that view is going to make it do to you and what you need to do as nation to defeat and decimate instruments being and likely to be employed against you to achieve objectives that flow from such a view.

If we look at Mughal history briefly, the reins of two emperors stand out. Akbar and Aurangzeb both ruled for 50 years. During Akbar's time there was communal harmony and peace. Around this period the Bhakti movement also flourished, with the likes of Guru Nanak, Kabir, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu etc, preaching love and devotion for God, violence nowhere in their teachings. Aurangzeb, on the other hand, abandoned the liberal religious viewpoints of his predecessors and attempted to impose Sharia law with the aim of converting India into a land of Islam. Destruction of many temples, forcible conversion if Hindus to Islam, imposition of jazia on them, blanket ban on music etc followed, as did many wars to expand the empire. It was on his orders that Sikh Guru Teg Bahadur was beheaded in Chandni Chowk (Sis Ganj Gurudwara) for refusing to convert to Islam even after he was mercilessly tortured. It was Aurangzeb's atrocities that compelled Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Sikh Guru to add shakti to bhakti and demonstrate that a few fearless persons under proper spiritual guidance can act as force multipliers and re-energise a peaceful but hapless society reeling under terror unleashed by an intolerant state.

The present state of Pakistan can be said to be the inheritor of the legacy and ideology of Aurangzeb. Had it been an Akbar inspired creation, as perhaps Jinnah wanted it to be, the history of the sub continent and the condition of religious minorities in Pakistan would have been completely different. There would have been peace today and the sub continent would possibly have overtaken China with ease as the economic and military superpower of the future What we have instead is an increasingly intolerant and radicalised Pakistan that cannot see beyond the prism of a frozen-in-time version of Islam that sees itself as the end, the objective to be achieved to the exclusion of everything else.

The Indian state, on the other hand, can be said to be the inheritor of the ideology of the peaceful Bhakti movement with Mahatma Gandhi as its inspiration. That ideology worked against the British whose Empire was driven by loot and not religion. Would it have succeeded against religious extremism and violence? That question was again answered in 1946 itself when Jinnah called for 'Direct Action' to get Pakistan for Muslims. The resultant massacres in Kolkata forced Gandhi and Nehru to concede defeat; passive resistance could not on its own make the desired impact on the hearts and minds of leaders who employed religious intolerance to achieve political objectives.

Unfortunately, the lessons of 1946, followed by those of Partition and developments thereafter have again been conveniently forgotten. Liberals and Marxists who seized control of India's mind-space after Independence have retained the outer trapping of Gandhi's secularism but have taken out the spiritual devotion and truth in which it was steeped. Nothing wrong with that, one may argue, but the problem is that due to this surgery, what remains now is a passive, reactive state that has lost its connect with its own past, that is trying to find meaning for everything that it needs to do from examples in the totally different societal and religious settings of the West of the present, its past too conveniently forgotten.

Had those asking for a strong Pakistan looked for lessons from Mughal history, they would probably have adopted a completely different view.

Aurangzeb was the centripetal force, the power under which forces of religious intolerance flourished and acquired disproportionate strength, courage and power. They also unleashed strong reactive energies that met force with force. There was no other state then big enough to challenge Aurangzeb. Small and uncoordinated resistances could, therefore, do no more than wear him down by keeping him engaged in wars and thereby neglect the important task of running and maintaining the empire. But what happened after his death is the real story that is relevant in today's context. There were no worthy successors and the mighty Mughal Empire, then the greatest in the world, collapsed fairly dramatically and quickly. More importantly, that collapse also saw the quick death of the all-powerful conversion and destruction squads that wreaked havoc under Aurangzeb's protective umbrella.

Pakistan is the modern day Aurangzeb with ambitions that exceed his. This Aurangzeb has a problem not just with Hindu India but with the entire non-Muslim world. It believes that a few nukes, an Army and thousands of brainwashed young boys, all guided, controlled and inspired by it can achieve more than Aurangzeb ever could. This belief has been strengthened by the fact that a much bigger and united India has not been able to do to it what was done to Aurangzeb by much smaller kings, all acting on their own. That has emboldened it to become increasingly aggressive even during negotiations while continuing to prosecute its agenda vigorously, though with more circumspection than before due to the presence of the Americans.

Secular India is substantially in Akbar's mould. A Pakistan that believes in that ideology is presently an impossibility; it would, in fact, not have been carved out of India in the first place had Akbar got into the DNA of Muslim leaders. A strong Pakistan in that mould is what India wants. I suspect that is precisely what those involved in negotiations with Pakistan and most of those in the media believe Pakistan substantially is. Or will become if India strengthens its democratic government and institutions. They also want to make-believe that the the extremist lobby in Pakistanis is a tiny fringe and that the majority of those who constitute the state are moderates who want to live in peace and harmony with India. The reverse is probably true, given the dope children in not just the madrassas but even mainstream schools are being brought up on. (Read this illuminating article by Nadeem F. Paracha in The Dawn) Often we like to see others in our mould because of the false security that our comfort zones provide and the paralysis that grips some of us when we step out of it. Pakistanis know this weakness too. Sure way of protecting our individual selves at the expense of the nation on whose behalf we are interlocuting.

Today, the Al Qaida, the Taliban, Let, JuD etc appear to be formidable instruments of terror. More than anything else, they owe their strength and, in many cases, their very existence to the state of Pakistan. As even the Americans have discovered by now, Pakistan has no interest in dismantling the vast infrastructure of terror -- except where its interests are directly affected -- despite intense American pressure. It is playing the waiting game knowing well that a weakening US will have to get out of Afghanistan in the near future, give or take a couple of years. Once that happens, terror elements that are of use to it against India in Kashmir and the rest of the country, will be tasked to take the proxy war to the next level. No agreement with India, no matter what concessions India gives, is going to change that strategy.

Since a Pakistan driven by values that Akbar embodied cannot emerge from the poison that it has consumed, a strong Pakistan that mirrors the ideology employed by Aurangzeb and worse can be nothing but bad news for India, particularly after the Americans leave the region. In fact it cannot be good news for even America and the rest of the West. The situation will become almost intractable if the state, including the army, is taken over by extremist elements totally, nuke button ready to be pressed at the slightest provocation. That may well happen if things continue to drift the way they are.

Fears that if Pakistan breaks up India will have to contend with fiver rogue states and uncontrollable jihadis are completely unfounded. Deprived of the patronage and direction of a powerful, ideological state, they will quickly dissolve into the countryside just as similar elements and ideologues did after the death of Aurangzeb. This is the most important lesson that should have been learnt from our history long back. It is not too late even now and offers the only visible solution to the danger that Pakistan in its present shape is going to keep posing to India.
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