Sunday, January 16, 2011

SHOULD PAKISTAN BE SAVED?

If the creation of Pakistan can be visualised as heavy snow falling on and covering upper reaches of precipitous slopes, then the calamitous avalanche that seems to have taken many by surprise, that suddenly seems unstoppable, that is poised to flatten everything below the snowline, should have been anticipated and strong barriers constructed in its predictable path so that it could have been checked and contained before it began its destructive descent.

Jinnah may have, at one level, visualised Pakistan as a modern Muslim state that viewed religion as a purely private matter – a mirror image, really, of secular India – but he would have known that the jihad that even he flirted with to violently snatch his state, was not an idea that would be forgotten after Pakistan was created. That is perhaps why he wanted to erect a barrier between the state and religion. But other Pakistanis, flush with success and angry that it was not complete, had different ideas. To cut the long story short, the snow continued to fall silently till General Zia-ul-Haq purposefully picked up a few fistfuls, made a snowball and set it rolling down the steep Islamist slope, in the hope that it would gather Kashmir and Afghanistan, and eventually the whole of ‘Hindu’ India, for Pakistan.

With the Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassination by Malik Mumtaz Husain Qadri, his bodyguard, only because he called Pakistan's blasphemy law a black law, and the subsequent developments on Pakistan, the avalanche has dramatically demonstrated how strong and powerful it has become and how powerless and defenceless are those who stand in its path.

Details of the Qadri-generated shock waves have been extensively covered in the media and by analysts, and I do not wish to tread the territory again. I would, however, like to draw the attention of readers to what two of India’s best and brutally honest Pakistan analysts have to say. MJ Akbar warns: “ we are seeing, unless we are lucky, the future of Pakistan on the face of Malik Qadri.” Tavleen Singh explains that the real danger of Pakistan imploding is because its “descent into venomous, violent Islamism is mostly the fault of their leaders and...this idea of faith has seeped into the fabric of Pakistani society. It is not just mullahs who spread the message but lawyers, policemen, judges and army officers.” It must be mentioned that it is not the first time this has been seen, though never openly on this scale. Even Imran Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician loved by India’s secularists, is a fundamentalist who supported handing over of Swat Valley to the Taliban and the latter’s system of justice. But, till Qadri struck, India’s media pretended otherwise and chose see only the ‘liberal’ PLU in him.

Many analysts have been arguing that a strong, stable Pakistan is in India’s interest and that India should make every concession possible, including over Kashmir, to strengthen the democratic government and, by implication, moderate voices there, because we are same people, because Pakistanis love Bollywood as much as we do, because you cannot change geography -- the usual nonsense. The frightening and ridiculous alternate scenario that some have been painting is that presently Pakistan stands between India and the Taliban – they are already just 150 km for our border, they shout -- and that if Pakistan goes, we will have thousands of armed radicals on India's border, creating havoc in India.

Let us face the harsh truth that but a few have been speaking about: the real danger that India faces is not from lightly armed groups like the Taliban and the LeT. There is no way that they can defeat a half-million strong military and take over Pakistan. The nightmare scenario, clear and near-present, is that the whole state, including the military, will become as Islamist as the radicalised groups nurtured by it.

It is worth recalling that in 1947, Muslim soldiers of Indian Army who opted for Pakistan, an idea that almost till the end many believed would not take the shape it did, overnight became enemies of their regimental colleagues. Within months of the creation of Pakistan, they fought against and killed the men they had fought with and killed for. If that dramatic transition was easy, formal adoption of the radical and extremist ideology that has been pursued by the state of Pakistan for decades will be seamless. In fact, as the Qadri case shows, it is substantially already in place in not just the military but all organs of the state and civil society too.

The radical Islamism that is now no longer deniable in Pakistan has been visible almost openly in India’s Kashmir Valley for many years. It manifestation, not growth, has been restrained because of the presence of Indian security forces. But India as not been looking. Partly because its liberals have got the idea of secularism messed up and, more importantly, because its policy makers have embraced a ‘drift, hope and react-only-when-forced-to’ policy. Eyes wide shut. Even the US has not paid attention to the mistakes India has made in Kashmir. It is repeating them, much to Pakistan’s joy. No amount of bribing or “winning of hearts and minds” is going to work in Afghanistan. The billions of dollars it is giving to Pakistan too is not going to make the latter give up its duplicity and help the US win its war in Afghanistan. Nor is it going to retard the unstoppable radical avalanche.

Tavleen Singh knows that there is little that can now be done to stop the tearing avalanche from reaching the bottom of the Pakistani mountain. Unlike Sudheendra Kulkarni and others like him, she knows India can do nothing to save Pakistan. But she too falls into the trap, perhaps due to the pain she feels for that country, of seeing a faint flicker of hope if the US stops the war in Afghanistan because then, according to her, Pakistanis will not be able to find someone else to blame for their problems.

This is as naïve and dangerous an argument as asking India to leave or, at the very least, make major concessions on Kashmir to Pakistan. One more perceived victory against a super power will be the perfect fuel to fire Islamists to re-energise Pakistan and put India in the fore sights of their Kalashnikovs -- nuclear bombs too -- with renewed confidence and venom. If India too ‘loses’ in Kashmir, both will only be doubled.

The time for indulging in the luxury of romanticising a strong, stable, non-radicalised Pakistan that is at peace with India and the West is over. That such a Pakistan was never going to be a reality has been clear for a long time. Qadri has only made sure no one can pretend anymore. An Islamist Pakistan is a danger not just to India but to the whole world. This reality has to be confronted head-on and the danger neutralised, sooner the better.

Has anyone heard Pakistan ever say that a strong, stable India is in Pakistan’s interest? How can the reverse be true? Let us stop even thinking of saving Pakistan. Five fingers, separated, cannot deliver the punch that a fist can. They need to be worked on. Carefully.
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