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Islamic factor in Pakistan

Islamic factor in Pakistan

Author: Ashok Kapur
Publication: The Tribune
Date: January 17, 2009
URL: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090117/edit.htm#4

Talk about the best possible relations

Pakistan is in trouble and so is India's Pakistan diplomacy. India's demand to return fugitives to Indian justice or to try them in Pakistan has been rebuffed. Indian claims that evidence exists of complicity of "elements in Pakistan" in the recent Mumbai attacks is considered vague and lacking as "firm evidence" by President Zardari.

New Delhi's emphasis thus far has on diplomatic action to mobilise Pakistan and the international community but this approach is faulty because it does not address the character of the Pakistan problem which has spawned terrorism. Without dealing with the cause the symptom cannot be dealt with in a proper manner.

The problem of Pakistan is mainly India's. It is not a major problem for the West or China because Pakistani terror disturbs the peace of mind of Europeans and Americans but it does not affect their economic and social wellbeing. If the Western mission fails in Iraq and Afghanistan and they walk away the Western powers will lose face, but their survival and security is not affected as long as they maintain their programmes for homeland security. The recent Mumbai attack, however, reveals that the Indian government cannot protect its citizens and foreign visitors; it cannot guarantee security for its economic assets.

The problem which Pakistan poses for India is that Pakistani survival and identity depend on an expansionist and interventionist ideology and policy, and all Pakistani institutions - political leaders, civil servants, military officers, intellectuals and public opinion - since 1947 have built themselves on this core consensus. Pakistan has repeatedly tried to expand its strategic space in its neighbourhood - in Kashmir since 1947-48, in Afghanistan since the 1980s, in India's Punjab since the 1980s, but it has repeatedly failed. Still it keeps trying.

Pakistan's consensus is to secure Indian concessions for Pakistan and its call for friendship is a tactical pose. The plea for friendly relations is an Indian mantra which is misplaced because it takes two to form a friendship. Most countries in the world seek the "best possible relations under the prevailing circumstances" and by all methods, including intervention (coercive measures short of war) and war if necessary.

What is the character of the core consensus? Pakistan's geographical and cultural core is around the Indus river valley, the Punjab-Sind area. But to preserve the core, Pakistan had to strengthen its buffers in its frontier regions - the NWFP and Balochistan, which are hard to assimilate and manage by direct administration and military rule. The Baloch plateau moves towards Iran; and the NWFP and FATA blends into Afghanistan with a porous border and ethnic commonality, and Azad Kashmir blends into the geography and politics of Pakistan's northwestern and northern areas. The clash between Indian and Pakistani political cultures is in the plains, around the Indus valley, although the public focus is on the Kashmir dispute.

Solving the Kashmir issue does not settle the war between Indian and Pakistan geo-cultural influences - either to restore Muslim glory in India or to extend Indian influence into the Pakistani heartland.

Pakistan's core consensus is that to secure its frontiers as buffers - a hard task, given the problems of geography, ethnicity and Pakistani history - strategic space must be found beyond the buffer areas. This required the mobilisation of the Islamic factor to bring together the people in the frontier areas and the buffers and to shrink the Indian sphere of socio-economic-political action in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistan can consolidate its internal geo-cultural core either by building satisfactory internal political and economic arrangements and linkages or by diverting internal pressures to its neighbourhood. Islam has been the unifying element since 1947. It was meant to do double duty - to bring together all Pakistanis and to secure strategic space in Afghanistan and in India by mobilising Islamist intervention. But the project appears to have failed because the Islamists have killed but they have failed to expand Pakistan's geo-cultural space and now they have turned against those who organised them in the 1980s.

What happened? The story begins in the early 1950s before Zia-ul-Haq's rise as an Islamic warrior. After Jinnah's death the Pakistan Army countered Pakistani secularism, ethnic nationalism in the frontier areas and checked those Pakistanis who flirted with ideas about democracy and neutralism in Pakistan. The Pakistan Army first encouraged the development of Islamists in the Pushtun area. With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1978-89), the Pakistan Army promoted Islamist radicals like Hekmatyar, with US and Saudi support, to dislodge the Soviet forces. In 1989 Pakistan wanted an Islamic republic in Afghanistan, which would be responsive to Pakistani direction and opposed to Indian influences. The ISI was the agency to fight the Russians and to build an Islamist Afghanistan; the Taliban came out of this approach.

But the Pakistan Army-ISI approach did not go according to plan. After 1989 the Taliban rose from the ashes of an Intra-Islamist factional fight, Hekmatyar ( ISI's man) lost, the ISI dropped him, joined with the Taliban and the Saudis. Arabs under Osama bin Laden too joined the Taliban and a new coalition emerged. The Pakistan Army-ISI-Taliban aim was to gain Kashmir, Al Qaeda-Taliban aim was to recreate the Caliphate and to bring democracy and secularism to an end in the Middle-East and South Asia.

Pakistan's core consensus was to support the first line but now the second line threatens the control over Pakistani politics by its politicians, its Army and its ISI. The Mumbai attack is based on the second line in Pakistani politics and society. Mr Zardari's speeches reflect the first line. It is for the Pakistanis, not for the Indians and Americans, to resolve the contradiction between the two lines of social and political behaviour.

In any case, against this formidable array of shifting allies that include Islamists, foreign supporters (Saudis) and the Pakistan Army-ISI-Taliban combination, and its Taliban-Al-Qaeda-frontier tribal alignments, Indian talk about friendly diplomatic relations and composite dialogue lacks leverage to turn Pakistan around to its point of view. Even if the ISI brass listens to the Pakistan Army brass, the ISI handlers are the movers and the allies of organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba and other such outfits. Only a micro-analysis could reveal such ties and sources of Pakistan-based actions. Thus, the Pakistan Army and the ISI brass have plausible deniability that it is not involved because it is the handlers at the border who get people across.

What should the Indian government do in these circumstances? Its options include the following. One, create a security architecture to prevent security lapses and infiltration of terrorist groups into India. As a matter of transparency and credibility it should explain why the lapses occurred and what the corrective actions are. Two, stop the composite dialogue but, in the fine tradition of Indian hospitability, provide endless cups of tea for talks, not serious discourse ( Darjeeling and Upper Assam for the guests, please!). Three, encourage the External Affairs Minister to stop talking about what Mr Zardari should do when he cannot. Four, rollback the Gujral doctrine which talked about Pakistan friendship and which rolledback the RAW operations in Pakistan. Spying is an honourable profession if it is conducted professionally, if it prevents nasty surprises, and if it is not used for domestic political purposes.

Five, encourage the build-up of internal pressures within Pakistan through Balochistan and Afghanistan and cut down the release of internal pressures through bilateral talks until it is clear that Pakistanis seek a political settlement with India that rejects its historical core consensus.

Just as Wall Street has to unwind its toxic portfolios, the Pakistanis need to do the same with their baggage. Treat the Pakistanis in a cool, detached manner until they work out their internal arrangements with toxic elements in Pakistan. Six, stop talking about 'friendly relations; talk instead about the best possible relations-good or bad.

- The writer is Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo, Canada.

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