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Barbarians at the gate, are we ready?

Barbarians at the gate, are we ready?

Author: Colonel Anil Athale (retd)
Publication: Rediff.com
Date: February 19, 2009
URL: http://www.rediff.com/news/2009/feb/19barbarians-at-the-gate-are-we-ready.htm

The recent surrender by the Pakistani State to the Taliban in the Swat valley may well turn out to be a watershed in the history of the Indian subcontinent. In terms of long-term impact, this may even overshadow the recent Mumbai massacres. All signs point to the 'Talibanisation' of Pakistan. Here are several pointers:

* I A Rehman writing in the Dawn newspaper on February 12 says 'the Pakistani armed forces were indoctrinated in General Zia-ul Haq's rule to reserve senior posts for genuine Islamists. The Pakistan army may have the capacity to kill hordes of people, but it will not -- and cannot -- do that.' The army and the State may well disintegrate if it does.

* General Ashfaq Kayani, son of a former soldier, is the first non-elite chief of the Pakistani army. Given his socio-economic background, he is more likely to be part of the 'natural' constituency of the Taliban.

* We have the example of Iran -- on February 11, 1979, when the mass upsurge to impose 'Islamic rule' reached its zenith, the Iranian army declared its 'neutrality' in the ongoing conflict. This sealed the fate of the Shah of Iran. A similar happening in Pakistan is very likely.

* Slumdog Jihadis: The Dawn on December 18, 2008, quoted the Pakistan Planning Commission's Deputy Chairman Sardar Asef Ahmad Ali that poverty had skyrocketed to above 40 per cent in the country, leaving millions helpless. It is these poor/unemployed/uneducated people that are cannon fodder for the jihadis. The interrogation of the lone surviving Mumbai terrorist Ajmal Kasab's story fits the bill. There are such 48 million Ajmals waiting in Pakistan to be primed against India.

As a student of military history, I found it extraordinary that Indians were always blissfully unaware of developments in their neighbourhood. No ruler of Delhi ever woke up when the enemy crossed the Khyber Pass. The first stirrings of action were usually when the enemy was at the gates, at Panipat, just a day's march from Delhi.

Indians have been made to totally forget the holocaust that they faced in past; the name Hindukush itself means 'Hindu killer', a reminder of the days when thousands of Indians died on the mountain slopes while being taken to Central Asia as slaves.(the Encyclopaedia Britannica quoting a 12th century traveller Ibn Batua).

Nearer our times, the 1981 UN declaration of Universal Human Rights writes; 'Among the genocides of human history, the highest number of people killed in the small span of time is in Bangladesh in 1971. An average of 6,000 to 12 000 people were killed every single day. This is the highest daily average in history.' The lower estimate shows that 15 lakh were killed, a majority of them Hindus. A commission of inquiry appointed by the Pakistan government, the Hamidoor Rehman Commission, has recorded testimonies of Pakistani army officers who have quoted General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi asking the question 'How many Hindus have you killed today?' as a matter of routine. We have forgotten this recent episode as well.

Demography is destiny

Pakistan has a very high rate of population growth. Although it has declined from three percent at the time of the census in 1981 to the present 1.9 per cent it is still the highest among populous countries of more than 50 million, except Nigeria. The more reliable indicator of population growth is the total fertility rate -- the number of children born to a woman in her reproductive span. Pakistan's TFR is four. A TFR of 2.1 is considered replacement level which leads to a stable population.

In Pakistan, the under-15 population is 37 per cent of the total. Given the poor education, health and skills of this youth, they are fodder for jihad and little else. With the mullahs constantly drumming that all of Pakistan's ills are due to the evil Hindu India/Zionist Israel/Christian America troika, Pakistan's biggest export for a long time is likely to be terror.

If by some miracle, Pakistan is to implement population control tomorrow, it will take two to three decades for it to take effect. Even if the re-brainwashing was to begin now, again it is bound to take time. The sad fact is that neither of these things is happening either tomorrow or any time soon.

Impact of the economic meltdown

For decades over 25 percent of the Pakistani labour force was employed in the oil-rich Middle East. With the economic downturn and lower oil prices, the boom is over. The Dubai shopping festival was a flop this year. The returning labour force will only add to the unemployment in the country.

In any case, Pakistan has very little industry and its agriculture is confined to Punjab and parts of Sindh. Most of the country's landmass is arid and unfit for agriculture. Rural poverty will gallop in the near future.

Ripe for implosion

The politics of extremism as represented by the Taliban, the economic meltdown and demographic pressure all point to a major implosion in Pakistan. Are we ready for the fallout?

Despite this threat staring in our face there is a palpable lack of national unity -- another Indian trait. In the last four years, we have let our defence apparatus go to seed, so much so that we have lost the conventional edge over Pakistan.

Given this situation the only option for India is to 'isolate and contain' Pakistan. That still leaves the million dollar question about Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Here one hopes that all those joint exercise with special forces of the US, UK, Israel, China and Russia were in preparation for this very contingency.

If not, then God save the world!

- Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd) is a former joint director, war studies, ministry of defence, and co-ordinator of the Pune-based Initiative for Peace and Disarmament.


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