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Indo-Pak amity proves elusive: India must be ready for worst

Indo-Pak amity proves elusive: India must be ready for worst

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: Free Press Journal
Date: February 24, 2009

Amity between a democratic India and a democratic Pakistan has proved an elusive ideal. Democratic Pakistan has lacked the necessary resilience to take on an over-ambitious military. India has no choice but to prepare for the worst.

How long does it take for a nation-state to either collapse into utter chaos and anarchy or fragment into pieces? The question has repeatedly been raised in the context of Pakistan, a country living on death row since its violent birth in 1947. This week's imposition of sharia law in the Malakand division of the North West Frontier Province after an Islamist insurgency has again revived these concerns.

Prior to 1971, the absurdity of two non-contiguous wings coexisting under the banner of a unitary state was understood. To that extent, the separation of East Pakistan was not unforeseen. Yet, the suggestions of Pakistan's imminent demise didn't cease even after it became a more compact nationstate bound by contiguity, state institutions and common faith.

In 1983, around the time General Zia-ul Haq was making the most of the Soviet invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan, expatriate radical Tariq Ali created a minor flutter in his home country by asking: Can Pakistan Survive? He didn't foresee a united Pakistan persisting: "those who have made religion into the organizing cement of the state are no longer capable of holding it together; those who, by changing its very character, could maintain it are weak, dispirited and demoralised." The imminent collapse which radical Pakistanis detected in the high noon of the Zia era has still not materialised. In recent times, the civil society-led movement for democracy which resulted in the removal of Pervez Musharraf and the installation of a civilian government produced an outpouring of hope. Yet, many Pakistan-watchers greeted this appearance of change with a measure of scepticism. In a much-discussed article "Drawn and Quartered" (New York Times February 1, 2008), Selig Harrison resurrected the fear of vivisection: "Whatever the outcome of the Pakistani elections...the existing multiethnic Pakistani state is not likely to survive for long unless it is radically restructured...(The) Punjabidominated regime of Pervez Musharraf is headed for a bloody confrontation with the country's Pashtun, Baluch and Sindhi minorities that could well lead to the breakup of Pakistan into three sovereign entities."

In a similar vein, physicist and peace activist Pervez Hoodbhoy raised the alarm of Talibanisation. In an article in the monthly Newsline (January 2009), he wrote: "The common belief in Pakistan is that Islamic radicalism is a problem only in FATA, and that madrassas are the only institutions serving as jihad factories. This is a serious misconception." The problem, he felt, lay in a generation "incapable of co existing with anyone except strictly their own kind. The mindset...may eventually lead to Pakistan's demise as a nation state." Hoddbhoy challenged the wellmeaning belief that Pakistan is a variant of India. He argued that the past 30 years has seen Pakistan turn its gaze westwards: "For three decades, deep tectonic forces have been silently tearing Pakistan away from the Indian subcontinent and driving it towards the Arabian Peninsula. This continental drift is not physical but cultural... (The) desert sands of Saudi Arabia are replacing the rich soil that had nurtured a magnificent Muslim culture in India for a thousand years."

To trace Pakistan's Saudi-isation to Zia may not be strictly accurate. In her study of India's Muslim communities (Self and Sovereignty: Individual and Community in South Asian Islam since 1850) Ayesha Jalal located Pakistan's Islamic impulses to the sense of "lost sovereignty" after the formal collapse of Mughal rule in 1857. Coupled with an unending tussle between Indian Muslim exceptionalism and Islam's universalism, it generated political movements that both narrowed the concept of the nation and increasingly identified it with the larger ummah. Contrary to a self-serving mythology, Jalal documented that viciously sectarian mobilization wasn't a creation of the Muslim League after the Pakistan resolution of 1940; it had a longer pedigree and had developed deep roots by the time the new Muslim state came into existence in 1947. Whereas institutional politics was in the hands of the modernist Muslims, the disenfranchised masses had already been swayed by ideological currents that favoured a more doctrinaire and, occasionally, austere view of Islam.

Field Marshal Ayub Khan tried to circumvent the problem with limited participatory government. His "basic democracy" did exactly what the colonial regime had done: empower the middle classes and the propertied and disenfranchise the masses. Pakistan under Ayub was only nominally confessional. After 1970, participatory democracy based on universal adult franchise released pent-up frustrations of a society that veered between regional separatism and the Islamic project. Zia's ideological engineering sharpened a pre-existing divide between two wildly contradictory impulses and made democratic governance episodic. Pakistan's inability to secure any worthwhile consensus over its democracy added to this emotional schism.

Aware of the fissiparous tendencies that could debilitate the country, Zia initiated a unique measure. Based on his understanding that the military was the only vibrant institution left in Pakistan and convinced that the country's destiny lay in forging an Islamic state that would be the envy of the Muslim world, he undertook the project to Islamise the military and infuse Pakistani identity with an even greater dose of faith. The jihad in Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion gave him the necessary cushioning to undertake his revolution. The extension of the holy war to India-"the war of a thousand cuts"-linked the visceral anti-India impulses of the bazaar with the military's own desire to avenge the humiliation of 1971.

From a Pakistani perspective, the decision to pro-actively exploit the contradictions within India has served a domestic agenda. The dream of liberating oppressed fellow-Muslims in India became a bridge between elite aspirations and mass impulses. Anti-Indianism became the Pakistan Creed because it conferred additional weight to the sense of national purpose. Nearly all those who forecast Pakistan's fragmentation and possible drift to anarchy were convinced that neither the military nor Islam could be a cementing force. But it is the blend of these two socalled divisive forces that has kept Pakistan united and still going. The argument that a meaningful peace between India and Pakistan is linked to democracy in both countries is questionable. The absence of democratic depth in Pakistan-a function of the country's inability to generate sufficient surplus for state-sponsored social activism-has meant that politics has to either fall back on emotionalism or be held hostage by it. Benazir thought she could upstage the military's claim to be the ultimate custodian of Pakistan's national interests by getting shrill over azadi in Kashmir; Nawaz couldn't but be bamboozle d into joining the jingoism over Kashmir during the Kargil conflict; and Asif Ali Zardari fast realised that the imperatives of survival meant he had to espouse bellicosity against India after the 26/11 Mumbai attack. Amity between a democratic India and a democratic Pakistan has proved an elusive ideal. Democratic Pakistan has lacked the necessary resilience to take on an overambitious military and counter the attractions of a global jihad which has devastated the Islamic world. The present danger is that Pakistan may well be overwhelmed by the creeping encroachments of the holy warriors within its own borders.

The perception that Afghanistan is ready for re-conquest and that the liberation of Kashmir is next in line is calculated to cause convulsions within Pakistan. Rather than await Pakistan's re-discovery of modernity and the charms of the Indo-Islamic civilisational encounter, India has no choice but to prepare for the worst, while hoping for the best. New Delhi can't prevent the fallout of this impending Pakistani triumphalism; it can only resist it and try to contain any internal fallout.


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