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India faces a new enemy

India faces a new enemy

Author: Shobori Ganguli
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 23, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/171406/India-faces-a-new-enemy.html

The country is in great danger," Pakistan's former President Pervez Musharraf has warned. While the ex-Army chief could not be more accurate in his perception of the state of affairs in Pakistan today, his ominous comment contains an equally serious message for India. With the Taliban only a few hundred kilometre from its border, India today faces the gravest ever threat from Pakistan. For more than six decades Pakistan has stood as India's conventional enemy with four bitter wars over Kashmir fought and concluded in India's favour. The rules of the game are about to change.

Ironical as it may sound, Pakistan under martial rule, with the Army in total control of that country, has served India's interest best. With the Army at the helm, it has not been difficult for India to anticipate Pakistan's moves and counter them effectively. Admittedly, the ISI has worked overtime with Kashmiri militants and has been sending jihadis into the Valley to bleed India incessantly. However, it is also true that a Pakistani Army in total control of the Islamic jihadis is a far more concrete and visible enemy for India to tackle than the destabilised and Talibanised democracy that stares us in the face today in the shape of Pakistan. It is indeed an irony that Pakistan's military rulers, who have been more aggressively anti-Indian than its political leaders, have displayed far greater control over the country than the political jokers who today are systematically signing away Pakistan's right to be a part of the civilised world. With the Pakistani leadership rendered paralytic by the Taliban, India may also have to bear the cost of this affliction.

Even as the debate rages over whether sharia'h is after all such a bad idea for a country that is officially known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it is agreed that the version of Islam which the Taliban threaten to impose on Pakistan is an extremely regressive and barbaric interpretation of the religion, a move no ethical Muslim can ever support. In the name of buying peace from the fundamentalists - except that the move came across as a shameful act of capitulation - President Asif Ali Zardari signed the controversial Bill recognising the introduction of Islamic sharia'h law in the country's Swat region. What he could not, or did not want to, foresee is that the malaise would spread, and rapidly so. Sample what is happening in Swat and the horror that the Taliban seek to replicate across Pakistan.

Once known as the Switzerland of Pakistan and a paradise for honeymooners, the Swat Valley stands completely Talibanised today. Time was when the region's natural splendour and Buddhist ruins attracted tourists from places as far off as Europe and Japan. Today, women have been forced behind the burqa, girls have been withdrawn from schools, female activists have been killed and aid workers arrested, even alleged adultery attracts the penalty of execution, traders have been forced to shut shop during prayer times, uniform times have been set for congregational prayers and it has been made mandatory for men to join the prayers, all political activity has been banned, and each family is being asked to spare a son for the extremist militia. Ears and noses of those who dare to say no are lopped off.

Having successfully managed to send Swat back to a barbaric medieval era, the Taliban and Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Sharia Muhammadi chief Sufi Mohammad have now categorically stated that they want the implementation of sharia'h not just in Swat but across Pakistan, to enforce the "rule of allah in the land of allah." In their final analysis, Taliban leaders maintain that democracy and political parties are 'basic hurdles' in the implementation of sharia'h.

Their threat is not an empty one. Already, Taliban militants have captured Buner district, only 100 kilometre from Islamabad, since they wanted to "implement sharia'h in its true form." Such has been their terror that legislators and parliamentarians of the Awami National Party that rules the North-West Frontier Province have fled the region. In their stead the Taliban are now manning mosques and office buildings. With Taliban commander Fateh Muhammad in charge the militants have gained complete administrative control of the district and can be seen patrolling the towns and villages of the region and intimidating residents, unchallenged by law. Islamabad may be next in line.

Admittedly, there is little India can do to prevent Pakistan's rapid descent into chaos. The political leadership that is ostensibly in power in Pakistan is betraying a woeful lack of will to fight the militants. Politically and diplomatically, therefore, New Delhi cannot engage Islamabad to any constructive end. There is another roadblock India faces. Unlike on previous occasions when India has militarily repelled intrusions by the Pakistani Army, there is no such identifiable 'enemy' across the border today. What India confronts instead is a burgeoning tide of extremism which does not believe in civil society, leave alone engage with it. Therefore, the conventional construct of an armed conflict, which India has always managed to come out on top of, has been replaced by an ideology that believes non-conformists must be sentenced to a brutal death. This then is the bomb that is ticking away dangerously at India's doorstep.

This is where the United States can play a role. While US President Barack Obama's Af-Pak policy has found both favour and opposition in various measures, it cannot be denied that the apprehension which informed that policy is a genuine one. Experts watching the war on terror and the US role in it have been warning Mr Obama that the Pakistani state could collapse in a matter of months now, that its nuclear arsenal may soon acquire a new master, the jihadi extremist, that this would dwarf anything the world has so far witnessed in the name of terror. Needless to say, Mr Zardari's surrender to the Taliban's writ in Swat is only the beginning of the collapse foreseen by the Americans and dreaded the world over.

Fortunately for India, the Americans are genuinely worried about Pakistan and terrorism now than ever before. And if there is one country in the world that can even hope to curb the militants on their own territory it is the US. If the US manages to restore even a semblance of order to Pakistan, India can breathe a little easy. Unlike the previous regime, the Obama Administration is concerned more about Pakistan than Afghanistan and the worry is not misplaced. The fear that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is perilously close to being captured by Islamic extremists has genuinely made the United States sit up and take note. The Talibanisation of Pakistan in the past few months is a reminder to the US that it no longer has the luxury of debating 'my terror, your terror'. Therefore, India can draw solace from the fact that Pakistan is a huge blip on the American radar, a terror bomb which the US realises needs to be defused urgently.

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