As an expat-exile from Pakistan, safe in Middle England, perhaps enjoying the blessings of both hindsight and foresight, I seem to see things through the man-made fog. I can see, for example, that deep in the subconscious of most Pakistanis born after 1948 are embedded three articles of faith that have worked their way into the Pakistani gene.
- Kashmir is ours, India, the Hindu enemy, stole it from us in 1947 and we must get it back.
- Kashmir is Muslim, and without it Pakistan, which was made on order for Islam, is incomplete.
- The U.N is useless. Two resolutions call for a plebiscite which India will never hold, so weve got to get Kashmir back by force.
This set of beliefs, and the fervour with which it is held, grows or falters according to how and where the child is nurtured to maturity. Of course it helps if the Fluid of Faith is kept flowing through an umbilical cord that reaches back home from the farthest corners of the world, thanks to cheap air transport, legal and illegal immigration, the mobile telephone and the even more mobile mullah. It helps further if the now strapping youth grows a bushy beard, puts on a turban, learns the Quran by rote and spreads the message that Osama bin Laden is the long promised messiah sent to deliver Kashmir to Pakistan, just as he delivered Afghanistan to the Taliban. India is to be confronted in every field of human conflict, be it a cricket match in Sharjah, a conference at the UN or the edge of an icefall in Baltoro Glacier. It is a never-ending battle between truth and falsehood.
Similar psyches exist in like political environments, the most conspicuous being that other set of Terrible Twins conjoined at birth Israel-Palestine. Note that the Israeli genesis bears a startling resemblance to Pakistans and retains an equal potential to set off Armageddon. Like Pakistan, that entity was born in adversity, and weighed down from infancy by a divine mission; in short, an improbable ideological state, doomed to eternal conflict (the last a fate suggested in the Quran itself). Of course Israel had far better pre and post-natal care and had inoculations that enabled it to double its size every ten years. No such inoculation is given to the Palestinians, whose lands seem to diminish every year.
Let us now move to the other side of the Line of Control in Kashmir for a profile of the Indian state of mind. Embedded deep in the subconscious of every believer in Mahabharat (Greater India) are three articles of faith.
- Kashmir is ours because Pakistan is ours, it was stolen from us in 1947.
- When we get it back (any day now) Muslims in the subcontinent could either embrace Hindutva (i.e. become Hindus) or else go back to Arabia.
- Moreover, were going to dig up the Taj Mahal (theres an ancient Rama temple underneath) and all other Muslim monuments all of which were built on other Rama temples. Ayodhya ki jai! Mahabharat ki jai! (Long live, Ayodhya, long live Greater India!). One must add that far from all Indians are such believers, many also marched in protest against the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque.
Such are the perceptions, however, seen from each side of the polarisation. Both stereotypes inform and shape the others public attitudes and make up the lethal polarisation that now threatens to suck the entire world into a black hole. Mistrust vies with disbelief, half truths with propaganda, sabre-rattling with bravado and hypocrisy with expediency to make a lethal cocktail that could explode any moment in the faces of its creators. Let us review, while we still can, the most recent developments and see how they look from each side of the great divide.
One reality, two filters
Until the day Bush unleashed the war over and across Pakistan, the New Delhi government had reputedly done everything in its power to persuade the Americans to shun that vile pariah and use instead an untainted Indian springboard to launch its attacks on Islamic terror. Many diplomatic devices were employed to lure the US war machine to a ready-made base camp in India. Senior commentators and analysts made repeated appearances on CNN and Sky, pleading Delhis case. But bitter disappointment clouded their faces when it became clear that the Americans had decided to take up the more feasible Pakistani option even at the cost of readmitting that pariah into the ranks of the righteous. And it didnt stop there. Salt was rubbed into wounded Indian self-esteem, as ally after American ally announced handsome financial rewards for the former outcast whose economy, just days previously, had been sounding its death rattle. The outrage was that an ancient enemy that should have died from its own self-inflicted wounds had been brought back to life.
Official Indians appeared to seethe with frustration and the governments professional propagandists have kept up their sniping at the Pakistani enemy during the war on bin Laden. When the Taliban seemed momentarily elusive, some reports from Delhi would suggest they were being supplied with inside information on American bombing plans by Pakistans ISI. When an American raiding party fell foul of defenders around Mullah Omars compound in Kandahar and nearly came to grief, it was supposedly the Pakistanis who had tipped them off. And when an American helicopter crash landed on the Pakistani border, there were Indians who knew it was a Pakistani sniper that had brought it down. As the Americans hunted for Bin Laden and his accomplices in the caves of Bora Bora, some Indian sources placed them in safe havens deep inside Pakistani territory, perhaps even the Presidents own house in Islamabad, which is implausible to say the least.
Any disappointment at watching the Pakistani phoenix rise from the ashes by Indian extremists was to prove shortlived. What the Delhi government couldnt achieve before the war on terror, Kashmiri militants hand-delivered in a few moments of a suicidal bloodbath on the pavement outside the Indian parliament building. It wasnt just a few crazed men who died as they launched into the biggest act of crass, mind-boggling stupidity since Beant Singh and his partner assassinated Indira Gandhi in 1984 and the Khalistan Movement self-destructed. The militants took down a lot more than a few chips of cement from the parliament building their lifeline to Pakistan, the credibility of the Kashmir freedom struggle, its future and the future and very existence of Pakistan itself. Never in their wildest dreams could Indian propagandists have hoped for a more perfect denouement! For Pakistan, the attack on the Indian parliament building was akin to its own notional Twin Towers collapsing on the Presidents House in Islamabad.
Deep down Pakistanis should know that they are no match for India. They have found out to their cost twice in the past, the second time forfeiting half their country. They dont need reminding. But does the Indian government know enough to know when to stop pushing? There are Indians like the Shiv Sena (Shivs Army, erstwhile BJP allies) who have been urging for years that Pakistan should be driven into the sea. But can you crush 140 million people? Shouldnt the Shudhmat (Untouchables) throw the high caste Brahmins back over the Hindu Kush from where they came first? Today India needs an army of half a million to keep down 14 million Kashmiris. What will it require to keep 140 million Pakistanis under the heel?
Of course Pakistanis are reluctant learners too and at least as stubborn. Moreover, they dont grovel before mere infidels, even if a million of them are massed on the border. That would be unIslamic, even an insult to the mantle of the Mogul Empire. After all, didnt Babar, the founder of that Empire, lead a mere 15,000 Muslim warriors into battle against a Hindu horde ten times that number and send their 300 elephants stampeding back on the massed armies with a few well chosen shots of Chinese artillery?
And the Chinese have been a factor more than once since that fateful day in Panipat nearly 500 years ago. Not only did they help Babars descendents build an arsenal of atom bombs to defend that inheritance, according to some reports they even helped the Pakistanis temporarily secrete the bombs at the height of the Afghan crisis, in case the Indians and the Americans decided to launch pre-emptive joint surgical strikes to put the weapons beyond the reach of the now thoroughly-beaten fundamentalists.
Those weapons are said to be secure, primed and ready for deployment. For a country even less resourceful than it was 30 years ago, there isnt much to fall back on. Indeed, if its back is pushed to the wall and India pushes harder and harder, the nuclear option may seem to be the only one for Pakistan. That is, unless Musharraf changes its course.
Extremism in retreat?
Musharrafs hour-long TV address to the nation on 12 January was not revealing but it was a fighting speech, a bit reminiscent of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, only without the eloquence. Its most important element was the declaration of war on Pakistans mullahs something no ruler, civil or military, has dared to do in 54 years of Pakistani history. Hes taking them head on. Goodness knows, having brought the world to the brink twice in three months, they need taking on! But its a colossal undertaking. On a scale of difficulties, Id put the vanquishing of Pakistans mullahs alongside the Five Tasks of Hercules. Can Musharraf do it? He might, if the New Delhi government lets him by lifting the threat of immediate war.
As a section of the population, Pakistans mullahs are unique in the world of Islam and combine wild-eyed fanaticism with stupefying ignorance and deep seated prejudices in a way that no other group of Muslim fundamentalists can. Assembled under one banner, in sheer number they could be an army to rival Musharrafs own, especially in the countryside of the North-West Frontier. But that banner is not easy to put up, for the schisms and divisions that rend the Muslim world from Morocco to Indonesia are almost entirely the making of Islams sharply divided religious establishments and are too deep seated even for a populist mullah like Osama bin Laden to remove. Musharrafs bigger worry will be the mullahs strength in his own regiments. The late, unlamented dictator Zia ul Haq packed the army with them. Not just as unit imams and muallams (religious teachers), but also in the officer corps as a means of strengthening his only constituency. Of course he had to substantially lower officer entry standards to make that possible. Candidates who had only religious qualifications were exempt from sitting rigorous math, science and technology tests.
And that leads to the armys other worry. Were standards allowed to fall so far that a section of the officer corps is sub-standard in terms of technological training? Could that have led to a fall in the capability of the army to fight a modern war with modern weaponry? Let us hope that some Indian strategists are not hoping that is the case and lets hope they dont have the chance to find out.
This is an important moment. The two extremes in both countries are irrational and illogical, living off a polarisation which if it erupts will destroy what they claim to preserve. There must be a different way forward that people on both sides, and of all religions, can agree upon. It needs concessions and, just as important, the respect and restraint which stops the fanatics from greeting any such moves as weaknesses that can be exploited. Pakistanis need to accept that Muslims can live in India and regard themselves as Indian without this being treason. Hindus need to accept that Pakistan is here to stay and has every right to do so. Neither need to prove themselves in Kashmir or turn it into their battleground. Otherwise we will all go together when we go, as radiation respects no gods and its lethal half-life will outlast that of any human faith.