January 3, 2002


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Kuldip Nayar

India's blind spot

There is glee in our response to Pakistan's travails. We were happy when it was described as a failed state. In order not to sound prejudiced, we did argue that it was not our assessment but that of the West, as if anything coming from it was the gospel truth. Our bias was clear and we waited for the collapse of Pakistan under the weight of its economic difficulties.

More recently, after the September 11 carnage, we enjoyed Pakistan's chagrin as they had to stand behind America and jettison the Taliban, their own creation. That Islamabad lost face was apparent. It is proved beyond doubt that the ISI trained, armed and guided the Taliban and that Pakistani troops and officers fought alongside them till the last minute. But we failed to recognise the change in Islamabad's policy.

It is clear that Pakistan took a U-turn when it found it had no option but to support America. All that Islamabad had built collapsed like a house of cards in a few days. It realised that its policy on Afghanistan was flawed. The policy-makers who saw Afghanistan giving Pakistan a much-needed "strategic depth" were found to be ambitious and unrealistic. General Pervez Musharraf justified the new policy "in the best national interest which was motivated by concerns of security." He may sound opportunistic but he has to stay in the good books of mighty Washington.

We refused to see how crestfallen Islamabad was. Nor did we gauge the disillusionment of the people of Pakistan. We were on our ego trip: not to give an inch to Islamabad. There is no doubt that Pakistan's president accepted the facts. He did it despite knowing that the public opinion in his country was anti-America. It was a personal risk he took. It has paid off so far.

Our efforts, on the other hand, were concentrated on creating bad blood between America and Pakistan. We could not accept the position of not being asked to help even after we had offered all our support within an hour of the September 11 tragedy. How could Washington woo Islamabad, whose complicity with the Taliban was beyond doubt? We went on telling the world that a dictatorship was being preferred to a democratic state. Probably, it was not that black or white. Probably America had no choice. Probably it chose Pakistan because it has a long border with Afghanistan. Pakistan, a frontline state, was also an ideal place to launch any action against Afghanistan. Islamabad opened airports and other places to help American and British soldiers enter Afghanistan.

America could conduct bombardment from naval ships as it did. But it needed a land base for ground operations. India is not the ideal geographical location for that kind of access. Thank God for that, because it would have been difficult for an open, democratic country to allow foreign soldiers to operate from its soil. Still we sulk because Washington wants to build equally strong relations with Islamabad. Must it always be them or us?

Kabul has a friendly government, one that is not under the influence of Islamabad or the ISI. The Musharraf junta has unwittingly helped us. Another welcome point is that Islamabad is waging war against Islamic fundamentalists and obscurantists. They are the Taliban within.

We should feel elated that Afghanistan, which was a breeding ground for terrorists, is no more a vortex of militancy. Terrorism will no longer be exported to Kashmir from there. There was a time when Musharraf was thick with the terrorists. He was unsure of his ground even when he took action against them initially. In Sind, he arrested some terrorists but released them quickly. He was probably testing the waters.

Subsequently, however, he joined issue with them. He has detained many terrorists and has had to face demonstrations in support of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Musharraf has also dismissed the ISI chief, transferred the two top army commanders and demoted some middle-rank officers who were baptised during General Zia-ul Haq's regime. The military -- one-third of it bigoted -- may well have been cleaned up.

This mopping up job must have emboldened Musharraf. He has enunciated harsh measures to discipline thousands of madrassas which have been training nearly 500,000 students in fundamentalism every year for the last two decades. The madrassas now need to register themselves, submit their accounts for audit and introduce science and other subjects to modernise their curriculum. This is something even we have not dared do about the madrassa-like institutions in India.

For the first time in many years, the Pakistan intelligentsia is happy that the wave of Talibanisation, which was taking over the society, is receding. Some leading journalists and academics who were in Delhi last month were amazed to find India indifferent and uninformed about this development. We have never given the impression that we favour it despite the fact that any step against fundamentalists in Pakistan strengthens our secular society.

It is possible that Musharraf may also come to realise that the minorities in Pakistan should have a better deal. The present system which advocates separate electorates is a millstone which the Christians and Hindus have been wearing around their necks since the inception of Pakistan's constitution. Although the two communities do not exceed five to seven per cent of Pakistan's total population, their say is nil. Musharraf may well prove to be the first head of state to give them their voice back.

Musharraf's Achilles heel is that he lacks the electoral backing every ruler cherishes. The test will come next year when Pakistan has to return to democracy under the orders of the Supreme Court.

Pakistan may not turn into a democratic polity because the army has too much at stake in the country's policies. Even otherwise, the army in a third world country seldom returns to the barracks once it tastes power. It is worse in Pakistan because authoritarianism is woven deeply in the warp and woof of its society, which is organised on the basis of Bonapartism and feudalism.

The extent to which Pakistan becomes a modern liberal state will be significant for us. It is unfortunate that it still believes that the terrorists it sends across the border are jehadis. This has only communalised the society. The supply of arms, training or money in the name of religion is equally divisive. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto saw the point during her visit to New Delhi and said she would stop cross-border terrorism if she returned to power.

What New Delhi and Islamabad should be worrying about is that America looks like it will continue to stay in the region. It may have a base in Afghanistan and also "protect" oil and gas in the country. America would like to "overlook" China, Russia, India and Pakistan. It would also like to "influence" events in the region. This is the greatest danger to both India and Pakistan. Individually, the two will be helpless. They must jointly act to keep America from the region, even if they do not see eye to eye on many points.

Kuldip Nayar

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