Setting up the Armageddon?
Naeem Akhtar analyses the current situation in South Asia in the light of developments within the country and in and around Afghanistan-Pakistan.
For the first time in its recorded history of a few thousand years India is arching out of its known boundaries in a highly effective strategic sense. The country of a billion plus upwardly mobile population is not only asserting its muscle within its pre partition contours but going beyond. Afghanistan is the immediate territorial realization of its expanding influence where it is engaged in activities overt and covert like all major powers involved in the great game.
The strategists in New Delhi have a fair reason to feel happy over this situation that has brought archrival Pakistan face to face with a real existential threat. India is holding up its much vaunted access to central Asia the new energy destination of the world which Pakistan had for long hoped to benefit from. New Delhi is in Iran building a port at Chahbahar that would establish its connection with Afghanistan without needing Pak transit and is maintaining an air base in Tajikistan. Encircling of Pakistan is complete. Reasons will be for historians to debate and the fall out for us to live with or die of.
This however is the situation that denotes the actions, counteractions, policies, interests and intrigues of the states involved. And India doesn’t enjoy a solo run on that account. As a state it will have to contend with the competing interests and games of other states who comprise the most powerful current players, US, China, Russia, Iran and of course the stateless fighters whose most effective weapon is their conviction, right or wrong. Time and history are on the side of Afghan fighters who are sought to be tamed, this time by a global coalition as never before.
But beyond the states and their apparatus are people living in South Asia who constitute the largest human mass on earth that is connected by their domicile, culture and a history of coexistence and hostility, war and peace, trust and mistrust, dress and diet. The approximately 1.5 billion people from Dhaka to Khyber Pass are all possible victims of a nuclear holocaust which will recognise no borders or safe havens in the unlikely event of the simulations getting real. More than fifty crore of them are Muslims and suspect. While the great game plays out along Hindukush what is the message for this huge human mass? This November-December has been full of indicators to help one make some sense of things as they shape up for us and get sunk into our consciousness even without some one articulating these.
Anniversaries of highly condemnable tragedies were observed in recent days. First the Mumbai atrocities that shook the world last year. Media and the political elite led the anniversary with lot of emotion, rhetoric, threats, theatrics and reiteration of the pledges “enough is enough”. Pressure on Pakistan was increased to new levels and Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind along with his accomplices was charged with role in the Mumbai mayhem by the court formally. Obama chipped in with his “do more” instalment, Tahawurr Rana and David Headley coming in handy at the appropriate time. Kasab trial is coming to a close and the expected sentence should bring him the justice that he deserves for the inhuman crimes.
The Mumbai atrocity took an immense collateral toll in the shape of Hemant Karkare who had attained an iconic status among the Muslim population of this country. The exposure of Hindu terror by him earned the gallant officer fans and critics along the communal divide- well almost. His anniversary coinciding with the main event came and went for everyone except his family which aired their pain and doubts. His death in peculiar circumstance is now remembered only for the substandard jacket that facilitated bullets to pierce through his body. With him are forgotten the Sadhvi and the colonel of our army whom Karkare had booked for acts of terror which most Muslims had always believed were carried out to defame them but only Karkare had the guts to expose. What a strange way for him to die at the hands of those who claim to be fighting for Muslim cause? But there is no dearth of doubting opinions on the subject as articulated in a recent book also.
Another anniversary came and went. The Babri Masjid destruction would hardly have evoked any interest after 17 years if Justice Liberhan had not come out of his hibernation and shared half truths with the world which anyway knew the whole. Though the debate was initially more focussed on the leak than the substance of this report which has been condemned by everyone the most striking part of it was the Action Taken Report (ATR) tabled by the government in the parliament. It was brutally honest for a change when it said no action was contemplated against anyone of those Liberhan had named for causing a communal crisis. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh added a few notches to his already growing stature by apologising to Lok Sabha for “certain unsavoury remarks” made by one of his party colleagues against his predecessor Vajpayee. But the debate on the commission report was not marked by any such unqualified expression of regret or remorse from any one either for demolition or for the resultant riots that killed and destroyed thousands of lives in the same city which is now identified with 26/11 as New York is with 9/11. Blood definitely has a different value in our system depending on who kills whom.
Beyond the anniversaries a fact of life seems to be written into our destinies. No action in cases where massacres are involved. Be them the Sikhs of 1984, Christians of Gujarat or Orissa or Muslims anywhere. No body is punished so far either for Anti Sikh riots or post Babri mayhem or the Gujarat pogrom while a global effort has ensured that the perpetrators of Mumbai killings are brought to justice whether here, in Pakistan or USA or nowhere.
While all minorities in the country harbour a grouse importance of Muslims lies only in their numbers and the global context. They constitute one third of the population of South Asia where the largest country, a rising power and a genuine democracy is now openly seen as a partner in the global enterprise to dominate the Muslim World. The perception is not just dangerous but viewed together with our open collaboration with Israel, opposition to Iran’s nuclear program and the domestic policy of suspecting every member of the community it could produce an entirely new brew. Simply for the fact that neither the US nor Russia or China have similar demographic environs they don’t face the same prospects as India. Pakistan and Bangladesh could unwittingly become part of Indian landscape not because Muslims are united as one Ummah as Pan Islamists would make us believe but through the solidarity of victimhood. A burning Afghanistan could provide not just fighters but the emotional flame behind their surge. An unresolved Kashmir has always acted as a magnet and there is still no reason to believe it will lose that capability in as volatile an atmosphere as pervades now.
President Obama has already gone back on one important assurance the Americans have been holding out to sustain the support of their Asian allies in Afghan crusade, that they will never again abandon the region. He has declared his keenness to withdraw even before his reinforcement to the besieged American and NATO forces has arrived in Kabul. No army that declares its date of withdrawal before its launch can be accused of having illusions of victory. Should that happen, the vortex of Afghanistan could come nearer home for us, Pakistan having been enfeebled or dismembered as a buffer and punching bag unleashing new forces of disruption and revenge in the region and that could be the Armageddon. Or will that be the Doomsday?
The writer Shashi Tharoor described “India’s leaders and strategic thinkers” as watching Israel’s assault on Gaza last winter with “empathy” and wondering “why can’t we do the same?” That was last winter in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. He later on became our junior minister in the external affairs ministry, has served in the UN secretariat and ran for the general secretary’s job with official support. That Pakistan armed with nuclear bombs and a population that makes it world’s sixth largest country, bristling with suicide bombers besides an army that is by no means a pushover should evoke such thoughts from the Indian strategic elite conveys a clear message that Pakistan as a state continues to be the target as it was in 1971.
Strangely Indian strategists or at least many of them have an ally in this project on other side of the fence. Taleban and Alqaeda seek inspiration from the Pan Islamist agenda of Al arzu lillah, Al hukmu lillah which recognises international borders only as an obstruction to Allah’s writ (hakumat e illahiyah). They will prefer to fight for an idea rather than territory which they are doing from New York to Bali. Most of the victims of their violence so far are Muslims from established societies like Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia and a whole host of other countries. Non Muslims constitute only a fraction of casualties. Dismantling of modern Muslim nation states or medieval dictatorships and monarchies seems to be their way of establishing a global Islamic order. And Pakistan is clearly in the line of their fire.
India took 17 days to defeat an army to break up Pakistan. It however is not able to fight an idea that draws sustenance from injustice, real or perceived. Be that the four decade old Naxalism or North East or Kashmir. All these problems have been reappearing at intervals. Will it be easier for us to deal with a stable nation across the border or an idea that has been able to attract volunteers, suicide bombers, one legged fighters, arms, ammunition, financial support in the shape of drug money and Zakat all across the globe especially when a huge section of society at home is given a reason everyday to align to that idea rather than the state of their domicile? That debate and an objective, fair and judicious conclusion alone can save tomorrow for us.
(The author is Former Commissioner Secretary, GAD)
Lastupdate on : Sun, 13 Dec 2009 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 13 Dec 2009 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 14 Dec 2009 00:00:00 IST
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