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Showing posts from 2007

India’s bet on the wrong horse

One of the most controversial Indian politicians of his time, Narendra Modi, has been voted back for the third time as Gujarat’s chief minister. Most of us associate Modi’s name with the violent communal riots of 2002, while his supporters associate his name with ‘Vibrant Gujarat’!

In an article titled, ‘Why Modi appeals to Hindus’ (Rediff News, December 24, 2007), Mr B Raman analyses what the Hindu community sees in him. He asks: “His [Modi’s] simple and austere living…His reputation as an incorruptible politician…His style of development-oriented governance…The fruits of his policy, which Gujarat and its people are already enjoying…His tough stance on terrorism…His lucid-thinking on matters concerning our national security…His defiance in the face of the greatest campaign of demonisation mounted against him…?” And then Mr Raman goes on to give one other factor, which he says is more important than the ones stated above. That one factor is: “…for large sections of the Hindus – young …

My first Indian sojourn

India, a country that evokes all sorts of emotions in Pakistan and Pakistanis – some like it, some hate it, some are not bothered about it, while some (like me) love it. It had always been my dream to visit India one day because the country fascinates me. India’s rich culture and history and the fact that both India and Pakistan share a common history, including bittersweet memories, only added to my fascination. Add to it the fact that I have a lot of Indian friends whom I have met online and some of who, over the years, have become like family. Thus when I got a chance to visit India, I was overjoyed.

Panos South Asia, a media organisation, had arranged a media exchange programme for six journalists from Pakistan to visit India. This was part of a people-to-people contact programme in order to promote peace between the two South Asian neighbours. It was a 15-day trip and the three cities that we were going to visit were Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. All of us were excited at the prospec…

Balochistan, forgotten indeed!

Pakistan today is on the verge of a civil war. As explained in this space last week, Pakistan’s U-turn on its Afghan policy has resulted in a catastrophe. The demons of extremism, unleashed by Pakistan itself, have come to haunt us today in the form of local Taliban. The Northern Areas and NWFP remain in focus these days due to the increased militancy. But while all this is going on, we must not forget another province that is also on fire – Balochistan.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) recently released its report, ‘Pakistan: The Forgotten Conflict in Balochistan’, which once again highlighted how the Musharraf government tried to tackle a political problem with military might. This inevitably resulted in an armed resistance by the Baloch people. The government might label the insurgency as ‘anti-state’, but it is far from that. The insurgency is the result of the Centre’s faulty policies from the day Pakistan emerged on the world map.

“Within 24 hours of the creation of Pakistan i…

The war has begun

‘Terrorism’ is defined as, “The calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) by a person or an organised group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological, political or religious reasons.” For us Pakistanis, the definition of terrorism varies. The sad thing is that most of us have got it all wrong, though not for any fault of ours. It is more so because of our government’s skewed foreign policies.

In the 1980s when the Afghan jihad was being supported by Pakistan, we were led to believe that the jihadis were not terrorists, they were ‘mujahideen’ (one who is waging a jihad in Allah’s way) since they were fighting the ‘godless’ communists. After the Afghan jihad, Pakistan started supporting the Kashmir insurgency. Despite killing many civilians and driving away many Hindus from the region, the Kashmiri mujahideen were not terrorists either, they were ‘freedom fighters’.

But after the events of 9/11 an…

Keep religion out of sports!

What does religion and sports have in common? Apparently nothing. Ever heard of a Christian sport, a Jewish sport, a Buddhist sport, a Hindu sport, a Muslim sport, etc? I have not, have you? Then why did Shoaib Malik thank the Muslims around the world and said he was sorry that the team could not perform for them despite giving its 100 percent in the ICC World Twenty20 final? Malik said, “I want to thank you back home Pakistan and where the Muslims live all over the world. Thank you very much and I am sorry that we did not win, but we did give our 100 percent.”

One of my Indian friends thought that Malik was playing politics and was using the ‘Muslim’ card to show that the Pakistan cricket team had put up a good fight for the Muslims. While another Indian friend thought that Malik blundered and that it was just a slip of the tongue. I think both my Indian friends were wrong.

Having seen many of Malik’s interviews on TV, I can say that he is not someone who would play politics or use the…

The myth of September 6, 1965

Every year we Pakistanis celebrate September 6th with a lot of ‘national fervour’ and laud the armed forces for being ‘victorious’ against the Indian forces back in the 1965 war. The state commemorates the ‘Defence Day’ by holding various ceremonies and special programmes. Milli naghmay (patriotic songs) are aired on the local television channels and radio stations, while the newspapers bring out special supplements to mark the day. This is all very well, but I wonder if our people know that in actuality we are not celebrating a victory. Not only did we lose militarily in 1965 – state propaganda aside – but we also lost our national unity in the process. Forty-two years down the road, ours is a country that is on the verge of dismemberment, again.

August 1947 gave birth to two independent states, India and Pakistan. It also gave birth to territorial disputes that haunt both South Asian neighbours to date. Kashmir is one of the main disputed territories. The two infant states fought a w…

Religious extremism in Pakistan (finale)

General Pervez Musharraf’s military coup on October 12, 1999, was greeted with joy by the general public, who heaved a sigh of relief at the ouster of the autocratic ‘civilian’ ruler Nawaz Sharif. The public sentiment at that time had turned against democratic rule due to the disappointing tenures of both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Ironically, civil society too supported Musharraf due to his ‘moderate’ outlook and saw him, a military dictator, as a ray of hope for the ‘bright’ future of Pakistan. Militant Islamic groups were also ecstatic at Musharraf’s coming to power. “Abdullah Muntazir, spokesperson for Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (Army of the Pure), a religious-cum-militant group primarily operating in Indian Kashmir, declared that now Pakistan should have an Islamic system on the pattern of Afghanistan’s Taliban. Such elements perhaps were waiting for another General Ziaul Haq, who had fathered them, not knowing that Musharraf was reputed to be cut from a very different cloth” (Abbas…

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XVII)

During Benazir Bhutto’s second term, “The US placed Pakistan on a terrorist ‘watch list’ following increased violence in Occupied Kashmir and in India’s East Punjab that was somehow linked to Islamabad. Pakistan was implicated in terrorist incidents in Europe and the US, which suggested an Afghan mujahideen connection” (Ziring, Lawrence, Pakistan: At the Crosscurrent of History, Oxford: Oneworld, 2003, p. 235). Benazir thus toed the pro-jihad line of the establishment. She tried to ease tensions between Pakistan and the US. She was under considerable pressure from the US to freeze Pakistan’s nuclear programme, but she was unwilling to do so in order to avoid confrontation with the military. She did manage to convince the US to ease the sanctions imposed in 1990 because of Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

On the Afghan front, Benazir Bhutto’s policy of attaining ‘strategic depth’ proved to be a disaster in the long run. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was tilted towards Gulbuddin Hek…

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XVI)

After Zia’s death, the military top brass decided against imposing yet another martial law and opted for holding elections and transferring power to a civilian government. One thing that the establishment did not want though was to compromise on a civilian government going against its wishes, especially against its Afghan policy. Since it was apparent that the 1988 elections would result in the victory of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto, the military united all the right-wing parties under the leadership of Zia’s protégé, Nawaz Sharif. Thus the Islamic Democratic Alliance (IDA), more commonly known as the Islami Jamhoori-Ittihad (IJI), with an Islamist agenda, was formed and pitted against the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) manipulated the elections in such a way that despite winning the majority of the seats in three provinces, the PPP was unable to form a government in Punjab, the most important province. Benazir Bhutto did m…

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XV)

The period in which religious extremism grew the most in Pakistan was during the time of General Ziaul Haq. He began his ‘Islamisation’ process long before he seized power. After becoming the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Zia not only changed the motto of the Pakistan army to iman (faith), taqwa (piety), jihad fi sabil Allah (war for the sake of God), but also “urged all ranks of the army during his visits to troops as well as in written instructions, to offer their prayers, preferably led by the commanders themselves at various levels. Religious education was included in the training programme and mosques and prayer halls were organised in all army units” (Khan, Lieutenant General Jahan Dad, Pakistan Leadership Challenges, Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 158).

When Zia toppled the Bhutto government through a coup d'état, the religious parties strongly supported his move. This gave him an opportunity to legitimise his rule. Despite assurances to Bhutto that new ele…

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XIV)

Pakistan’s new president, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, became the hope of what was now left of the country in 1971. The fall of Dhaka had burst the bubble of ‘Muslim brotherhood’, which was essentially the basis for the creation of Pakistan. The fallacy was evident even before 1971. The bloody partition had left behind a major chunk of Muslim population in India, while the birth of Bangladesh pierced through the remaining mirage of Islamic nationalism. Despite this evidence, the Islamists were still reluctant to admit the bitter truth and instead reverted to their age-old claim that the ‘enemies’ of Islam wanted to divide the Muslim Ummah. They justified this claim by arguing that the non-Muslims were afraid that if the Muslims got united, nobody would be able to stop them from ruling the entire world, as at the time of the Islamic Empire.

Since Bhutto’s major opposition came from religious circles, he tried his best to appease them in various ways. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) defined it…

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XIII)

Jawaharlal Nehru died in 1964. Soon after his death, elements in Pakistan tried to start an uprising in Indian-held Kashmir by sending in infiltrators in 1965. ‘Operation Gibraltar’, as it was known, failed miserably because there was no assistance for these Pakistani infiltrators from the local population in Kashmir. The Indian army crushed the infiltrators and then launched a war against Pakistan. Religious symbolism and calls for jihad were used by the Pakistani military. When India launched its offensive, in his address to the nation, General Ayub said, “…The 100 million people of Pakistan whose hearts beat with the sound of ‘La ilaha illallah, Mohammad-ur-Rasool-ullah’ [There is no God but Allah and Mohammad (PBUH) is His messenger] will not rest till India’s guns are silenced” (Jafri, Rais Ahmad, Ayub: Soldier and Statesman, Lahore: Mohammad Ali Academy, 1966, p. 139).

The official media led the public into believing that Pakistan was doing well against the ‘enemy’, but when Gene…

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XII)

It is interesting to note that in the US Department of State policy statement on Pakistan on July 1, 1951, the US had made it clear that “[a]part from Communism, the other main threat to American interests in Pakistan was from ‘reactionary groups of landholders and uneducated religious leaders’ who were opposed to the ‘present Western-minded government’ and ‘favour[ed] a return to primitive Islamic principles” (Jalal, Ayesha, The State of Martial Rule: The Origins of Pakistan’s Political Economy of Defence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 127).

The reason why Pakistan is still in search of genuine democracy is because of the religion factor. “Building a democracy in a country devoted to religious tradition has been a problem in numerous states. The founding fathers of the US constitutional system acknowledged the problem in 18th-century Europe and it was their judgement that only by a strict separation of church from state was democracy attainable” (Ziring, Lawrence, Pakistan…

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part XI)

The rising strength of the mullahs perturbed the Socialist forces in Pakistan. Renowned leftist Mian Iftikharuddin’s newspaper, Imroze, voiced a dissenting note against this and asked if it was not time that a democratic system should be established in Pakistan. It was argued in the same newspaper that since Islam does not allow exploitation of the peasantry, shouldn’t capitalism’s and feudalism’s undemocratic values be reformed? This raised alarm bells for the Pakistani elite and Islamist forces. The communist movement, led by the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), was now being perceived as a grave threat to the overall imperialistic culture prevalent in Pakistan, especially in Punjab. Since the movement asked for the rights of the peasantry, the feudal lords felt threatened by it and the mullahs denounced the Communists due to their non-religious views. The Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case – an unsuccessful attempt at a coup by anti-imperialist forces within the army in 1951 – gave the g…