The changing winds

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at
Sat Oct 7 21:29:43 MDT 2000

Friday, October 6, 2000

The changing winds
Saeed Naqvi

Once the dust settles on the Putin visit, North and South Blocks will have
to put their heads together on the implications of London's Acton Town Hall
meeting held on September 17. For the first time, leaders of the Mojahirs,
Sindhis, Baluchis and Pakhtoons came together on the same platform to
declare the death of the Two-nation theory. They said that Partition was a
blunder and that the raison d'etre for Pakistan lay in the Lahore
declaration of 1940 -- giving full provincial autonomy to the minority
provinces and involving them in every national endeavour, including the
formulation of foreign policy which would dictate friendship with all
neighbours, including India.
How should the Indian establishment react to these dramatic declarations?
What is the feasibility quotient in all that was said at Acton? Was it the
rantings of disaffected exiles (as the Pakistan High Commission is privately
putting out) or does the gathering at Acton have a hold on the popular
imagination in the minority provinces? Do the wails of disillusionment
strike a sympathetic chord with Indians or do they unsettle the Indian
elite? Remember Hasrat Mohan's famous ghazal sung by Mallika Pukhraj:
òf40ó"Lutf aane laga jafaaon mein/Woh kaheen meherban na ho jaaey" (I have
grown so accustomed to her unfaithfulness that I do not know how to cope
with her sudden adoration).
The consequences of how the Indian establishment responds to Acton will be
more far reaching than most people have begun to realise. What Acton is
demanding of India is a fundamental shift in policy towards Pakistan or, at
least, a total reappraisal -- assuming, of course, that those who
congregated at Acton are long distance runners.
There is at this point in history, a pronounced Russian-American convergence
on Afghanistan. Since the Taliban are seen as a creature of the ISI, the
convergence extends to Pakistan as well. The Pakistan-Afghan axis is seen as
the reservoir of fanaticism which is infecting the Central Asian Republics
through the Farghana Valley, on the one hand, and Kashmir, on the other. The
potential of this infection is global as the decade has shown since the
Soviet withdrawal -- an expedition which left behind high voltage Islam in
search for causes.
But there is also an area of divergence with the Americans -- a minor
divergence but an important one. There is universal acknowledgement that New
Delhi has made efforts in seeking Islamabad's hand in friendship by
embarking on an integrated dialogue on all outstanding issues, including
Kashmir. There could not have been a more substantive gesture in this regard
than the prime minister's bus journey to Lahore and his visit to
Minar-e-Pakistan. For a prime minister with a BJP-RSS background to do this,
was symbolically powerful. The ties established at Lahore were snapped at
Kargil and Indo-Pak ties were placed in reverse gear with the arrival of
General Pervez Musharraf.
Ever since General Zia-ul Haq came to power in 1977, a project of welding
the army with the Jamaat-e-Islami was launched. Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan gave an unexpected fillip to the project. The result is that
General Musharraf, secular though he might be in his private beliefs, is
surrounded by fanatics in the Army (majors and colonels inducted by Zia are
Generals now) for whom friendship with India is anathema.
What western observers of Pakistan have difficulty understanding is this:
Hostility to India is a project in perpetuity for the ISI, the Pakistan army
and the Punjabi ruling elite. It is simplistic to conclude that a pampered
army needs an image to keep itself in power. That is only partially true.
After the independence of Bangladesh and the collapse of the Two-nation
theory -- that Hindus and Muslims constitute two separate nations --
Pakistan's ruling elite finds itself bereft of a cohesive ideology to
justify the Islamic state.
In this situation the manufacture of a double- and triple-distilled Islam,
disengaged from the civilisational pull of the subcontinent, Arabised and
distinct, is the extremists prescription for cohesion. This process of
triple distillation entails the promotion of an artificially simulated
Islamic fervour, which can, in turn, only lead to one of history's most
intolerant societies. Over a period of time, Western interlocutors have come
around to agreeing on this appraisal of Pakistan's possible evolution. Now
comes the point of divergence. "In spite of all this, a stable Pakistan is
still in everybody's best interest." And for this, "You must somehow seek a
dialogue with Islamabad."
But, as I have argued, the moment Gen. Musharraf extends his hand of
friendship, the mullahs breathing down his neck will chop off the hand. So
where do we go from here? American intellectual muscle appears to fail at
this juncture. Moreover, this intellectual deadlock also represents the lack
of resolution of the bureaucratic politics in Washington on the question of
Pakistan. For New Delhi, even in response to Pakistan's worst behaviour, a
stable Pakistan has always been an article of faith, not for decorative
reasons but in India's own national interest.
Now comes this call from Acton. Are these progressive impulses worthy of
India's support even though they threaten Pakistan's stability? A malicious
view of course would be that a soft belt around Punjab will come in handy
for retaliation against Pakistani mischief in Kashmir. But this
short-sighted view is unlikely to have many takers for a very practical
reason. It is India's restraint in every situation, including Kargil, which
has placed Pakistani misadventures in bold relief. Pakistan's diplomatic
isolation is on that count.
If New Delhi is not to encourage the secular, moderate noises coming out of
Acton because they threaten Pakistan's stability, then what must New Delhi
Nothing. There is nothing that the government can or must do at this stage.
In fact the hope must be to see Acton as the pressure point to democratise
Pakistan, dismantle its feudal, fundamentalist edifices. Let the state watch
the dynamics inherent in the declarations made at Acton.
The responsibility lies on the Indian intelligentsia to take up the threat
from Acton and explore its depth and reach. Journalists, academics and those
who never tire of the second track must engage in dialogue all those who
came together on a platform at Acton on a historic day in September.
If New Delhi is not to encourage the secular, moderate noises coming out of
Acton because they threaten Pakistan's stability, then what must New Delhi
Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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