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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Like some others, Akbar mistakenly believes that Pakistan would have embraced secularism had Jinnah lived. Though personally secular, he was tactically too far committed an Islamist to overcome those for whom his two-nation advocacy had become a winning strategy for political self-aggrandisement.

Thoughts on Pakistan

Whither Pakistan? In a finely nuanced book, “Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan”, M J Akbar has traced its Islamist fantasy and takeover by the military-mullah combine.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 13 February, 2011

The Indo-Pakistan dialogue is back on track following the Thimphu meeting of Foreign Secretaries. While this is to be welcomed, other events have aroused fresh uncertainties in and about Pakistan. The triumph and shock attending the assassination of the Punjab Governor, Salman Taseer, has made many in Pakistan fear that Islamist radicalism has penetrated deeper into the power and social structure than earlier imagined. Jihadi terror, reared as an instrument of state policy, is devouring its masters. The Government and political class have been supine and the Army silent.

Many Indians have in recent years tried to fathom Pakistan and reinterpret Jinnah in a more positive manner in a bid to bridge the two-nation divide, Advani and Jaswant Singh among them. Now in a finely nuanced book, “Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan”, M. J Akbar has traced its Islamist fantasy and takeover by the military-mullah combine. He argues that the Father of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Jinnah, was trumped by the spiritual Godfather of Pakistan and Jamaat-e-Islami founder, Maulana Maududi, who preached Islamic fundamentalism with Pakistan as the fulcrum of a new Caliphate. With partition, its founding “ideology” was defined in terms of a wholly negative identity as a bulwark against a malign Hindu India that had deceitfully seized Kashmir to leave behind a “moth-eaten” Pakistan committed to defending Islam within the contours of a new and expansive geography.

Pakistan fell prey to its own illusions of lost glory, victimhood and revenge, rewriting history to justify a caricature of its past and warped vision of the future. Sadly, the Sangh Parivar’s revivalist Hindutva also rests on a similar two-nation premise first espoused anywhere by Savarkar. Fortunately, Hindutva has remained a minor motif in India’s story of democracy and diversity.

Like some others, Akbar mistakenly believes that Pakistan would have embraced secularism had Jinnah lived. Though personally secular, he was tactically too far committed an Islamist to overcome those for whom his two-nation advocacy had become a winning strategy for political self-aggrandisement. He recognised danger from latent “Pakistan’s” within Pakistan and sought to reverse gear. Addressing the Pakistan constituent assembly in Karachi on August 11, 1947, he said: “… Any idea of a United India would never have worked and in my judgement would have led us to terrific disaster. Maybe that view is correct; maybe it is not; that remains to be seen”. (Note the self-doubt). And then, “You may belong to any religion caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State …. We are starting …. with the fundamental principle that we are all … equal citizens of one state…”. Further, “if we keep that in front of us as our ideal you will find in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state”.

It was too late. Jinnah was ignored. On January 25, 1948 he repudiated this heresy. In remarks made to the Sindh Bar Association, as reported in “Dawn”, Karachi, he said that Pakistan’s constitution must be founded on Islam and the Sharia.

Within a few years, the battle was joined to appropriate Islam for the “faithful”. The Munir Commission, set up in 1953 to probe the anti-Ahmediya riots, sought a definition of the true Muslim only to record that there were as many answers as ulema! If Zia ul Haq openly idealized Pakistan as Nizam-e-Mustafa or the Kingdom of Allah, Ayub, Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf made their own contributions towards the Islamisation of Pakistan. Saudi money poured in to spread Wahabi teachings at the cost of the syncretic sufi Islam of South Asia. The Americans financed “true Muslims” to fight atheist Soviet communism in Afghanistan. Thus was born the Taliban, a Janus-faced child of US-Pakistan parentage reared in AfPak and now at large, untamed and closely linked with home-grown Pakistani jihadis like the Lashkar-e-Toiba through the military-mullah axis.

The US is hated in Pakistan and in much of the Islamic world where arrogance of power has been compounded by folly. Its massive military aid for the War on Terror has been used against it by Islamabad, the Kerry-Lugar Act notwithstanding. Washington dare not turn down, let alone turn off the tap, for fear that should Pakistan crumble its nuclear wherewithal could fall into dangerous hands. This policy should be reviewed, with further duplicity evoking firm sanctions that will render the military culpable for popular hardship.

Salman Taseer’s killing, after the Taliban rampage in Swat and Waziristan, suggests that radical Islam is gaining ground. Kashmir is not the “core issue” but the consequence of the negative “Ideology of Pakistan”. The country is becoming ungovernable, its politics and culture feudal, the economy untaxed and surviving on aid and remittances. Its small civil society has further shrunk with liberal elements exiting while others are marginalized or afraid to speak. However, the looming threat of a “clerical tsunami” sweeping Pakistan, with military connivance, is increasingly compelling many to think anew.

The stability and integrity of Pakistan being vital for India, we must work towards convincing the aam Pakistani that India is not the “enemy”. The resumed Indo-Pakistan dialogue augurs well and we should be as generous and understanding as possible provided terror and irredentism are given up. In dialoguing, we must also think for Pakistan and analyse its anxieties and options. Opening up exchanges of every kind seems obvious and necessitates revisiting our own restrictive visa policy and insistence on instant reciprocity. Ensuring justice and equal opportunity to all of our own minorities, especially Muslims – a national imperative - would also provide reassurance that Islam faces no danger in or from India. A speedy J&K resolution on the lines of the Manmohan-Musharraf package, reinforced by activating the “Future Cooperation” clause of the Indus Treaty would be huge steps forward.

All this presupposes a frank internal dialogue, especially with ideological and nationalist elements that smell “appeasement”. Many Pakistanis are looking for a way out. Indo-Bangla relations are on the mend and should Indo-Pakistan relations also improve, a restored Sufi-infused South Asian Islam could redeem world Islam of which it forms such a dominant part.

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