Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

This is not to dismiss or condone human rights violations by the State in J&K. It is to underline the role the Big Lie plays in furthering the “Cause” by instilling fear and hatred of the “enemy” and putting it on the defensive.

Darkness Falls on Pakistan

The deepening political gloom in Pakistan is fast darkening into an uncertain night of barbarism that threatens its very coherence and the neighbourhood.

By B G Verghese

Deccan Herald, 10 January, 2011

The deepening political gloom in Pakistan is fast darkening into a dangerous and uncertain night of medieval barbarism that threatens its very coherence and the entire neighbourhood. Two seemingly separate but related events last week point in this direction. Prof Abdul Ghani Bhat confessed in Srinagar that the Hurriyat has been living a lie. In Pakistan, a bold, liberal voice for sanity was silenced with the brutal assassination of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer.

Prof Bhat told a seminar that Mulvi Farooq (the former Mir Waiz), Abdul Ghani Lone and other leading intellectuals were killed not by the Indian Amy or police but “by our own people”. The separatist movement needed such “martyrs” for the cause, which Pakistan has mentored, financed and armed. The present Mir Waiz, Umar Farooq, has disowned his father, who spoke in accents of peace as did Ghani Lone. Fear stalks Kashmir, where truth has been and remains a prime casualty: the ethnic cleansing of Pandits, the false charge of mass rape at Kunan Poshpora, the wanton destruction of Charar-e-Sharif by Must Gul and his thugs from Pakistan, the artificial frenzy whipped up over the alleged evil design to effect a demographic change through the machinations of the Amarnath Yatra Board, the Shopian incident, the more recent stone pelting carnival and other events, all of which have unravelled. “Martyr’s” are needed for myth-making.

This is not to dismiss or condone human rights violations by the State in J&K. It is to underline the role the Big Lie plays in furthering the “Cause” by instilling fear and hatred of the “enemy” and putting it on the defensive. The separatists’ silence after Prof Bhat’s denunciatory truth-telling is eloquent. The counterpart is the BJP’s wholly negative role in whipping up counter-jingoism. The latest gimmick is a planned long march to be climaxed by the hoisting of the national flag at Lal Chowk, Srinagar on Republic Day in remembrance of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s “sacrifice for the unity and integrity of the country”. This is inviting trouble.

In Rawalpindi, Taseer was gunned down by a member of his own bodyguard (who had earlier been temporarily removed from the special branch duty on suspicion of being a security threat) while the rest of the security detail merely watched. Taseer’s crime: he criticised the death sentence awarded to Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman, under Pakistan’s obnoxious Blasphemy Law. The mullahs and religious extremists have applauded the murder. It was not easy to find a member of the clergy to lead the funeral prayers for the deceased. By volunteering to defend him, members of the Bar (who fought Musharraf’s tyranny not so long ago) and powerful sections of the media have virtually upheld the assassin. The Lahore High Court said it would annul any pardon the Governor might grant Assia Bibi.

A Senator, Sherry Rehman, who has moved a Bill for repeal of the Blasphemy Law, has been threatened. PPP ministers have spoken in favour of the blasphemy law (which makes a mockery of due process and justice). Nawaz Sharif has said Taseer should have acted more cautiously as both fundamentalists and liberals must speak with balance and moderation as “people here want the blasphemy law”.

The clerics have raised their voice in Pakistan and democrats are in retreat. The Talibanisation of Pakistan has proceeded apace. Radical Islam has displaced the humanistic sufi, syncretic Islam of the sub-continent, as in J&K too. Rival fanaticisms feed on one another and threaten peace and social harmony. This was not the Pakistan Jinnah envisaged. But he unleashed a tiger by championing a false two-nation theory buttressed by “direct action” that inevitably went out of control. The rot started with the language riots in East Pakistan and the anti-Ahmediya movement in the early 1950s. Religious zealotry could not bind the nation. Nor was the new state able to define what or who it meant by Islam. Failing to develop an identity of its own, Kashmir (the theory of a moth-eaten Pakistan) and an ever more radical Islam became a political opiate, pushed long by Zia (with American/Western encouragement to battle Soviet communism) until Talibanisation was put on auto-pilot, bringing into being an enigmatic military-mullah combine. Afghanistan fuels this partnership.

American support for the military-mullah combine has been at the cost of Pakistan’s ever-fragile democracy and civil society which has struggled to take root in a feudal, militarised society in which both the military and the mullahs seek legitimacy in battling a permanent “enemy” in (Hindu) India which “occupies” Kashmir. This denial of its own identity in favour of the “Ideology of Pakistan” has been the country’s undoing.

However, deep down, the ordinary people of Pakistan remain liberal and yearn for democratic self-determination for themselves. The Pakistan Human Rights Commission, the newly formed Citizens for Democracy and similar groups symbolise this yearning. These are elements with which India (and the world) must engage even as we dialogue with the powers-that-be. Yet we have erected barriers against intellectual and cultural exchange on exaggerated security considerations. Unilateralism here would pay.

There has to be a serious national debate on how we engage with Pakistan and not only with its government. Let us try and get liberal Pakistani (and Bangladeshi) scholars to join their Indian counterparts in writing a common, objective, popular social and cultural history of the sub-continent. Poisoned and parochial histories divide and build walls of hate and suspicion. These may be small beginnings, apart from finding common ground for partnership in matters of global trade, climate change and so forth. A liberal, united, stable, prosperous Pakistan is in India’s highest interest. A sensible J&K solution (internal and external) is also urgently necessary to remove illusions and irritants. This is where Prof Bhat has blazed a new path.

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