Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Essentially all of India’s history pre-1947 is intrinsically Pakistan’s very own history too, and a proud one at that. But the laboured efforts to repudiate or reinterpret its history, geography and culture have conceptually orphaned the very idea of Pakistan

From Tragedy to Triumph

Jinnah’s first surprisingly secular and open address to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly has gathered mould while the country slipped into denial. Now, new opportunities beckon for India and Pakistan to stand shoulder to shoulder.

By B G Verghese

For the IIC Quarterly/Harper Collins Book, The Great Divide. May 1998

Sixty, or more precisely 62, years ago, India and Pakistan became independent; ‘India, that is Bharat’, a hoary civilizational entity and concept, was indeed truncated, but nevertheless remained forever India. Whatever happened to Pakistan? In one of his famous nonsense rhymes, Edward Lear asked, ‘Who or why or where or what, is the Akhond of Swat’. One might, sadly, parody Lear today and similarly interrogate Pakistan.

Many even within that country worry that it is perhaps a failed state; hopefully not, as it is not in India’s interest that Pakistan fails or disintegrates. Bangladesh was a different matter – a strange add on to Pakistan. Indeed, as Sisir Gupta used tellingly to remark, there was no way of drawing a map of Pakistan without drawing India, which separated its two wings by 1800 kilometres, a unique compulsion that must have been psychologically embarrassing for some, and infuriating for others. The fledgling state of Pakistan needed to establish something more than mere territorial identity.

This it singularly failed to do, and even its territorial expression suffered amputation when Bangladesh decided to take its destiny into its own hands. With Bangladesh gone, Pakistan became partly whole as a more integrated entity. Nevertheless, other than the new territorial definition of the residual state, what was Pakistan? It was a land that lacked a real identity, and is even today to discover its soul and come to terms with itself. The fact is that Pakistan has been in constant denial since its birth.

The story of Partition is interwoven with many complex strands, dyed in blood and knitted in emotion. The purpose of this essay is not to delve into that chapter of history, or apportion blame. Suffice it to say that the Muslim League, under Jinnah, propounded the two-nation theory in the run up to Independence on the premise that Muslims would remain a permanent, persecuted minority within a united ‘Hindu India’. Therefore, reason and equity demanded that an independent Muslim homeland be separately carved out of the Muslim-majority areas of north-western and eastern India to constitute Pakistan.

The Congress did not accept the logic of the two-nation theory but, nonetheless, accepted Partition as a lesser evil to delayed independence and prolonged and bitter communal strife. The hope was that once the two countries gained independence they would come together as good neighbours and live side by side in a spirit of peace, amity and cooperation. That hope was regrettably belied, though it remains a cherished goal.The fallacy in the two-nation theory was that in a highly plural society, the homeland of the erstwhile dominant minority, once elevated to the status of ‘ruling majority’, would inevitably spawn a new dominant minority within its bounds. The new state would then confront the same two-nation theory on a lesser scale with a reversal of roles on the basis of nationality, language and/or culture. This was how Bangladesh came into being, and the concept remains manifest in demands for privileging Pakhtoon, Baloch and Sindhi identity on the theory of majority dominance and minority sufferance. However, the very proposition is destabilizing and undermines nation building.

An analysis of Pakistan school textbooks in The Subtle Subversion by a group of Pakistani educationists (SPDC, Islamabad, 2001) established that the stereotyped Pakistani usually portrayed was a macho Muslim, Sunni, Punjabi male, which relegated Shias, Ahmediyas, Agha Khanis, Nurbakshis and other minority Muslim denominations, the non-Punjabi nationalities, and women to a lower status.

The other, and more glaring, contradiction inherent in Partition was that the battle for Pakistan was fought and won in what is today India – in Delhi, Lucknow, Bombay, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Patna and elsewhere – in the Muslim minority provinces of the Raj, and not in the territories that now constitute Pakistan, namely Punjab, the Frontier, Balochistan and Sind. In these latter provinces, Muslims were in a majority, had no reason to fear ‘Hindu-Sikh’ domination, and indeed kept the Muslim League at bay through a succession of Unionist ministries in Punjab, Congress regimes in the Frontier and Balochistan and, for the most part, non-League regimes in Sind. The Muslim League was a minority everywhere in what is now Pakistan.

Even elsewhere, Muslim fears of Hindu competition and domination were a largely urban middle-class concern. The rural masses, irrespective of faith, by and large, shared their joys and sorrows - fairs and festivals, famine, flood and the feudal oppression of Hindu and Muslim zamindars and moneylenders. Riots were a latter-day phenomenon, politically induced rather than socially motivated. Consequently, when Partition came, many among the Muslim elite migrated to Pakistan followed by millions of hapless refugees tragically driven out of their ancestral homes on either side of the border by violence and fear. The refugees that came to India were absorbed in the communities within which they settled. Three generations later, those who went to Pakistan are still classified as Mohajirs, or refugees.

Jinnah – a Westernized, cosmopolitan, liberal statesman who loved the good things of life and was no more than a nominal Muslim – recognized the danger. For him, the two-nation theory and Islam were essentially tactical ploys to garner support for a community that was reluctant to modernize and was thereby left behind by history in the despair, shock and grief of political and cultural dethronement in the aftermath of 1857. His very first address to the Pakistan constituent assembly in Karachi on 11 August 1947, delivered just four days before the birth of the homeland he had created, went straight to the point. Now that Pakistan has been won, Jinnah told his people, they must forget the past. His words bear repetition and should find an echo in India as well:

… Any idea of a United India would never have worked and in my judgment it would have led us to terrific disaster. May be that view is correct; may be it is not; that remains to be seen. Now if we want to make this great state of Pakistan happy and prosperous we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you work in cooperation, forgetting the past and burying the hatchet you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make. I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities , the Hindu community and the Muslim community – because even regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vaishnavas, Khatris, also Bengalees, Madrasis and so on – will vanish….

And then..You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State …. We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and the other, no distinction between one caste or creed and another. Starting with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state… Now I think we should keep that in front of us an as our ideal and you will find in course of time Hindus would cease to e 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.

That was a truly noble speech and emphasized inclusiveness and equality among men, which is what Islam preaches. From espousing the two-nation theory to the idea of equal citizenship was a historic leap that Jinnah knew was absolutely essential for the very being and survival of Pakistan. Unfortunately, he was a sick man and died in September 1948. His speech was buried with him and forgotten by a state that feared the wisdom of its founder. Liaqat Ali Khan might just have trodden his master’s path, but he was soon assassinated and the slide to Islamism began even if it only gathered momentum much later. ...

In 1953, Pakistan was rocked by anti-Ahmediya riots aimed at declaring this Islamic sect a minority community. An inquiry commission was appointed under two Justices of the Lahore High Court, Muhammad Munir and M.R.Kayani. In the course of the inquiry, the Commission sought the assistance of learned Ulema, including leaders of the Jamaat-i-Islami, and was pained to find that the ideal of Pakistani nationhood set out by the Quaid-e Azam was unanimously rejected by them as un-Islamic. When the Ulema were further asked to explain what is Islam and who is a momin or a Muslim, it was a matter of infinite regret that the Ulema were …hopelessly disagreed among themselves. … The net result of all of this is that neither Shias nor Sunnis nor Deobandis nor Ahl-i-Hadith nor Barelvis are Muslims…

Feroz Khan Noon’s Five Thousand Years of Pakistan, which spoke of Mohenjodaro and Taxila, was similarly mothballed, as were those wonderful excavation sites for decades, because Pakistan had to have an Islamic lineage. Hence, The Subtle Subversion notes that the first proto-Pakistani was discovered to have been Mohammad bin Casim, but the true prototype was Mohammad Ghori! This denial left Pakistan bereft of historical and cultural moorings. Later, Ayub Khan was to try and turn Pakistan’s back on South Asia and don a Middle Eastern identity by joining Iran and Turkey in the Regional Cooperation for Development Association. More recently, Aitzaz Ahsan, the well-known lawyer and politician, has in his book The Indus Saga, The Making of Pakistan (Oxford, Karachi. 1997) sought to theorize a distinctively racial and cultural personality for Northwestern India or Pakistan though he saw many links and common roots as well and lamented the fact that Jinnah’s ideal was so rudely rejected.

Essentially all of India’s history pre-1947 is intrinsically Pakistan’s very own history too, and a proud one at that. But the laboured efforts to repudiate or reinterpret its history, geography and culture have conceptually orphaned the very idea of Pakistan, gratuitously left it with no more than a precarious post-1000 A.D regional Islamic history at best, and lent substance as to its ‘where and how and why and what’.

Given this self-proclaimed lack of anchorage or rootedness, it comes as no surprise that Pakistan has found it so difficult to frame and uphold a constitution, or to build a cohesive federalism. To counter East Pakistan, the four provinces of West Pakistan were for a time unceremoniously herded into what was termed ‘One Unit’. The tribal FATA areas in the far north-west, bordering Afghanistan, are still something of a no-man’s land where many constitutional provisions do not apply. They have not been integrated into Pakistan. Likewise, while the Muzaffarabad region is described as ‘Azad Kashmir’, the Northern Areas are not part of it, nor of Pakistan, nor an autonomous region. This huge expanse, with 1.5 million or more people, is in limbo and remains the last pure colony in the world, with pathetically few democratic rights.

The quip goes that while states have armies, the Pakistan Army has a state! This goes back to the negativism of the two-nation theory for, when Pakistan was achieved, the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ was and has remained little more than being ‘the other’ to ‘Hindu’ India. This early Islamism centred on winning Jammu and Kashmir in order to complete ‘the unfinished business of Partition’. But Kashmir was not the only bone of contention. Even two decades after Independence, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto spoke bitterly of ‘a moth-eaten Pakistan’. If the role of Pakistan was to defend Islam (from whom?) and win Kashmir, the instrument for this purpose was its army. It is from these beginnings that Pakistan has steadily become a militarized state where the army is called upon to win Kashmir, ward off India’s alleged hegemonistic designs and save Pakistan from its own people. Thus for about half its existence, Pakistan has been under direct military rule and indirectly for an even longer period, with the National Security Council a continuing, brooding presence.

The failure of the political class in Pakistan, still dominated by feudal elements, to provide good and stable governance has, time and again, given a handle for military intervention. Even otherwise, matters pertaining to national security, Kashmir, nuclear development, and strategic foreign policy issues have been the preserve of the military, with the political leadership often kept out of the loop as Benazir Bhutto plaintively lamented. The military budget is a secret, with the National Assembly vouchsafed not much more than the global figure of the proposed annual outlay.

Despite substantial foreign military funding and purchase of military equipment at concessional prices as a long-time U.S. ally and ‘frontline state’, as well as from China and sundry Arab sources, Pakistan’s defence spending has accounted for a disproportionately large part of the national budget, with the squeeze being on development. Over and beyond that, the army has spawned the ISI, a dirty-tricks department that has operated as a state within the state, and is involved in a variety of extra-curricular activity that has included sustaining jehadi terror.

The military have also built a huge economic empire and landed zamindari through the large number of major corporate entities they own and operate through the Fauji (Army), Shaheen (Air Force) and Bahria (Navy) Foundations, the Army Welfare Trust and their several subsidiaries. Their activities include banking, insurance, transport, toll roads, shipping, airlines, communications, construction, contracting, IT services, hotels, wheat storage facilities, heavy manufactures, cement, fertilizer, power, oil terminals, food products, sugar, fisheries, poultry, bakeries, cinemas, gas stations, commercial plazas and more.

The Fauji Foundation alone employs 6000–7000 retired military personnel, but is headed by a board comprising senior serving army officers. Substantial land grants to serving personnel of all ranks, makes the military one of largest landowners in the country. The system has permitted substantial military penetration of the economy and created a strong vested interest in the growth and protection of this military-industrial complex. (See Ayesha Siddiqa’s Military Inc., Oxford, 2007).

During periods of martial law, many key departments of the government have been headed by military officers. Otherwise, too, Pakistan’s constitution has been treated with scant respect and has been amended and manipulated by military dictators. The courts have tried to stand up from time to time, but have ultimately bowed to military power in critical rulings by recourse to a so-called ‘doctrine of necessity’.

The ideological-military project, or ‘core issue’, to wrest Kashmir has increasingly found a faltering state seeking support and justification by nailing its flag to the Islamic mast. The ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ went beyond tokenism with the introduction of Sharia Courts and abolition of interest under Zia-ul-Haq who proclaimed the goal of ‘Nizame Mustafa’. The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan was a turning point. Pakistan was refurbished as a frontline state and there was a trumpet call by the U.S. to rally ‘good Muslims’ to fight the atheist ‘evil empire’.

A CIA-ISI compact sealed by the U.S. and Pakistan was the conduit that delivered huge volumes of American military and monetary assistance to the Afghan resistance via Pakistan. It is now well documented that anything up to thirty per cent of this was siphoned off by the ISI to train and fund global jehadis to fight the good fight in Kashmir and establish an Eastern Caliphate. Pakistan trained and helped officer the Taliban in Afghanistan, with indirect U.S. funding. A Pakistan component of the Taliban was repatriated to the NWFP when, first, Kunduz, and then Torah Bora fell. Levels of violence went up exponentially and the alarming spread of small arms and drugs, Talibanization and nuclear proliferation – through the aegis of Dr. A.Q. Khan who ran a nuclear Wal-Mart – was to take an enormous toll in collateral damage. Osama bin Laden found a new mission: Al Qaeda was born; 9/11followed. India paid a very heavy price.

Contradictions within Pakistan led to Kargil and the Musharraf takeover. There was also a backlash as Talibanization took root in parts of the NWFP and Balochistan, and the many madrasas preaching radical Islam and churning out perfervid jehadis turned their attention to seeking whatever was in it for themselves within Pakistan. There was the sorry spectacle of the leaders of Pakistan’s three main parties – the PPP, MLN and MQM – seeking to fight for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan from exile in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and London.

Overtures from India for normalizing relations and promoting trade, investments and cultural exchange long foundered on the rock of the ‘core issue’. Musharraf partly broke loose from the tyranny of Kashmir, but was ultimately trapped in the coils of his own intrigues and double talk and by the very jehadi-monsters he and his predecessors had created, despite the fact that the peace process with India was poised to roll on. Nemesis apart, the arrogance of power, growing disillusionment about the direction Pakistan was headed and mounting anger at the military’s conduct gave impetus to incipient democratic forces which triumphed at the 2007 polls, though it cost Benazir Bhutto her life.

The democratic coalition in Pakistan unfortunately did not hold but, nonetheless, Zardari took office supported by Nawaz Sharif from the outside. This partnership has been a tightrope walk for them, and the dastardly Mumbai attack and events in its wake suggest that behind the façade of civilian rule the military still call the shots. The 26/11 Mumbai attack provided vivid proof of its hand in that dastardly crime, as in previous terror strikes, but Islamabad remained in denial, moving from one fall-back position to another, unmindful of gathering contradictions, brazening it out to maintain its innocence as a comparable victim of terrorist violence and a U.S. partner in the War on Terror in Afghanistan and its own FATA region.

It is in this fraught situation that India must decide what its response to Mumbai should be. Public anger is palpable but it would be misplaced to give way to raw emotion and the desire blindly to strike back. A credible rather than crudely muscular response is called for, and the government is seeking to concert various measures to this end. However, war has wisely been ruled out as an option, unless Pakistan forces India’s hand by indulging in further adventurism. The vital consideration must be to win not just the battle but the war.

There is today a clear divide in Pakistan between the military and mullahs on the one hand and incipient democratic forces on the other. The people of Pakistan are, by and large, liberal, secular Muslims and not fundamentalists, and desire peace and amity with India. They have begun to see through the Kashmir charade that, far from being the ‘core issue’, has led to the militarization and Islamization of a national security-jehadi state and brought an ideologically rudderless Pakistan to the brink of becoming a failed state that might fragment. There is a mood of disillusionment and cynicism and deep disappointment and resentment over so many wasted years. A significant and growingly assertive democratic tendency is discernible and anxious to build liberal democratic institutions and live as good neighbours with India. It is these forces that we must support and partner against the machinations of the military and the mullahs who hold the country in thrall.

What, then, is the alternative? India should lead an international campaign for the demilitarization of Pakistan’s bloated military establishment through a drastic cut in on-going and prospective military aid to this so-called ‘frontline state’. Such a stance would gain teeth if coupled with the threat of an end to IMF-Bank and Friends of Pakistan aid flows for a parlous economy that is on drip unless Islamabad walks its talk in disbanding the jehadi apparatus (including all aliases), not allowing its territory to be used for cross-border terror or proxy wars, and bringing to book those wanted for past terrorist crimes. A further condition must be that the ISI will be reformed and, along with the Pakistan Army, placed firmly under civilian control.

The Western fear is that withdrawal of military support for Pakistan could undermine the War on Terror in Afghanistan and lead to further Talibanization and instability in Pakistan, with unforeseen consequences with regard to the custody of its nuclear wherewithal. Such apprehensions can be overcome by forging an alternative Afghanistan strategy that entrusts the further war on terror to a United Nations counter-terrorism-cum-peacekeeping-cum-reconstruction force under a UN commander and with strong regional participation. Funds diverted from military aid to Pakistan could partly finance such a Blue Beret force to which India should be willing to contribute troops along with other regional players, including Pakistan, in addition to the U.S.-NATO component.

In view of its past conduct, the U.S. is part of the problem even while its participation is needed to secure an effective resolution. The placement of U.S./NATO forces under a widely endorsed UN mandate and a UN commander is likely to be welcomed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and in the region generally and could even weigh favourably among the jehadi elements. It would give Obama an exit without loss of face.

The notion that the Kashmir question is a regional cancer and a ‘Muslim’ problem in respect of which Pakistan is somehow entitled to seek relief is a gross falsification of fact. Pakistan covets J&K, but has no legal or moral basis for its claims. Its primary association with J&K derives from an act of aggression in 1947-48 (clearly admitted by the UN’s Special Representative, Sir Owen Dixon) that put it in wrongful possession of PAK and the Northern Areas. Ever since, it has resorted to continuous machinations to grab the rest of the state, and particularly the Valley, from India.

The Partition settlement and Britain’s India Independence Act did not allocate the princely states to one side or the other and specifically did not touch on the disposition of J&K. The argument that J&K was majority Muslim and contiguous with Pakistan is specious since the future of the NWFP, a Muslim majority province, was determined by a referendum in 1947 while Kalat, an association of Sirdars outside British Balochistan, formally declared its independence and was forcibly annexed in 1948 by Pakistan which also claimed Hyderabad, Junagadh and other non-Muslim states. No UN document or resolution has ever challenged J&K’s accession to India.

Pakistan has been in denial over J&K from 1947, since the initial Standstill Agreement and through its repeated invasions, overt and covert, in 1947, 1948, 1965, its cartographic aggression in Siachen, its proxy war from1989 to date, the Kargil caper and the jehadi war that has targeted all of India. (See A J&K Primer: From Myth to Reality by B.G. Verghese, India Research Press, 2007). Yet India has persevered with the peace process.

The Manmohan-Musharraf road map is based on the proposition that J&K’s boundaries (read LOC) should be made irrelevant without impairing the existing twin sovereignties. This formulation offers the possibility of fashioning a variety of trans-border mechanisms for trade, tourism, investments, cultural exchange, and even for the cooperative management of the upper Indus system, in keeping with the Indus Waters’ Treaty, against the looming threat of climate change. All this could, over time, result in the establishment of an informal, or even formal, joint consultative body, imbuing a United J&K with the characteristics of a confederation, a concept blessed by Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah in 1964. This entity would be cocooned within a South Asian Community to which the SAARC members are already in principle committed.

As it may take a while for a resumption of the Indo-Pakistan peace dialogue post-Mumbai, an immediate beginning can and should be made to seek a just and honourable resolution of the internal J&K question on our side of the LOC. This can be addressed by conferring greater autonomy on and within J&K. The degree of regional autonomy can be adjusted on a differentiated basis to suit varying local aspirations within Ladakh and J&K. The constitutional mandate for this exists under Articles 258 and 258A of the Indian Constitution that provide for various degrees of ‘entrustment’ both up and down, that is, federally and among regions within states, as has been demonstrated in the Northeast. Other elements could include looking into residual human right grievances and ‘disappearances’ by means of a healing touch, the progressive replacement of the Army and para-military by the J&K police starting with a thinning out of the security forces and selective cancellations of declarations notifying certain areas as ‘disturbed ’, a pre-condition to application of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (which could be repealed or incorporated in other civil legislation as recommended by a Commission that reported on the matter).

Further steps must include measures to facilitate the safe and honourable return of the Pandits and an imaginative development package around improved rail, road, air and broadband connectivity and power supply. Movement in this direction would allay local discontents and regional tensions and complete the process of self-determination and aazadi exemplified by the great turnout at the recent J&K polls in the face of the separatists’ boycott call. It would probably arouse similar demands for autonomy, ‘self-determination’ and democratization in PAK and the Northern Areas that are long overdue.

What would Pakistan get out of such an unfolding? It would gain legitimacy for its presence in PAK and the Northern Areas and would informally secure peaceful ‘access’ to the other part of J&K that it has coveted and sought to seize through violent means. More than that, such a resolution would erode the dominance of and raison d’etre for a highly militarized and Islamized state in Pakistan and liberate it from the crippling inferiority and futility of playing the Indian ‘other’ that has dwarfed and distorted its national personality. By turning its back on both the military and the mullahs it would rediscover its soul and find fulfillment in embracing Jinnah’s concept of a liberal, democratic, secular, inclusive state, becoming a pillar of SAARC (including Afghanistan and, perhaps, even Iran) and an increasingly powerful and prosperous member of a vibrant South Asian community at peace with itself and its neighbours.

The same formulation of a soft border between the two parts of J&K could, with modification, apply to the Pakhtoon marches along both sides of the Durand Line and bring quietus to the troubled relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan. By this means Pakistan would be able to reclaim its geography, history, culture and strategic depth, standing tall as the north-western bastion of South Asia. The world would welcome such a denouement.

What would India gain? An end to the ‘Kashmir dispute’ that has been a wounding distraction and ‘access’ to PAK and the Northern Areas that it claims as its own. It would, in due course, be able to thin down its forces in J&K and withdraw many divisions from its Western border and make do with a leaner and meaner Army. Its diplomacy would no longer be inhibited by the Pakistan/Kashmir factor and it would have access to Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia through Pakistan. A settlement with Pakistan would change the internal dynamics of South Asia and breathe new life into SAARC and make it a powerful force for peace and stability in the larger Asian neighbourhood and Indian Ocean region. With South Asia’s 500 million Muslims, or over forty per cent of global Islam, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh could make a notable contribution towards a new Islamic renaissance.

At home, the Hindu-Muslim divide would steadily dissolve and a new relationship based on fraternity, inclusiveness and the constitutional ideal of a common citizenship would begin to emerge and gain ascendancy, gradually relegating all brands of religious and ‘cultural’ fundamentalism and divisive revivalism and restoring the fundamental tolerance of Indian society which has been a civilizational hallmark, despite some warts.

For sixty years, India and Pakistan have suffered the lingering tragedy of Partition. The kind of resolution envisaged herein is by no means impossible and could be nearer than many believe. It could see a transition and transformation from tragedy to triumph as two estranged brothers come together to build a better future and enable South Asia truly to come into its own.

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