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The slide show

Pakistan is facing a bigger crisis than it did in 1971 as today, it cannot blame India for its multiple sclerosis and has no one to blame, writes Vikram Sood.

india Updated: Aug 20, 2007 02:08 IST

Sixty years after independence, India and Pakistan are on different trajectories. India is a secular democracy — raucous and flawed — but democracy it is. After years of uncertainties, the fortune graph is now a steady upward curve as India positions itself to become a rising economic power. Pakistan, on the other hand, is on a downward slope, with a thinly disguised military rule threatening to become a theocratic-military rule as its graph dips into a jehadist abyss. While the world applauds India, it increasingly looks at Pakistan with suspicion as an irresponsible state.

While the Indian leadership of the day set about giving its people a written Constitution, in Pakistan the twin pillars of governance were the Army and Islam. Punjabi feudalism did not help matters either. Over the years this problem has only accentuated with the mullah, intolerant of any deviation, interpreting the Islamic tenets in a narrow sectarian sense that excludes women — half the country’s population — from equal treatment. He also seeks to exclude other sects from similar benefits, earthly or otherworldly. The army treats any adherence to alternative opinion as disobedience at best and treason most of the time. Equality and dissent are the essential ingredients of democracy but Pakistan’s twin pillars discouraged both.

In Pakistan, they shot dead Akbar Bugti because he dared to ask for a better deal for his Baloch people. In Pakistan, they banished elected mainstream political leaders. In India, we allow secessionists to avail of the best possible medical treatment. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, are you reading this?

There is another important aspect that is sometimes overlooked. In India, Muslims have begun to realise that the largest number of Muslims who live in democracy anywhere in the world are here. There is also a realisation that this has been possible because of an independent, secular media and the liberal class, most of whom are Hindus. True, there have been horrible slippages but it is this class of Indians that seeks to expose and protect them against injustices on the basis of religion. The mullahs of Pakistan seek to institutionalise this discrimination and even the moderately enlightened General asserts that there can be no secularism in Pakistan. For anyone to break the Indian equilibrium he must, therefore, Wahhabise the essentially Sufi Muslim and radicalise the Hindu by enticing the former and simultaneously provoking the latter. India of the 21st century must guard against such inroads from Pakistan and from Al-Qaeda indoctrination. Our response cannot be by creating quotas for vote-banks. This only builds zones of vested interests and ghettoises the nation.

There are many in India, Pakistan and the West who remain in a state of denial about the march of Islamic forces in Pakistan. The manner in which the Waziristan episode has been dealt with, the manner in which the Lal Masjid episode was handled, are some of the symptoms of the disease and of what is happening in Pakistan. Islamic radicalism is not seen in the chic salons of Lahore but at Miramshah and Wana in the NWFP and Fata and Faisalabad and Jhang in Punjab. One has to do some sustained reading of the radical Urdu press, which has a much larger circulation than the English newspapers, to assess the mood. And, it is Islamic radicalism backed by the gun.

The truth is that the Pakistani security system still treats India and its own nationalists as the biggest threat. Perennially fearful of the India’s presence in Afghanistan, the Pakistani establishment feels it not only needs the Taliban but even nurtures them just as it nurtured elements like the Punjabi Lashkar-e Tayyeba in Kashmir. It cannot therefore be serious about curbing the Taliban. But Musharraf cannot take action against the fundamentalists and extremists and also rely on them for survival. Yet, unless the Pakistan Army moves beyond looking for patchwork solutions to ensure its own primacy and decides to eradicate this menace, a spectre of total radicalism haunts Pakistan.

Musharraf has other problems and dilemmas. A year ago he looked secure as America’s favourite child. The mainstream political parties were in disarray and funds were flowing in from the US, giving an aura of economic well-being. The assassination of Bugti, the Lal Masjid crisis and the arrogant manner in which the Chief Justice (CJ) was treated weakened Musharraf’s position and when the CJ showed spine, Musharraf had no fall back.

Since then almost everything has been downhill. Today, after Musharraf went to Abu Dhabi to meet Benazir Bhutto hat in hand and the CJ has passed strictures about excluding Nawaz Sharif from Pakistan, political parties have recovered some lost ground although they are still suspicious of each other.

Balochistan remains in ferment, the NWFP is becoming a jehadist stronghold. There is even talk of renaming NWFP ‘Afghania’, which is a step further from the other existing demand for ‘Pakhtoonkhwa’, both of which are considered to have secessionist connotations. Musharraf is seen as an American stooge. The fear and awe of the uniform has gone during his extended terms, which must be irking the army.

Musharraf has other problems. Wearing his uniform like a second skin, he wants to remain glued to the chair when his popularity is at an all-time low and the US want him to continue. Should it be with his uniform or without? If he discards his uniform can he remain in control and effective? Should he impose an emergency now or later? Will this provoke street protests? Should he patch up with mainstream politicians and dump his ineffective king’s party?

Unless the army changes its mindset, ceases to think of the radicals as allies against enemy India or part of a global Islamic vanguard and goes after them for total eradication, the problem will grow out of control and spread in the neighbourhood. Unable or unwilling to take adequate action against the fundamentalists, a beleaguered leadership will look for diversions elsewhere and there is no need for second guesses. The familiar India threat will come in handy or the Kashmir problem will assume different urgencies. Total eradication is not just a military solution but needs sustained political support.

What Pakistan needs is not reinvention of the army regime. It needs a strong, fairly elected political leader who thinks of Pakistan first and realises that India is not a threat to Pakistan but neither will it compromise on Kashmir. A leader who accepts a secular successful India is an opportunity and not a threat. It is a tough task given Pakistan’s khaki reality and may not happen soon enough for Pakistan.

In a way, therefore, Pakistan is facing a bigger crisis than it did in 1971. At that time, Pakistan could blame its predicament on ‘enemy’ India and this acted as a unifying factor. It could fall back on West Pakistan. In 1971, the army had not been Islamised; it was only Punjabised. Today, the Pakistani Army’s motto is ‘Jehad fis’billah’ (Jehad in the Name of Allah). Today, Pakistan cannot blame India for its multiple sclerosis and has no one to blame. And that is the danger.

What India needs is perpetual vigil, be wary of what China might do to help its eternal friend and not rely on hope masquerading as policy.

Vikram Sood is former Secretary, R&AW