Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Pakistan- where did it all go wrong?

Pakistan- where did it all go wrong?

It was only during the British period that the politics of division were fostered and encouraged to prolong colonial rule. And the politics of division worked so effectively that its viral effect continues to be felt even after India’s partition into two independent states

Will they or won’t they? I am referring here to reports about a peace dialogue between the Pakistan government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Its very formulation appears to put the TTP and the Pakistani state on virtually an equal footing. It seems to invest TTP with the power to declare or not declare ceasefire(s) as between two state entities. In other words, even without any recognised territorial sovereignty, the TTP has seemingly acquired the attributes of a state within a state in Pakistan.

This might seem like legal nit-picking but it is important in the bigger scheme of things because this is how people progressively will start to see TTP as a normal political rather than terrorist organisation, so much so that the Pakistani state is keen to sup with it, thus conferring on it a legitimacy that has evaded it so far. In any case, the TTP cannot really be interested in any kind of peace dialogue when it is still engaged in killing people, even if it is blaming other militant group(s). Both images cannot be right at the same time. Besides the country’s civilian government, there is another institution that is most concerned with the TTP’s dangerous antics and activities and that is the country’s armed forces. It is true that the military is part of the state and its government but, as we know, it has considerable autonomy and the task of dealing with TTP terrorism that viciously targets its personnel and institutions. While it might not like the state conferring legitimacy on the TTP by seeking talks while the TTP is killing soldiers, it still remains the only properly trained and disciplined force able to prevent the TTP from wrecking the state. Therefore, the Pakistani state still exists because the army stands between it and the TTP.

How did it all come to this? For answers it might be necessary to delve into contemporary history and the starting point is the creation of Pakistan to provide security and equality for its predominantly Muslim population. In essence, it was a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims. The new state, however, failed to create a state of mind to go with it. India’s natural largeness and its perceived hostility to the new state of Pakistan simply transformed internal divisions of a united India into external enmity between two states. It wasn’t always like that. Historically, during the Mughal period a political, social and cultural system evolved that, for the most part, worked quite effectively. It was only during the British period that the politics of division were fostered and encouraged to prolong colonial rule. And the politics of division worked so effectively that its viral effect continues to be felt even after India’s partition into two independent states. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan still felt insecure vis-à-vis its bigger neighbour, needing external political and military support. It so happened that a Cold War was raging at the time between the US and Soviet-led blocs. The US was keen to enlist India to its side but from his very first state visit to the US, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru showed he was averse to Cold War politics.

Against the backdrop of deteriorating India-Pakistan relations, Pakistan became a US ally with a view to strengthening its position against India. The religion Islam, in a broad sense, was the glue that bound Pakistan. A predominantly Hindu-populated India was seen as a threat to its security.

Therefore, much of its national energies were directed to meeting this perceived threat, which is not to suggest that there weren’t elements in India hostile to Pakistan’s existence. However, because of India’s religious, cultural and regional diversity, it was not possible to make Pakistan the central issue in the country’s policies all the time. Even when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was leading a coalition government at the Centre, it didn’t have the electoral luxury of promoting or imposing Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) on different regions and communities, because of the imperative of keeping the coalition together. With an estimated 140 million Muslims in India and their electoral weight, as well as the need to accommodate the heterogeneity of ethnic and regional differences, it was very difficult for even the hardline BJP to go haywire, though it did happen at times. This idea of an unbridgeable chasm between the Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent was largely a British creation to prolong colonial rule. It might be recalled that the 1857 Mutiny (regarded by some as a war of independence) saw remarkable unity of purpose among Indian soldiers.

With the British Crown taking over India’s administration from the East India Company in 1858, the Muslims were the first to feel its wrath, as the failed mutiny was intended to restore the dethroned Mughal (Muslim) ruler. Several decades later, starting early in the twentieth century, when the nationalist movement began, the British played the diabolical card of dividing the country’s two major communities to perpetuate their own rule, which eventually resulted in the partition of the subcontinent, and the state of Pakistan. Ever since, virtually all of Pakistan’s energies in domestic and international affairs have been expended and subsumed in preparing the country to meet a perceived Indian threat to its security. It has resulted in a distortion of Pakistan’s priorities in nation-building for the country’s development, such as creating a positive national ethos to harness people’s energies, creating employment opportunities, and building and strengthening national institutions to create a culture of stability. Ever since its creation, Pakistan has seemed like a country in crisis, often to meet a perceived Indian threat. The result has been a culture of militancy with the old Hindu-Muslim internal divide resurrected externally. Both civilian governments, as and when they have existed, and the military were preoccupied with the ‘Indian threat’. When Soviet troops were forced to withdraw from Afghanistan, there were enough Mujahideen and militants to turn against India in Kashmir, with Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and other agencies deeply involved. The 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai was, by many accounts, one recent example. What one is trying to point out here is three-fold. First, that a preoccupation with a perceived Indian threat skewed project Pakistan and continues to do so today, even though the greater threat to the Pakistani state is from militants and terrorists it trained and encouraged as a force multiplier against India.

Second, that these very extremists and terrorists, who were supposed to protect Pakistan from an Indian ‘threat’, have turned on the Pakistani state and military. And third, the Pakistani state is now seeking to legitimise these very elements, like the TTP, by starting a dialogue with them. What the framework of this dialogue will be and what it will achieve, if it starts and gets anywhere, is still a mystery.

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