Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Finger on the trigger

[A must read to get the inside scoop of rising of fundamentalism, terrorism and political anarchy in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh]

Finger on the trigger
Maruf Khwaja
Source: New Humanist
Volume 122 Issue 5 September/October 2007

In Waziristan, the region of north western Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, the hills are alive with the sound of Osama Bin Laden’s laughter. Having trapped the Greatest Power on Earth in three inextricable conflicts, his Jihadis are re-inventing mass murder by suicide. Of course the suicide truck bomb, even the suicide airline bomb, has its limitations. So the Jihadis are aiming for something infinitely more devastating. For the first time they can realistically envisage the possibility of the suicide bomb going nuclear. A Jihadi finger is getting ever nearer to the button.

How has this situation come about in Pakisan? Jihadis, Salafists, Islamofascists – whatever you wish to call them – weren’t the threat they are now when Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, fearful of Hindu domination in a post-colonial India, launched his movement 66 years ago for a separate Muslim homeland. The only real – and virulent – opposition at the time came from Muslim mullahs reluctant to give up the dream of converting all of India, and suspicious of Jinnah’s modernism. But the mullahs got the upper hand just a year after Jinnah’s death in 1948.

Migrating en mass from India and led by fanatical groups like the Jamaat Islami and Jamiat Ulema, the mullahs hijacked the new country’s constitution-making process. Using blackmail, intimidation and the masses’ obsessive attachment to their religion, they succeeded in inserting into the constitution three utterly debilitating overriding clauses. These clauses effectively bound Pakistan’s legislative processes, its socioeconomic, legal and educational fabric, to Islam. One: all sovereignty belongs to God – and thereby to his interpreters, the mullahs, for which there can be no accountability. Two: no laws shall be passed that might be remotely repugnant to what the clergy deem to be the writ of the Koran and Sunnah. If that meant scrapping the modern legal system as well as any humane legislation in favour of laws made for a Stone Age Bedu society 1,500 years ago, so be it. Three: Pakistan was created not merely in the name of Islam but for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate (Jinnah was by now spinning in his grave) destined to rule the world. Therefore only the Islamic system shall prevail in Pakistani society. The impoverished country, beset by problems resulting from its own creation, went downhill from that day forth.

The first casualty was the two-nation theory. The idea that two nations exist in the sub-continent of India, Muslim and Hindu, and each is entitled to its own territorial nationhood. Bangladesh, once East Pakistan, proved that there were not two but several. If each of these nations attempted to found their sovereignty on the basis of brittle, tenuous religious identities alone, none would remain viable for very long and would, like many hastily created African and Arab states, forever need foreign props and invite external arbitration. Hence the deadly grip of centralisation in South Asia and the tendency on the part of the governments to regard any movement for autonomy (be it Kashmir in one or Baluchistan in the other) as secessionist movements to be ruthlessly crushed.

But as recent events in Bangladesh have shown, even geographical, linguistic and cultural homogeneity are not enough to guarantee good governance and lasting stability. A vital ingredient is missing: a culture of tolerance that takes hundreds of years to nurture, a culture that might enable people of diverse origin to live together in peace and harmony. What is happening now in Pakistan, happens often in India, frequently in Bangladesh and perpetually in Sri Lanka is evidence that those cultures are yet aeons away from achieving that ideal state.

A better prospect for a stable Pakistan might have been created by real participatory democracy in a genuine federal structure. But neither democracy nor federalism was given a chance. Four military dictators each motivated by a foreign interest made sure of that. The army simply grew and grew and became Pakistan while Pakistan became the army. The harsh truth that Pakistanis are painfully discovering is that Islam and democracy are simply incompatible.

Yet Islamic clergy are not averse to using democratic means, if conveniently offered, to achieve power. They already have it in large parts of Pakistan, thanks to the current dictator, Pervez Musharraf, neutering the democratic opposition. But let anyone try to remove an Islamic regime by the same electoral process and see what happens! Generations of Algerians are still soaking in the bloodbath spilled by Islamist parties denied power. Elections did not rid Iran of its tyrannical mullahs, they did not free Iraqis of the scourge of Islamic sectarianism, and they will not rid the Levantine Arabs of either Hamas or Hizbullah.

In their next trip to the edge of destruction, Pakistanis were driven by their third military dictator, Zia Ul Haq, a Salafist zealot who before his mysterious death in a plane crash in 1988 performed what the Americans considered yeoman’s service to the cause of Western Freedom. Zia released three genies from his Islamic bottles, into which they refuse to go back. One was the Afghan Mujahideen, who later transmogrified into the Taliban, who are in turn morphing into Al Qaida; the second was Pakistan-based Islamic militarism, originally intended to push Hindu India out of Muslim Kashmir, which having failed in the attempt is now taking over Pakistan; the third was atomic proliferation, which the “father” of the Pakistani bomb, AQ Khan, nurtured by Zia, passed on, for hard cash, to the Libyans, Iranians and North Koreans. Right now, with Iraq and Afghanistan ruined for ever, the focus is on the state of Pakistan.

Musharraf’s prevarications, vis-à-vis the restoration of democracy, his continual indulgence of the mullah mindset, the exile on trumped-up charges of the only two leaders with credible political credentials (Bhutto and Sharif) and his weak-kneed vacillation in the face of Islamic militancy, including his failure to bring to heel his intelligence services (creators of Islamic militancy including the Lal Masjid mullahs), are leading towards conditions ideal for the spread of Islamic terrorism.

That in turn will lead to the collapse of government and civil society and the eventual takeover of Pakistan by Al Qaida and its frontmen among the religious parties. Against the expectations of his staunchest supporters, mainly the Americans, Musharraf has proved to be his own worst enemy. He antagonised the hitherto tame judiciary by illegally removing the chief judge in order to rig his own election. Of course he was ignominiously defeated after a prolonged lawyers’ movement and a historic court verdict. But one judgment does not make the judiciary of a long suppressed society free and independent.

If the slide continues, Pakistan hasn’t much mileage left. There is creeping Talibanisation. There are blasts, ambushes and truck bombings everywhere. The government’s writ no longer applies in the north. Religious parties are getting bolder while the secular ones remain cowed by terror. No one’s sure if the general elections, promised for the autumn, will be on time or even take place at all. Electioneering doesn’t go with suicide bombing.

Renewed talk of a power-sharing deal with Benazir Bhutto is causing rumbles of revolt within her own party. Musharraf is fast turning from hero to zero and politicians seeking return to power do not get there by tying up with zero generals. To placate the restive Americans, straining to have a go themselves at Bin Laden’s lair in Waziristan, the army is waging full-scale war on the tribals. There is no guarantee it will win. Musharraf could abandon the burning, sinking ship, leaving Bhutto in the middle of the inferno. We wait in trepidation for what might happen next. ■

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