Wednesday, 16 July 2014

If Pakistan Becomes Islamistan?

Will Pakistan become ‘Islamistan’? And how soon? This is the question which bothers many a mind in the whole South Asia region. People beyond the South Asian region are worried too, because its repercussions will be far and wide.
There has been a demand by the orthodox section of Sunni Muslim society of Pakistan that the State of Pakistan be run strictly according to the principles of Sharia, i.e. the Islamic Laws, of their interpretation. That the democratic constitution be replaced with a new constitution which will establish an Islamic Caliphate of Pakistan instead of an Islamic Republic of Pakistan. That the warriors of Islam will achieve this through jihad, which is a holy War conducted by means of unlimited violence against centres of state power as well as civilian population. These warriors, currently known as the Pakistani Taliban, will create what may be called ‘Islamistan’, the land of Islam, the closest example of which was the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
Pakistan was created in 1947 as a state for the Muslims of United India. The Pakistan movement was driven by the belief that in post-British India, the Hindu majority will tend to dominate the politics of the country and Muslims will not get their due share of power. After the demand for the Pakistan was conceded, but a few days before the new state was born, Mohammed Ali Jinnah on 11 August 1947 in a speech in the constituent assembly of Pakistan advised his countrymen to regard religion as a purely personal matter and not allow it to interfere in the politics of the country. However, when the process of constitution making began in Pakistan, the orthodox section of Pakistani society made sure that the Objectives Resolution adopted by the constituent assembly on 12 March 1948 contained an assurance that the Muslims of Pakistan shall be enabled to “order their lives” in accordance with “the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah”.
From then onwards, through different stages of the political and constitutional evolution of Pakistan, the Sunni dominated Muslim political parties and organisations launched agitation from time to time and succeeded in getting increasingly more pro-Islamic provisions introduced in the constitutional and legal framework of the country. Pakistan’s army which controlled the government of the country directly or indirectly for most of its history made the Islamic parties like Jamaat-e-Islami its allies in supressing domestic opposition. Mainstream political parties like the Muslim League and the People’s Party also found it difficult to resist the demands of the Islamists which were always backed by uncontrollable street power. The crowning glory of Islamists was their incorporation by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq as the main instrument of anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan from 1979-1989.
After the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan’s security establishment used these veterans of anti-Soviet jihad to launch an invasion of Afghanistan which was in a state of civil war and succeeded in capturing Kabul in 1996 under the leadership of the so-called Taliban. The Taliban allowed themselves to be influenced by Al-Qaeda leadership which had been a participant in the anti-Soviet jihad. The two together used the Afghan soil to launch the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001. The retaliatory attack by the United States and its allies on Afghanistan in October 2001 resulted in the defeat of Taliban most of whose cadres and leadership along with that of al-Qaeda fled to Pakistan in the winter of 2001-2002.
 The arrival of al-Qaeda in Pakistan in 2001 brought about a qualitative change in the agenda of the Islamist movement of Pakistan. Until now, the objective of Islamist parties was to get the constitution and laws of Pakistan as much Islamised as possible through agitations and pressure tactics against the state. From now on, under the guidance of al-Qaeda, the objective was re-defined as capture of state power through violent means and establishment of an Islamic Caliphate to be run according to the principles of Sharia. Initially, the demand for the imposition of Sharia took the form of stray incidents of violence by Sunni groups protesting against Pakistan government’s support for the US led war on terror. After the Lal Masjid operation of 2007 conducted by President Musharraf to flush out militants, a number of Sunni militant organisations got together under one umbrella called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) with the declared objective of establishing a Sharia rule in Pakistan.   
The key demands of the Pakistani Taliban can be summed up as follows: i) Introduction of Sharia, i.e. Islamic laws; ii) Islamic system of education; iii) End to interest based banking; iv) Immediate replacement of democratic system of government by an Islamic one; v) Immediate withdrawal of army from tribal areas; vi) Closing down all army check-posts; vii) Immediate release of all arrested Taliban cadres.  
Even a man of ordinary intelligence would know that these demands cannot be fulfilled in Pakistan which has a democratic constitution. The militants have therefore been trying to register their demands through violence. According to a statement filed in the Supreme Court by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies on 26 March 2014, Pakistan has lost 49,000 lives in militancy since 11 September 2001. More than 24,000 people, both civilian and troops, were killed in terrorist attacks during the period 2001 and 2008. Another 25,000 died during military offensives against Taliban insurgents in the tribal regions since 2008. Besides, 15,681 casualties have been suffered by the armed forces in the tribal areas since 2008. The bomb blasts and suicide attacks have led to another 5,152 civilians dead and 5,678 civilians injured since 2008.
While loss of civilians and security forces is enormous, what lends political and strategic significance to the activities of the militants is their attacks on high value military targets. Such attacks since 2007 would reflect an effort on their part to capture state power through violent means. In May 2011, the Taliban attacked Mehran naval base near Karachi and destroyed two US surveillance aircraft. This was the first major attack on a military target and is said to have taken place with the involvement of officers sympathetic to the militants. Earlier in 2009, the military headquarters in Rawalpindi had come under heavy attack when militants laid siege to the complex for 24 hours killing 19 persons. On 16 August 2012, the Taliban attacked one of the most heavily guarded military airbases in Pakistan, the Minhas airbase located near the Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, 45 miles north-west of Islamabad. The airbase is believed to store about 100 nuclear warheads which Pakistan possesses. This was the third such attack on the airbase since 2007, earlier ones being in December 2007 and August 2009. On 20 January 2014, the militants attacked a market next to the military headquarters killing 13 people. A day earlier, they had killed 26 soldiers and wounded 25 others in the north-western town of Bannu.
Whether or not the Pakistan government should take military action against Taliban was a question actively debated within Pakistan ever since Nawaz Sharif’s government assumed office after May 2013 elections. While the army leadership was in favour of action, the political leadership lead by Nawaz Muslim League and supported by Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf was opposed to any action. The peace negotiations started by the government with the Taliban in March led nowhere. The massive attack by the Taliban on Karachi airport in the early hours of 9 June compelled the government to undertake a comprehensive military action against the Taliban strongholds in North Waziristan on 15 June. While the prospects of success of this operation are being debated in the Pakistani media, it may be worthwhile to make an assessment of the support that the Taliban have in society.
A survey conducted by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies in April 2010 based on 1,568 respondents representative of all regions, age groups and educational backgrounds revealed two significant findings. To the question whether you consider the struggle for implementation of Sharia as a jihad, those who said ‘yes’ were 63% from Punjab, 70.8% from NWFP, 69.7% from Balochistan, 36.6% from Sindh, 65.7% from FATA, 62.5% from Islamabad, 27.5 % from Gilgit-Baltistan, and 59.7% from AJK. To another question, whether the militants in Indian-held Kashmir are engaged in jihad, those who said ‘yes’ were 57.1% from Punjab, 64.6% from NWFP, 57.3% from Balochistan, 39.7% from Sindh, 6% from FATA, 65% from Islamabad, 11.8 % from Gilgit-Baltistan, and 89.6% from AJK. This means that in Pakistani society the demand for the imposition of Sharia is quite high. Similarly, the support for jihad in Kashmir is also noteworthy.
The question that remains to be answered is whether the Pakistani army is also radicalised and if so, to what extent? This question is not easy to answer because the evidence available is only circumstantial. The commonly held view is that a section of the army is strongly radicalised because otherwise so many Taliban attacks on sensitive military targets would not be possible. There is a scholarly view held by a distinguished academic Pervez Hoodbhoy that Pakistan indeed has two armies. There is Army I which is pro-status quo and then there is Army II which may be called as Allah’s Army and wants to change the status quo. That the army leadership is divided on the question of policy towards Taliban is also obvious from the fact that sometimes the army is soft on Taliban, distinguishing the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’ Taliban and sometimes it advocates strong action against them.
The future of Pakistan and the future of Pakistan’s relations with India depends on the extent to which the security establishment of Pakistan is able to eliminate militancy led by TTP, LeT and other organisations. There are grave doubts that the operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan will fully serve this purpose. The malaise seems to have gone much deeper and widespread in Pakistan. The military solution is not enough. Someone must have the courage and conviction to say that a modern state cannot be run on the basis of Sharia. The country must be guarded against the negative impact of the establishment of a Caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, and the likelihood of Afghanistan being dominated by Taliban.
But this is easier said than done. If not, the possibility of Taliban capturing power in Pakistan directly or indirectly in the next ten years cannot be ruled out. In the process, Pakistan will of course lose its identity. But a Taliban ruled Pakistan will have grave implications for India. It will completely de-stabilise India and shake it to its very roots. It will engulf the entire Jammu and Kashmir in flames again. It will hold the whole of India to ransom for demands which cannot be met. India will be faced with a prolonged asymmetric warfare for which it may not be prepared. Unfortunately, these are not matters which diplomats of the two countries will ever discuss. Therefore, let us hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.   

Monday, 16 June 2014

People’s Verdict: Pro-BJP or Anti-Congress?

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) deserves to be congratulated for its massive victory in the 2014 elections. It is not a mean achievement for a party which was bedevilled with intra-party conflicts and ideological deficiencies. One has therefore to look for reasons for victory which lie elsewhere and hope at the same time that the BJP will rise up to the expectations of the people.
The foremost reality that must be recognised is that the people of India were completely disillusioned with the performance of UPA- II government and were angry with the Congress party for not putting up a strong leader as the face of the party. They had no option but to vote for the BJP despite the fact that they had strong reservations about the party and its prime ministerial candidate.
The reservations for the BJP stemmed from the fact that ever since its creation in 1980, the party and its earlier incarnation, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (formed in 1951), were tied to the apron strings of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS was founded in 1925as a cultural and educational organisation to unite the Hindu community against British colonialism and Muslim separatism. Over the years and by virtue of its training it acquired the characteristics of a para-military organisation and was accused of being involved in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. The organisation was banned for some years and the ban was lifted on the assurance that it will confine itself to purely cultural activities in future.
 The BJP came to power at the centre on the strength of Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1996, even though only for 13 days. However, it formed a government at the centre from 1998 to 1999 and from 1999 to 2004 with the support of coalition partners under the nomenclature of National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The government was headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, an enlightened leader who had the gift of evolving a consensus among the coalition partners on vital issues and pushing under the carpet those issues on which there were sharp differences. But the BJP was not able to recapture power in 2004 and 2009 because the party could not survive the image of a communal party responsible for the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992 and communal riots in Gujarat in February 2002.  
As the 2014 election approached, the people of India were faced with difficult choice. On the one hand the incompetent government headed by the Congress Party had run into deep trouble because of the allegations of corruption, high inflation, poor governance, and loss of rapport with the people. On the other hand was the BJP with the divided leadership, tarnished image, lack of a futuristic ideology, and unwillingness of coalition partners to support its communal agenda. It was in these circumstances that the RSS decided that Narendra Modi will be the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP.
           The choice of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate sent shock waves across the country among those sections of society who considered him responsible for the  for allowing and encouraging the anti-Muslim carnage of 2002. There was widespread demand in the media that Modi should apologise for his role in 2002 killings before he could be supported in the Lok Sabha elections. Modi refused to apologise and the BJP launched a massive multi–media high-tech campaign in his favour. This was backed by hundreds of well-organised public rallies addressed by Modi across the country. In a country frustrated by slow economic growth in the last few years, Modi’s Gujarat model of consistent economic growth carried some conviction. Back-breaking inflation had acutely sharpened the appetite of the people for regime change. The BJP gradually succeeded in setting its own agenda of political discourse during the campaign in which communalism got relegated to the back burner and development caught people’s imagination.  
What must be noted, however, is that gradual acceptance of BJP discourse and Modi’s leadership by the people would not have been possible if they had a credible alternative. The only alternative people could look up to was the Congress Party. The choice of the Congress Party for prime ministerial role, even though not stated but obvious, was Rahul Gandhi. It did not require much foresight from the very beginning that he was a poor choice. This was unfortunate because there was no dearth of capable leaders in the Congress Party. But the process of selection of Rahul Gandhi was highly screwed. He was selected for this role merely because he was born in the Nehru-Gandhi family. By itself this need not be a disqualification. But every member of a ruling family who inherits power is not necessarily worthy of it. Reflecting on this phenomenon, Socrates, the Greek Philosopher told his disciple Plato, “A child of a ruler who has no mind for ruling and struggles at ‘higher thinking’ even after a rigorous education; a child like this should not be a ruler. Nevertheless, in a society that is governed by monarchy the child would become a leader, regardless of how much damage they may cause to the society.”
The fact that Rahul Gandhi was elected as General Secretary of the Congress Party in 2007and Vice-President in 2013 is no testimony to his political acumen or popularity in the party. Members of the Congress Party who constituted the electorate for these positions were beholden to Sonia Gandhi as the party president and it was imperative for them to bestow the ‘crown’ on Rahul Gandhi. This is no reflection on the intentions of the Congress President or the desires of her son. This was a natural consequence of the way the Congress party had shaped itself after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
To allow power to be inherited by the scions of the ruling family is neither objectionable nor unusual. In most professions, succeeding generations find it easier and profitable to take to the vocations of their parents. But politics is not private business. In politics, one is dealing with the destiny of the whole nation. In a large democracy like India, the leader must measure up to certain minimum standards. Rahul Gandhi cannot be faulted on grounds of age, or education, or ideology. But Rahul Gandhi’s lack of experience and low acumen becomes too obvious in his utterances. Even the hard boiled supporters of the Congress Party bemoaned the fact that their leader was not taken seriously by the people. And this dissatisfaction with Rahul was totally unrelated to the performance of the UPA-I and UPA-II. In fact Rahul’s lack of credibility as a prospective Prime Minister in a Congress led government became an additional anti-Congress factor, apart from the poor performance of UPA-II, which turned the people against the Congress Party.
The Congress Party is so much identified with the birth of independent India and its growth in the first sixty seven years that it cannot be written off the Indian political landscape. Its ideology was inherited from the freedom struggle and was nursed by visionary leadership. If it has to safeguard its future, it must reinvent itself in terms of leadership style and introduce real democracy in its proceedings. It would be tragic for the country if the Congress Party allows itself to be decimated and leaves the country in the hands of the BJP alone.
The BJP on the other hand has done well in emerging as a national alternative and providing to the country a much needed bipartisan political structure. But it has to go a long way in rounding off its rough edges by distancing itself from the RSS agenda and shedding its anti-minority image. The party must prove itself worthy of the trust reposed in it by the people of India if it wants to rule the country for the next ten years.