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Can India trust a post Nawaz Sharif Pakistan?

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Vijaya Dar
Vijaya Dar
Born in Kashmir. Indic by culture. Occasional writer, avid reader. Love serious cinema, but not TV. Eternal student.

The recently concluded election in Pakistan has thrown up a fractured mandate, resulting in former cricket captain Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party coming within striking distance of forming the government in that country. However, Imran Khan, as the leader of the single largest party has been invited to take oath as the Prime Minister. There is cautious optimism in our country, despite most of the Indian media, largely dominated by a left-liberal claque of breathless females hailing it as a great victory for a man whom they admire for his macho looks and British accent. Almost similar to their adulation for Shashi Tharoor, despite there being a number of sleazy stories attached to both.

How should India react to this development on its Western flank? But, before we get to grips with that question, it may be instructive to acquaint ourselves with the history of Indo-Pak relations over the last 70 years.

Even from the time of its birth it would be difficult to define Pakistan as a nation or a country in the conventional sense of the term. It is an abominable abortion, performed by a retreating imperial power at its nadir; savagely wanting to wound the people it had so ruthlessly ruled and exploited for over two centuries! The desire to inflict everlasting humiliation and instigate perpetual conflict among the former colonies was something the erstwhile rulers could just not resist. Although, aware that the partition of the sub-continent would lead to a bloodbath, yet the British, in their haste, did not for a moment let this awareness deflect them from their divisive policy. Enough and more has been written on this subject, and there is little purpose served in adding further to it here.

Pakistan that emerged out of the vivisection in 1947 was a concept that had no grounding in reality, both historical and geographical. It was a purely political concept designed to satisfy the whim and fancy of one man, and the impatience to rule, of another. The two parts of Pakistan shared nothing with each other except a common faith. They spoke totally different tongues, dressed differently, and had very dissimilar food habits. While West Pakistan, predominantly Punjabi in language and culture, adopted the Persian script and the Urdu dialect, the Easterners were happy using the Bengali language and script as it was before Partition. The Punjabi dominated military and the bureaucracy looked down upon the Bengali citizens, and treated them with contempt.

Even those who chose to immigrate to Pakistan from Central India found that they were unwelcome. They came to be known as muhajirs, a rather derogatory term. Pakistan, without any roots in national history, and without any rationale for existence, soon deteriorated into a free-for-all, where the military eventually rode to power, due mainly to its superior muscle and the legacy of British organizational ability. The initial promise of it becoming a nation representing a majority of the Muslims of the subcontinent was also not realised, when it became a home for less than one-third. This led Pakistan to desperately look for a reason for its creation and continued existence. Since it had failed in its attempt to represent the Muslims of the subcontinent, including the Muslim majority province of Jammu & Kashmir, it resorted to a policy of subterfuge and deceit.

Beginning with the thinly veiled ‘tribal invasion’ of Kashmir in 1948, through the infiltration policy leading to a second war with India during Gen. Ayub Khan’s military rule in 1965, and until the bifurcation brought upon itself by its repressive policies in East Pakistan that led to the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, Pakistan has been living on a thin edge. It fooled the Americans into believing that it would be their frontline ally against the Soviets during the cold war, and extracted huge amounts of aid from them. This aid was in turn used by it to finance its military and nuclear arsenal, and hardly a pittance was spent upon education, health care, and economic development. It had no qualms in selling dangerous nuclear technology to belligerent states like North Korea, and Iran. The father of its nuclear programme, A. Q. Khan was known to have made his technology available to anybody willing to pay the price. The shocking, three-decade story of A. Q. Khan and Pakistan’s nuclear program, and the complicity of the United States in the spread of nuclear weaponry is comprehensively brought out in Adrian Levy’s book: Deception: Pakistan, The United States And The Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy.

The military has continued to dominate Pakistani life even though there have been brief intervals of limited “democracy”. The soviet invasion of Afghanistan gave it another opportunity to continue deceiving the Western allies and furthering its aims at developing nuclear weapons. It had no hesitation in going to bed with the Chinese, to whom it ceded a part of occupied Kashmir. It also collaborated with them in building the Karakoram Highway and allowed them to build naval ports in the Gulf. The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is the highest paved international road in the world. It connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range, through the Khunjerab Pass, at an altitude of 4,693-m/15,397 ft. It connects China’s Xinjiang region with Pakistan’s Northern Areas. The Highway is also meant to link with the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese-aided Gwadar-Dalbandin railway, which extends up to Rawalpindi.

It is no secret that the Chinese have larger designs in this theatre. After the annexation of Tibet and the subsequent demographic alteration of the region by allowing hordes of Han Chinese to settle there, it has turned its attention to the Muslim majority Xinjiang province. Although geographically a part of the PRC, the regime in Beijing looks at the Xinjiang Uighurs with suspicion and hostility. Already the policy adopted in Tibet is seeing its implementation in this region. The continued unrest in the Xinjiang capital Ürümqi is a direct result of the resettlement of large number of Han Chinese in this region. China’s policy appears to be to gradually push the Muslims from its territory into the adjoining countries of Central Asia and fully integrate Xinjiang as a part of the PRC. The Karakoram Highway will facilitate the migration and the subsequent occupation of the entire province of Xinjiang. I cannot see any way in which the Highway benefits Pakistan. The pittance that it would earn by way of tolls from the traffic of commercial goods from China to the Gulf would be very poor compensation for the cost of the construction of the Highway and the threat of an aggressive China at its doorstep.

The humiliation of 1971 and the loss of East Pakistan, temporarily put a halt to Pakistan’s aggressive pursuit for a national identity for some time. But this was only a temporary halt. It is my belief that Indira Gandhi made a grievous mistake when it sought the dismemberment of Pakistan and supported the creation of an independent Bangladesh out of East Pakistan. The Shimla agreement could have been radically different from the abject surrender our Prime Minister made to the charms of the wily Bhutto. The breaking away of the Bengali part of Pakistan removed whatever checks this gentler part of the principally Islamic country exercised on the military adventurism of the Generals from West Pakistan.

At Shimla, in July 1972, Indira Gandhi should have insisted on the following points before returning the 93000 POWs captured during the war:

a)  Pakistan would remain a whole entity and there would be no support for the creation of Bangladesh. (Sheikh Mujib should have been invited to be a part of this conference.)

b)  Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League would be invited to form the Government of Pakistan with him as the Prime Minister

c)  All civilian refugees from East Pakistan would be repatriated from India

d)  All Indian POWs held in Pakistan would be honourably returned to India

e)  Only on fulfillment of the above 4 conditions would India release the 93000 Pakistani POWs.

f)  An agreement would be signed with Sheikh Mujib and Bhutto ratifying that the Government of Pakistan would recognise the LOC in Jammu & Kashmir as the International Border between the two countries. This agreement would be made inviolable and a suitable resolution passed in the Pakistan National Assembly.

However, today that is so much water under the bridge. Indira Gandhi and her advisers missed a fabulous opportunity to not only settle the Kashmir dispute but to end the state of hostility that Pakistan nurtured against India from the first day of its existence. Pakistan would have remained whole, and the large role played by the eastern wing in shaping its political and economic future would perhaps have allowed for a more peaceful era to evolve in the subcontinent.

Freed from having to worry about a part that was so different from the West Pakistanis, not only in language, literature, history, culture, and an understanding of Islam, it was Zia-ul-Haq, who after seizing power, struck upon the idea of giving Pakistan a whole new identity. Farzana Shaikh, Associate Fellow of Chatham House, and author of Making Sense of Pakistan, argues that that “conflicting visions over the role of Islam in Pakistan have made it impossible to reach a broad consensus over fundamental questions about the purpose of Pakistan, or, indeed about the precise relation between ‘being Muslim’ and ‘being Pakistani’. This lack of consensus, she suggests, “gravely impeded the development of a coherent national identity for Pakistan.” The lack of a national identity has resulted in the emergence of a “negative identity” predicated on Pakistan’s opposition to India. “One of the most significant implications of this ‘negative identity’ that rests on no more than being ‘not India’ has been to dilute Pakistan’s South Asian roots in favour of a more robust Islamic profile informed by the Islam of West Asia.

The implications of this imported theology have been deeply damaging to Pakistan, “where the broadly pluralistic instincts, characteristic of local varieties of Islam have been forced to give way to harsher readings of Islam imported from abroad”. The transformation of Pakistan during the Zia years has had lasting effects on the psyche of its people who have been misguided to believe that they are a Muslim country chosen to become the guarantors of Islam in the world. It is this version of Wahhabi Islam that Pakistan has tried to export to Kashmir through its lackeys in the Hurriyat and other subversive institutions, with the hope that it would turn the Muslims of the valley against their traditional ethos, and make them the instruments of success in breaking Kashmir away from the Indian Union. Pakistan, I am afraid, has largely succeeded in its designs. The people of the Kashmir valley have fallen prey to this invidious propaganda and have driven the Hindus and other non-Muslims out of the valley through terror and murder.

It has also resulted in Pakistan denying its pre-Islamic legacy, and suppressing the culture, history, arts and literature of the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and other non-Muslim eras. This suppression has deep psychological implications for its people. Having been forced to deny their past, a large vacuum has been created in their consciousness. Lies, hatred, and notions of victimhood are filling this vacuum. People are being made to believe that they are being victimized and persecuted by the rest of the world for pursuing their faith. Lies and deceit have become ingrained in the Pakistani consciousness.

It is this part of the consciousness of Pakistan that makes it “run with the hare and hunt with the hounds”. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan gave it the opportunity to divert Western military aid to the Afghan Mujahideen, whom it nurtured and supported, with the full knowledge of the Americans. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, it took no time in turning the Mujahideen into an anti-American/anti-Western force, and here again it was Pakistan that was supplying weaponry and personnel to the Mujahideen outfits. The Kargil war with India in 1999 is another example of Pakistani deceit. While the Pakistani Prime Minister was receiving the Indian Prime Minister in Lahore, who had embarked on a friendship bus journey, Pakistani Army units were surreptitiously occupying positions on the Indian side of the LOC. While initially the Pakistanis maintained that the fighters were Kashmiri insurgents, but documents left behind by their casualties confirmed the involvement of Pakistani paramilitary forces led by Gen. Ashraf Rashid.

The Indian Army, later on supported by the Indian Air Force, recaptured a majority of the positions on the Indian side of the LOC infiltrated by the Pakistani troops and militants. With international diplomatic opposition, the Pakistani forces withdrew from the remaining Indian positions along the LOC. Having been chastised by the then US President, one would think that the Pakistanis would desist from further adventurism. But there has been growing evidence of Pakistani involvement in international terrorist attacks, epitomised by the infamous 26/11 attacks on Mumbai. Even then the Pakistani establishment denied the involvement of its nationals, protesting its innocence with a false sense of outrage. However, the world now knows how deeply the Pakistani Army and the ISI were involved in this operation. It is also quite clear that there will be no action taken against the known masterminds of terror within Pakistan. It is typically characteristic of Pakistanis to strike from behind, as any coward would do, and then protest injured innocence.

It is the same mentality that denies the existence of a known, Interpol-notified criminal like Dawood Ibrahim within its borders. The whole world knows his whereabouts and even his address in Karachi, but Pakistan will continue to deny any knowledge about him. The same consciousness viewed an ordinary event like the marriage of the Indian Tennis star Sania Mirza to the Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik as some kind of a victory over India, with celebrations in Sialkot touching absurd levels of exhibitionism.

One should also not forget that the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, was living in Pakistan for nine years before he was terminated by stealth by the US Navy Seals in Abbotabad, on May 2, 2011. That a man wanted by the most powerful military combination in the world would be found living in a fortified compound within walking distance of the Pakistan Military Academy, should raise all kinds of red flags for those who wish to engage ‘actively’ or with ‘aloofness’ with Pakistan.

Which brings us back to the original question: “How should India react to this development on its Western flank?”

For me there are two major takeaways from the elections in Pakistan:

a)  The humiliating defeat of Hafez Saeed’s party as a political force has put paid to this terrorist’s ambitions to rule over Pakistan’s destiny as a sword of Islam. It has renewed faith in the belief that the majority of Pakistanis do not actually support terror, and are mainly silent out of physical fear. By testing electoral waters, Hafez Saeed has made himself expendable and can no longer take state protection for granted. It is more than likely that the US will put renewed pressure on Pakistan to hand over this wanted terrorist or simply liquidate him as it did with OBL.

b)  With Nawaz Sharif and daughter both in jail on corruption charges, the PML (N) had entered  the political battle with both its hands tied behind its back. The other challenger to Imran Khan was the PPP led by Benazir Bhutto’s son, Bilawal. The Pakistan military, largely believed to have rigged the elections, chose to rig them in favour of Imran Khan, and not the PPP. Benazir’s husband had so ingrained corruption and graft in the political system that it would be impossible for his son to come to any table with clean hands. That the military chose Imran over Zardari perhaps shows a little maturing of the political process in Pakistan.

I am not aware of Imran Khan’s financial status or how he has made his fortune. But, to my limited knowledge, there are no major financial scandals that involve him, and of all the possible candidates, he is perhaps the one with the cleanest hands. (Readers may wish to educate me on this aspect.) Whatever may have been his personal life, and there are a number of accusations leveled against him by his second wife Reham Khan; but so long as he does not allow these proclivities to come in the way of governance, Imran should be able to provide some stability to Pakistani politics.

India should not repeat the mistake of going euphoric about Imran Khan’s ascent to power, but instead keep all her guards up. Wait and watch is an admirable policy when there is so much uncertainty in the air. Knowing PM Modi, I am sure he will not be rushing to catch a plane to Islamabad to attend Imran’s swearing in. News reports confirm that no political leaders have been invited for the event. But, all said and done, any movement that takes Pakistan closer to genuine democracy, with better probity in public life, should be welcome by all peace-loving nations of the world.

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Vijaya Dar
Vijaya Dar
Born in Kashmir. Indic by culture. Occasional writer, avid reader. Love serious cinema, but not TV. Eternal student.
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