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Indien & Pakistan - Vil det lykkes at indgå aftaler?

Keeping Armageddon at bay

Maruf Khwaja, 22. juni 2005

The historic rapprochement between India and Pakistan will not endure if fundamentalists on both sides have their way, argues Maruf Khwaja.

When the leader of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and one of the country’s leading proponents of Hindu nationalist ideology, Lal Krishna Advani, visits Pakistan and even places a wreath at the tomb of Pakistan’s founder, it is time to ask whether the apparent rapprochement between the two countries is firm reality or wicked illusion. On Kashmir, on nuclear weapons, on open borders, on strategic rivalry, are Pakistan and India truly turning over a new leaf?

When disputes drag on for decades and touch the brink of Armageddon, any conciliatory shift in entrenched positions can generate more optimism than the change warrants. This has happened before with India and Pakistan and can happen again. That is one reason why we must look at the renewed dialogue – on Kashmir, especially – with the utmost circumspection. Historically both governments have proved vulnerable to reactionary “tsunami” waves and have been led by rather than leading popular opinion.

It is too early to say if the apparent changes in the mindset of rulers on both sides will filter down to the volatile masses. Still, the governments’ willingness to de-link Kashmir from other issues of common interest have created a welcome climate of hope and optimism.

No one could have imagined even a year ago ordinary Kashmiris being able to cross the “line of control” (LoC) under the noses of hitherto embattled armies. A comparison with the east-west thaw that eventually ended the cold war might perhaps be too far-fetched. But the changes in approach and attitude have the potential to create new moulds of peaceful coexistence that might just lead to an honourable settlement.

The clues are there. No Pakistani leader before Pervez Musharraf, referring to his partner Manmohan Singh, had ever publicly expressed “determination” to settle the Kashmir issue “within our tenure of office”. (Whether Musharraf’s tenure will survive sudden termination by fundamentalists who constantly menace it is another matter). And no Indian leader before Manmohan Singh would have dared to open the border even for the movement of docile Kashmiris. For that we can thank the progressive spirit in Indian politics rekindled by Congress’s return to power in May 2004.

But, amazingly, the most dramatic gesture of goodwill was made by the archdeacon of rampant Hindu extremism, leader of the mob that razed Ayodhya in 1992, sworn enemy (in Pakistani eyes) of anything and anyone vaguely Muslim, and erstwhile leader of Hindutva, the movement dedicated to achieving Akhand Bharat (Greater India). Lal Krishna Advani not only entered the lion’s den (Jinnah’s mausoleum in Karachi), but garlanded his grave and showered on his long-departed soul encomiums that effectively recanted all the abuse he had previously heaped on the founder of Pakistan.

Who runs Pakistan?

The first tangible sign of a thaw in relations between the two states came in February 2005 with agreement on a groundbreaking bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar, connecting Pakistan-controlled and India-controlled Kashmir. There followed an unprecedented dialogue between Kashmiri leaders on both sides. The significance was both psychological and political: Indians saw that the Pakistanis could talk to Kashmiri militants without egging them on to terrorist acts, and both sides seemed to be starting to acknowledge that the terror weapon – whether used by the Indian army or Kashmiri militants – had failed.

Yet, for all this, it is unclear if either side has shifted ground on matters of primary concern. The wider history of the dispute shows that no matter how sincere they might appear, governments in India and Pakistan – whether democratic or dictatorial – have appeased and thus both remained hostage to their respective extremists.

Thus, Manmohan Singh may have marginalised the Hindu right for the moment, but it must be remembered that the Congress victory wasn’t a sweeping one. Moreover, Advani’s less hardline stance on Pakistan compared with his predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee may be guided by Realpolitik not principle: the BJP cannot win back power without first winning the centre ground in Indian politics. Peace to Advani is a tactic not a strategy.

But the most unstable element in the new India-Pakistan peace equation is Pervez Musharraf himself. For the moment, the president is being propped up by the Pakistani army and bureaucratic elite, but he is also increasingly under siege by the Islamists who now run two of Pakistan’s four provinces and are making governance in the other two extremely difficult. Many Pakistanis now regard the “real” ruler of Pakistan as the “ghaib (absent) imam” – the man that tens of thousands of American soldiers, even more Pakistani ones, the cream of the CIA and the British SAS cannot find. Beneath the surface, the fief of Osama bin Laden seems to run from above the Durand Line to well below Pathan City on the Pakistani smugglers’ coast.

The resemblance of Pakistan to the chaos in Iraq is growing. True, the toll of organised murder and mayhem is not yet on the Iraqi scale. But the farsightedness of Musharraf’s predecessor and Washington’s second favourite Pakistani general (Zia ul-Haq) is bringing it closer. Islamist radicals of different stripes are able to strike at will, and officials who take an “un-Islamic” line are left in no doubt about what awaits them when the khalifat (kingdom of Allah) is finally established in every corner of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the law and its minions no longer guarantee sanctity of life and limb, especially those of women and religious minorities. Islamic justice has all but replaced the centuries old penal code under which rapists used to be tried – and hanged. One gang-rape victim, Mukhtaran Mai, has eventually been able to tell her story to the world, but many of her sisters are forced to suffer the same indignity in silence. Shi’a Islamic shrines are regularly targeted, and Christians advertise their faith at the risk of their lives. Even television editors are pressed to blank out any scene that shows a popular Pakistani Christian test cricketer crossing himself every time he scores a century.

The voices of Pakistani progressives are clearly heard in the international and local print media, but inside Pakistan they are in retreat. Mullahs on the make are emboldened by the meteoric rise of fundamentalist Islam to influence government policy and the social environment (the renaming of streets honouring “infidels” and not so pious Muslims is one example).

Pakistani governments, at both federal and provincial levels, are in disarray. American pressure to shut down tens of thousands of Islamic madrasa (religious schools) had led Musharraf to embark on a flurry of educational reforms covering the private sector. A mass movement of mullahs and warnings by fundamentalists within the army led him to retreat, then to switch his reformist attention to public-sector schools. At that point, fundamentalists in his own parliamentary party opposed him, and that reform too was scuppered.

The mullahs, like mongrels chasing after a frightened postman, have chased Pervez Musharraf up a tall tree. They can’t climb after him but he can’t come down. He may try to divert their yapping attention by directing what persecuting power his government possesses on hapless stalwarts of the Bhutto family’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – ironically, the only one capable of taking on the fundamentalists; or by tolerating attacks on helpless women participating in a marathon. When Asma Jahangir, head of Pakistan’s human right commission, can be assaulted in Lahore’s main street, how healthy can Pakistan be?

A stone-age recipe

Some observers of Pakistani politics argue that Indian leaders would not waste time negotiating difficult deals over Kashmir with a Pakistani president who was toothless and impotent. A more realistic view is based on Indians’ understanding that real power in Pakistan lies with the army, and that any deal with its figurehead Pervez Musharraf will have the army’s imprimatur.

In return, so the argument runs, Pakistan’s army will continue to back Musharraf for as long as he is supported by American trust and money. This is likely to continue, for Washington desperately needs Musharraf and his army alike. The Afghan crisis is unresolved. The Taliban remain a potent threat. The situation in Iraq is not getting any better. And Saudi Arabia, the root of America’s oil interests, remains unstable.

But if an arc of regional crisis is Musharraf’s fragile guarantee of power, it leaves two questions whose answers illuminate the Pakistani dilemma:

  • why don’t the Americans force Musharraf and his army to repress the fundamentalists, thus helping to reinforce the hopes of the cautious peace diplomacy between India and Pakistan? There is only one thing wrong with that. Half the Pakistani army is fundamentalist; the cunning Zia ul-Haq made sure of that by stuffing it with mullah zealots of his own kind
  • why don’t the Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan take matters to their logical conclusion, and (with the help of collaborators inside the army) overthrow Musharraf and seize state power? There is one thing wrong with that scenario, too. The day the fundamentalists seize power, the Americans – now Pakistan’s sole financiers – will pull the rug from under their Islamic feet, and Pakistan’s economy will collapse. Even stone-age fundamentalists need money.
So bus diplomacy, Kashmir talks, and Advani’s visit to Jinnah’s mausoleum should be welcomed. But the history of Pakistan-India relations is a warning not to get too optimistic too soon. And through it all, don’t forget the “ghaib imam” laughing in the mountains.

This article is published by Maruf Khwaja, and appeared originally on openDemocracy.net under a Creative Commons licence. To view the original article, please click here.


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Opdateret d. 29.8.2005