India must save Pakistan
Pakistan is in need of help. India alone can provide the help—and will also benefit from this. Pakistan faces the danger of self-destruction if it fails to make amends with its folly of mounting the tiger of Islamic extremism. Look at the bizarre events that led to, and have followed, the assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab and a courageous voice of secularism, last week. Which civilised nation can have a blasphemy law of the kind that has disgraced Pakistan? Taseer was killed because, in an atmosphere of fear created by the forces of religious terrorism, he stuck his neck out to call it a “black law” and pleaded for presidential clemency for a poor Christian woman who has been sentenced to death under that law. Shamefully, not only have a large number of clerics justified his killing, but they, and a significant section of Pakistan’s civil society, have also idolised his killer as a holy warrior.
A blizzard of bigotry is sweeping across Pakistan. This is evident from Taseer’s assassination, the likelihood of more secular critics of the blasphemy law being killed in the months ahead, the sword of the death sentence hanging over the hapless Christian woman, and the many religiously inspired extra-judicial killings of non-Muslims and Muslims accused under the law. It is also evident from the long series of ghastly terrorist attacks on religious places and followers of minority communities, and also of Muslim communities deemed to have deviated from the path of “pure Islam”. If only a partially Talibanised Pakistan can look so scary, a Pakistan under the complete control of the forces of religious terrorism—a distinct possibility—will undoubtedly pose a far graver threat to itself, to India, and to the world at large.
Before it is too late, India must devise, and assiduously work on a strategy to stabilise and save Pakistan. India must help Pakistan strengthen its democracy; make its generals subservient to the people’s rule; and defeat the forces of Islamic extremism without wishing to break its unity or to erase its Muslim identity.
Why India? Because no outside power can be a true friend of Pakistan or of other nation-states in the Indian subcontinent. Outside powers are mostly interested in taking advantage of the hostility between India and Pakistan, as has been clearly shown by our troubled history since 1947. The longer India and Pakistan continue to look, and act as incorrigible enemies of one another, the stronger the nexus between Pakistan’s religious extremists and its military rulers will become. This will only accelerate the process of Talibanisation of Pakistan, and also the consequent export of terror to India.
There is yet another reason why India alone can help our hapless neighbour. We are both products of a common cultural, spiritual and civilisational heritage, and the unifying and regenerative power of that ancient heritage is far from exhausted. A tragic situation in our recent history, which was precipitated and exploited by our common colonial master, created Pakistan and India as two separate nation-states. But there is no reason why we must treat as unchangeable a flawed design that was imposed on us, and which our forefathers accepted out of a combination of myopia and helplessness, at the end of the colonial era.
India should pursue three bold ideas to help Pakistan and itself.
Firstly, India must strongly oppose America’s continued military occupation of Afghanistan and also condemn its drone attacks on innocent civilians in Pakistan. It is high time we Indians realised that the US has aided the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan both by supporting the Taliban covertly in the 1980s, and also by fighting it overtly now. Indeed, America would do itself good by leaving Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to manage our own affairs, and resolve our own disputes. Moreover, today’s economically weakened America has no stomach for prolonging its unwinnable war in Afghanistan. Therefore, here is an opportunity for India to play the role of a benign leader in South Asia, by winning the confidence of the peoples of neighbouring countries.
India’s ability to play the leadership role, and thereby establish a new design for a secular, democratic and cooperative South Asia, critically hinges on early resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The longer Kashmir remains strife-torn, the more oxygen it will provide to religious extremists in Pakistan and also to anti-India sections in its armed forces. Therefore, there is an urgent need to intensify efforts in India for a national consensus on resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
The third bold idea is to unleash the power of Indianised Islam to bring the Muslims of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh into a closer fraternity, not as a dominant or separate community enjoying exclusive rights and a privileged status over others (such as is given by the blasphemy law in Pakistan) but as an equal member of a secular, multi-religious subcontinental family. This calls for a new confederal constitutional arrangement between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, in which the three countries remain sovereign and yet adhere to the common principles of justice, secularism, democracy and protection of minorities in their territories. In other words, Pakistan and Bangladesh must be re-absorbed and re-integrated into the Idea of India, with this important recognition that Islam is as much a part of the idea of India as Hinduism and other faiths are.
Only those people remake history who pursue a bold and enlightened vision.
For those who don't know the author, Sudheendra Kulkarni is Political advisor to the BJP and has been a close aide to both Vajpayee and Advani.
A very out-of-the-box idea espicially since its coming from the BJP.