It is an open secret that the army in Pakistan is a peg or two higher than the civilian apparatus. But I saw chinks in its armoury when a commission report was leaked. That the Inter Intelligence Service (ISI) could be “a collaborator” in hiding Osama-bin Laden, the Taliban’s inspiration, was an insinuation which I thought the army would not pocket without demur. But that happened.
I was, however, reading too much into the leakage. Within a few days, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif went to the ISI headquarters, along with his Interior Minister, where Army Chief Parvez Kayani was present. It was officially stated that the discussion was on Afghanistan and the conditions obtaining in Pakistan.
This only confirms that there is nothing to substantiate that the army has confined itself to the defence of the country. In fact, the pre-eminence of the army chief was emphasized when his car and his entourage were allowed first and then Nawaz Sharif’s at the ceremony where he took the oath of office for prime ministership.
The case of treason against former military chief Parvez Musharraf to assess the reaction is crucial. That he has been given comfortable house arrest and not kept in jail itself shows the difference meted out to persons charged with a heinous crime. The police refused to register a case against him despite the court order. It sounds credible that Musharraf has been assured that no harm would come to him and charges against him would be dropped if he were to leave Pakistan on the promise not to return. So far he has preferred to face the trial which is punishable with death penalty or life imprisonment.
My suspicion is that he must have sounded the army before coming to Pakistan and would have got an assurance that he would not be sent to jail or punished otherwise. Therefore, how the army takes the verdict, if there is even a verdict, if and when Musharraf is held guilty will tell how far democracy has taken roots in Pakistan.
I am no expert on Islamic affairs. But I am told by my Muslim friends that Islam does not entertain democracy. I would like to tell my friends that the arbiter is the ballot box. The Arab spring, which has startled the world, was popular resentment against the rulers. A stable, peaceful democratic polity takes long to emerge. The Arab spring, although dominated by the fundamentalists, has embers of revolt still burning.
Another undemocratic thing in the making is the assertion of identities. Not only Muslims but the Hindus in India and Christians in Europe are violating the democratic norms to pronounce their identity. I am aghast to find hijab-wearing women and men sporting beard at the Aligarh Muslim University and the liberal Jamia Millia in Delhi, to the delight of extremist Hindus. The BJP, the mouthpiece of the RSS, is increasingly adopting Gujarat chief minister Narender Modi who is pushing the thesis of Hindutva. In his interview to a foreign agency, Modi had compared the victims of Gujarat riots in 2002 riots to puppies that came under the car driven by him or someone else.
Modi and the BJP are pushing into the background the tradition of togetherness. On the other hand, more and more Christians are flocking to churches where the poisonous lectures are often delivered from the pulpit. I am told by some Muslims friends that in the atmosphere of globalization, the identity factor comes to the fore to save a community. But it has little to do with the religion. I do not think that the defence is correct. The case for identity is born out of religious and parochial leanings.
Pakistan, no doubt a Muslim state, was secular in its initial years. The country’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah said in his first speech after the formation of Pakistan was that religion would not be mixed with the state or politics. But that is all forgotten. Today even Shias in Pakistan are sought to be declared non-Muslims. Not long ago, the Ahmedias were officially pronounced as non-Muslims. Even their mosques have been attacked.
The only plus point Musharraf has is his belated assault on the extremists. The attack on Lal Masjid, although it proved to be his undoing, was meant to tell the extremists that he would not tolerate fundamentalism within the state. The confrontation by the army with the Taliban in Waziristan was also Musharraf’s doing. Alas, he trampled upon the democratic institutions, including the judiciary. He also attacked the Bugti tribe chief because of his personal vendetta. Still he initiated action against the Taliban who, despite his action, are today stronger than before and can strike at any place in Pakistan at any time.
This is a big challenge for Nawaz Sharif. He has extremists in his ranks and most of them are Taliban in their thinking. Otherwise it is difficult to understand why he has contributed Rs. 30 crore to the coffers of Jammiat-e-Dawa? The biggest challenge in the region for him will be when the American and European forces withdraw from Afghanistan next year.
India faces a big danger. All its work like building hospitals and schools in Afghanistan will be destroyed by the Taliban. I wish Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s armed forces had the strength to confront the Taliban. Strange, New Delhi has never considered Islamabad’s proposal to fight the Taliban jointly or at least share the intelligence on them. India has not given even non-lethal weapons to Afghanistan for use in its fight against the Taliban.
Karzai is justified in his vehement attack on America which has begun talks with the Taliban. But then America has hardly been bothered beyond what it considered in its self interest. New Delhi has to evolve a policy in consultation with Pakistan and Afghanistan. This should be the priority too fight against the Taliban. Unfortunately, the Taliban have penetrated into the army and have a strong base. Too bad that Islamabad’s action will be decided by the army headquarters. EOM