Croissants & Crescents:
How Pakistan insulates India from terror
- M J Akbar June 15, 2008
A few days ago, the government of Pakistan abandoned a ceasefire pact with insurgents operating across the tribal Pakistan-Afghanistan border, reached by Pervez Musharraf but reasserted by his successors in power. On June 11, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, said in Washington that any future terrorist attack on his country would probably originate in this region, known by its acronym, FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). This had become the most secure base of al-Qaida, he added, after the fall of the Taliban in Kabul.
Why has al-Qaida become a cancerous bone in Pakistan's throat, with the country neither able to digest it or spit it out? There is general agreement across different elements of the Pakistan establishment that swallowing this bone will infect the body politic beyond cure. But instead of surgery, there is a paralytic helplessness as al-Qaida and Taliban beliefs and prescriptions seep into street, village and towards the foot soldiers that form the core of any armed force.
Both the army and newly elected democrats fumble when faced with a basic, if provocative, query: Why is Islamabad fighting America's war against fellow Muslims? The overlap between Pakistan's 'national' interest and the interests of the 'Muslim ummah' has been further blurred in the northwest frontier by a shared ethnicity that has never recognized the Durand Line as a barrier between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Islamabad's dilemma revives a question that raged on the sidelines of the Partition debate between 1940 and 1947: Could united India ever have a secure border on its northwest frontier? The Khyber Pass was the traditional "gate" to Delhi. Would the Muslims of the region, and their brethren in the united Indian Army, secure the gate or open it for any Muslim invaders? The British, it is commonly known, regretted the division of the British Indian Army much more than they regretted the partition of British India. Others were not so sure. Among them was Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, the great Dalit hero who considered himself neither Hindu nor Muslim and was thus above the growing bitterness between the two.
The Secretary of State for India revealed, a trifle reluctantly, the ethnic composition of the British Indian Army in the House of Commons on July 8, 1943: Muslims were 34%, Hindus 50%, Sikhs 10% and the rest 6%. But these were wartime statistics, when emergency recruitment had altered the traditional balance, or imbalance. It was believed that the Muslim proportion of the peacetime British Indian Army, driven by the "martial races" theory and the belief that Frontier Muslims were superior soldiers, might be as high as 50%. There was no question that the army of a united India would retain a high percentage of Muslims, largely recruited from the frontier; political pressure from Muslims would ensure as much.
Would Muslim soldiers be immune to the lure of pan-Islamism? The Muslim League had resolved that the Indian Army should not be used against Muslim powers, conflating Indian and pan-Islamic interests. It was also recalled that during the Khilafat movement (1919-1922), Muslims displayed potentially explosive angularities. Maulana Mohammad Ali had invited the Amir of Afghanistan to invade India and conquer Delhi with the help of an Indian uprising.
Dr Ambedkar argued that India was better off divided, because it could not remain a secure state with such confused loyalties at its porous crown. A new 'Hindustan' army, created out of the resources of divided India, would be untroubled by dual loyalties. Given that Pakistan has few answers to the incessant diet of bombs and suicide missions, we need only to pause and consider the havoc that a strong Qaida-Taliban movement would have caused across the cities of the Indian subcontinent if it had not been substantially, though not completely, insulated by the Indo-Pak border. Imagine the nightmare of an undivided India.
Indian Muslims, who consciously opted for their motherland, paid a heavy price: they were not to be fully trusted with the defence of India. No one doubted their patriotism in the 1962 conflict with China, but during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, they were picked up arbitrarily and detained without trial by the Congress government of Lal Bahadur Shastri. The heroism of Havildar Abdul Hamid was treated as an exception. This prejudice was a major reason for minimal Muslim presence in the Indian Army and police services.
The Indian Muslim mind shifted from a pseudo-glorification of the idea of Pakistan in the 1940s to fear, resentment and uncertainty over the next two decades. Bangladesh was the turning point; it was clinching evidence that Pakistan was not a paradise for Muslims, but the preserve of a regional culture and mentality that was not ready to treat every Muslim as an equal. Indian Muslims abandoned, completely, any residual temptation for Pakistan. This is not just my effort to be politically correct. There is evidence: the complete lack of interest that Indian Muslims have displayed towards the Kashmiri insurrection has puzzled and frustrated the self-styled "pan-Islamic jihadi" organizations who expected Indian Muslim support in the effort to terrorize the Indian state and people.
When Indian Muslims get angry, they do so for their own reasons, not for Pakistan's. Muslims born in free India are not ready to be victimized for the mistakes of their fathers. This is an assertion of equality, part of the confidence gifted to them by the unique democratic values of the Indian Constitution.
The violent Sikh upsurge of the 1980s reminded India that there was more than one potentially hazardous minority, and that the politics of indifference could not be sustained.
The most heartening image of contemporary India, to me, are the slightly funny pictures of young Muslims puffing their chests to meet physical criterion during periodic recruitment drives for the Indian Army or paramilitary forces.
I wish Indian politicians would appreciate that the politics of patronage is no substitute for the politics of indifference. Patronage is essentially demeaning, and serves only small Muslim cliques who enrich themselves at the cost of the community. The Indian Muslim wants to be treated as an equal. He is waiting for the establishment to appreciate the true nuances of the term.
Appeared in Times of India, June 15, 2008