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Pakistan: An enigma for the Islamic world

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By K. N. Pandita

One wonders whether Pakistani leaders are conscious that the Muslim world in general, and the Arab world in particular, are unable to ascertain the locus standi of their country among the comity of Islamic nations. Their confusion stems from the fact that Pakistan was created as the homeland for the Muslims of India but India still, 73 years after the partition, retains more Muslims than Pakistan, indeed is the home to the second largest Muslim population in the world.

Their confusion is deepened by two more realities. First, Indian Muslims who opted for migration to the newly carved homeland for Muslims of the subcontinent viz. Pakistan treated the migrated Muslims discriminatingly and stonewalled all possibilities of integrating them into Pakistan’s mainstream, in which the Punjabis are predominant. Discriminating the muhajir (migrants) is a negation of the Islamic teaching of ukhawwat meaning Islamic brotherhood. The migrated Muslims are given the name ‘muhajir’ – an Arabic word meaning “migrant”. The epithet has stuck to their names. The word denotes a status not equal to the indigenous people.

The second notable point is that the eastern wing of Pakistan then called East Pakistan viz. East Bengal, separated from Pakistan within twenty-four years of the creation of Pakistan. The separation took place because Pakistani Punjab outright rejected the democratically elected majority party to form the government in Islamabad as it came from East Bengal. This brings forth a couple of important inferences, like (a) Pakistan neither had faith in nor willingness to adopt democracy as the political arrangement for the country. (b) Pakistan discriminated against Muslims based on ethnicity, language, race and ways of life. In other words, religion proved a non-actor in the political chemistry of Pakistan, and (c) Punjab conveyed a clear message to all Pakistani nationalities that Pakistan state power, both civilian and military, would rest with Punjabi

It is obvious that the concept of two-nation theory, the basis on which Pakistan was created, was fake and fragile. The Muslims whose religious passions were whipped up and exploited were done a great wrong by their leadership
.Thrown out of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and having sidelined the muhajir, Punjabi Pakistan turned towards non-Punjabi nationalities like the Pashtoon, Baluch, Sindhi, people of what it calls ‘Azad Kashmir’, Gilgit and Baltistan etc. to impose its hegemony and make them subservient entities who never enjoy the right to equality. This was another body blow to the much-touted Islamic teaching of fraternity.

And who is the ruling Punjabi elite? It is a mix of the landlords, top military brass, senior bureaucratic echelons and affluent business segment closely inter-connected by either common financial interests or by matrimonial alliances or just for the lust for power. Islamabad treated other provinces as vassals who must raise revenues and collect taxes to fill the coffers of the Punjabi controlled federal government. The government became something like a reserve bank for a privileged group. It was only natural that sooner or later oppressed nationalities would raise their voice against denial of rights and suppression of freedom. Baluchistan, angered by the general loot of its natural resources (Sui gas), did not hesitate to take up arms. Opposition parties were formed in all the suppressed provinces with a common objective of fighting the authoritarianism of the federal government in Islamabad. Their leaders openly demanded administrative, financial and political autonomy for their respective provinces.

Sindh was the first province to show signs of unrest even before a revolt for separation erupted in East Pakistan in 1971. The Pashtoon never gave up their demand of scrapping the Durand Line, the legacy of the colonial power that arbitrarily divided their compact and cohesive community into two by drawing an artificial line through the Pashtoon land. Likewise, the Baluch became the target of inhuman repression just because the brave and spirited people would not hesitate to take up arms to defend their land, people and rights, particularly when they knew how Pakistani army invaded and invested Baluchistan against the wishes of its people and the then ruler.

In this way, the Punjabi ethnic community forged not one but virtually all nationalities as its adversaries with whom it is in perennial acrimony and hostility.

Faced with opposition to their authority and the possibility that the oppressed nationalities could make common cause against their authority, Pakistan’s ruling elite began planning an antidote to the threatening situation. A double-pronged strategy was devised. The first and most important long-term policy decision was to make the Pakistani army the real fountainhead of power with unbounded authority to make or unmake civilian governments. The army enjoyed the right of establishing liaison with imperial and colonial powers as national policy. Gradually, the army developed a mechanism which made it financially less dependent on central funding. It became a state within a state.

The second long term policy decision, which came into force in the aftermath of the Bangladesh war, was to float political Islam as the state instrument of Pakistan. Establishment of hundreds of thousands of religious seminaries (madrasah) receiving logistic support from the state and given in the charge of fanatical Jamaat-i-Islami volunteers meant brainwashing future generations of Pakistanis into retrograde mindset and practices. This shifted the socio-political epicentre of Pakistan polity from cosmopolitanism to clerical exclusiveness. The evolution of another line of defence, now known as jihadist legions, was the ex-military organ which assumed great strength and power. This ensured that upcoming generations of Pakistanis were fed with the propaganda that the only option available to them was to fight against kufir (heresy) as ordained by the holy book. It fully served the interests of the ruling nexus.

This created a society wherein jihadist organizations received public applause and official support and also offered the roadmap of militarizing brainwashed youth including the fidayeen (suicide bombers). Jammu and Kashmir, Afghanistan and the Iranian Baluchistan became the immediate targets of the armed jihadist. The Saudi funding source of Al-Rabita helped the jihadis in other parts of Asia including the South Asian region to liaison with Pakistan-based terrorist organizations. Jihad leaders like Saeed Hafiz and Mas’ud Azhar began dictating terms to the governments of Pakistan

Next, the extremist Islam of Pakistan thought of a bigger and more strategic role in the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia, a protégé of the US became something like a discredited entity in the eyes of the Wahhabized and Salafized Pakistani Ecclesiastes. Under pressure from these groups, the Pakistan government ignored its long time close relations with Saudi Arabia, began pandering to anti-Saudi elements within the Islamic fold. Lately, Islamabad made common cause with Turkey, Malaysia and Iran, three major non-Semitic Islamic countries. Under the pretext that Saudi monarchy was glued to a friendly relationship with the United States and presuming the US as number one enemy of Islam, these non-Semitic Islamic countries formed a nexus and began chartering their course away from the course and policy of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

Last year, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Muhammad took the initiative of inviting the heads of 53 Islamic countries to a meet in Kuala Lampur. The Saudi monarch declined to participate and warned other Arab countries not to participate as the agenda under way at Kuala Lampur meet was to discredit OIC. In other words, the anti-Semitic nexus wanted to snatch away the leadership of the Islamic world from the hands of the Saudi monarchy. Iran under diehard anti-Saudi and anti-America-Israel spell of hostility remained the odd man among the anti-Semitic clique
Islamabad was an active member of the new nexus and in fact, Imran Khan had travelled to Malaysia for preliminary consultations with Mahathir. For Iran, any event that went against Saudi interests was welcome. However, the Kuala Lampur meet was destined to meet with disaster and failure. King Selman of Saudi summoned Imran Khan to Riyadh and sternly admonished him to desist from becoming a party to the conspirators against the Saudi kingdom. Imran Khan had no option but to succumb to the diktat of the monarch and declare its inability to participate in the meet.

This left Pakistan stranded and frustrated. She became suspicious in the eyes of the Arab world including the littoral stats of the Gulf, and the non-Semitic Islamic countries realized how fragile and directionless Pakistan was. Interestingly, Pakistan’s ambivalent and indecisive position convinced the Gulf countries and other Arab countries that friendly relations with India and expansion of trade with a country with a large consumer segment were many times more beneficial than the mere Islamic bond brandished by Pakistan.

An analysis in retrospect reveals some interesting insights into this scenario. After the EU refused to accept Turkey’s demand of including her as a European country, President Erdogan began to dream of leading the Islamic countries and brought in the nostalgic Ottoman Empire saga into the current narrative. In the process, Turkey decided to come closer to Pakistan in the expectation of obtaining from the latter, overtly or covertly, the nuclear secrets. This wish of becoming a nuclear power had two motivations. One was to tell the western countries that they had made a mistake in estimating the strength and status of Turkey. Secondly, he wanted to confront the Saudi monarch from very firm standing.

As far as Mahathir of Malaysia was concerned, he had apprehensions that he would not be able to win the impending elections in his country. He, therefore, took a stand on the Islamic plank and tried to demonstrate that he was a staunch Islamic. His anti-India stance was only for domestic consumption. Likewise, the anti-India stance of Turkey is only to please Pakistan and keep her in good humour so that extracting secrets of nuclear technology could become a possibility.

This then is the general scenario in which Pakistan remains almost a lost Islamic State unable to earmark its position in the comity of Muslim countries. Escalation of an anti-India tirade by Pakistan in recent months is linked to the scenario we have exposed in this write-up. However, that part of the story will have to be dealt with separately.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar).

The great game in Inner Asia

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By K.N. Pandita:

India-China standoff in Eastern Ladakh is something more than what meets the eye. A plethora of reportages and commentaries on the Sino-Indian flare-up on Eastern Ladakh border has been published by the international media. Experts and observers have expressed various shades of opinion on the incident and have also tried to link it to the history of border skirmishes between the two sides.

However, Alice G. Wells, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs has succinctly summed up the core of the problem. Addressing a select media briefing, she made some profound remarks like this: “China’s border scuffle proved that the country’s aggression is not always rhetorical. it was an indication of China’s disturbing behaviour” Examining the event from a global perspective, Wells added, “China’s behaviour is why “like-minded nations” are now “rallying” with each other under a handful of diplomatic groupings such as the ‘Trilateral’ (the US, Japan and India) and the ‘Quadrilateral’ or ‘Quad’ (US, Japan, India and Australia).

This is an indirect hint that it is the time-tested political philosophy called democracy that is under serious threat because radicalism has found an ally in authoritarianism and the duo now appears in the form of economic avatar in which “lend and bend” is the new political mantra.

After US-China trade spat earlier this year, and thereafter the sudden upsurge of Covid-19 linked to the WHO episode with 123 countries signing a letter that demanded the UN conduct a probe into the Wuhan origin of this pandemic, China ad to meet with embarrassment. At stake was her tenacious refusal of any probe of that sort as it could make a hole in her transparency balloon. Beijing immediately rallied the 57-member OIC and some more Afro-Asian countries to counter the inquiry move.

President Trump rattled Wall Street when he ordered U.S. firms to move production out of China. But, in conference calls with investors just this past month, dozens of executives have signalled plans to further diversify their supply chains away amid the intensifying trade war with China. For example, Toymaker Hasbro, Bath & Body Works parent company L Brands, and fashion designer Steven Madden have all outlined plans to substantially reduce their dependence on Chinese manufacturing in the next few years. The Americans are fighting back, blacklisting 33 more Chinese firms for trying to access US technology, while the Senate last week gave its consent to delisting Chinese companies. India ordered that FDI would need clearance from the Indian government. Japan ordered financial support to production centres moving back to Japan from China. She is not averse to Japanese companies investing elsewhere in democratic countries but would like to see them coming out of China.

With her economic power expanding globally, China began to nurse some misconceptions which a hegemonic chief executive generally indulges in. For example, she began to believe that economic development is assured only through authoritarianism and not democratic dispensation as she looks inward. Presuming that the pandemic has exhausted the US beyond expectation, Beijing carries the unrealistic impression that aggressive posturing in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Ladakh would not evoke a serious reaction. It shows that Beijing has not come out of its phantasmal easy walk over Indian positions in the 1962 Sino-Indian border war. Eastern Ladakh episode is a message to India for what Secretary Wells has referred to as “trilateral”. Beijing’s recent threatening to Australia is her response to the “Quad” again referred to by Wells in the same vein.

The second reason for Chins belligerence in Ladakh is her ambition of controlling and minimizing Nepal’s role in the SAARC. Why not wean her away from Indian intimacy if a proxy Nepalese PM is reachable? What Nepalese Prime Minister is doing is rebalancing the time-tested “roti-beti” relationship with India in favour of Beijing. Sources think that Chinese ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi has been proactive of late.

Some observers think that Beijing feels disparaged to have to return to the status quo in the Doklam plateau in 2017. Indian troops had stopped China from building a road with a potential threat to India’s border security. That is perhaps the reason why China has deployed a strong force around 5,000 PLA close to the LAC in Eastern Ladakh and has overnight pitched more than a hundred tents in the disputed area.

India Health Minister, Mr Harsh Vardhan has been elected Chairman of the WHO’s Executive Board. 62 member states of the WHO has moved a resolution calling for an independent investigator into the WHO’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the zootomic origins of the coronavirus. India is a signatory to the resolution. Ladakh face-off is to be taken a warning to India against aligning with the Western nations in this demand. Beijing’s recent threatening to Australia that supporting the resolution could “bring her more pain” has to be understood in this context.

Reflecting on the Sino-Indian war of 1962, Nehru once remarked that China’s diplomatic language has two meanings, one for themselves and the other for those to whom it is addressed. Keeping this in mind, let us reflect on the statement issued by the Chinese foreign minister in the context of Ladakh stand-off. He said, “China is committed to safeguarding the security of its national territorial sovereignty, as well as safeguarding peace and stability in the China-India border areas. At present, the overall situation in the border areas is stable and controllable. There are sound mechanisms and channels of communication for border-related affairs, and the two sides are capable of properly resolving relevant issues through dialogue and consultation,” the statement added.

Intruding into an area that dominates the region and deters India from completing the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road, which, once fully asphalted, will give India a major advantage in terms of access and military mobilization, is in the words of Chinese foreign minister “safeguarding its national territorial sovereignty and safeguarding peace and stability in the China- Indi border areas.” .A key part of this is the construction of a bridge at Daulat Beg Oldi that China wants to stop.

Chinese foreign minister cannot have different yardsticks to measure “national territorial sovereignty”. The Indian Border Roads Organization (BRO) plans to complete all 61 strategic roads assigned to it along the border with China by December 2022. These roads are spread across Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and will allow swifter mobilization of troops and stores to forward areas. This is in-line not only with the concept of “safeguarding national territorial sovereignty” but is also in line with the rail and road link China has built over the years in its western region along the LAC. Reinforcing the disputed site with 5,000 troops over-night and deploying trucks to move material is in no way a sign of promoting peace along the China-India border region as claimed by the Chinese foreign ministry. It is belligerence and aggression and China will be making a mistake if she thinks India will succumb.

The ground reality is that the Great Game in Inner Asia is changing. The Silk Road town, Daulat Beg Oldi, is today an Indian military base, located just 8 km south of the Karakoram Pass, an all-weather route built by China for its all-weather friend and ally Pakistan. The classical “Great Game in Central Asia” has changed its skin and so have the players of this game also changed. The shift has been from military power to eco-military power and Belt and Road theorem serves as arteries.

The “Inner Asian Game” of China has assumed added dimension resulting from the pandemic that is devastating economies and demolishing old order. It has not to be seen from the prism of local or border conflicts only but a far larger canvas spreading out from the Himalayan ranges to the South East Ocean waters.

Authoritarian regimes prone to using government resources to suppress dissent, sometimes violently, are stepping up these tactics and exploiting the crisis to consolidate power. Already closing space for civil society and democratic actors, a foundational element of stability, may collapse further. From some time democracy and liberalism have been facing the civilizational challenge. The trend has changed and in the methodology adopted is to break the states under debt and throw a begging bowl around their necks.

Examining the issue from a broader perspective we find that the US is gauging the consequences of fragility and conflicts. Terrorist organizations exploit instability to orchestrate attacks on U.S. assets and allies. Violence hinders U.S. companies’ access to valuable markets and strains supply chains. Fragility impedes governments’ ability to effectively address pandemics, and keep them within their borders, raising the prospect of regional diffusion and sustained infections.

The confluence of the above factors — already surging fragility and violence, with COVID-19 as a multiplier — magnify the relevance and timeliness of the forthcoming global fragility strategy.

The tactics China uses to pursue this goal exacerbate instability that the global fragility strategy seeks to address. The CCP’s landmark Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), comprised of loans and infrastructure spending globally, not only weakens U.S. influence with recipient governments but, through opaque deals and associated illegal practices, has the potential to undermine democratic institutions across the developing world.

India needs to find a working solution to the border issues with China. China will create an issue if there is none. Hindsight reveals that China can blow hot and cold only to camouflage its ultimate intentions of grabbing more and more lands that are vulnerable and left without solid protection on the southern and southwestern border. New Delhi has taken the right decision of upgrading connectivity of her northern and northeastern border with China. It was a blunder to have neglected road connectivity in that region for a long time. Now that Ladakh has become a Union Territory, upgrading the infrastructure that will considerably improve our defence position in the region is a priority. In achieving this goal no intimidation from Chin or Pakistan has to be entertained. This Inner Asian game is not going to come to an end as early as we think.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Srinagar).