By B.G. Verghese
While India has been invaded from the Northwest, the Northeast and from the coast, it is the Northwest passage that has historically been the main strategic gateway through which conquerors and caravans have entered. Alexander was an early visitor. It is perhaps easy to see why this should have been so. India was long a source of pepper, spices and fine calicoes for Greek, Roman and Arab traders and regarded as a fabled land of wealth and wisdom lying athwart both the Silk and Spice routes. Hsuen Tsang, Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta and other travellers wrote of its wonders. To those living in the arid or cold deserts of West and Central Asia , the well watered plains of India seemed most inviting.
While the British conquered India from the sea and fought off the Portuguese, Dutch and French for supremacy, it was Russian penetration from the Northwest that it most feared. The Great Game was played out along the wild, tribal marches of the Northwest Frontier and the High Karakoram. The nature of the Great Game changed after the Second World War, when containing communism became the prime Western agenda.
As the Second World War wound down, Britain wondered how it might dispose of India should irrevocable differences between the Muslim League and Congress force Partition. The British “breakdown plan” favoured creation of two Muslim-dominated Anglo-US allies in the north-west and north-east of the sub-continent to halt march of communism. Both would have preferred to partner the larger and more resourceful India; but Nehru’s non-alignment and seeming Soviet-Chinese tilt was suspect. Pakistan, staunchly Islamic and in need of support against what it saw as a larger, permanent and ideological Indian enemy, readily fit the bill. It was also strategically placed, especially as guardian of the passes to Afghanistan and beyond.
No surprise then that Pakistan soon became a staunch ally, a “frontline state”, a strategic partner and a base of operations for the West in containing communism and controlling the emerging oil wealth of Iran and the Arab lands beyond. Ideology, rooted in faith and geography, endowed Pakistan with a strategic value on which its leaders traded. T.V Paul, (“The Warrior State: Pakistan in the Contemporary World”, Random House,) sums up this geo-political asset as a “strategic curse”. A feudal, emigre-led people divorced from its historical, geographical and cultural roots to embrace a wholly negative non-Indian, non-Hindu identity, became a rentier state, trading its strategic utility for military and economic assistance.
Jinnah’s very first address to the new Pakistan constituent assembly totally repudiated the two-nation theory as false and untenable. But the twist in the tale is that it was Jinnah who was repudiated by his people and died embracing the two-nation ideological curse.
Pakistan, an “Islamic State”, was born to defend Islam and the “ideological frontiers of Islam” . But it is even today unable to define the true Muslim: not Ahmediyas (banned), Shias, Sufis, Aga Khanis, Nurbakshis; not even Sunni Barelivis but Wahabis, Deobandis, jihadis, the Taliban and such medieval fanatics whose goal is to establish a new Caliphate. The defence of Islam and its borders and integrity against a malign India, the permanent enemy, has reduced Pakistan to a garrison state where a military-mullah nexus has assumed control. The Army, aided by the Inter-Service Intelligence or ISI, together constitute a state within a state with vast, agrarian, corporate, financial, administrative, diplomatic and security tentacles.
Between 1960 and 2012, Pakistan received some $ 73 bn in economic and military assistance , $30 bn of this from the US alone. An over-militarised, garrison state, can find itself developmentally debilitated. In a population fast approaching 200 million, there are only 2.5 mn registered taxpayers. Defence appropriates the largest slice of the budget, with unaccounted amounts going into developing and augmenting nuclear arms, including tactical weapons.
Paul notes that the peoples’ critical faculties have been dulled by tendentious and poisonous textbooks and ideologically-oriented madrassas whose products preach from pulpits. Jinnah, Bhutto and Zia led Pakistan down the slippery slope of Islamisation and militarisation , unabashedly aided by the United States that has been totally unmindful of the tremendous collateral damage to world peace and stability caused by its devious policies and the War on Terror. Paul estimates that around 35,000 jihadis from 45 countries trained in Pakistan to unleash mayhem prior to 9/11. It is today a country at war with itself, and a menace to others.
Paul’s conclusion: Pakistan’s transformation will only take place if both its strategic circumstances and the ideas and assumptions that the leading elite hold change fundamentally.
Paul’s is only one of a whole series of refreshingly critical books on Pakistan being published by domestic and foreign authors about what they describe but do not quite name as a failed state. “The Pakistan Military in Politics: Origins, Evolution. Consequences” by Ishtiaq Ahmed (Amaryllis) is an example. Few are sparing of Jinnah who spoke of Pakistan as a Sharia State as far back as in November 1945.
Ahmed dispels the myth that Mountbatten conspired with Radcliffe to gift India some Muslim majority tehsils of Gurdaspur to justify its award to India. In fact, he notes, this was part of the Wavell breakdown plan so as to ensure that Amritsar, at least, though not Nankana Sahib, both Sikh holy places, remained with India. He equally astutely describes sharing Indus Waters as a geo-political issue linked to Kashmir. Like others, he cites Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan and Air Chief Marshal Nur Khan respectively for affirming that the 1947 and 1965 invasions of J&K were staged by Pakistan. He too cites Prof. K.K. Aziz’s “Murder of History” and then quotes Brig. S.K. Malik on “The Quranic Concept of War”, with an approving preface by Zia-ul Haq. According to Malik, “The Quranic military strategy thus enjoins us to prepare ourselves for war to the utmost in order to strike terror into the hearts of enemies …, (This) is not only a means, it is an end in itself… It is the point where the means and the end meet and merge….. “. This is chilling. No surprise then that terrorist cells have penetrated Pakistan’s military and carried out attacks on its GHQ, the Mehran naval base and similar targets.
Finally, the fairy tale spun by Islamabad about Osama bin Laden’s long and comfortable sojourn in Pakistan over many years, latterly, in the garrison town of Abbottabad, from where he was finally taken out by US Naval Seals in 2011. This showed up the Pakistani establishment as a bunch of complete fools or liars, probably both. The New York Times reporter, Carlotta Gall, comes closest to confirming that the US had information that the ISI knew the whereabouts of bin Laden. (“The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-14”. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
The official story is far too naive to believe. In blaming everybody, the Commission of Inquiry, in blaming everybody, blamed nobody. The truth has once more been quietly buried. Pakistan remains steadfastly in denial. It has once again gloriously lied to itself. Its real enemy is truly within. Truth hurts. But it is the ultimate balm.