Two cheers for Pakistan!
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, April 7 2008, http://www.thestatesman.net
A century has passed since British rulers in India like Curzon and Minto became self-styled interlocutors between Muslims and Hindus of the subcontinent. Up through the 19th century there had been no significant national political conversation between India’s main communities. The “Chief Translator” of the High Court in Calcutta was highly prized for his knowledge of Sanskrit, Persian and English because at least three different sets of laws governed different people in the country. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad wrote of his experience in the Bankim-inspired revolutionary societies of Bengal who treated him with extreme suspicion because they could hardly believe a Muslim wanted to join them as an anti-British rebel.
Jinnah vs Azad
Then came MA Jinnah, Iqbal, Rahmat Ali and others, initial creators of Pakistan whether through greater or lesser motives. Azad, Zakir Hussain, Sheikh Abdullah and other Muslims were equally firm the Pakistan idea was not only bad for India in the world it was bad for Muslims in particular. The Azads condemned the Jinnahs as greedy megalomaniacs, the Jinnahs condemned the Azads as minions of the Hindus. Larke lenge Pakistan, marke lenge Pakistan, khoon se lenge Pakistan, dena hoga Pakistan was the mob-cry during the bloody Partition, while the British, weakened by war and economics and bereft of their imperial pretensions, made haste to leave “this beastly country” to its fate ~ rather hoping the bloodshed would be such someone might hire them to stay on.
Certainly, having used the Indian Army for imperial purposes in the War, Britain (represented locally by a series of smartly dressed blundering fools) behaved irresponsibly in not properly demobilizing that Army during a period of intense communal tension. There were no senior Indian officers ~ KM Cariappa became a Brigadier only in 1946, Ayub Khan was a Colonel under him. Then there were the fatuous “princes” the British had propped up in “Indian India”, few being more than cardboard creatures. Among them was J&K’s ruler who was a member of Churchill’s War Cabinet and had come to harbour illusions of international grandeur. Once J&K’s Muslim soldiers returned to their Mirpuri homes, Jammu and Punjab were in communal conflict, months before the decision that Pakistan would indeed be created out of designated areas of British India just before British India extinguished itself. Army-issued Bren guns came to be used by former soldiers in communal massacres of the convoys of refugees going in each direction.
Part of the problem over J&K since then has been that it seems a dialogue of the deaf. Pakistanis since Zafrullah Khan claimed it was communal violence against Muslims in Jammu and Punjab that prompted the Pashtun invasion of Srinagar Valley beginning 22 October 1947; Indians have always claimed the new (and partly British-officered) Pakistan Army organized and instigated the invasion, coinciding with the planned takeover of Gilgit.
As in all complex moral problems, there was truth on all sides though no one doubts the invasion was savage and that the Pashtuns carried off Kashmiri women, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh. J&K descended into civil war, Abdullah’s secularists backed by the new India, Ibrahim’s communalists by the new Pakistan. Field Marshall Auchinlek, who commanded both Indian and Pakistani armies, had the decency to resign when he realized his forces were at war with one another. That J&K could not be independent in international law was sealed when the 15 October 1947 telegram sent by Hari Singh’s regime went unanswered by Attlee. The tribal invasion from Pakistan caused the old State of J&K to become an ownerless entity in international law, whose territories were then carved up by force by the two new British Dominions (later republics) and the result has been the “LOC”.
ZA Bhutto was perhaps Pakistan’s only politician after that time. The years between the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan and the rise of Bhutto saw Pakistan’s military begin its liaison with the Americans ~ from the US Ambassador’s daughter marrying the Pakistan President’s son to the leasing of Peshawar’s airfields for U-2 flights over the USSR. Yet Bhutto’s deep flaws also contributed to the loss of Bangladesh and to brutality, supported by the Shah of Iran’s American helicopters, against the Baloch.
Bhutto’s daughter now may have succeeded in death where she could not in life. Like Indira Gandhi, there seemed a shrill almost self-sacrificial air about Benazir in her last days, and, like Indira, her assassination caused all her countrymen including her enemies to undergo an existential experience. Perhaps the public death of a woman in public life touches some chivalrous chord in everyone.
Benazir’s husband was transformed from seeming a rather dubious self-seeker to becoming a national leader of some sobriety. Her old adversary Nawaz Sharif, brought to power by one Army Chief and removed by another, is now a constitutional democrat – seemingly adamant that there be the Rule of Law and not of generals. Most of all, Benazir’s death seemed to completely shut up that most loquacious of Pakistanis: Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf seemed stunned and promised free, fair and transparent elections; though no one believed he would deliver, he somehow did. He would like now to be a senior statesman though it seems as likely his countrymen will not forgive his misdeeds and instead exile him to America.
Pakistan’s main international problem is not and has never been J&K. It has been and remains its unsettled western border and identity vis-à-vis Afghanistan (as India’s problem has been the eastern border with China). Dr Khan Sahib and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan knew this but they were not allowed to speak by Pakistan’s Kashmir-obsessed elite. Zaheer Shah’s Afghanistan was the only country that voted against Pakistan joining the UN sixty years ago.
The present author has said before that Osama bin Laden may well be safely and comfortably in the deserts of North Africa while NATO and the Americans raise hell in Afghanistan and Waziristan pretending to look for him. It is not in India’s interest as it is not in Pakistan’s interest that Western militaries, who seem to have nothing better to do, brutalize Afghans of all descriptions in the name of nation-building or fighting “terrorism”. Afghan nation-building can only ultimately come from the Afghans themselves, no matter how many loya jirgas it takes. What Pakistan dislikes emerging from New Delhi is the sometimes rather supercilious and ignorant condescension that our officialdom is infamous for. Instead, with a new, seemingly clear-headed and well-intentioned Government in Pakistan elected for the first time ever, it may be time for all good people in the subcontinent to raise a glass of fruit juice and say “Two cheers for Pakistan!”
August 3 2009 update: Please see Thoughts, words, deeds: My work 1973-2010