Jawed Naqvi


Referring to the disastrous British campaign against Afghanistan, the author analyzes the implications of the  terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on Pakistan’s civil society as well as the  complexity of the crisis facing Pakistan.


Had the Sri Lankan players not been so jolted by the vicious attack in Lahore, I would have wanted them to go  and play the match to the finish for that would be the best way to lead the counter attack on terrorism.    The din of the applause would be enough to pulverize the terrorists in their lair. Abandoning the match was the  easier option, but then we are used to more grievous compromises.   


We have abandoned elementary civility, not to speak of basic human rights or higher purposes of democracy, in  our search for an antidote to the scourge of religious terrorism. Fear of sounding facetious will not stop me from  likening the current overall anti-terror strategy to the hunt for a bandicoot that turned an agreeable home into a  pile of wreckage.    Not everything happening on Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan can be explained by recourse to religious  metaphors. Any school kid who wrote the Senior Cambridge history exam would remember the question  repeated year after year: The retreat became a rout, the rout a massacre — who said that and why? I think it was  Stanley Lane-Poole who said it, and he said it in the context of one of colonial Britain’s disastrous campaigns in  Afghanistan. In that outing the rented troops — you can still read their names on India Gate — were routed and  only a solitary English doctor survived to tell the tale of the nightmare.   


The Pakhtuns were even then devout Muslims and their adversaries in the battlefield mainly Christian with a  motley sprinkling of Sikh, Hindu and Muslim soldiers. Did anyone call the British campaigns a crusade or the  resistance a jihad? Afghan women still observed hijab, perhaps more voluntarily than they do in today’s Saudi  Arabia.


And if the Taliban were so insufferable why were they received so warmly in 1997 in Houston by the  then Texan governor George W. Bush? There’s something we are missing in the narrative.   


I do not know how others saw it, but from New Delhi middle-class Pakistanis looked a nicely liberal lot,  convivial to a fault and with social graces that were missing in some other civilized societies in the  neighborhood. India was feting a great Pakhtun leader from Pakistan whose secularism was unimpeachable. This  is where it seems the fine balance between tradition and modernity was upset by a Pakistani general and his  American minders. They contracted him to carry out the world’s first completely outsourced war, and  called it a jihad.   


From the way the world is now concerned about the Taliban menace, it seems that all other routes to return to the  cave days have been safely blocked. This is obviously a fallacy, particularly when we know that countless  attempts were made, and more are still being considered, by the supposedly civilized hemisphere to destroy the  world many times over. Remember that the two world wars were fought way before Muslim zealots arrived on  the global centre-stage.


The next one, if our luck fails, would be a nuclear one.   


But Pakistan is in trouble, serious trouble today. A spokesman for India’s Congress party, speaking after the  Lahore attack, described it as a Somalia of South Asia. It was a comment bereft of any historical context and  seems to have been inspired by communal rhetoric before the general elections in India. However, the  unnecessary and concocted debate between tradition and modernity reminds me of the actual battle-line in Iran  in 1978. The Shah had projected himself as the savior of modernity in Iran. He together with his American gurus  missed the undercurrent of resentment against western-backed intrusions on a largely conservative society.   


In a nutshell, religious fanaticism in the duplicitous world of high sentence and underhand diplomacy is not only  good but also desirable, as long as it does not threaten some of the world’s more powerful nations. The Iranian  mullahs soon found themselves not just leading a campaign for Islam but one that was essentially against the  West.   


Is that not the lesson to draw from the American support for Saudi Arabia and its simultaneous rejection of the  Iranian revolution? What is the worst-case scenario if the Taliban do take over Pakistan, as President Asif  Zardari fears they could? Would there be Islamic law in Pakistan? Is that the worry? But then the western  hemisphere had shored up Gen Ziaul Haq with his views on Islamic law in the same Pakistan, and with great  aplomb.   


Much of Pakistan’s steel frame system was indoctrinated with zealotry in its mission to fight Soviet communism  in Afghanistan. If the world can live happily with the medieval laws of Saudi Arabia, and if it could engineer out  of virtually nothing the fanatically driven leadership of Gen Zia then why this current fuss about the Taliban? It’s  true that their ways are medieval, but there is so much medievalism that is already a core part of the stable world  order.   


If the Taliban do get to rule Pakistan, of which there is a very remote academic possibility, they will have  followed the route of Iran’s Islamic rulers.


Imagine that the CIA coup against the moderate Iranian government  of Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953 was replicated in Pakistan by the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979.    Against this backdrop, can we regard Gen Pervez Musharraf as the modernist Shah? Both were secular and  arrogant about their self-perceived invincibility. The Shah fell after a combination of social classes opposed  him, with the help of the pro-Soviet Tudeh party of Nooruddin Kianoori. There were pro-China Maoists — the  Mujahideen-i-Khalq — and, of course, the mullahs, followed by a large number of pro-democracy liberals who  rallied against the Shah. Does that have an eerie resemblance to the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan, which  toppled Musharraf? The lawyers too commanded support from the Left to the Right of the spectrum.   


In this replication of an Iran-like scenario, someone has to play Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan who followed  the Shah. After his deal with the Taliban in Swat, Zardari does look more like this Iranian leader. Bazargan  was a genial man with friends within the Iranian clergy and among the liberal lot. Another liberal who claimed  even greater proximity with the mullahs eased him out. That was Abol Hasan Ban-Sadr, who was soon  dispatched to exile in France.   


Where does India stand in this? On a wider canvass within the Muslim world, India has shifted its loyalties from  Iran to Saudi Arabia at someone’s behest. The very principles that prompted the sea change would propel it to  support the Taliban if that is what American policy dictates. In other words, there are no great principles  underpinning the Indian decision to oppose the Taliban takeover of Swat. It is just a convenient posturing that  would be directed not by New Delhi but by the exigencies of the White House.     


By abandoning the cricket match in Lahore and also signaling that no international team would visit Pakistan in  the foreseeable future the world has shown its readiness to accept the worst in its battle against otherwise  ordinary bandicoots. Every abandoned match betrays a willingness to accept defeat.


(March 05, 2009; Dawn)

Top - Home