Saturday, December 20, 2008

Indian Muslims and Mumbai

Indian Muslims and Mumbai
By Kunwar Idris, Dawn, December 21, 2008

THE agonising memories of the disintegration of Pakistan have returned to haunt at a time when rebels freely roam vast swathes of our territory in the northwest and India is growling in anger from across the eastern border.

Can it happen again? Hopefully, it will not. This hope is instinctive and not born of glib talk coming from the president and the prime minister assuring us that Pakistan is capable and ready to defend its integrity. Such assurances were plentiful in 1971.

As Karachi’s district magistrate in those fateful days, it was the lot of this writer to witness President Yahya and other leaders flying into Karachi from Dhaka one after the other and telling the people that the ‘miscreants’ had been crushed and that calm had returned to East Pakistan.

Gen Tikka Khan was the last to arrive past midnight one day. He was then surrounded by a gaggle of journalists who had been monitoring the news, contrary to official accounts, of the tough resistance put up by rebels long after the army crackdown. A firecracker exploding on the border did not constitute resistance was the general’s curt comment. He then sped off telling the agitated pressmen to go home and sleep and to let him sleep too. That was just months before the surrender.

Admittedly, the rebels here at this point are few, on the fringes, and all are not secessionists. India too is not poised to attack. But the point to emphasise is that if it chose to do so Pakistan would hardly have any supporter or sympathiser. Britain and China epitomise the current worldwide attitude.

According to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown the majority of the terrorist plots that his government had investigated had originated in Pakistan. And China, for the first time, did not feel persuaded to veto a UN committee resolution carrying the implication of Pakistan being branded a terrorist state if it did not outlaw religious organisations suspected of sponsoring the Mumbai attack and arrest their leaders.

The world at large and the powers that matter are all inclined to believe that the terrorists who struck so mercilessly in Mumbai had come from Pakistan. But they do not find much credence in Pakistan’s charge that India foments and finances insurgents in its tribal region. The world also believes that Pakistan is not restraining radical elements even if its intelligence agencies are not colluding in training and equipping them.

With Pakistan put in the dock in full public view and no one to defend it, the Mumbai horror is bound to recoil on the Indian Muslims among whom the government there would surely be seeking out local collaborators of the foreign attackers. In 1946, when the British finally decided to quit India, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a staunch supporter of India’s unity, cautioned Muslims that by supporting partition they would become aliens in their own country. What has come to pass over a period of 60 years is much worse.

A commission headed by Mr Rajinder Sachar, a former Chief Justice of India, reported in 2006 that India’s Muslim community had sunk to the bottom of the heap, below even the untouchables, when it came to benefits flowing from government-run welfare schemes, access to education, employment, bank credit, etc. Poverty and insecurity have driven them into ghettos where they are open to exploitation by corrupt officials and Hindu fanatics. Though they form 12.5 per cent of the population their representation in the public services is less than one-third of that.

Pakistan owes it to the Muslims of India who staked their own future on its creation not to add to their woes. It may be recalled that Partition became inevitable only when Nehru unilaterally retracted after the Congress and Muslim League had both accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan. Jinnah felt betrayed. For him then there was no going back despite lobbying by Lord Mountbatten and Maulana Azad.

Under that plan India was to be divided into three autonomous regions. The centre was to retain only defence, foreign affairs and communications. The three regions are now independent states but continue to carry the bitter burden of the division of Punjab and Bengal and the bloodshed and mass migrations that followed.

The passage of time and a legacy of mistrust and hostility leave no room to think about a loose federation now. But it should still be possible for the governments of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to form a bloc or union of the kind that emerged in Europe out of the hostilities of the Second World War. Evolving a common mechanism that diverts their attention and resources from the weapons of war to the poverty of their people could be the first step in that direction.

Pakistan would stand to gain more than the others because as a percentage of national income it spends twice as much on defence than India and also suffers from terrorism much more than India does. In such a collaborative arrangement 470 million Muslims of the subcontinent would count for more than they do at present, spread as they are, almost equally, over three countries.

In a long confrontation punctuated by wars the losers all round have been only the people of Pakistan and the Muslims of India. The Mumbai massacre has highlighted this fact and also underlined the need for the reversal of policies pursued so far. The controversy pertaining to culpability and evidence, as in past incidents, can lead nowhere.

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