LESSONS FOR INDIA
It is difficult to resist the apprehension that the Taliban madness over the Bamiyan statues is going to have its impact in Kashmir sooner or later, says T.V. Rajeswar.
destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha and other priceless Buddhist
statues, carvings, icons etc., throughout Afghanistan is probably over
by now.The chief of the ruling Taliban, Mulla Mohammad Omar, is
unmoved by the appeal of several countries including Pakistan and
Egypt and the Organisation of Islamic Countries. The unrepentant Mulla,
on the other hand, asked the Muslims world over to support his
destruction order and "unite behind his vision of Islam". He
also exhorted the Muslims of the world not to support the
non-believers since "the infidels wanted to rob Islam of its
Afghanistan was part of Greater India from the dawn of history. After the Greek conqueror Alexander’s invasion of India in 326 BC and retreat, his deputy Seleucus was defeated and the Mauryan Empire arose which stretched as far as the Hindukush region. Ashoka in the third century BC and Kanishka in the first century BC, continued to hold sway in the region. It was towards the end of the first century BC that Buddhism split into two schools, Mahayana and Hinayana, and Buddha who was an agnostic and against deification was turned into a deity. The Greek and Indian traditions yielded the Gandhara School Of Art, resulting in beautiful statues of Buddha and Boddhisatvas all over the Buddhist world, extending from the Hindukush to Indo-China. The Bamiyan Buddha was a part of this heritage. Gandhari in the epic Mahabharata is believed to have come from this region.
Afghanistan was part of the Mughal empire till its decline after Aurangzeb. During the empire-building days of the British, Afghanistan became the cockpit of rivalry between the Russian empire and the British. The British in India believed that their strategic interests extended up to the Hindukush in order to ward off Russian intrusion. This led to the kings of Afghanistan becoming loyal satraps of the British.
After Independence and the Partition, resulting in the emergence of Pakistan, India continued to maintain an excellent rapport with the rulers of Afghanistan. The most shining example of this was the visit of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in June 1969. On her arrival at Kabul, she was received by King Zahir Shah. A cultural troupe consisting of Begum Akhtar, Kathak dancer Damyanti Joshi and some others had accompanied the PM. Begum Akhtar’s music performance in the Chalistoon Palace (Palace of Forty Pillars), where Indira Gandhi was staying, enraptured the select audience, including the members of the royal family. Indira Gandhi also laid the foundation stone for a hospital at Kabul which was later run by a team of Indian doctors. During her stay in Afghanistan, Indira Gandhi visited the Panchsheer Valley across the Salang Pass on the highway leading to Tashkent in Uzbekistan, which was then part of Russia. Indira Gandhi also flew to Bamiyan and beheld the great Buddhist sculpture there. Those were the balmy days and Kabul’s crowded bazaars were overflowing with dry fruits and imported items. Indian merchants who were living there for generations were doing roaring business. All this changed later with coups and counter coups and the fleeing of King Zahir Shah whose rule had been a stabilising influence for many years.
The Russian invasion in 1979, started all the terrible problems which are afflicting Afghanistan even today. The Americans were determined to do a Vietnam on the Russians and Pakistan became the staging post and a trusted ally for pumping in arms and funds for the Afghan freedom fighters. Fundamentalism crept in with the backing of Saudi Arabia, and after he came to power in Pakistan, General Zia promoted fundamentalism systematically. It was Zia again, who sowed the seeds of a large-scale armed insurgency in the Kashmir valley. The Taliban, presently ruling most parts of Afghanistan is the creation of Pakistan, USA and Saudi Arabia. All these three countries should take responsibility for all the excesses which have characterised the present Taliban rule. The rise of Osama bin Laden is also one such outcome and he remains a bugbear and one of the most hunted by Americans.
After Mulla Omar gave his orders for the destruction of Buddhist idols throughout Afghanistan, Prime Minister Vajpayee wrote to several nations including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Unfortunately and strangely enough there was hardly any response from any of the world leaders to his letter. Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh’s statement in the Parliament that India would be happy to take the several Buddhist statues from Afghanistan and bring them to India also failed to elicit any response. On the other hand, a similar offer by Iran was given a reply by Omar saying that Islam believed in destroying statues and not in selling them. It is distressing to see that neither President George Bush nor Tony Blair, nor for that matter Putin, condemned it, much less respond to Vajpayee’s appeal. The ASEAN nations, consisting of several Buddhist countries, did not issue a joint appeal either.
The reaction among the Sangh Parivar leaders was, however, on expected lines. Prof Samuel P. Huntington, the author of a much debated thesis, The Clash of Civilisations? speaks of "the end of the Nehru legacy and the Hinduisation of India" as one of the contributing factors for the growth of fundamentalism in India. As a leading English daily commented, "Where were these righteous guardians of Indian heritage when the Babri Masjid was destroyed? If the statues in Bamiyan are our heritage, so is the Babri Masjid". Is it possible that the muted reaction of the world leaders to the Prime Minister’s appeal was because of the Hindu fundamentalist tag which the NDA’s main constituent BJP has come to acquire?
It is difficult to resist the apprehension that the Taliban madness over the Bamiyan statues is going to have its impact in Kashmir sooner or later. A sizeable number of Afghan Taliban constitute the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohaamed and the Hizbul Mujahideen who are the dominant players in the almost daily attacks in Kashmir. The extended ceasefire has made no difference to them. They have warned the policemen in Jammu and Kashmir to quit their jobs if they want to be alive. This threat has been followed by a series of attacks on policemen, resulting in a large number of casualties. The attacks on armed forces are becoming more and more brazen and the ambush on the armed convoy in the outskirts of Anantnag is very foreboding as it occurred in the town limits which means it could not have occurred without the connivance of the people around.
Mulla Mohhammad Omar appealed to the world Muslims on March 5, "not to harmonise their voices with those of non-believers as the infidels want to rob Islam of its spirit". The implications of this statement are far reaching. With the Pundits mostly driven out of Kashmir Valley, the Sikhs are now being targeted. The Hurriyat leader Geelani claims that the problem of Kashmir is one of religion and not of politics. Even though the other Hurriyat leaders may not agree with him, Geelani is believed to be more influential and pro-Pakistan. Taking into account all these factors, what is the future of Kashmiriyat? The claim that the people of the Valley believe in Kashmiriyat, having been fed on Kashmir’s own Sufi saints and moderate Islamists over the centuries is somewhat tenuous. Fundamentalism is sweeping Pakistan and its influence has also spread to the Pakistan army. In this dangerous emerging scenario what is the future of important Hindu landmarks in the Kashmir Valley? Would Mulla Omar’s anti-infidel and anti-idolatry campaign result in the militants targeting well-known and highly respected landmarks like the Shankaracharya Hill, the Khir Bhawani Temple, the Amarnath Cave etc? Nothing is sacred to them and they do not believe in heritage and the word Kashmiriyat is anathema to them.
What are the lessons which India should draw from the Bamiyan outrage? Does India have the moral and physical courage and strength to stay on in Kashmir and not to get demoralised by the constant deadly attacks against the armed forces, the police and the civilians?