Tuesday, June 11, 2002, Chandigarh, India





THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
M A I N   N E W S

A VIEW FROM PAKISTAN: A TRIBUNE EXCLUSIVE
Signs of the changing mood
I.A. Rehman

Lahore. The present military standoff between India and Pakistan has again confirmed how much alike in behaviour the twins are. If the majority of Delhiites (and possibly the entire Indian flock) are prepared to risk a nuclear holocaust, the Pakistanisí fatalistic belief persuades them to welcome death with morbid glee. There is no shortage of people here who are threatening Gen Pervez Musharraf with fire if he gave up the nuclear option, quite unmindful of the danger that even their bones will not survive their medicine. But a small section of people, still capable of lucid thinking, are getting increasingly worried at the fallout of the current situation.

True, the threat of a nuclear holocaust and even a full-scale conventional war between the two South Asian neighbours has begun to recede, but for a large number of Pakistanis a war has already been going on for several months. The border population has been uprooted, and even those staying on in their villages are not living a normal life. Their crops have been ravaged; they cannot move around freely for fear of landmines. They go to sleep with a prayer to be allowed to wake up alive once more.

The countryís economy has come to a grinding halt. Politicians do not know whether elections will be held in October. Those possessing a few rupees as well as those presiding over hoards of money see prudence in not parting with their savings and the unemployed have lost the hope of getting work. The only upbeat happening is the soaring expenditure on defence. The cost of the confrontation has already become prohibitive, and what the Indians need to learn is that Pakistanís losses are their losses too, and vice versa.

There are no two opinions that the devastation of life on the subcontinent has been stalled by Big Power intervention and the nuclear deterrent, and both factors operate against the shared interest of South Asia. That the region should become wholly subservient to the richer and mightier (not necessarily advanced) foreign powers not only denotes a steep fall from the halcyon days of non-alignment and Third World options but also undermines the long-term interests of both India and Pakistan. And if it is agreed that full-scale hostilities have not broken out because both sides have nuclear power, then the acquisition of these dreaded weapons is in a way justified. The setback to the cause of a denuclearised South Asia is immense. That too is a severe blow to peace forces not only in Pakistan but also in India.

Although few envy General Pervez Musharraf in view of his task to accomplish a complete break with the past (a change in policy on Kashmir is only one item on Pakistanís irrevocable agenda), the fact that India has helped him regain some political ground hurts. The call for unity in the face of threat to national security has diverted public gaze from nearly three years of barren rule and the farce of the referendum.

The ARD Alliance for the restoration of Democracy chief, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, cannot decline the Generalís invitation to ďconsultationĒ, and Western pundits have started praying for his survival in authority. Even some of his relentless opponents can be heard saying that he should complete his drive against the religious militants because his replacement, military or civil, may not be even as willing or strong as he appears to be. Thus, a large body of opinion is keenly worried at the prospect of authoritarian rule in Pakistan getting extended, and in the event of that happening this country will lose a great deal, and India and South Asia as a whole also will be net losers.

The public mood in Pakistan, at least as reflected in the anxieties of the conscious citizens, is that of resignation to a long haul because the bills for the stateís waywardness over 50 years have come in a single packet.

As regards the immediate problem, the demand for the cessation of Pakistani elementsí infiltration into the Indian part of Kashmir, the majority of Pakistanis are ahead of General Musharraf, notwithstanding the noises being made by the militants and their apologists among retired Generals, amateur politicians and media moghuls. This does not mean that the average Pakistani has changed his perception of the Kashmir issue or given up his solidarity with the Kashmiri people. The change in his outlook, and it is a big leap, is the realisation that the strategy of armed militancy has to be abandoned as it has become unfeasible.

The problem is that this strategy grew out of Pakistanís dangerous drift towards a religious state given to proselytising the world through force. The seed was there in the genesis of the demand for Pakistan itself. Successive leaders till 1977 tried to secure their political status by giving concessions to quasi-religious challengers and Gen Zia-ul-Haq almost turned Pakistan into a militant religious entity. Till October, 1999, General Musharraf saw little wrong with the Zia legacy. Over the past three years, and especially after September, 2001, he has come to realise that the Zia model cannot work and has to be scrapped. But he is still addressing the symptoms and not the core issue.

The Afghan policy collapsed, and Islamabad thought ditching the Afghan Talibans was enough, the domestic Talibans could be left to flourish. The jehad in Kashmir cannot be sustained; it is enough to promise the stoppage of infiltration. General Ziaís zina (adultery) ordinance cannot be defended, but it is enough to get Zafaran Bibi acquitted after she had been awarded the sentence of death by stoning by the trial court. The plan for an interest-free economy cannot be implemented, and, therefore, seek relief from the Supreme Court.

A new finance award on distribution of resources between the federation and the provinces will become controversial, hence let the old award continue. On the one hand, the will to reconstruct the state on a new, democratic basis is lacking and, on the other hand, the clergy must continue to be appeased. It demands a change in the voter application form and it is conceded the next moment.

Public opinion realises that Pakistanís political about-turn will be a long and painful process, but it will not even begin if South Asia as a whole keeps drifting away from the ideals of democracy, secularism and peace. In this context the prospect of a fresh war with India causes dismay because whatever its consequences and whatever the quality of life that survives the meaningless conflict, the Pakistani peopleís journey to redemption will become longer and more hazardous. Unfortunately, those who think like this also realise that they may again have to pay the cost of yielding to the bravado of men on horseback, especially at moments when heresy alone represents reason, sanity and the national cause.

The writer is a former Editor of The Pakistan Times.
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