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Terrorism: the South Asian dimension - ii
By Syed Shahabuddin

South Asia stretching from the Karakoram range to the Arabian sea is a geographically and culturally distinct region and accounts for roughly 25% of the world’s population. Unfortunately this historic region has been left behind by the other regions of the world in progress towards defining its regional identity and evolving a regional approach on world issues and building inter-regional linkages. India occupies the center of the stage as the biggest and the most populous state in the region and would have normally enjoyed primacy within the regional family, but for its long history of communal politics which led to the establishment of Pakistan obsessed with its quest for parity and the continued wrangling over Kashmir thereafter. As a result, relations among the states and the peoples of the region, their political, economic, social and cultural development and their relationship with the rest of the world have been warped and twisted by these twin factors of Hindu-Muslim antipathy and India-Pakistan rivalry.

It is indeed sad but perhaps natural that when a vital part of South Asia is under carpet bombing by an external power, when the long term political stability and economic viability of the region are in question, in the absence of meaningful understanding between India and Pakistan, the region has failed to evolve a common response to the Afghan situation. Twice in the last 50 years the possibility of defence cooperation between India and Pakistan was missed, first when India was attacked by China in 1962 and then in 1979 when the then USSR invaded Afghanistan. History is repeating itself before our eyes today, with perhaps higher stakes. As Russia is no longer in the same league. There is no constraint on US action except UN Charter and International Law but, divided as they are, neither India nor Pakistan, individually or together, can afford to stand aloof, far less oppose the US war, mobilize world public opinion against unilateral action without evidence, or call for collective action against global terrorism only under the flag of UN. They are hardly in a position to press for expeditious formulation and enforcement of universal extradition treaty and the establishment of an International Court against Terrorism, perhaps as a second chamber of the proposed International Criminal Court or as a permanent UN Tribunal. For making such a contribution to the evolution of the international law to a higher level in keeping with the growing inter-dependence of mankind, together they would have to mobilize first the other states in the region and then the wider fraternity of Non-aligned States. Together, they could have become the author of the new international order.

As it is with India and Pakistan both tied to the strings of the US chariot, the other states in the region have no option but to sing the same tune. In any case nothing much is demanded of them nor are they in a position to offer any substantial assistance to the war machine. Thus while European states across the NATO barrier have tried to chisel a European response, the Arab states have taken more or less a common stand, Black Africa, South-east Asia and Latin America have adopted a common posture, there is no south Asian consensus on the horizon.

Coming to the people, in a crisis, even in a democracy, generally the people follow the lead of the governments and minorities everywhere are careful not to be caught on the wrong foot. Even if they have some reservations, they generally avoid criticizing popular consensus, lest they be damned as fifth-columnists, seditious or sympathetic to the enemy. In the war against global terrorism, but whatever they say and howsoever they hide themselves or conceal their opinions,even if they do not nurse such sympathies, the religious minorities, not only in India or Pakistan but in the USA, are facing distrust and suspicion. Whatever world leaders may say for the record, in India or the USA, both Muslim Indians and Muslim Americans are under a shadow, the actual and potential targets of the inevitable drift of the state towards totalitarianism. They may even suffer physical persecution. Unfortunately while reiterating that war is against terrorism and not against Islam, Prime Minister Vajpayee in a fit of avoidable rhetoric as qualified international terrorism as ‘religious terrorism’. One can immediately see that the thrust behind such expression will encourage in the Indian context the Hindu Chauvinist forces which are busy sharpening their claws. Had India and Pakistan adopted a policy of cooperation, agreed to put Kashmir on the back burner and stood up together for national as well as regional solidarity against what is undoubtedly an international menace, not only would they have played a vital role but controlled the extremist forces in their countries.

No doubt this is partly because of their own ambivalence and reservations. A part of the responsibility also lies on organizations like the SIMI and irresponsible individuals like Ahmed Bukhari who play up Osama bin Laden as the Muslim hero, on a section of the Muslim Indians who oppose US bombing in Afghanistan because the Afghans are a Muslim people and Afghanistan is a Muslim country. Muslim Indians should keep in view that there is no unanimity even in Afghanistan, that a civil war is raging and many Afghans are leaving the country and seeking refuge elsewhere. They should also know that public opinion in the Muslim world is also divided, and that even such revolutionary regimes like those of Iran, Iraq and Syria have been largely silent. 

The Hindu chauvinist could not ask for a better scenario in India. They see such an opening as an opportunity to put the Muslim Indian in his place, crush Pakistan, destroy Kashmiri nationalism and move forward toward Akhand Bharat, Hindu hegemony from the Hindukush to Kanyakumari. Just as in the wake of 11 September, Israel has intensified its repression of the Palestinian people, the Hindutva ideologues are pushing the Indian state into indifference and even hostility towards Muslim Indians, thus increasing the distance between the communities and straining the social environment to the point of explosion. Perhaps Vajpayee is projecting himself as the super Swayamsevak, the staunch defender of national interests as perceived by the Sangh Parivar, naturally tuned to his immediate objective of winning the coming assembly election in U.P.

Notwithstanding the resurgence of America’s old passion for Pakistan, which caused chagrin to India, some Indian strategist believe that in the long run, the USA is bound to tilt away from Pakistan because of its double facedness, curb Pakistan’s support to Kashmiri militancy and help India pacify Kashmir, even force Pakistan to accept the status-quo. But while USA may be inclined towards making a gift of Kashmir to Pakistan as a reward for services rendered, even against the wishes of its own people, why should it help India against Pakistan? The USA can as well do with a dependable and manageable enclave of influence in the heart of the Sub-continent.

The West may have tried to keep India in good humour through political gestures like visits by the Western leaders. statements deprecating terrorism in Kashmir, inviting Prime Minister to the White House, lifting sanctions and promising to supply high tech weapons, resume defence cooperation and naming, but not banning, the major militant outfits. But the Prime Minister has to wait and see, if the USA turns towards India. In the meantime he has banned SIMI, promulgated POTO, allowed VHP to assault the disputed site in Ayodhya and carry on with its mass mobilization to defy the judiciary, created scare about madarsas and masjids and thus succeeded in darkening the images of Indian Muslims in the Hindu eyes, with generous and welcome support of some religious leaders who have to bake their own bread. The misplaced enthusiasm of a section of the Muslim youth, who may dream of re-establishing Khilafat and restoring Muslim power in India has played havoc with the democratic rights of the Muslim community. They have fallen silent but their silence has not served to wash away the doubts of their detractors.

To sum up, within a month, USA’s war on bin Laden and the Taliban regime appears to have lost its way, because its objectives were incapable of achievement, its logic was warped, its legality was questionable, its methods were unacceptable, its tactics were ineffective and its strategy was flawed. Indeed today in and out of Afghanistan there is more sympathy for the Afghan people, more appreciation of the resilience of the Taliban regime and growing silent admiration for bin Laden. Anti-war protests within Europe and the USA and in key countries like Pakistan will grow if the US goes on indefinitely for months even for years.

Osama may be killed or taken alive, Taliban may fall and be replaced by a regime more friendly to the USA but multi-level terrorism by individuals, organized groups or states, internally rooted or externally directed, will continue. It will continue because the root cause of terrorism is the feeling of helplessness in a situation of persistent, frustrating and sustained injustice as in Palestine and on terms of trade in non-renewable resources. There can be no peace without justice. 

With the near total exclusion of Russia and China the region has now fallen under the flag of Pax-Americana. Tomorrow if America achieves its strategic objective to extend its area of economic operation to Central Asia, it will be in a position to play the arbiter in regional affairs and thus win the concluding series of the Great Game. But that is not the end of History, so long as mankind hungers for Freedom and Justice. 

South Asia can still be saved and can in turn save the world, if India and Pakistan see the futility of their petty squabbles, realize that their agenda is parochial and rise above it to write a new chapter in the history of the sub-continent and perhaps help author a new constitution for the world.

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