ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Pakistan-India Conundrum: Shades of the Past

Pakistan may appear to be a petty power in global politics today. But it can always wave its precious possession - nuclear weaponry - as the sword of Damocles over the US whenever the latter bullies it. As they frequently appear to reach the brink in this game of one-upmanship, the options are shrinking fast for both.


Pakistan-India Conundrum: Shades of the Past army in 1971, and, second, the training of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fighters in their war for secession from Sri Lanka in the 1980s (the latter having fatal consequences for its strategist Rajiv Gandhi). But the Indian state’s domestic offensive
Sumanta Banerjee against expressions of mass discontent,

Pakistan may appear to be a petty power in global politics today. But it can always wave its precious possession – nuclear weaponry

– as the sword of Damocles over the US whenever the latter bullies it. As they frequently appear to reach the brink in this game of one-upmanship, the options are shrinking fast for both.

Sumanta Banerjee ( is a political commentator who is best known for his book In the Wake of Naxalbari: A History of the Naxalite Movement in India.

recently sent an SOS to an old friend of mine in Lahore – I A Rahman, the architect of the human rights movement in Pakistan – wanting to know how he and my other friends were surviving in the midst of the bomb-a-day mayhem and the serial political assassinations in his country. He wrote back: “Your friends are safe”, adding the ominous sting, “for the time being”. It raises the spectre of the twin threat that progressive and secularminded people in Pakistan today face from the military Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Islamic terrorist groups, which both collide and collude at times to suit their respective interests.

In India such collaboration between the State’s armed apparatus and government-sponsored vigilante groups is not unknown. We have witnessed the rise of the landlord-led Ranvir Sena under police protection in Bihar, the recruitment of Salwa Judum mercenaries by the government in Chhattisgarh, and the transformation of surrendered militants in Kashmir and the north-east into armed gangs by the Indian intelligence agencies to utilise them in suppressing popular protests and violating human rights. In a similar gruesome fashion, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat had used the Bajrang Dal, RSS and other Hindu terrorist outfits to massacre Muslims.

But there is a qualitative difference between the objectives of the state machinery in India and Pakistan in sponsoring armed extra-state agencies, as well as the responses of political parties and civil society to such acts in the two countries. The armed mercenaries in India are mainly employed by the government against d omestic agrarian movements and hired by the Hindu politicians to bully and kill minorities within India. The two exceptions when the Indian state’s intelligence agencies became proactive in extra-territorial intervention were first, the grooming of Bangladeshi guerrillas to fight the Pakistan

november 26, 2011

and the government machinery’s abetting at the massacre of Muslims have always provoked demonstrations of protest by a robust Indian civil society. Civil liberties groups have also consistently protested against the violation of human rights of the non-combatant citizens in insurgencyhit Kashmir and the north-east by the I ndian army. The Indian judiciary – despite the class and religion-based bias of many of the judges – has quite often delivered landmark verdicts in favour of the victims of state oppression and discrimination.

Compared with us, my friends in Pakistan are in a precarious situation. Their enemies are more powerful than the hired goons of the Indian state. The extra-state armed organisations which are sponsored by the ISI and are operating both within and outside Pakistan – Taliban, Al Qaida, Haqquani, and other similar groups – are a part of a global network. They are being used by the Pakistan state as ancillaries to serve its extraterritorial interests in A fghanistan, Bangladesh, Kashmir in India

– and even as far as Xinjiang in China (the latter has blamed terrorist attacks in its territory on the Islamist fundamentalist groups based in Pakistan). Their leaders, masquerading as religious preachers (like the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who was arrested, but released by the court) are allowed to propagate the message of jihad to implement obscurantist socio-religious norms within the country, and justify armed incursions abroad.

When a few courageous souls from within the Pakistan civil society dare to protest against acts of religious fanaticism, or Pakistani journalists expose cases of violation of human rights, they are abducted, tortured, killed by the agents of a diabolic state that is based on a synergetic kinship between army generals and the religious clergy behind the façade of a wimpish civilian government. What is alarming is that substantial sections of the public in Pakistan seem to empathise with this kinship. They are driven by a

vol xlvi no 48

Economic & Political Weekly


congenital desire to assert military might as a symbol of national identity vis-à-vis their neighbour India. In this respect, funnily enough they share the same machismo of those sections of the Indian public which follow the Hindu saffron brigade’s parallel paradigm of identifying nationhood with military prowess against their neighbour Pakistan.

This militarist and theocratic nationalist mindset that quite often explodes into violent demonstrations in the streets of Lahore, Islamabad and other cities of P akistan has been further fuelled by the humiliation that Islamabad suffered at the hands of Washington, which outmanoeuvred the ISI by carrying out the execution of its most protected protégé Osama bin Laden in his own den in Pakistani territory. The US continues to snub its blustering army generals by carrying out daily drone attacks on Pakistani soil. The anti-US mood, generated by such acts among the public, is usurped by the orthodox clergy to establish its hegemony by branding every manifestation of scientific inquiry, assertion of secular values, and reiteration of women’s emancipation as a conspiracy by the US. Large sections of the public appear to be in a mood to accept the call of the clergy for jihad against expressions of faith in democracy and secularism – values which they are being trained to identify with the infidel west. The same articulate middle class professionals who led the movement to oust the military dictator Pervez Musharraf and for a civilian government, soon after came out on the streets in support of a totally outrageous cause – the right of a religious fanatic Mumtaz Qadri to kill Salman Taseer, the Punjab governor for defending a Christian woman against the charge of blasphemy. Important members of civil society like the legal fraternity hailed Qadri as a hero, and the judge who dared to sentence him to death has now gone into hiding fearing threats to his life.

It is sad when we hear a high-profile, international figure like Imran Khan (during a recent interview on NDTV), confessing that it may not be safe to express one’s opinions in public in p resent-day Pakistan, because of the total polarisation of society. In what two sections is Pakistan society polarised? For an answer, we have to turn to

Economic & Political Weekly

november 26, 2011

Pervez Hoodbhoy of the Quaid-e-Azam University of Islamabad, who sums up the history of the polarisation: “Pakistan once had a violent, rabidly religious lunatic fringe. This fringe has morphed into a majority. The liberals are now the fringe” (quoted in The Hindu, 19 October 2011).

Patriarchal Hegemony versus Patricidal Impulses

The morphing of the “religious lunatic fringe” into a majority is an outcome of the growing conflict between Washington’s global hegemonic interests and Islamabad’s ambition to play an autonomous role in regional politics. To quote I A Rahman from an article of his which appeared in The News of Lahore of 2 October 2011: the root cause of the tension between them has been…the tendency on the part of each side to interpret their partnership exclusively in its own interests.” In fact, the tension started right from the US-Pak security pact of 1952. “The US took pains”, Rahman adds, “to make it clear that it was helping the modernisation and re-equipment of Pakistan defence forces solely for use against communist powers, but Pakistan stuck to the belief that it had a right to use the US military aid in its fight with India.”

The same tension has reappeared today in US-Pakistan relationship over the mode of dealing with Al Qaida, Haqqani, Taliban and other numerous terrorist groups – the unruly children born of the secret CIA-ISI liaison in the hills of Afghanistan in the 1980s to be used by the US to oust the then communist regime there. Spiralling out of US control after the end of the Afghan war, they are now well-greased by funds from Saudi Arabian religious bodies, and indoctrinated by their Wahabi militant ideology they want to establish Shariadictated regimes all over the world. The Pakistani army generals with equally expansionist ambitions are hosting and arming these multinational groups (comprising Arabs, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Pakistanis, and even with a sprinkling of converted white Muslims), which are not only bent on destabilising regimes in Kabul and New Delhi, but have launched a war of patricide against their progenitor, starting with 9/11 in the heart of America and continuing with regular attacks on US and

vol xlvi no 48

NATO forces in almost every part of the world. It is the same old story of Frankenstein devouring its creator!

Pakistan has turned into the epicentre of global terrorism, with its army generals calling the shots, and its civil society and political parties out of the running. An “Arab Spring” in Pakistan does not appear to be an immediate possibility. If there is any anti-government agitation, it will be headed in all likelihood by the stronglyentrenched anti-US Islamist groups supported by middle class professionals, rather than secular forces or moderate Islamist political parties which received US backing in the recent anti-government demonstrations in Cairo, Tunis and Tripoli.

The US, which sired Al Qaida and other Islamist terrorist groups, is now in a real quandary. Its secretary of state Hillary Clinton recently threatened Pakistan that her government might take unilateral action against these groups if Islamabad continued to nurse them as snakes in its backyard in the false hope that they would only bite the neighbours. It is an apt metaphor to describe Pakistan’s present policies. But then, Hillary Clinton should also remember the other story about the snake, which eager to devour a frog, ended up by getting stuck with it in its throat, unable either to swallow or disgorge it ! This is a more appropriate metaphor for the dilemma that Washington is facing today – stuck with a recalcitrant Pakistan that it fears to push to the wall because of its nuclear threat (reiterated by the army chief Kayani who reminded Washington that it should think 10 times before it tried an Iraq or Afghanistan in his country). But Washington can surely call Kayani’s bluff. It knows where Pakistan’s nuclear bases are exactly located. It can “snatch and grab” them – the term used by US defence advisors – as a pre-emptive strike. Is the sabrerattling b et ween the two countries then an exercise in testing each other’s mettle to accommodate mutual interests till the last moment?

Shades of Europe of the 1930s?

But a similar exercise by European powers in the past cost the world dearly. Remember the pre-second world war scenario in Europe? The defeated politicos and army generals in Germany, who were forced to


sign the Versailles Treaty of 1919, nurtured a vengeful soil that raised the deadly weed called Hitler, a decade later. That past is coming back, grinning at us in the shape of present parodies. Pakistani politicians and armed forces suffered a disastrous defeat in the 1972 war with India, and were compelled to forgo their right to dominate and exploit their eastern limb – East Bengal. The sense of loss of territory was further accentuated by the humiliating public display on the international media, of the Pakistan army general surrendering with his jawans, and the latter b eing herded as prisoners of war in Indian camps. These scenes left a lasting scar on Pakistani national pride. Like the defeated German generals after the first world war, the Pakistani army brass also, smarting from the insult, developed a strategy for avenging the defeat – the stimulation of a national mood in favour of a permanent confrontation with India. It eminently served their institutional aspiration to be a decisive force in Pakistan’s politics, as well as their personal ambition to become a powerful money-making elite in Pakistan society (as well-documented by Ayesha Siddiqa in her book Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy).

Nazism as a Forerunner

To examine the parallels further, let us get back to Germany in the latter half of the 1930s, when democratic and secular forces there were systematically decimated by Hitler’s military regime. He turned his homeland into an epicentre of Nazi expansionist designs against sovereign European states. Large sections of German civil society was brainwashed into believing in the racist theory of Aryan superiority which branded the inferior Jews as targets of the “final solution”, and they rallied behind Hitler to advance Germany’s suzerainty over the world. In a certain sense, Nazism can be viewed as a forerunner of today’s Islamic fundamentalist forces, which in a similar style of proclaiming a self-righteous ideology and following global expansionist designs, annihilate religious m inorities on the charge of blasphemy, persecute liberal-minded members of their own community, and seek to establish the dominance of their draconian Sharia laws all over the world.

As I listen to the voices of my friends in Pakistan today, their plight echoes the same fate that was faced by liberal humanists, socialists, communists, Jews, gypsies and dissidents in Germany under Hitler. In the 1930s, both the western d emocracies and the socialist Soviet Union, during this crucial period of Nazi consolidation, placated Hitler – each out of their respective motives: the capitalist powers hoping to use him as a lethal tool to destroy the socialist regime, and the latter to preempt such an eventuality forced to come to a deal with him. But Hitler outmanoeuvred both the British Prime Minister Chamberlain (by tricking him into signing the Munich Agreement in 1938 under which the Sudetenland was ceded to Germany), and the Soviet leader Stalin (through the non-aggression treaty in 1939, which allowed Hitler to secure the Eastern Front for launching his future war). Had both the western democracies and the Soviet Union collaborated in nipping Nazism in the bud when Hitler reoccupied Rhineland in 1936, and annexed Austria two years later, they could have saved the world from a destructive war.

Compared to Hitler’s Germany, Kayani’s Pakistan may appear to be a petty power in global politics today. But it can always wave its precious possession – nuclear weaponry – as the sword of Damocles over the US whenever the latter bullies it. As they frequently appear to reach the brink in this game of one-upmanship, the options are shrinking fast for both. Bled by its disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington does not have the stomach to wage another war for a regime change in Islamabad, where the public mood is anti-US. It is therefore desperately looking for a face-saving device that would enable it to sneak out from Afghanistan after striking a deal with the Taliban that will neutralise the anti-US edge of the Islamist terrorist groups and dissuade them from launching attacks on the US. Once assured of its protection against such assaults, Washington will resort to its typical opportunist strategy of temporary withdrawal from regional conflicts (already evident from Hillary Clinton’s latest testimony at a US congressional hearing, where she hinted at reducing further pressures on Pakistan), leaving the conflicting states to sort out their problems through a messy war, and finally forcing both the devastated states to turn to the US for aid to revive their economy.


July 30, 2011
Urban Concerns: An Introduction – Anant Maringanti, Amita Baviskar,
Karen Coelho, Vinay Gidwani
Bypassing the Squalor: New Towns, Immaterial Labour
and Exclusion in Post-colonial Urbanisation – Rajesh Bhattacharya, Kalyan Sanyal
Urban Development and Metro Governance – K C Sivaramakrishnan
Branded and Renewed? Policies, Politics and
Processes of Urban Development in the Reform Era – Darshini Mahadevia
Translating Marx: Mavali, Dalit and the Making
of Mumbai’s Working Class, 1928-1935 – Juned Shaikh
The Board and the Bank:
Changing Policies towards Slums in Chennai – Nithya Raman
For copies write to:
Circulation Manager,
Economic and Political Weekly,

320-321, A to Z Industrial Estate, Ganpatrao Kadam Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 013. email:

november 26, 2011 vol xlvi no 48

Economic & Political Weekly

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top