Moth-eaten to failed state
9 July 2001
The Hindustan Times
New Delhi: IS THE chance for peace in the subcontinent better — or worse — now when Pakistan is under its weakest leader in recent
memory? It has had more foolish dictators like Yahya Khan who presided over the country’s break-up in 1971. Or a
seemingly more clever one like Ayub Khan who tried in vain to convince Americans that they were friends and not masters. Or
a more canny one like Zia-ul-Haq whose toothy smiles did not hide the sharpening of the fundamentalist agenda against India.
But if none of them was as weak as General — sorry, President — Pervez Musharraf, it is because they all had the backing of
their godfather in Washington. As long as Pakistan was America’s client in South Asia for fighting communism in the Soviet
Union and Afghanistan, the US could turn a blind eye to the absence of democracy and even Islamabad’s collaboration with
All of that has changed, however, in today’s world. And what is more, Pakistan’s foolish dependence on the US has brought it
to its present pass. Its basic mistake from the beginning was to try to convert itself into India’s equal. Had Pakistan been
reconciled to an unavoidable secondary status like Nepal’s and Sri Lanka’s, it would not have followed its ruinous path.
But two factors appear to have made it try to match India. One was the fear that India would one day gobble it up, a fear not
shared by Nepal and Sri Lanka which have always been separate countries while Pakistan was carved out of India. This
apprehension about India’s hidden agenda of undoing the Partition apparently shared space with a grandiose dream of Muslims
once again ruling the subcontinent, as before the British.
The two contradictory feelings of fear and hope accounted for Pakistan’s obsession with India, as probably no other country is
to such an extent with its neighbour. To make matters worse, America’s need for it as a cat’s paw in this region made Pakistan
fall into the US trap, a danger which now threatens India because of Jaswant “Lord Haw Haw” Singh’s predilections.
Evidently, Pakistan felt more secure under the US umbrella while the (unequal) partnership opened the door for the import of
armaments. Ostensibly meant for fighting communism, Pakistan had no hesitation in using them against India while the US
looked the other way.
The 1965 war had followed India’s humiliation in 1962 by China and Nehru’s death in 1964. These two events had seemingly
convinced Ayub Khan that an India under the unmilitary-looking Lal Bahadur Shastri was easy prey. The belief, fostered partly
by the West, that Indian democracy was unstable, must have also played a part in Ayub Khan’s calculations. It did not take
long for him to realise his mistake, but Pakistan’s India-centric policies did not change.
The 1971 war was not of India’s making. Pakistan brought it on itself by its rejection of democracy, an adherence to which
would have made Shiekh Mujibur Rahman the country’s prime minister because of his party’s electoral victory. Strange as it
may seem, the election of December 1970 was the first national poll in Pakistan based on universal suffrage. The world’s
strongest democracy across the Atlantic did not see it that way, however, and sent its Seventh Fleet into the Bay of Bengal to
stave off India’s help for Bangladesh. But it was the world’s largest democracy which ultimately prevailed.
That was the time for Pakistan to become reconciled to its fate and make up with India. But India’s success in cutting it into
two seems to have enraged Pakistan even more. From then on, it seems to have toyed with the idea of doing to India in
Kashmir what India had done to Pakistan in Bangladesh — use a civil strife in the state to wrest it from India. If the
Hindus could team up with the Muslims of Bangladesh, wouldn’t it be easier for the Muslims of Pakistan to come to the aid of
their co-religionists in Kashmir?
But, here again, Pakistan’s lack of democratic experience clouded its outlook. For one, Bangladesh’s struggle which cut across
the Hindu-Muslim barrier (as can still be seen in Taslima Nasreen’s writings) was against dictatorship and for democracy. For
another, a democracy —- even one under pressure as in Kashmir — has far more resilience and represents a multicultural
concept which can win over international opinion.
In recent years, even Pakistan’s godfather understood — perhaps from the Balkans example — that territorial aggrandisement
and religious affinity can undermine a pluralist experiment. But before that, the godfather had already planted a kiss of death on
its submissive client by encouraging Islamic bigots to take on the Soviets in Afghanistan. Washington’s reasoning may have
been simple — that you can only fight one kind of fundamentalism by another. But the fallout for Pakistan has been disastrous.
Indeed, it is this aspect of American policy which can be said to have cooked Pakistan’s goose. The year 1989 is crucial in this
context because it was in that year that Pakistan switched from the futilities of war against India (1948, 1965, 1971) to a proxy
war. But 1989 also saw the fall of the Berlin Wall. Communism was dead and the US no longer had any need for Pakistan.
If the Cold War had bled the Soviet Union white, the proxy war has spelt doom for Pakistan. It could not resist the temptation
of using the jehadis to fight its battle in Kashmir. But the US had woken up in the meantime to the danger of Islamic
fundamentalism, already apparent in acts of terror directed against Americans and also in the insurgencies in Algeria and Egypt
(now under control) and in West Asia and Chechnya.
Even more than Pakistan’s dire economic condition, it is the emergence of the militants and their inevitable divisive impact on
the social scene within Pakistan which have persuaded its present-day rulers to respond to the Indian invitation with alacrity.
They must know that their game is up. Nothing has worked for Pakistan in its confrontation with India. Neither wars, nor proxy
wars, nor “friendship” with America and China.
Pakistan’s emergence was as a “moth-eaten” State, in Jinnah’s words, because the original plan did not envisage the partition
of Punjab and Bengal. As Stanley Wolpert records in his biography of Jinnah, the announcement of the “moth-eaten” plan at
the Muslim League’s meeting in New Delhi’s Imperial Hotel on June 9-10, 1947, angered “orthodox mullahs and mighty
landed barons with the most to lose from Punjab’s partition, as well as mercantile magnates who hated the thought of giving
Calcutta to their Hindu rivals”.
Amidst shouts of “betrayal” and a “tragedy” for Pakistan, “Khaskars rushed in through the once-tranquil hotel garden, entering
the hotel lounge, brandishing belchas or sharpened spades ... shouting ‘Get Jinnah !’” A quarter of a century later, the secession
of the eastern wing buried the two-nation theory, the inspiration behind Pakistan’s creation. After that, it was but a short step to
being a “failed” State, according to an informal American assessment.
From the start, therefore, nothing went right for Pakistan. On top of it, its irrational enmity towards India made it follow a
self-destructive course. The sense of antipathy has now reached a stage where the jehadis are even warning Musharraf against
making peace with India. While comparisons are being made between him and Kemal Ataturk, one can only hope that he does
not meet the fate of Anwar Sadat who paid with his life for making peace with Israel.