When Independence came, Lord Mountbatten insisted that Pakistan should become a nation a day earlier than India. This was because he wanted to be at both ceremonies. His ego had to exact a price. The principal participants did not quite understand what it meant to set up two separate nation states. Muhammad Ali Jinnah thought he could spend weekends at his house in Malabar Hill. Jawaharlal Nehru thought Pakistan would not last very long and would eventually come back into the fold.
Sixty-seven years on, one of the largest democracies among Muslim-majority countries is facing a crisis. It may be just a temporary blip, brought on by ambitious and impatient demagogues like Imran Khan, but it’s a serious challenge that is being mounted by the march of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf on Islamabad. To make matters worse, there is the religious element with the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, with Dr Tahir ul Qadri at its head.
The ostensible claim is that there was fraud in the 2013 elections. But then why wait this long to complain? The immediate quarrel can hardly be as serious as it has become. The real crisis is the Taliban challenge Pakistan faces in its North-West, and which goes to the heart of the existence of the country as an Islamic Republic.
Within the last two years, the attitude of Pakistan’s ruling party towards the US has changed. Once, the drone attacks on the Taliban were unwelcome. Pakistan authorities saw that as a violation of their sovereignty. Attempts were made to negotiate a truce with Taliban. Imran Khan was active in this move. All that has failed. Now Pakistan wants American drones to assist the army’s offensive against the Taliban.
After many years of an ambivalent relationship with the Taliban, Pakistani authorities have at last realised that the Taliban are not friends; they are rivals for power. The Taliban do not want friendship; they want the throne in Pakistan, as they do in Afghanistan. The Taliban are typical of Islamist movements. They are more interested in capturing power in Muslim-majority states and undermining normal politics than they are in terrorising the rest of the world. It is therefore not just in Pakistan that they are making trouble. Across the Muslim world, westward from Pakistan till you get to the borders of Turkey and across the Maghreb, there are governments being torn apart and Muslims being killed by Muslims in thousands.
This schism in Islam, which has its roots in the encouragement of Wahhabism by Saudi Arabia, has now become cancerous. Over the past 40 years, it has destroyed country after country. Look at the trouble the ISIS is causing with its beheading of Yazidis and of Shias, the three-year civil war in Syria, the breakdown of authority in Iraq, the return of the army in Egypt, the anarchy in Libya, the activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria and in Kenya, to conclude that a Muslim has more to fear from his co-religionist than from anyone else.
Pakistan is at one end of this large regional crisis. If the Taliban are allowed to prosper, the Shia population in Pakistan will become extinct. The Western powers have lost the appetite for intervention. They did not intervene in Syria or when the Caliphate was proclaimed by ISIS. It is only now when the Yazidis are in mortal danger of a holocaust that there is some intervention. It may be called hypocritical that the West did not offer similar relief to the civilian Muslim victims of the multiple civil wars in Syria and Iraq. But after 9/11, there has been a distinct shift in Western sympathy for Muslims. This may be unfair, but is undeniable.
Pakistan will most probably survive. As Islamic Republics go, it is the most secular. It has a strong civil society despite its weak political one. Democracy has been a fragile plant in Pakistan. Now that it is flowering again, it needs help to survive. The question is: Why does the rest of the Muslim world not come to the rescue of its own people being slaughtered across the Muslim world?
Why are there no huge civilian protests about what is going on? Do people march only when America is at fault?
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