The fidayeen attack near the Wagah border, the main entry point between India and Pakistan, conveys two things. First, those who have vowed to give their life for jihad do not want normalisation of relations between the two countries. Second, after the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, they want the fidayeen’s writ to run.
The fundamentalists are opposed to having an equation with Hindu-majority India. They have mutilated Islamic ideology and practise a form of Islam they believe will lead to the annihilation of the kafir (infidel). They cannot afford to be on the same page with him because they feel that their ideology is superior to others’.
Today, the Taliban’s onslaught is directed towards Pakistan, which is a Muslim country, but not Islamic enough in their eyes. South Waziristan in northwest Pakistan has had a taste of their rule. Before the Islamabad army could wrest the area from the hands of the tribals, the fundamentalists had established their regime. During their rule, female educational institutions were closed. Music was banned. Men were asked to grow beards and women, to wear the burqa. Science was removed from the curriculum. Every liberal thought was considered anti-Islamic, and hence did not find any place. This continued until the people themselves revolted against the dictatorial rule of fundamentalists.
Today, Pakistan faces the same situation in the northern part of Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan. Tribal lords have turned the territory under them into their personal fiefdoms to practise an archaic type of Islam. They are challenging even the Pakistan army and suppressing any opposition. So fanatical are they in their belief that they will go to any limit to uphold it. For them, there are no grey areas.
Over the years, weak central rule has allowed many overlords to rise. Islamabad has belatedly woken up to this situation and has launched an offensive by its armed forces to retrieve the territory under the fundamentalists’ control. Because of the difficult terrain, it is taking time to clear the area. Even the use of the air force has not helped much. The fundamentalists know the area well and escape bombardment by taking shelter in forests, or behind hills.
However, Pakistan’s real problem is the growth of the Taliban within the country itself. The young are increasingly growing beards and going to mosques for prayer. A third of the army is said to be affected by fundamentalist thinking. Islamic studies, a compulsory subject, brainwashes students to cultivate fanaticism and hatred towards other communities. Liberals are too afraid of the maulvis to speak out in support of critics.
The lack of economic development is the primary reason that people have gone astray. They are becoming fanatical in their outlook and/ or taking to arms. Fidayeen attacks have proliferated, and minorities are the target. Not long ago, a church in Peshawar was attacked and as many as 60 people, mostly Christians, were killed. The media is independent but is dominated by people whose thinking is parochial. Lately, those who plug an independent line have been physically assaulted. A recent example is of a popular TV anchor who has refused to swerve from independent thinking, despite being attacked and beaten up. However, though there may be few critical voices, their liberal leanings are unequivocally clear. And the middle class, which moulds public opinion, is much influenced by them.
It is difficult to imagine how much Pakistan has changed over the years. It was a liberal Muslim country, once. But today, it takes pride in its fanaticism. The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wanted the state to be secular but after espousing the two-nation theory, he lacked conviction and credibility when he said after Partition that religion could not be mixed with politics and that the people of the subcontinent were Indians and Pakistanis, not Hindus and Muslims.
The wall that has come up at Wagah-Attari in the shape of the border between India and Pakistan is now unshakeable. It is not a Berlin Wall to one day be demolished, because I do not see the subcontinent coming together. It may have a common market someday, but that will require the shedding of the mistrust that still very much guides the policies of the two countries. The Wagah-Attari border, the site of the fidayeen attack, was infirm during Partition. After some 60-odd years, it remains an infirm border. But it has been peaceful. Even at the height of tensions between India and Pakistan, it has remained the point of entry between the two countries.
I recall crossing the Wagah-Attari border on September 17, 1947.This was almost one month after Partition. The border consisted of overturned drums tied with a rope. There was no visa. Any paper that testified to your identity was good enough. Longingly, I looked at the border. Friends like Bashir and Munir, whom I had left behind, could not become strangers. I vowed to myself that I would contribute to the creation of a soft border, so that people from both sides could cross it at will.
A few years later, I collected some friends, including the renowned journalist Nikhil Chakravartty, and went to the border on August 14-15, when the two countries were born. Today, the number of people who visit the border has ballooned dramatically. Last August, there were more than one lakh people raising slogans: “Hind-Pak dosti zindabad” and “Pakistan-India zindabad”. There was no response from the Pakistan side for the first few years. The Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan was totally opposed to the idea of friendship between the two countries. It relented only because of public pressure. Today, people living in border towns like Amritsar assemble at the border at night. The area is under curfew, but the government gives permission to some 40-50 people to light candles on the border on the midnight of August 14-15.
I have no doubt that someday, people on both sides will celebrate Independence Day together. True, India was partitioned. But that is no reason for the people of the subcontinent to stay apart. India’s democratic secular polity will prevail in the region. And I do hope that the soft Hindutva prevailing in the country at present will disappear and secular ideology will become visible. That is the ethos of our national movement.
The writer is a veteran journalist
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