(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)
The policy of the Clinton administration of supporting
fundamentalist groups at the expense of moderate states should
cause little surprise since US policy on South Asia has always
been directed by a decidedly pro-Pakistan defence department.
However, this policy ignores the reality that the next major war
may well be fought between moderate and fundamentalist
The primary theatre of such a war is likely to be Asia. Except
for Christian fundamentalists—active in the US, Ireland and the
former Yugoslavia—this continent has within itself extremists
from almost all faiths. While it is Hindu or Muslim extremism
that has made headlines, Buddhism has generated not just
Sinhala extremism in Sri Lanka but anarchic manifestations such
as the Aum Shinrikyu sect in Japan. In Israel, the killing of
Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist has been preceded by
decades of contempt for indigenous non-Jewish cultures there.
The growing fanaticism in many parts of Asia appears to support
the view of some social analysts that there is little difference
between East and West. If the European races have been guilty
of genocide of indigenous people in South America, North
America and other parts of the world and of support for slavery
and colonisation, the Asian races have been no less harsh.
Cambodia is a recent example of this, and the frenzy of partition
in the subcontinent was another.
Israel and Pakistan are two states created by western powers
in the name of religion. Bosnia could in effect be another. The
instability in all three underscores the fact that an exclusivist
policy will, after it has destroyed other faiths, begin cannibalising
itself. In the Kashmir valley, for example, Muslim extremists
have begun killing each other after having driven out the
Hindus. In Pakistan, now that there are hardly any non Muslims
left, conflicts have broken out between the Sindhis and Mohajirs
and between the Sunnis and Shias.
The recent Clinton-Gore formulation that Pakistan is a
“moderate” state indicates the extent to which excuses become
accepted as truth later. In such a deception, Islamabad is not to
blame. Pakistan has never hidden its fundamentalist character,
nor its reliance on laws such as those decreeing separate electorates
for non-Muslims or a woman’s evidence having only half the
value of a man’s, according to the Shariat. Indeed, during the
1980s, much of the funding for the creation of the fundamentalist
jihad forces came from the US and Saudi Arabia. The CIA worked
closely with Pakistan's ISI in training and equipping the very
terrorists who are now active not only in Kashmir but in Egypt,
the Philippines and even the US. Having invested billions of
dollars in such "moderate democrats", US policymakers are
understandably reluctant to admit that they were wrong, and
that their remedy for the Soviet incursions in Asia was worse
than the disease.
Today, the mistake made in Afghanistan during the 1980s -
of allowing the ISI to dictate the terms of engagement, and to
sabotage all prospects of a moderate regime in Kabul - is being
repeated by the present American President. In most of the new
states of central Asia, the US is backing Pakistan-supported
fundamentalists against the moderate leaders now in power. In
Afghanistan, it is helping Pakistan to prop up the Taliban, an
organisation not particularly known for its enlightened values.
Within South Asia, Washington is frittering away the chances of
a strategic tie-up with India in favour of continuing its 43-year
old policy of buttressing Pakistan with arms directed against
In Asia, there are two competing tendencies within the
Muslim world. The first is represented by Indonesia and Malaysia,
where non-Muslims have an honoured place and where a culture
of social moderation has been sought to be developed. Then
there are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which support the concept
of jihad and where non-Muslims are regarded as inferior. While
Saudi Arabia has had a long tradition of Wahabbi extremism, the
areas now comprising Pakistan had long been imbued with the
moderate Hanafi doctrine. However, this came under attack
from religious fanatics from 1947 onwards, and has by now
almost totally disappeared. However, this has not prevented the
Pentagon and the state department from regularly certifying that
Islamabad is moderate entity.
The hope of getting a similar certificate from Washington should
not, however, lead India into abandoning its moderate policy.
Should the religious groups within India follow the example of
Pakistan rather than Indonesia, this country would soon become
a Bosnia. South Asia has within itself some of the great religious
traditions of the world—moderate Islam, Hinduism, Jainism,
Sikhism and Buddhism—the central point of which is the need
for tolerance, the right of all faiths to equal treatment. If, in
Pakistan, this "South Asian" value system has been replaced by
a fanatic strain imported from Saudi Arabia, that is reason
enough for India to beware of the danger of such an infection
spreading to its shores.
In the countries of the region - Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri
Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar - India needs to
support moderates against extremists. There is for example no
cause to hesitate in extending material and moral support to
President Rabbani in his bid to fend off the Taliban attack. As for
the two anti-India regimes in the neighbourhood, Bangladesh
and Pakistan, both need to be met with a dual policy. The first,
a statement that any attempt to secure concession through
threats or blackmail will fail. On the other hand, it must be made
clear that friendly dialogue will be rewarded with reciprocal
benefits. The second strand should be that any attempt by one
of the countries in the region to involve outside powers in
regional disputes should be resisted. For example, by raising the
river waters issue in the UN, Bangladesh should forfeit an Indian
response till such time as it abandons the international track and
returns to the regional one. Logically, this would mean that
bilateral issues can be raised within SAARC, but only within
Further afield, the Gulf states need to realise that by following
the policy of the US regional surrogate - Saudi Arabia - they have
abandoned the quest for regional development of technology.
Had the Gulf states contracted a marriage between Indian
technology and Arab capital, their present dependence on western
technologies may have ended. Despite years of huge capital
inflows, the Gulf powers are still technologically deficient.
Rather than play the game of another US surrogate - Pakistan -
and needle India over Kashmir, a closer alliance between this
country and the Gulf states will benefit both.
Analogously, rather than focus near-exclusively on the US
and the EU as economic partners, India needs to expand its ties
with East Asian countries, especially ASEAN and China. Unlike
in many cases of western investment, inflows from other Asian
countries do not bring with it political baggage designed to
reduce technological prowess or force security concessions.
India’s immediate future is in Asia. And Asia's future is in India,
by duplicating this country's development of moderate, secular
structures rather than the extremist variants propagated by the
two US surrogates, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.