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Saturday, 6 March 1999

Back Benazir Bhutto - Downside of Kebab Policy


(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)


It is difficult to be a Caucasian in Kashmir: hordes of Hurriyat
volunteers surround each such visitor, beginning her or him to
ask Bill Clinton, Helmut Kohl or even Prince Rainier to give them
freedom. Heady stuff, almost as effervescent as the champagne
and whisky served in the residences of Delhi’s gracious Pakistani
diplomats. The most welcome guests at these soirees are from
the small corps of Caucasian journalists based in Delhi, as also
the few Indians working in US or EU media organisations. So
why the surprise when the BBC rails against troops preventing
terrorist outrages during elections in Kashmir, but coy approval
when soldiers perform the same function in Bosnia? The
incarceration of IRA bomb·throwers in Britain is democracy-
compatible, but similar action in India is not.

Army Dominance
Sadly, the alcohol and the kebabs do little to address the root of
Pakistan’s malaise, which is the domination of the Sunni Punjabi
army. While Benazir Bhutto’s rantings may attract the attention
of speech therapists, the fact remains that an army putsch is no
way to remove an elected prime minister. just as the very
"supporters" of Pakistan weakened democracy in that country
by buttressing the armed forces through the Brown amendment,
they have further hastened its disintegration by turning an
approving eye to the latest instance of the men in uniform acting
as though they were superior to the electorate.

Following on from Delhi’s waffling over Afghanistan, this
country has accepted Farooq Leghari’s coup against the elected
Benazir government. What is the difference between present-day
Pakistan and Myanmar? In both countries, the generals rule.
However, unlike the US—which is desperately trying to preserve
its 45-year investment in the Pakistan armed forces—India has
a stake in the development of grassroots democracy in Pakistan.
Only such a development will ensure friendly relations with
Delhi.

The Clinton administration tried hard to get India to make
concessions on Kashmir and on defence programmes to the 
benefit of Pakistan, ignoring the reality that this country has
made enormous sacrifices for Pakistan from 1947 onwards.
Money and river waters got transferred in the 1950s, while
Pakistan's occupation of a third of Kashmir went unchallenged.
In Tashkent in 1965, the Haji Pir pass was returned to Ayub. In
1971 at Simla, Indira Gandhi converted military victory into a
diplomatic disaster when she surrendered all Indian battlefield
gains in exchange for a winsome smile from Z. A. Bhutto. In the
1980s, Rajiv Gandhi began cutting back on critical defence
programmes, a policy continued by Narasimha Rao. 

Just as Neville Chamberlain and the other British appeasers
ignored the fact that concessions to Germany were counter-
productive so long as it remained a Nazi dictatorship, our own
practitioners of appeasement forget that strategic concessions to
an army-dominated Pakistan merely strengthen the clique of
officers, drug dealers and religious fanatics that, in effect, governs
that country. Today that group has once more shown
"democracy" in Pakistan to be a facade. More significantly, they
have shown the shallowness of the oft-repeated claim of the US
and EU that Pakistan has evolved into a genuine democracy.

Just as New Delhi should have backed the Rabbani
government from the outset of the Taliban takeover, it should
have refused to recognise the Leghari coup in Islamabad. The
only way an elected prime minister—even one as feudal as
Benazir Bhutto—should be removed is through a vote in the
national assembly or another election, not by midnight arrests
and flag marches. True to Pakistani tradition, Nawaz Sharief has
welcomed the coup, forgetting that he too was once a victim, and
may become so again. Strangely, that huge tribe of Indian
admirers of our friendly neighbour is silent on the latest throttling
of semi-democracy in Pakistan, though they have been vociferous
when a Krishna Rao confronted insurgency in Kashmir or a KPS
Gill battled it out in Punjab. 

Another Afghanistan
If the many lovers of Scotch and homemade kebabs truly have
Pakistan's interests in mind, they need to realise that that ‘
country is just a decade or less away from becoming another
Afghanistan. The Sunni Punjabi dominance, the social turmoil
caused by the drug and religious barons, and the economic
collapse that will ensue thanks to the armed forces’ siphoning off
the bulk of the budget will all lead to a collapse of Pakistan. Only
a cutting—back of the military budget and a reining-in of the
drugs and religious mafiosi there can prevent this.

However, just as Germany became a desirable partner only
after the Nazis were driven out of power, Pakistan will be
worthy of concessions only after it transforms itself into a
genuine democracy. 'There has been a cacophony of voices that
"India would be negatively affected by Pakistan’s disintegration".
This is nonsense. Pakistan will disintegrate only if it continues to
be a dictatorship. And should it remain such a country, it is far
better for India that it break up into a collection of mutually-
squabbling states. Just as the 1971 victory (despite the Simla
fiasco) gave India a breathing space of nearly two decades in
Kashmir, the break·up of a fundamentalist Pakistan would weaken
religious fanatics in India.

Delhi’s Task
However, this is not to argue for an interventionist policy. There
is no reason to get involved in the developing turmoil on India 's
western border, as Pakistan’s own elite can be relied upon to
finish off their country. At the same time, Delhi needs to develop
its nuclear and missile defences so as to prevent any attempt at
aggression from outside. Such a development will also strengthen
the technological base essential to creating a culture for growth.
Hopefully, the neglect of our population that has been so patient
for the past 50 years will change to a policy focused towards
improving the ability of India’s people to compete in the world.

Should such a change in policy not come about, this country
may follow Pakistan towards disintegration. The CPM and the
CPI, for example, appear determined to make the Indian taxpayer
continue to foot the bill for the inefficiency of their trade union
members. Also, economic liberalisation has been condemned by
them as a sin everywhere in India except Bengal. The BJP is busy
blocking beauty pageants, with some of its worthies functioning
in a manner that makes Pakistani politicians appear civilised.
The Congress is still in the throes of bondage to its former
owners, the Nehru family. Only the people of India are changing.
By their frequent rejection of existing governments, voters are
indicating their anger at the unwillingness of politicians to frame
procedures and policies that will benefit the people and not just
the politicians themselves. There is little justification in feeling
smug over the developments in Pakistan. This country is not far
behind on the road to chaos, unless public opinion can finally
conjure up an improved political class.



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