SOUTH ASIAN TINDER BOX!

By

Anil Athale

With the Indian and Pakistani forces in eyeball to eyeball confrontation on the border, the one thing missing was a Hindu Muslim clash in India. On 27 February, a well led mob of around 2000 Muslims attacked a train at railway station in Godhra in the Western State Gujrath with petrol bombs. 58 people were burnt to death, including 25 women and 12 children. Next day virtually the entire state of Gujrath erupted in a communal frenzy and at last count over 300 innocent Muslim citizens were killed, many of them burnt to death in their cars or houses. With Indian Army deployed on the border,  it took nearly 24 hours to muster up sizeable force of soldiers and it is only after two days that the situation is coming under control. With one stroke of incompetence the provincial government has reduced India to the status of Rawanda or Burundi and brought disgrace to the country by giving a free rein to mobs on the streets of Gandhi’s Gujrath!

 

The local police, with their sympathies clearly with rioters, were either ineffective or plainly inadequate. I have had a reasonable experience of riot control during my career and have always shuddered to think what would happen if the mob frenzy spreads to the Indian countryside!  The law and order and peace is ensured in the far-flung areas of India  NOT because of presence of Police forces but essentially by the community itself that  accepts pluralism and is essentially peaceful. NO ARMY OR THE POLICE FORCE WOULD BE IN A POSITION TO CONTROL THE VIOLENCE IF THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY IS SEIZED BY FRENZY AND IS BENT ON VIOLENCE AGAINST FELLOW CITIZENS.

 

While undoubtedly the state of Gujrath was worst affected, even states down south like Karnataka, Maharashtra , Rajasthan and many others saw sporadic violence. The wide spread and depth of anger, amongst the Hindus, cannot be explained merely as the result of the episode of 27 February! The direct and indirect linkage to Jihad and proxy war being carried out by Pakistan for last twenty years, cannot be denied.

 

Anatol Lieven  writing in Foreign Affairs , Jan-Feb 2002 (The Pressures on Pakistan)                 

Says that  “Islamist terrorists also know that the best way to encourage revolution in                      Pakistan is to provoke New Delhi or Indian Hindus into savage repression of India's Muslim minority. The war between India and  Pakistan that might ensue would radicalise Pakistani Muslim feeling -- especially if India were seen as being backed by the United States. Such a war also would entail the horrendous risk of a nuclear exchange                     between the two countries.”

 

Mr. MH Askari, a well known Pakistani columnist, writing in the ‘Dawn’ newspaper of Pakistan on 27 February, the very day that the Godhra massacre took place, dismissed the scenario painted by Lieven as “unrealistic and farfetched!” We in India and hopefully Mr. Askari now know better! I am reminded of another meeting with a senior Pakistani analyst, Dr. Parvez Iqbal Cheema in Mumbai ( Bombay) in February 1993. The cosmopolitan city of Bombay was then just limping back to normalcy after a major bout of rioting. Those were the days when violence in Punjab was at its peak. There were countless episodes when buses would be waylaid, the Hindus segregated and shot in cold blood! It was and is an open secret that Pakistan supported this murderous campaign in Punjab with a hope to destabilise India. Pakistan has never missed an opportunity to rubbish Indian attempts at building a composite and secular nation. My simple plea to Dr. Cheema was that a secular and peaceful India is in Pakistan’s interest  It is from this stand point that many of us in India oppose the Pakistani claims on Kashmir that are based on religion and its 54 year itch to prove that the ‘two nation’ theory is valid ( Muslims of the subcontinent are a separate nation).

 

I had also pointed out that we in India have our own share of mad fanatics. And if Pakistan professes to guard the interest of Muslims of the subcontinent then it ought to exercise control over its own zealots. by Pakistan observing restraint. This would help  India control its own Taliban brand of crazies.  The 1993 Bombay riots and bombings ought to have served as reminder to both India and Pakistan that the monster of fanaticism once unleashed cannot be controlled. But today after nearly nine years and many Jihads later, the worst nightmare seems to be coming true. 

 

The history, geography, culture and kinship relations in the Indian subcontinent are of such complexity that there is really no substitute to approaching the issues on regional basis rather than confining them to national boundaries.

 

Again harking back to July 1993, I was amazed to see one Khalistani lobbyist Mr. Aulakh, being given the platform of Washington Press Club to claim that the massacres of Hindus then taking place in Punjab was in reality the handiwork of the Indian government itself,  to ‘defame’ the Khalistani movement! Does this ring a rather familiar bell! It should since most of Islamic world today firmly believes that 9/11 was actually an Israeli plot and the Arabs or Osama Bin Laden followers were framed, what else but to ‘defame’ Islam.

 

The fifty years of Western bias has produced a sense of delusion in Pakistan, one, that it is equal to India and two that while it can get away with total ethnic cleansing of Hindus from Pakistan and yet the huge population in India would continue to remain unprovoked.

 

Majority in India are aghast at the failure of administration  in quelling retaliatory violence in Gujrath. Two wrongs never make one right. To deal with the emerging danger what is needed is not reductionist logic of military appreciations (a disaster when applied at policy making level) or pious speeches like the one by Musharraf on 12 January 2002, but concrete action against fanatics and fanaticism. Obviously the action against this evil has to be taken on the regional basis, in India as well as in Pakistan and Bangladesh! But for that the subcontinent would need visionary leadership that is prepared to take the bull by the horn. Else the region would continue to be a nuclear tinder box.