Book Chapter Tinderbox

TinderBox: The Past and Future of Pakistan
by M.J. Akbar

Rs 499
360 pages


Tuesday, 11 January, 2011


Any crisis breeds Cassandras, and there are enough floating around on the wide world of the web, predicting the disintegration, or worse, of Pakistan. They, however, underestimate the determination of those Pakistanis who want to save their nation from Maududi-Zia Islamists. Urban Pakistan – what might be called Jinnah’s Pakistan – proves a powerful counterweight to the fundamentalists, its will bolstered by domestic military muscle and America’s dollar power.

The best-case scenario for Pakistan is that the ‘Islamic-subaltern’ revolt in impoverished areas is brought under control by the military, and elected governments appreciate that a real solution demands social and economic reform: land redistribution; high economic growth; Keynesian investments in low-skill jobs; secular, gender-equal education; health care and infrastructure, with democracy as a non-negotiable necessity, which in turn means that the ‘doctrine of necessity’, the judicial cover for coups, has to be eliminated.

There might be little hope for peace with India, given the fundamental divergence on Kashmir, but a settlement will help excise the jihad culture ravaging Pakistan. Altaf Hussain, the self-exiled, London-based leader of Muslims who had migrated from India at the time of partition, made headlines when he said, in 2009, that partition was a mistake because it had split and weakened the Muslims of the subcontinent. This was a rebellious, if not revolutionary, departure from the conventional Pakistani narrative that the two-nation theory was essential to save Indian Muslims and Islam from Hindus.

It is easier for India to come to terms with Pakistan. Economic growth and dreams of becoming a part of the first world have begun to dominate the Indian mind. Its middle class has begun to appreciate a simple reality: social violence and economic growth cannot co-exist. Remarkably, even terrorism, often exported from Pakistan, did not feed a backlash in the form of riots, even after the venomous terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008.

India is content being a status quo-ist power, determined to preserve its current geography, without serious claims on territory it believes it has lost to China along the Himalayas and to Pakistan in Kashmir. Peace is a logical extension of this position. There is a large and growing constituency in Pakistan that understands this. But unless Pakistan achieves clarity on terrorism, with all its snake-oil justifications, the subcontinent will remain hostage to malevolent mania…

Fears of Pakistan’s disintegration, however, are highly exaggerated. Even pessimists like Pervez Hoodbhoy are more worried by the ‘slow-burning fuse’ of religious extremism rather than collapse. He recounts the surreptitious rehabilitation of the Taliban by Musharraf after it was devastated in 2001 because ‘this force would remain important for maintaining Pakistani influence in Afghanistan – and keep the low-intensity war in Kashmir going.’ Hoodbhoy bemoans that ‘a sterile Saudi-style Wahabism is beginning to impact upon Pakistan’s once-vibrant culture and society’ and indulges a horror-scenario: a ‘coup by radical Islamist officers who seize control of its nuclear weapons, making intervention by outside forces impossible. Jihad for liberating Kashmir is subsequently declared as Pakistan’s highest priority and earlier policies for crossing the LoC are revived; Shias are expelled into Iran, and Hindus are forced into India; minorities in the Northern Areas flee Pashtun invaders; anti-Taliban forces such as the ethnic Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Baluch nationalists are crushed by Islamists; and Sharia is declared across the country. Fortunately, this seems improbable – as long as the army stays together.’

When George Bush launched his second war in 2003, he surely missed the greatest paradox of his decision. He invaded Iraq to eliminate nuclear weapons, dictatorship and terrorists. In 2003, he would have found all three in Pakistan, including a champion proliferator in Dr A Q Khan, considered the father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. America has opted for the blind eye. When Richard Barlow, a CIA agent working in the directorate of intelligence on proliferation during Bush Senior’s administration, protested that the Pentagon was manipulating intelligence to protect Pakistan’s bomb project, he was sacked. Pakistan became a nuclear power with America’s tacit consent and China’s assistance, because both accepted its argument of self-defence against nuclear India.

For six decades, power in Pakistan has seesawed between military dictatorship and civilian rule. What happens when both the army and political parties lose their credibility? Will it be the turn, then, of Zia’s ‘lower rungs’?

Juan Cole makes an interesting observation in “Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East”. There have been only four instances in the Middle East, if you include Afghanistan in the term, when Muslim clerics came to power: ‘…under the republican French in Egypt, under Khomeini and his successors in Iran, under the Taliban in Afghanistan and, with the victory of the United Iraqi Alliance in the Iraq elections of 30 January 2005 (led by the Shia cleric Adbul Aziz al-Hakim).’ In other words, it is Western intervention that created the conditions for a clerical upsurge. We do not know what the American intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan will leave behind.

Driven by the compulsions of an ideological strand in its DNA, damaged by the inadequacies of those who could have kept the nation loyal to Jinnah’s dream of a secular Muslim-majority nation, Pakistan is in danger of turning into a toxic ‘jelly state’, a quivering country that will neither collapse nor stabilize.

Zia and the Jihadi Nexus

After 1971, Pakistan lost the will for another conventional war against India, but it did not lose the will for Kashmir. In a sense it could not, because to accept Kashmir as part of India was to deny the rationale for the creation of Pakistan.

General Zia changed the dynamics of the Kashmir confrontation when he outsourced the jihad to Jamaat-e-Islami and similar ideologically motivated groups. It was not merely a shift from quasi-state actors to non-state actors, it also introduced a new element in the struggle, for the purpose was no longer limited to ‘liberation’ of Kashmir from ‘Hindu India’ but included the conversion of Kashmir into ‘Islamic space’. Jamaat, and Jamaat-influenced, fighters wanted a Kashmir cleansed of Hindu ‘perfidy’ and presence. In 1992, they were instrumental in driving Kashmiri Hindus out of the Valley.

In Indian Kashmir, the Jamaat was set up by Said ud Tarabali, the first amir, Qari Saifuddin and Ghulam Ahmad Ahrar. The Jamaat chief in PoK, Maulana Abdul Bari, met Zia in early 1980. ‘According to Bari,’ writes Arif Jamal, ‘the general stated his intentions plainly: he had decided to contribute to the American-sponsored war in Afghanistan in order to prepare the ground for a larger conflict in Kashmir, and he wanted to involve the Jamaat-e-Islami of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. To the general, the war in Afghanistan would be a smokescreen behind which Pakistan could carefully prepare a more significant battle in Kashmir. The general said he had carefully calculated his support for the American operation, predicting that the Americans would be distracted by the fighting in Afghanistan and, as a result, turn a blind eye to Pakistani moves in the region.’ Bari claims he was sceptical. But Zia was persuasive: how could Americans, he pointed out, stop ‘us from waging jihad in Kashmir when they themselves are waging jihad in Afghanistan?’

Bari spoke to his counterpart, Maulana Saidudin Taribali, in secret, in a village called Ajis. His message was uncomplicated: the Pakistani army would not start a war to liberate Kashmir, but ISI would pay the bills for an armed uprising.

In September 1982, Jamaat leaders from Indian Kashmir were taken for a secret visit to Pakistan via Saudi Arabia, which was their official destination. It took a personal conversation in 1983 between Zia and Maulana Saidudin to convince the latter. When the first group of Jamaat volunteers crossed the Ceasefire Line to get ‘military training’, the maulana’s son was among them. Jamal reports that Kashmiri ‘boys’ were trained at the Khalid bin Walid, Al Farooq and Abu Jindal camps (in 1998, Osama bin Laden held a press conference at Abu Jindal). A nexus was established, which has survived dramatic shifts in the political mood of Kabul, Islamabad, Delhi and Srinagar.

How Bhutto wrecked a Kashmir Solution

There was only one period of four months, between December 1962 and March 1963, when there could have been a peaceful, negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute. India had just been humiliated in the autumn 1962 war against China, changing equations in the region. Pakistan used the Indo-China breach to its advantage, ceding China’s border claims in Kashmiri territory under its control to initiate an alliance that has held for more than four decades. Britain and America persuaded Pakistan not to open a second front while Indian troops were retreating along the Himalayas in 1962, and Pakistan wanted compensation for good behaviour.

Bhutto, then Ayub Khan’s young foreign minister, led the Pakistan delegation; the elderly Swaran Singh headed the Indian side. Talks were held in Rawalpindi, Delhi, Karachi and Calcutta. Both sides agreed that Kashmir should be divided, and India offered 1,500 square miles to seal the deal. Bhutto was contemptuous of this gesture from a ‘defeated nation’. He demanded the whole of the Valley, graciously leaving only the small district of Kathua for India.


Mahmud laid waste rich pilgrimage cities like Mathura and important provincial centres like Kannauj.Iconoclasm served a dual need: Mahmud could fill his treasury even as he posed as champion of Islam in an age when Muslims seemed invincible.
The most tempting target was Somanath,surrounded by the Indian Ocean on three sides,rich with the offerings of seafaring merchants and inland pilgrims.According to one account,the loot from Somanath was valued at 20 million dirhams worth of gold,silver and precious gems.

The historian Romila Thapar offers an interesting Islamic explanation for the destruction of the temple.She suggests that it may have been linked to Mahmuds ambitions in the Arab Persian world,where Abbasid power was in ebb,and claimants to the caliphate were hovering over Baghdad.Thapar suggests a link between Somanath and the famous controversy over the three principal goddesses of pre-Islamic Arabia,Lat,Uzza and Manat,daughters of the supreme deity.Lats idol had a human shape,Uzzas origin was in a sacred tree,and Manat,goddess of destiny (also known as Ishtar) was manifest in a white stone.Her shrine was in Qudayd,near the sea.The pre-Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca was considered incomplete without a visit to Qudayd.

The Prophet of Islam,Muhammad,challenged this heresy with the message of taw hid,or the One God,and was forced to emigrate by his own tribe,the Quraysh,who had turned the mosque at Kaaba into a place of idol-worship.In 630,the Prophet returned to Mecca and destroyed idols inside Kaaba,including those of Lat and Uzza.It is said that a devoted idol-worshipper reached Qudayd before the Muslims and escaped with Manats image on a trading ship heading to Gujarat,where it was placed in a temple.This temple to Manat came to be known as Su-Manat,and thence Somanath.Mahmud intended,in other words,to complete the objective of the Prophet and thereby raise his stature in the Muslim world,as part of his campaign to become caliph of the Muslim world.