Friday, January 16, 2009



Long years ago – 1947 to be precise – Pakistanis made a tryst with Talibanisation, and now the time comes when they shall reap what they have sown, if not wholly or in full measure, then very substantially. Interestingly, the fulfilment of Pakistan's long standing quest for puritanical Islamic rule to not only forge an identity for its people and to unite them against India, but also to crush ethnic nationalism within its own borders, should really not cause too much concern in India.

Quite aside the fact that on its own India cannot, even if it wanted to, halt Pakistan from becoming a medieval Islamic state, there is no reason why India should even attempt this. If anything, India should not only call Pakistan's bluff (or, if you will, blackmail) of the Mullahs taking over in Islamabad, but also welcome and, if possible, encourage the spread of Talibanisation in Pakistan. Bizarre though it may seem, talibanisation, and not democracy, will be India's revenge for the murder and mayhem that Pakistan has been exporting to India since independence. And, in a somewhat perverse way, only after Pakistan is Talibanised will India find it easier to achieve strategic security and stability in the region.

Just as al Qaeda is no longer only an organisation but has transmogrified into a political philosophy, talibanisation too is a mindset rather than merely a bunch of AK47 wielding, madrassa educated crazies who think they are imposing Allah's law on the people. The sad fact is that India has been dealing with a Talibanised Pakistan for very long now, only the Indians never realised it. The Pakistan army soldiers who mutilated the bodies of Indian soldiers in Kargil, and their superior officers who acquiesced in these acts were not 'enlightened moderates' but Taliban. Pakistani officialdom (serving or retired, civilian or military) and politicians who threaten a nuclear holocaust on India are Taliban. Pakistani news anchors who spit abuse and venom on India and Hindus and who say that the Mumbai terror attacks were carried out by the 'Al Faida' group (basically Indians who staged these attacks to sully Pakistan's 'image') are Taliban, as are those Pakistani journalists who say that suicide bombers should spare them and instead target India and Hindus. Pakistanis who have and continue to support and protect jihadi organisations Jaishe Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkatul Mujahedin or political parties like Jamaat Islami are Taliban.

If truth be told, in terms of mental attitudes towards India, there is very little to choose between an Ahmed Shuja Pasha, a Hamid Gul or an Imran Khan, and those whom these people call 'patriotic Pakistanis', namely, Baitullah Mehsud of Waziristan, Mullah Fazlullah of Swat, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad of Bajaur and others of their ilk. As far as India is concerned, the extremists have always called the shots inside Pakistan. And now if the clean shaven, western suit attired, public school educated, English speaking, whisky swilling, mujra watching Taliban are replaced by the hirsute, Shalwar wearing, Urdu speaking, Madrassa educated Taliban, all that will happen is that the double-speaking, double-dealing, duplicitous behaviour will end, as will the hypocritical expressions of seeking friendship with India.

The first benefit of a 'real' Taliban dispensation inside Pakistan (as opposed to the 'moderate' Taliban currently ruling the roost) will be the end of the confusion inside India of who and what it is dealing with in Pakistan. In the past, India had a certain comfort level in dealing with military dictators in Pakistan, simply because India knew exactly where it stood with these characters. This was not possible when politicians came to power in Islamabad because it was never clear how much power they actually wield and how much they can deliver on their assurances and commitments.

Secondly, a Taliban regime in Islamabad will be just, if not divine, retribution for the cynical exploitation of radical Islam for political objectives by Pakistan's civilian and military rulers, its intelligentsia, media, academia and what have you. It is unfair to blame only Gen Ziaul Haq for the radicalisation that is being witnessed in Pakistan today. The truth is that Zia only formalised and institutionalised the process of Islamisation, which had in fact started with the demand for Pakistan and gathered pace after Pakistan came into existence. The spread of talibanisation inside Pakistan today, with Pakistan for all practical purposes losing control over the trans-Indus territory, is part of a continuum, and as such unstoppable. This is partly because no one in Pakistan can stop it for ideological and religious reasons. And partly because influential sections of the Pakistani state and society don't perceive the Taliban as an existential threat. In fact, the Pakistani establishment is actively promoting the Taliban in Balochistan to counter the Baloch nationalists, who they see as a bigger threat to Pakistan's security than the Taliban. It is of course another matter that the Islamists will use the Pakistani state's largesse to eventually snatch the power from it, as indeed they have done in the Pashtun belt further north. The resulting destabilisation and weakening of the Pakistani state is not something on which India needs to shed any tears.

The third benefit of talibanisation is that it will eventually make the Pakistan problem so much more manageable for India. If the current Pakistani state structure doesn't fight the Taliban, then at the very minimum Pakistan will split vertically down the Indus. If the security forces fight the Taliban, then Pakistan will be embroiled in a long and bloody civil war. A victory in this war is not possible unless Pakistan gets off its Islamic hobby horse and the state is secularised and reconstituted along liberal lines. A defeat at the hands of the Taliban will bring the Mullahs to power in Islamabad, something that will end the sort of soft-peddling and kid-gloves approach with which the West has treated Pakistan until now.

More than India, it is the West that needs to be worried at the prospect of a Talibanised Pakistan. The takeover of Pakistan by the bearded brigade will compel the international community (including countries like China and Saudi Arabia) to intervene directly and forcefully. This intervention could take the form of placing Pakistan under international trusteeship for a few years to clean the mess inside that country. The icing on the cake of any direct or indirect intervention will be that Pakistan will be de-nuclearised, thereby ending the second point of blackmail – the first being talibanisation – that Pakistan has used to export terror into India.

Since India at present simply doesn't have the military superiority, the economic clout or the diplomatic influence that is required to force compliance on Pakistan, it needs to ride piggy-back on the international community for tackling its Pakistan problem in the short to medium term. India must however take the necessary steps – including forcing Pakistan to abandon the western border to the Taliban – to ensure that the situation reaches a point where the Taliban get into a position to take-over the Pakistani state, thereby forcing the international community to intervene in Pakistan. In the long run however India will have to put in place efficient and effective systems of border control and management and cross border intervention to protect its citizens. This is the lesson of 5000 years of history which India cannot afford to ignore any longer.


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