MJ Akbar: Pakistan cannot expect the support of India's Muslims


A revealing but rarely revealed fact is that Muslims in the rest of India give no support whatsoever to the separatist insurgency in the Muslim-majority valley of Kashmir, that charming bit of paradise that could yet trigger off history's first nuclear war.

A revealing but rarely revealed fact is that Muslims in the rest of India give no support whatsoever to the separatist insurgency in the Muslim-majority valley of Kashmir, that charming bit of paradise that could yet trigger off history's first nuclear war. At this moment, according to reliable reports, there could be as many as 3,000 armed and trained jihadis ready to combat the Indian army – but not one of them is a Muslim from elsewhere in India.

This is not because Indian Muslims are either the most content or the most obedient citizens of thecountry. Periodic outbursts of communal violence, such as the recent state-encouraged carnage in Gujarat, have left them numbed and angry. There is a fear-revenge psychosis fed by despair that could find expression in acts of retaliation. This morning in Ahmedabad, the principal city of Gujarat, a series of explosions in public buses left a dozen people injured. As I write, there is no evidence yet of who was responsible, but the immediate finger will be pointed at local Muslims.

Nor is it that there are no fundamentalists, or even plain thugs, among Indian Muslims. The incident that began the Gujarat tragedy in which more than a thousand died – so many mercilessly torched to death as the police looked on – took place at Godhra, where Hindu pilgrims inside a train were targeted, attacked and killed. But nothing in the combustible mood of India provokes Muslims to go so far as join a struggle for another division of India.

This is remarkable, given that a little more than a generation ago it was the anger of Muslims from the heartland, rather than Punjab or Sind, that created Pakistan. But the Pakistan that was the Medina of their fantasies, their sanctuary, the dream-refuge of a million refugees, isolated and spurned them. Indian Muslims have become the dogs in the manger, shunned by the Pakistan they once preferred and punished by the India they once spurned.

No one has learnt a lesson from history better than them. There are more Muslims in India than there are in Pakistan. This must rank as the most curious paradox of the many spawned by the artificial division of India in 1947. This is not, as many Hindu fundamentalists propagate, because Muslims have an astonishing birth rate, but simply because you can partition a country, but not a village.

A second paradox is even more interesting. Indian Muslims are the only Muslims in the world to enjoy sustained democracy since the freedom of their country from colonial rule. Muslim nations, particularly Pakistan, have been unable to fashion a polity relevant to the modern age, with governments accountable to a democratic process. Kings and dictators across the Islamic map throttle the Muslim street and offer support to George Bush and Tony Blair in exchange for the mantle of "indispensability". Bush and Blair give patronage, patronisingly. Blair believes that there is some cultural deficiency among Saudi Arabs that makes them ineligible for the standards of equality and political freedom that he would never deny to the British.

Indian Muslims use democracy with vigour and finesse. They control or influence the results of elections in at least a hundred seats in the Lok Sabha – the House of the People – the directly elected part of India's Parliament, making it virtually impossible for Hindu fundamentalists to fulfil their dream of gaining an absolute majority by themselves and using power to change India's secular constitution. It is a neat lock.

The absence of democracy compounds the fragility of Pakistan. The names change, but the uniforms do not. Once again a general has seized power in Islamabad and is trying to bluff his way to survival. General Pervez Musharraf took over from Nawaz Sharif less than two years ago and has used the stale and silly means of a meaningless referendum to legitimise his rule. The curious consequence is that, instead of becoming stronger, he has emerged a weaker man from the exercise.

The referendum exposed his complete lack of domestic support and blew his credibility to tatters. In the process of wooing different constituencies, General Musharraf visibly compromised with the terrorist elements he had once vowed to eliminate. He released hundreds of those arrested in January. Washington and London overlooked this, but you can toddle only so far holding Bush by one hand and Blair by the other.

If the government of Pervez Musharraf does not represent the people, then what does it represent? An army government needs something to restore its rationale for remaining in power. A war situation with India over the disputed Kashmir valley is almost the perfect answer. Particularly when there are hawks at the fringes of power in Delhi ready to match belligerence with intemperance.

A weak general sitting on a nuclear stockpile and watching his missiles as they flash through the air could fall victim to a deadly disease – eczema of the button-finger. MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) kept Europe and America safe through the Cold War. But could they have survived General Strangelove?

The writer's latest book, 'The Shade of Swords, Jihad and the Conflict between Islam and Christianity', is published this week by Routledge at £16.99

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