It all began four decades ago, after the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. Pakistan, that had been formed in the name of religion, tore itself apart in the name of ethnicity. The West Pakistani Punjabi was not able to accommodate the East Pakistani Bengali. The flower of the Pakistani Army 90,000 officers and men became Indian prisoners of war. The largest number in any single conflict, post the Second World War. Pakistan was aching for revenge.
Fully cognisant that India held the strategic advantage in conventional military terms around the middle of the Seventies, Pakistan honed a three-pronged approach. The first was the quest to acquire nuclear arms ominously articulated in the words of late Zulifkar Ali Bhutto: “Pakistanis will eat grass but we will get a nuclear bomb”. The second was the journey to Islamise the Pakistani armed forces and the larger social milieu in an attempt to define the identity of Pakistan by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. The third was the mission to bleed India with a thousand cuts.
By the beginning of the Eighties, all three projects were well underway. A.Q. Khan, ably assisted by the Pakistani intelligence services, was stealing nuclear technology wherever it could be purloined from. The transformation of the Pakistani armed forces from an institution incubated in British traditions to an Islamic military was on a roll. A proxy war against India, first targeting Punjab and, by the late Eighties, encompassing Jammu and Kashmir was being implemented.
What proved to be providential for the Pakistani establishment through the Eighties and later became their Achilles’ heal was its voluntary enrolment as a frontline cat’s-paw in the West’s cold hot war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan ubiquitously referred to as the “Afghan jihad”.
Advantageous because it gave Pakistan access to billions of dollars and sophisticated weaponry that it was able to divert into funding and equipping its proxy war with India. Expedient because it provided the human resource in the form of internally displaced Afghans who had crossed over from Afghanistan to Pakistan to execute its diabolical agenda. Disastrous because the legacy of those years the use of religious institutions to radicalise young minds to keep the human resource for the Afghan jihad and the proxy war against India flowing, coupled with the adoption of terror as an instrument of state policy has brought Pakistan to the state it finds itself in today.
By the end of the Eighties, the Cold War had ended, the Soviets went back over the Amu Darya, but Pakistan could not dismount the tiger it had willingly straddled petrified that it would devour it. Pakistan, therefore, did what it thought would provide it strategic depth: unleashing the Taliban on the war ravaged people of Afghanistan and broadening the proxy war with terrorist strikes deep into Indian mainland.
By the time the millennium turned the Al Qaeda had already attacked American assets worldwide from its safe havens in Afghanistan. On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda launched the most audacious outrage on the American mainland that dwarfed even Pearl Harbour. The Americans came back to the Afghanistan they had abandoned a decade ago. Pakistan, under the threat of being bombed back to the Stone Age, was again a frontline state in the notorious “war against terror”, overcharging and shortchanging its allies simultaneously.
In this process, the major fatality was the collective ethos of Pakistan. To sustain these multiple conflicts Pakistan had to demonise other nations and peoples, especially India. It had to patronise multiple terrorist groups. What it did not perhaps visualise is that when hate and negative energy begin to override national impulses, then all that you are doing is traipsing on the edges of a catastrophe. That is the tale of Pakistan over the past four decades.
This is exactly the tutorial that the Bharatiya Janata Party government, its fellow travellers and doctrinal mentors need to absorb. Ever since this government came into existence, it has left no stone unturned to polarise society. From “love jihad” to religious conversions they have run the entire gauntlet. What is playing out is a very insidious attempt at the “Pakistanisation” of India. Just as in the late Seventies, President Zia-ul-Haq erroneously thought that the idea of Pakistan should begin and end with a strictly circumscribed Islamic identity, similarly our home grown zealots speciously think that the philosophical postulate that should underpin the Indian identity should be that of a “Hindu rashtra”.
The reason why the idea of India survived and has thrived in the past 67 years is primarily because of its holistic and pluralistic conception what is often referred to in a dismissive manner as pseudo-secularism nowadays. This perhaps is the most vital ingredient that has held India together, notwithstanding the multiple stresses and strains on its substance and structure.
The cause for Pakistan to go belly up was the proclivity to move away from the conception of Pakistan as envisaged by its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, howsoever hypocritical it may have been, to the vision of Zia-ul-Haq.
Just as in the Eighties and the Nineties, the toxic hot mix of the politics of identity and religion the ubiquitous “Mandal and Mandir” left in its wake a noxious legacy whose after-affects the nation has to still contend with, the attempt to equate national identity with a undenominational religious identity is a very hazardous hand to play.
If there is one message that the Peshawar massacre sends out, it is that a radicalised society, a polarised nation and a myopic notion of national priorities eventually debases populaces, leading to the basic tenets of humanity being cynically sacrificed for objectives wrongly interpreted as being divinely ordained. Social conflict is the bane of national security. The BJP should reflect on this before leading India down that path.
The writer is a lawyer and a former Union minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @manishtewari