Crisis India-Pakistan:
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Mar 27, 2002

Trends in South Asia

by M B Naqvi

Karachi Mar 27
Crowds on a killing spree and mobs of vandals and looters in Gujrat's cities and towns made for horror-inspiring images on the telly; they were doing something necessary and good by teaching an insolent minority a lesson. Later reports told of the success of these men in instilling terror in the disrespectful minority, huddling in refugee camps. One read of how the administration acted. Nearer home one has attended quite a few doctors meetings and have seen fear and despair in the eyes of successful Shia medical practitioners, most preparing to leave the country. One has met Christian priests and common Hindus, not to mention Ahmedis and Shias: all afraid of tomorrow, with no one being confident of protection from police. This is the state of affairs in worst affected areas, of course. But the disease, religious intolerance of minorities, is rampant in many parts of Pakistan, India and even Bangladesh. One apprehensive about what may happen in the region and feel diminished.
Was it too long ago when people from various parts of South Asia could meet and find that they had so much in common? They looked upon human beings as human beings everywhere who were all rational and their hopes and aspirations could be similar, if not the same. They all tended to be Humanists with a liberal or tolerant bent of mind that favoured maximum human freedoms and welfare for all human beings everywhere. They believed in human equality, fraternity and liberty --- things that are likely to be put down as mere cliches today. Look around and see how things have changed in this region.
The first and the biggest change is perception about their own identities. Today's significant self identities are predominantly religious or communal in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Bhutan and Nepal can be said to have quasi-religious state ideologies that are vulnerable to erosion from democratic urges of their people. People tend to see and treat themselves as Hindus, Muslims or Budhists primarily and have other identities incidentally. So many kill and are killed on that basis.
There are other identities, of course. There is regional paranoia. In all the peripheral areas of historical India --- as a civilisational expanse by and large coinciding with South Asia --- regional identities are strong and durable, though they are seldom able to subordinate or override the religions personas. Bengalis, Marathas, Tamils, Punjabis, Kashmiris, Sindhis, Pathans, even Gujratis are among the many more well-known regional identities that, in certain political circumstances, do override religious ones, the outstanding example of which was the emergence of Bangladesh.
In an important way, the earlier Indian Punjab's Khalistan troubles, current Kashmir insurgency (in part at least) and the many insurgencies in India's north-east and the rather complex civil war in Sri Lanka exemplify the strength and importance of regional nationalisms. It is true that democratic institutions of India have managed to accommodate many regionalisms, though many more remain un-reconciled as in Kashmir and north-east where religious identities are playing an obstructive role. At any rate hope survives that should democratic institutions be worked in true democratic spirit (regional) sub-nationlisms can become organic parts of a federation.
The third major force comprises a desperate protest against mass poverty. In addition to the socialist parties that are stable rulers of three Indian states, there are active Nexalite movements in Nepal, India's Bihar, Jharkhand, AP, parts of MP and Maharashtra. They are violence-prone and may not be suppressable purely by physical force. The new globalisation paradigm of economic management seems to be intensifying, rather than solving, the problem of poverty. Human beings are killing other human beings in the name of even social justice. Maybe more of it impends.
A fourth factor has also emerged primarily in India and may arrive later in Nepal. It is caste in a largely Hindu society. Although violence for its sake is a hoary tradition, it is neither large-scale nor continuous. It is restricted to individual cases and is sporadic. But since the caste-based politics has come of age, many see visions of caste wars because caste loyalties can operate like religious communalisms. Caste, like the nation, is a para- or non- democratic category and is socially undifferentiated. It might be a growing factor in most Indian states and may be also in Nepal in the coming years and poses a tough challenge to social cohesion of states dominated by Hindu numbers.
We in Pakistan are perturbed and alarmed by the growth of Islamic extremism or fundamentalism as it is called. It is as intolerant as it is violent. Attacks on minority Islamic sects or sub-sects are its favourite pastime. Not that it is not prone to attack other (minority) religions. Killing or oppressing Christians or Hindus comes quite natural to these fanatics. Everybody recognises that Taliban-like zealots threaten modern structures of state in Pakistan.
Gujrat pogroms, and not riots, --- by no means the first --- have heavily underlined the political fact of Hindu zealotry. What good can it do to such a richly plural country like India? Indian democracy's survival would seem to be predicated on social cohesion based on tolerance of all manner of minorities --- in addition to religious ones --- and dissent, equal human freedoms for all Indians and a federation that allows fulfilment of significant hopes and aspirations of the people in the peripheral areas. For such a polity intolerant and mostly xenophobic political forces like Hindu Fundamentalism can only be destructive of all that has given India so much colour and value. But the political ascendancy of this force is now a fact of life over large swathes of northern and middle India.
While the main ruling party, the BJP, is obviously a protagonist of Hindutva philosophy that inspires the RSS and its parivar, there is considerable and vocal opposition. But as the voting on the POTO bill in the Joint Parliamentary Session last Tuesday has shown the ruling coalition is so strong as to get any anti-liberal measure through. Although it is difficult to conceive that non-democratic forces will soon overwhelm India's democratic institutions, complacency can be costly in terms of both human lives and the quality of polity if true democrats --- humanists and basically liberals --- do not steadfastly protect the beautiful diversities of India. Mere elections and having more than one party are not all of democracy. Haven't they heard of the rape of masses through sans polls in a charged atmosphere.
Physical protection of religious minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka is important in its own right. But that is by no means all that is expected from a democratic dispensation. It has to go much beyond the mere tolerance of minorities. It has to allow a thousand flowers --- of thought, culture, rites, poetry, arts, et al --- to bloom. Let all express themselves freely and bring out their best. There is a lacuna in this vision of generic freedom: the Left has argued all along that pure liberal democracy can not survive when a majority of the people suffer diverse deprivations and exclusion, all because of poverty. A socially unequal society cannot deliver equality of all. It is still hard to rebut this old argument - despite the eclypse of the Left after the fall of the Soviets. Moreover the point is being heavily underlined by Maoist rebellions in Nepal and various Nexalite movements in India and we may hear yet again from the Sri Lankan Left.
Secular Indian thinkers and parties correctly point to the long history of peaceful coexistence of religions in historical India. Those were the at times when people took their religion very seriously as individuals and tried to acquire virtue and practise piety. But that has changed. Who can claim that the Islamabad's Church was recently bombed by virtuous on pious Muslims or the vandals, killers and looters in Gujrat exemplified the Hindu virtues in their individual lives such as ancient Hindu sages had preached? Driven by hate and inspired by the goal of power for their politicised religion or group or sect, people of no piety --- often hired guns or mere looters --- indulge in the sort of outrages that are common enough in what was once a home of notably tolerant civilisations: the Subcontinent. Old and stable tolerance between actually pious Hindus and Muslims has gone with genuine piety. What we now have is fakes and fanatics.
Humanist democrats have to correctly assess the factors that are shaping events and who or what is masterminding the growing mayhem in the region and who or what is benefitting from it. Rationality (or scientific outlook), equality and human freedoms can not subsist on mere noble wishes or aspirations or exhortations of some. They should know by now the limits of preaching rather well. There has to be a politically significant force to bolster noble ideas and conditions have to be created in society in which poverty's worst forms disappear and in which enlightenment, tolerance and cultural pursuits can have some meaning for the common man. Such well meaning democrats will need to coordinate efforts with their counterparts in other parts of a region in which there is such a profusion of ethnic and cultural overlaps.

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The Hindu, 26.3.02

Limited war between India, Pak can lead to nuclear conflict

NEW DELHI, MARCH 28. In considering that it can fight a limited conflict with Pakistan without involving the use of nuclear weapons, India may have overlooked some key aspects of its security equation with Islamabad. In a recent study published in 'The Nonproliferation review', the director of the Delhi Policy Group, V.R. Raghavan, explains that given the asymmetry of armed forces and equipment between India and Pakistan, there is a real danger that any kind of war between the two countries can result in the use of nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan's interpretation of their overt nuclear weapon status following their tests of May 1998 lie at the root of a possible nuclear exchange between them. Contrary to India's expectations that the testing of nuclear weapons by the two countries would result in stability, the ground situation shows otherwise.



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