Pakistan and Mumbai: A Short Politico-Religious History

Jeff Siddiqui

Posted Dec 7, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Pakistan and Mumbai: A Short Politico-Religious History

by Jeff Siddiqui

It is becoming less and less doubtful that the group that rained death in Mumbai had its roots in Pakistan, quite likely from one of the many fanatical organizations claiming to follow the letter of Islam.

There is still the possibility that the fellow who had the misfortune to be captured by the Indians is simply singing the song his torturers want him to sing…as is often the case where torture is the “information extraction tool”. Perhaps the debate over his origin (Pakistan or India) will never end, but it should not be a surprise to find out he is a product of the Muslim fanatics in Pakistan.

India’s misstep in this situation was to jump to blame PAKISTAN, instead of blaming fanatics in Pakistan, India also has taken it upon itself to blame ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) Pakistan’s military intelligence or, at least the oft-blamed, “rogue elements within the ISI”. This is also the mantra repeated by many in the West, the US primarily; it seems like a transparent way of blaming Pakistan without quite saying so, but the message is not lost on Pakistanis who deeply resent such implications and THAT, becomes a major stumbling-block on the path to cooperation from Pakistan.

Anyone who understands the military in Pakistan, should know that even while it is corrupted, it is one of the most disciplined armies in the world; while it is entirely possible for some “rogue elements” to manage to get something done for a short time or the one-off case, it would be impossible for a secret “rogue” group within the Pakistani armed forces (ISI in particular) to survive for more than a VERY short time. This discipline is also a vital key in the security of the nuclear arsenal Pakistan has.

There are lots of fanatical groups in Pakistan, each claiming religion (Islam) as their sole domain and showering everyone else with varying degrees of scorn (other Muslims, Indians, Westerners, Americans…in that order) but to understand them and the phenomena that brought them into existence and keeps them in power, it is useful to step back and take a wider perspective (impossible if one is looking to scapegoat Pakistan or Muslims). For this, we have to go back to the beginnings of Pakistan to trace the path towards fanaticism among Muslims of Pakistan and also to get a (lesser) view of fanatics among the Hindus of India.

When it became clear that India was going to be allowed its freedom from the British Empire, the jockeying for power began among the individual leaders and groups within India; the two major groups were the Hindus and the Muslims who were united in their stand against the British until then.

Relatively speaking, the Muslims at about 20%, were a miniscule proportion of the Indian population, which was almost 80% Hindu. Quite justifiably, the Muslims were concerned that their voice may be ignored or drowned-out so they demanded quota representations throughout the government structures of India. Indian Hindus were divided between those who were open to any negotiation for power-sharing (Gandhi), and those who saw the opportunity for supremacy that “democracy” would provide and did not wish to share much if anything, with the Muslims (Nehru). All this while, the British were openly against the Muslims and in support of the Hindus. It must be noted here that the divide between Muslims and Hindus of India was never as deep or as pronounced until the British Empire took over in the seventeenth century and used their most successful ‘divide-and-rule’ principle that ended up creating major distrust between the people of these two faiths.

In the many negotiations that followed, agreements were made and broken, chiefly by the Indian Congress Party which would reject agreements made by the negotiators, for power-sharing. Eventually in 1930, the Muslims decided to work towards a partition of India and create a state of their own. This movement was ignored for a long time because it was thought to be too absurd to ever hope for realization and by the time, its strength was fully gauged, it was too late to stop it. Mohammed Ali Jinnah a barrister in Britain, was a reluctant Muslim recruit to this movement, but soon became a major force among the Indian Muslim leadership called the Muslim League. The Muslim League demanded and finally got agreement that all areas of Muslim-majority would become Pakistan while the rest would remain India.

When Pakistan was born on August 15, 1947, Jinnah, as the first Governor-General of the Dominion of Pakistan declared that while it was founded on the principles of Islam and for Muslim empowerment, there was room for all faiths and everybody would be treated equally. A year later, Jinnah was dead from Tuberculosis and leadership fell upon Liaquat Ali Khan who continued along the same lines as Jinnah; both were incorruptible.

In 1958, Pakistan got its first Martial Law and military dictator in the form of General Mohammed Ayub Khan. While Ayub was a dictator and even while he was a very corrupt leader (his children today enjoy the billions skimmed by him), he kept Muslim leaders from going down the path of fanaticism.

Ayub was overthrown in 1970, followed by a brief rule by the honest but largely inept General Yahya Khan, who led Pakistan into its first free elections in 1971.

The two principal leaders running for the 1971 elections were Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto from West Pakistan and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from East Pakistan, Mujib won the overall votes mainly because he got 95% of the votes from the more populous East Pakistan while Bhutto got a majority from West Pakistan. Bhutto then connived to wrest power away from Mujib with the support from the military at which point, Mujib decided to declare “autonomy” from Pakistan, which resulted in West Pakistani-dominated Military going into East Pakistan and conducting a genocide of the Bengalis. By the time this debacle was over, India had entered the civil war on the side of the Bengalis, about 300,000 Bengalis had been killed and innumerable raped by the West Pakistani military and its para-military irregulars before Pakistan military finally surrendered to India in 1972; it is claimed that about half that number of West Pakistanis/non-Bengalis were killed by the Bengalis.

Pakistan was divided as Bangladesh (East Pakistan) and Pakistan (West Pakistan), with ZA Bhutto as head of Pakistan and Mujib as head of Bangladesh.

ZA Bhutto started his elections career as a socialist, but when he saw that he could get more people to follow him by using Islam in his sloganeering, he changed to “Islamic Socialism”. While he was immensely popular in West Pakistan, he still had significant leaders among his opposition; he needed a stronger, broader base so he began wooing the more narrow-minded Muslims…not quite fringe fanatics but not among the accepting Muslims either. Bhutto wooed them and enticed them, changing his colors as needed. He did not care what they demanded in return for their support as long as he remained the top dog in Pakistan and a modus vivendi was reached between the then semi-fanatical Muslims and ZA Bhuttos’ ego.

In 1977 General Zia Ul Haq overthrew Bhutto, imprisoned him and later had him tried in a kangaroo court and hanged; Zia was now the head of the country.

People praised Zia as a devout Muslim who was not corrupt, they were right, he was not corrupt but ‘devout’ would not be the correct term for the Muslim that he was; fanatical would be more appropriate.

While the West was flapping about, trying to decide what to do with a dictator who had just murdered his Prime Minister, the Soviets began their appropriation of Afghanistan, first by proxy and later, directly. The United States quickly decided to ignore what was going on in Pakistan in favor of what they wanted done in Afghanistan; Zia was legitimized.

Timing is everything…

The US saw the opportunity to not get directly involved in Afghanistan and still attack the Soviets, they funded the creation of huge numbers of Islamic schools to teach the Afghan refugee children the narrowest version of intolerance cloaked in Islamic studies. The Afghan children were taught that God wants them to go and sacrifice their lives by killing as many of the unholy unbelievers as they could…the Communist Russians. Madressas (schools) for this intolerant brainwashing sprouted like mushrooms, all along the Pak-Afghan border and once these children graduated, they were sent to Mujahideen training camps and were taught how to wage war and how to kill as many of the “unbelievers” as they could.

The saner intelligentsia in Pakistan protested that these roots were going to last much longer than the war between the Americans and the Soviets and that the dragon’s teeth the US was sowing now, would grow to their evil fruit and threaten both Pakistan AND Afghanistan, but nobody was in a mood to listen. Zia and his military was being plied with more and more weapons and the US was determined to fight the Soviets to the last Afghan.

Thus were born the Afghan Mujahideen and their later successors, the Taliban.

Zia himself was a fanatical and intolerant Muslim who was determined to drag Pakistan to his vision of Islam, whether the Pakistanis wanted it or not.

Religious intolerance was given more leeway and more power until it became an oppressive cloud that threatened to stifle all of Pakistan. Today, we are watching the same groups of fanatics who are now wielding great power within their own little groups that are still competitively disconnected from each other, but have sufficient commonality of purpose that they occasionally support each other when the government goes after any one of them.

These groups recruit their following by offering free room and board in their madressas along with indoctrination of intolerance that teaches absolute loyalty to the group leader and blind following of their intolerant creed (Note: not all madressas are indoctrination facilities for intolerance, a large number of them are schools that provide full education).

Pakistan school system is virtually bankrupt, with few people paying attention to the curriculum which was changed during the Zia regime from a broad-based education to a narrow version of Islam becoming mandatory for Muslims in all schools, even the “literature” guides the students into a jingoist and intolerant mind-set.

In case readers are starting to believe this was happening only in Pakistan, let me disabuse you of such thinking.

India was at least alongside Pakistan, if not leading it in their version of intolerant Hindu thought and practice. Their intolerant Hindu parties began a movement called Hindutva (“Hinduness”) which spawned many other parties whose creed was based on intolerance of non-Hindus. Intolerance is their belief and violence against Christians and Muslims is their platform, they too have the equivalent of Madressas in which they teach their intolerant belief and train the (males and females) young children and the youth, in the ways of warfare, using sticks, knives and guns.

On one hand, Pakistan continues to remain involved in insurgent, pro-independence activities in Kashmir and helps out the Sikh separatist movements. Before the 1972 breakup of Pakistan, it was involved in insurgent, pro-independence activities in Assam, Nagaland and Sikkim.

On the other hand India has been involved in insurgent, pro-independence activities in areas of Pakistan like Sindh, Baluchistan and the Frontier Province.

Both countries have blood of tens of thousands of innocents on their hands, both countries promote hate either actively or, passively by permitting their intolerant groups a free hand to thrive as long as the groups remain aimed outside. This laissez faire arrangement does not always work; it has a habit of backfiring at the most inopportune moments.

Is there an answer to this spiraling violence? Thankfully, YES!

Western donor countries can enforce a rule that states that 1% of all aid given to any developing country MUST go towards education especially in the most deprived areas of that country. In the areas of greater poverty, the schools can be set up to provide food and uniforms as well (housing will not be necessary because schools will be closer to every villages). With money flowing to schools, the need for madressas will become reduced, weaning away more and more children from the madressas each year.

Internally, countries like Pakistan can be persuaded (not pressured) to allow generous stipends to each mosque and its imam, with one condition: the imam must have a certain number of annual clock hours of study and must pass a periodic examination in the knowledge of the Quran, knowledge of the different sects of Islam and knowledge of different faiths of the region. This is actually very much in keeping with Islam and the original ‘Dawa’...presenting of Islam to others; how can anyone hope to spread a faith if the Muslim missionaries do not have an understanding of the faith they are working with? It usually follows that if a religious leader has learnt about other faiths and thus the similarities among all faiths, then he is less likely to preach intolerance to his own people.

The Prophet Mohammed illustrated this best when he sent a delegation of Muslims to the Negus (King) of Ethiopia seeking asylum from the pagans. The pagans sent their delegation and asked the Negus to hand over the Muslims to them because, they said, the Muslims were actually enemies of Christianity. The Negus asked the Muslims if this was true and to prove their innocence at which point, the Muslims delegation head recited the verses from the Quran that upheld the sanctity of Jesus, Mary and all holy scriptures and prophets therein. The Negus was so impressed by the similarity between Christianity and Islam, that he allowed sanctuary to the Muslims.


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