“Its only chickens coming home to roost. Chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they’ve always made me glad.”
– Malcolm X
Less than 500 km from Delhi, in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, lies the scenic alpine valley of Swat. A princely state for much of its history, Swat was, till a decade ago, considered a paradise for skiers. Tourists came from all over the world to take on the formidable slopes of the Karakoram at Malam Jabba. Not anymore.
For the last 10 years, Swat has been under the grip of what we now know as the Pak-Taliban. Run by the hardline ‘cleric’ Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban or the Tehreek-e-Nefaaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (Movement for the Establishment of the Shariah) as it calls itself, has unleashed a virtual reign of terror in the once pristine valleys. An offshoot from the politically active Jamaat e Islami, the TNSM has diversified into armed revolt and parallel Government. Their litany of misdeeds sounds almost Mullah-Omarish! More than a hundred girls schools blown up, barbers beaten up for shaving people, TV-music-entertainment banned, summary executions via kangaroo courts and in a classic AfghanTaliban touch, blowing up a statue of the Buddha! The Mad Maulana (also known as the Radio Mullah for his sinister radio speeches) has become the virtual overlord of Swat today. A politician to the core, he of course cares nothing for what Islam has to say about his actions:
“….Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know? It is those who are endowed with understanding that receive admonition. (The Quran 39:9)“
“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error” (Qur’an 2:256)
What really makes the Swat case stand out from other terrorist activities in Pakistan is the surrender of the state to such forces. The PPP led Government entered into a treaty with the TNSM on Feb 16th allowing the latter to do as they pleased in Swat! Such an abject surrender doesn’t really come as a surprise as the past 5 years have seen the Pakistani polity totter to the brink of collapse. The treaty is just another step towards the simmering cauldron of anarchy that will lead to the collapse and the ultimate breakdown of Pakistan.
The problem with Pakistan is pretty fundamental and it is not merely confined to Swat. A highly centralised Westminster model of Government imposed on a country where tribal and familial ties rule the roost. An English-cum-Islamic model of law that causes nothing but confusion. A succession of coups, ineffective rulers and an obsession with Kashmir. Add to this grinding poverty, ethnic tensions and a literacy rate that is yet to reach 50%! The coup-de-grace has to be the Mullah-Military alliance that has largely ruled the country since the mid 1970s. The riots, deaths, bombings and revolts are but natural consequences of these factors.
In the end, it probably would not be imprudent to question the very idea of Pakistan itself. A nation formed on nothing but faith alone cannot last as has been proven time and again. A United India with a 33% Muslim population would have been a much better place for the 70 million people Jinnah led to the utopian Promised Land. It was not for nothing that Faiz exclaimed, “Yeh woh sehar to nahi jiski aarzoo lekar, chale thhe yaar ki mil jaayegi kaheen na kaheen” (This isn’t the dawn we had sought. Alas, all in vain!).
The lessons to be drawn from the plight of Pakistan are many. For all our claims to unity, we are not a nation, merely a state. Any moves to curb provincial freedom will almost always turn out to be counterproductive. Ditto for the imposition of the mainland culture and language. Religion and politics are a deadly combination, especially in a diverse nation. Any mollycoddling of Muthalik & Co. will lead us to a situation where we’ll have our own version of Fazlullahs raging against the “corrupting influences” of the West! A Nehru style government model with provincial autonomy, strong and autonomous democratic institutions, an uncompromising secularism and a left of centre stance on all issues, whether social or economic, is the perfect remedy for making the idea of India tick.