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Peace with Pakistan: Chasing a mirage

By Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd)
February 11, 2010 16:24 IST
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Peace with Pakistan is not possible in the foreseeable future. Those charged with the responsibility to safeguard our country and its citizens will do well to get a reality check and devise our defence posture accordingly, writes Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd).

The frozen peace process between India and Pakistan is in the news, again. A joint peace campaign has been started by an Indian and a Pakistani news organisation and a Bollywood star has jumped into the fray by regretting that Pakistani cricketers were not picked for the Indian Premier League.

This ought to provide the Indian government and people an opportunity to take stock. After all the peace process, started in 1999 with Atal Bihari Vajpayee's famous bus ride to Lahore, is over 10 years old. This is a good occasion to take a dispassionate look at the past 10 years. 

But before we go into the subject proper, it is necessary to kill the nonsensical notion of 'keeping sports above politics'. The Bollywood star seems to have taken time out from his busy schedule of peddling men's fairness cream and junk food to take up the case of Pakistani cricketers. The usual suspect, the politically-correct media, has jumped on the bandwagon and there is an outcry. This seems to be a case of collective amnesia. For over two decades South Africa faced a sports boycott by most of the world. India was an enthusiastic cheerleader in this. Yes, apartheid was wrong, and so is jihadi terrorism!

Even as some cry foul over the boycott of Pakistani players, most of the Arab and Muslim world merrily continue their boycott of Israeli sportspersons. Pakistan was at the forefront of boycotting the Moscow Olympics of 1980.

My research trip to South Africa recently brought home the fact that sports boycotts hurt, and hurt badly. Why does Pakistani society not introspect and root out the extremists in their midst?

The funny part is that our Bollywood star goes on to claim that as per Indian tradition 'Atithi Devo Bhava' (the guest is like God), he is pained that we are not honouring 'guests' from across our western border. He seems to have forgotten that just about a year and two months ago, 10 'guests' from the same country came to Mumbai and massacred nearly 180 people.

While the media asks all and sundry, why not ask the thousands of relatives of victims of the 26/11 terror attacks as to what they feel about inviting Pakistani players when even now the mastermind Hafeez Saeed is free to continue to spread his hate ideology? I am quite conscious that I am in the company of a certain political party, but well, even they can be right sometimes.

The root cause

In June-July 2006, I participated in the goodwill mission between Mumbai and Karachi. Within a few days of our return from a goodwill trip to Karachi, the terrorists struck at Mumbai's local trains on July 11, killing more than 200 innocent people. But such is public memory in India that it has been forgotten totally. The pseudo-peaceniks and sundry busybodies now want Indians to forget the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and continue the peace process with Pakistan.

Let me hasten to add that we met a lot of people of goodwill and peace in Pakistan. But most of them were part of the elite. There is no doubt about their sincerity as well. But there is a total disconnect between the elite and the masses. The biggest problem in the case of Pakistan is that civil society has very little influence over either the masses or the government.

The argument then was and today is -- the jihadis want to derail the peace process, that is why they are doing it but we must continue with normal relations, sporting ties, cultural exchanges et al.  All this while the Pakistanis deny any connection/responsibility towards these atrocities. I do not buy this argument. If the peace process is not capable of bringing about these minimum conditions, then it is useless. I publicly disassociated myself from this pointless exercise.

We have had cultural exchanges, people to people contacts, sports ties and government level talks for over 11 years now (beginning with Vajpayee's Lahore bus trip), yet the terror attacks inspired from across the border have continued. Pakistani state and civil society remain as hostile as ever, barring a minor fringe of the candlelight brigade. Pakistanis are forever in a denial mode.

Due to the courage of Tukaram Omble of the Mumbai police, we managed to catch one terrorist alive during the Mumbai attacks. If this did not happen, the Pakistanis would have continued to deny any role in the attacks. What Pakistan needs is a major surgery, while we are trying to apply bandaid. I do not think the Indians who advocate peace and normalcy have any understanding of the root cause of all this, that is the systematic brainwashing of their young students with hate for the last 20 years.

The dark forces in Pakistan

At a chief ministers' conference in Delhi (February 7), the home minister and prime minister mentioned that there are 'dark forces' working in Pakistan to commit crimes against India and destabilise Pakistan in order to take over that country. What are these forces and how strong and widespread is their influence is an issue that needs serious attention.

In 1986, while working for my PhD on regional security, I sought an answer to this very question. I had then got in touch with our military advisor at Islamabad, Brigadier D K Khanna (who later retired as lieutenant general) to have a look at the kind of history that is being taught to Pakistani schoolchildren. To my eternal gratitude, he sent me the text books published by Hijari Publications Lahore. (Muajshrati Aloom, prescribed for VI & VII standards and Tehrik E Pakistan by Professor Mohammed Aslam for IX & X standards). These are in Urdu script, so while posted in Kashmir I got them translated and transcribed on tape. The contents were revealing. To cut a story short -- the books had created an image of 'Hindu India' forever scheming the downfall of Islam and Pakistan.

This is the staple hate diet on which the post Zia-ul Haq generation has been brought up. Curiously, the fictional history takes the existence of Pakistan to the pre-Christ period and omits even Alexander's raid and Porus's heroic resistance. It dismisses a period of 2,000 years between the Mohenjodaro civilisation of 3500 BC and Mohammad bin Qasim's invasion of Sindh as 'myths and legends'. This was Zia's gift to Pakistan. It must be remembered that we are not talking of madrasas -- this is in regular government-run schools!

While in the ministry of defence, I wrote about this 'root cause' of Pakistani hostility in a strategic analysis for the ministry in 1988. This was possibly noted and taken up at the prime ministers' level in December 1988 and in a declaration in Islamabad by Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto it was accepted that both countries will revise their textbooks to remove biases. It was typical of the Indian weakness of trying to mollify the Pakistanis. For in India, there are no textbooks that denigrate Islam. But soon thereafter, both the prime ministers lost power and the whole issue was forgotten. It was only revived in 2004 under General Pervez Musharraf.

On my part I took up this issue with Professor A H Nayyar (of Pakistan) at a world peace meet in Melbourne in December 1998. To the credit of Professor Nayyar and Professor Parvez Hoodbhoy, they have been working at it. But such is the opposition that I do not know to what extent they have succeeded. In any case, even if the curriculum reform takes place now, the results will be visible only after 20 years. But what is the world to do now with Zia's fanatic children?

I do feel vindicated that I raised this issue of effects of this indoctrination with the director (near east and South Asia) at the US National Security Council, Sandy Charles, on July 17, 1991. I had carried a copy of my 1988 article and pleaded with her that in another 20 years time as this generation comes of age, it will threaten not just India but the US as well.

The reason to elaborate on all this history is to drive home the point that fanaticism in Pakistan is widespread and deep-rooted. There is no organised effort to counter the ideology of hate.

Paraphrasing a Mao dictum, the jihadis survive since they swim in a pond of fanatics. Without the latter, like fish out of water, the jihadis would not survive. 

What it also means is that even if an odd Hafeez Saeed is prosecuted, the jihadi mentality will survive. It is amusing to how frequently the Indian media talks of 'mastermind' of terror etc. Like the legendary Ahi Rawan Mahi Rawan, even if one demon is slayed more will be created from each drop of his blood.

This then comes to the surface in a Sohail Tanvir interview in which he blames Hindus for the IPL snub or sundry comments by Imran Khan.

Many well-meaning Indians talk of peace based on a shared culture and history. Does the average Pakistani accept this? Pakistan has assiduously constructed a wholly Islamist view of history, culture and even ethnicity over the last 60 years. Do the people dreaming of 'Aman Ki Asha'  even realise this?

Peace with Pakistan will remain a mirage for the foreseeable future. Those charged with the responsibility to safeguard our country and its citizens will do well to get a reality check and devise our defence posture accordingly. One can't but quote an old George Washington saying, 'If you want peace, be prepared for war!'

Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd) is coordinator of the Pune-based Inpad and a Chhattrapati Shivaji Fellow working on insurgency.

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Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd)