by Zafar Bangash (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 2, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1419)
Nobody in the world needs peace more than the Muslims. From Srinagar to Sarajevo, and from Pristina and Palestine to the Philippines, they are being killed like flies. Thus, if someone really offers them peace, Muslims eagerly accept it. Peace, however, like everything else in the world, has lost its real meaning, at least when it applies to Muslims. Nowhere has peace actually brought security or relief. The only peace on offer is the peace of the graveyard. Is it any wonder that many Muslims refuse to accept this kind of peace? The latest eruption of excitement surrounds last month’s ‘historic’ visit to Lahore by Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. If symbolism is the definition of history, then historic it certainly was; but symbols are no substitute for policy. True, Vajpayee visited the Minar-e Pakistan, reflecting the Hindu fascists’ reluctant acceptance of Pakistan after 52 years. But this was not from goodwill; hard realities have forced the Hindus to change their public posturing. One only has to look at their policy of rape and murder in Kashmir that has intensified at the very time the Indians are making loud noises about peace.
Recall also Indian home minister L K Advani’s bellicose noises in the wake of the Indian nuclear explosions last May. It appeared as if the Indian army would march into Pakistan with Advani, a close ally of Vajpayee, leading in his Ram chariot. When Islamabad responded with its own tests two weeks later, he went as silent as if kissed by death itself. The Hindu fascists have realised that destroying a nuclear Pakistan is now virtually impossible. A change of strategy is required, hence the charm offensive. Vajpayee’s visit is part of that larger strategy. Since the nuclear explosions, elites on both sides have amplified their rhetoric about the common culture and roots that unite their two people. All this talk about commonality almost suggests that even the elite of Pakistan believe the creation of Pakistan was a mistake. After all, if there is little difference between the Hindus and Muslims, why have Pakistan at all? In fact, Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto even suggested during the meeting of parliamentarians from India and Pakistan in January that there should be a South Asian Parliament on the pattern of the European Parliament, a common currency and a rotating president of the two countries. Aware that she is unlikely to become the prime minister of Pakistan again, Benazir is positioning herself for the common presidential post if it should ever come to fruition. She also knows that she is more popular in India than in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan have finally seen through her pro-Indian leanings. But such talk was not confined to Benazir; Aitezaz Ahsan, another People’s Party (PPP) stalwart, and Gohar Ayub, a Muslim Leaguer and cabinet minister in Nawaz Sharif’s government, also talked about the common culture. During their opposition days in the eighties, many PPP leaders even travelled on Indian passports and were financed by India. The Pakistani and Indian elites certainly share a great deal in common; it is the masses that have very different outlooks. The elites have the same tastes in food, clothes, music and poetry; and their children aspire to the same western-defined material success. Muslim and Hindu alike worship the same god, the US dollar!
Even before Vajpayee accepted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s offer to take the first bus ride to Lahore, visits by high profile ‘civilians’ had started between the two countries. First there was the invasion by retired Indian army officers and admirals all calling for peaceful co-existence. This was followed by a meeting of parliamentarians on both sides. With Washington making clear that the nuclear genie must be contained, Pakistan’s pro-American secularists came into their own, trotting out familiar arguments about the costs to social development of the immense expenditure on defence. The argument is sound; its application is not. In the two decades between 1970 and 1990, Pakistan received on average about US$2.5 billion each year in remittances from expatriate workers, especially in the Middle East. There is no trace of this massive infusion of $50 billion into Pakistan’s economy. Additionally, the country has also acquired more than $30 billion in external debt.
The same elites who decry the lack of progress in social and education fields, are part of the ruling classes who have pilfered billions of dollars. Their bank balances are bulging with money stolen from the Pakistani masses. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that many western banks virtually live on the money stolen by the Pakistani elite. It is, however, the peace argument that needs closer scrutiny. Would the headlong pursuit of ‘confidence building measures’ (CBMs) bring Pakistan any closer to resolving the Kashmir dispute? All other issues have emerged directly as a result of the festering Kashmiri wound. India’s refusal to resolve this fundamental issue is at the heart of all problems. To suggest, as India has done, that it is an intractable problem, is to skirt the issue. What is so intractable about Kashmir? India has deployed 700,000 troops in order to crush the Kashmiris’ aspirations for a referendum. This was promised by India at the United Nations as early as 1949. It was India that had placed the issue before the Security Council. There are several resolutions calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir.
The headlong pursuit of CBMs between Islamabad and Delhi is like rubbing salt into the Kashmiris’ wound. While India is busy killing the people of Kashmir, Pakistani rulers are embracing these murderers with open arms, enjoying poetry recitals and exchanging gifts with them.
The message is clear: the Kashmiris’ struggle is no longer sacred to Pakistan. And the people of Kashmir certainly understand it.
In Pakistan another argument has also been floated: normalisation of relations with India would bring in an increased flow of foreign aid, which would help contain and alleviate the country’s deepening economic crises. Let us examine some cases where financial aid was promised and see whether it brought any improvement to the people. Egypt entered into the Camp David Accords with Israel, as did Yasir Arafat’s PLO. Both Egypt and the Palestinians are worse off today than they were before the accords. The same sorry predicament has been visited upon the Bosnians, who were first slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands and then told to surrender at Dayton whatever little they had left. The Muslims’ experience with peace processes - particularly western ones - has been nothing short of disastrous. Why should Pakistan be an exception?
Muslimedia: March 16-31, 1999