Pakistan’s stygian journey, as “Land of the Pure,” has been the destabilization and (ultimate) demolition of ‘Hindu’ India, before the restoration of a pristine caliphate of Islamic power and glory. An All-India Muslim League resolution piloted by Mohammad Ali Jinnah and his acolytes, in the aftermath of World War II, called for an immediate British withdrawal from the subcontinent, enabling the forces of militant Islam to reignite the iconoclastic practices of Ghaznavi, Tamerlane, Nadir Shah and Abdali — grist to the mills of an ideologically-driven messianic entity.
It was in the reading room of the old India Office Library in London (now part of the magnificent British Library) that I read the above incendiary sentiments following an accidental reach of the arm to the open shelves and the discovery of the appropriate volume of the Indian Annual Register. Christine Fair, an academic at Georgetown University in the United States of America, has written a meticulously researched and insightful book, Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, which explores its jihadi psyche and the compulsive addiction to conflict with India. This, surely, is a matter of moment as the Pakistan military and its jihadi affiliates are the country’s true masters. Fair resolutely avoided personal exchanges, because her subjects were given to hiding what the false heart doth know behind the false face: in other words, they trimmed their words to fit the liberal sensibility of a Western visitor. Wise to such ways, Fair trawled piles of authenticated documents to give the unhinged Pakistani military voice its true vent. She might, profitably, have complemented this with the contents of a US state department minute in 1949 — shortly after the visit of the then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to Washington — suggesting that his country’s “national traits... if not controlled, could make India Japan’s successor in Asiatic imperialism. In such circumstances, a strong Muslim bloc under the leadership of Pakistan and friendly to the US might offer a desirable balance of power in South Asia.” In 1971, the US president, Richard Nixon, and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, were similarly excoriating in their judgment of India; Nixon subsequently told the British foreign secretary, Alec Douglas-Home, that Indian independence was undeserved.
Fair says, in conversation with an Indian scribe: “What Pakistan is trying to do is use jihad to mobilize and to boost the morale of their troops so that they are on perpetual war footing with India... They always pitch India as a ‘Hindu’ nation... because they are in this civilization battle... the Kashmir issue is not causal, it’s symptomatic.” Reading this took me down memory lane, to London in the aftermath of the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, and the liberation of Bangladesh. The former air commodore, M.K. Janjua, the first head of the Pakistan air force, was one of the early supporters of the Bangladesh movement. He had been arraigned, incarcerated and cashiered for his alleged involvement in the 1951 Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. The celebrated Pakistani poet and leftwing activist, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, was also imprisoned; both men were released when the trial collapsed, following the assassination of then Pakistan premier, Liaquat Ali Khan. Faiz assured me at a sumptuous dinner in a lavish Mayfair apartment, belonging to a well-heeled Pakistani businessman, that Janjua, poor man, was neither a communist nor a conspirator, as charged, but simply the fall guy in a factional conflict within the country’s military. Faiz, I may add, was noticeably partial to a good table, withstanding the formidable challenge of his cups with a careless rapture beyond the reckoning of hoi polloi.
Janjua had been a fervent Pakistan enthusiast during the turbulent years leading to Partition. He was deeply shaken and shamed by the Pakistan army’s massacres of their fellow citizens in what was once designed as a safe haven for Muslims of the subcontinent. Being at the right place — a popular Soho watering hole — at the right time, I was all ears as Janjua delved into his past, relating a string of anecdotes in boastful military mess-talk of “bleeding the b******s” across the border. This could recoil on the progenitor, Janjua warned Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, much given to absurdist expositions of Pakistan’s coming triumph in a projected 1,000-year war with India. The war, when it came, ended in a fortnight with a resounding Pakistani defeat, in spite of the best efforts of the US and Maoist China — de facto allies against the erstwhile Soviet Union and, by extension, India as well — to rescue their regional client from a self-inflicted catastrophe.
In May 1998, India and Pakistan were officially declared nuclear weapons states. How Pakistan acquired its nuclear capability has been explored in great depth by the formidable investigative duo of Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark in their riveting book, Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy, which gives the subject a trenchant analysis, from genesis to consummation. The pace quickened in the 1960s with the admission of the Pakistan foreign minister, Agha Shahi, of China’s confidential promise to aid Pakistan’s quest for nuclear weapon capability with cost-free access to Beijing’s most prized technological secrets, and its denouement was reached in 1990 with the gift of a tested, readymade Chinese nuclear device to Islamabad. Well before this, the Pakistani rogue scientist A.Q. Khan, working at a nuclear facility in Holland, purloined a treasure-trove of its advanced nuclear technologies. Khan’s imminent arrest by the Dutch government was thwarted by the personal intervention of the US president, Ronald Reagan, whose neocon-infested administration viewed Pakistan as a high priority asset in the struggle with the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan. When Richard Barlow, a senior Central Intelligence Agency officer, kept badgering his superiors about Khan’s clandestine proliferation activities, he was declared mentally disturbed and unceremoniously sacked. The US’s own crusade in Afghanistan included jihadi levies like al Qaida, the Taliban and their disparate associates. The nexus of war and politics has given rise to strange bedfellows down the ages, so why should ours be any different? As Levy and Scott-Clark reveal in their robust narrative, deceit, double talk, double-cross and multiple casuistries continued to gain traction in the crime syndicate march of folly. The George W. Bush administration’s “War on Terror” shows few signs of abating. The Barack Obama dispensation’s pitiless drone strikes, which make no distinction between the culpable and the innocent, and the mass surveillance techniques of the national security State are now part of the official US canon. F.D. Roosevelt’s call for freedom from fear is dead in the water. Bush and Obama prefer to describe US policies in Iraq and Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan as promotional exercises for peace, stability and the furtherance of human rights, the last appearing to exclude the primary right to life. Traumatized populations see only a desolation, from whose fissures have emerged a murderous horde of jihadis of the Islamic State, terrorizing and executing minority Christians and Yazidis at will, communities embedded in the land across the centuries; those fortunate to escape their hideous fate hear only the wails of the bereaved and the maimed.
Christine Fair asks why her country, the US, had given Pakistan a military and financial aid package worth $20 billion, its rite of Congressional passage bearing the imprimatur of the senators, John Kerry (now the secretary of state) and Dick Lugar. China is a parallel profligate donor to Islamabad’s military coffers. Question follows question in the fog of war where truth is often the first casualty. How does the Pakistani conundrum in the Sino-American relationship square with their intensifying political rivalry? Is this leavened by a discreet strategic understanding? And what does this augur for India and the Asia-Pacific region? Pakistan is a case of the best laid plans of mice and men gone badly astray. Bleeding India is an expensive business, particularly when the assailant is self-destructing with a thousand cuts.
Kemal Ataturk’s caution to Turkey’s new national assembly in 1921, in the wake of the Ottoman defeat in World War I, has a searing relevance for contemporary jihadi States. “We did not serve pan-Islamism. We said we would, but we didn’t... Rather than run after ideas which we did not and could not realize... let us return to our natural, legitimate limits. And let us know our limits... those who conquer by the sword are doomed to be overcome by those who conquer with the plough, and finally, to give place to them. That is what happened to the Ottoman Empire.”