The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page

Back in Pakistan within a hundred days of my last visit, this time as an extra in the Laloo Yadav road-show, much is as it has always been and will always be — the kababs, the whisky, the hugs, the rhetoric of friendship — but one thing is new: the widening cracks in the mullah-military axis. My affair with Pakistan dates back to 1979, the year I was posted to Karachi, the year Zia-ul-Haq hanged Bhutto, and the year the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. It was the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan which was the proximate cause for the bond forged then which for two decades has tied the madrasahs to the military, leading eventually to the taliban giving the Pakistan army the “strategic depth” in Afghanistan which the Pakistan army believed it needed to pursue its military designs on India.

The mullah-military axis was not always there. Through the first half century of Pakistan, the theocratic parties, such as the Jama’at-e-Islami, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam and the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan, always had great difficulty in securing mass political support. The people, the politicians, business circles, the media and the civil service looked askance, and with deep apprehension, at the Islamic injunctions incorporated in the Objectives Resolution of 1949, drafted largely by Maulana Maudoodi of the Jama’at-e-Islami. However, the Pakistan constitution did not get finalized till after Pakistan broke in two in 1971, and so the Objectives Resolution remained something of a dead letter. The armed forces too left the religious parties to their arcane theological wrangles.

Neither in the 11-year long Ayub Khan era (1958-69) nor in the dissolute, drunken days of Yahya Khan (1969-71) was the mullah allied to the military. That began when the mullahs moved into the forefront, alongside every opposition political party, in the mass uprising against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s massively rigged election of 1977, which eventually led to Bhutto’s ouster and the 11 long years of Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988).

Zia was the first genuinely practising Muslim to preside over a country founded in the name of Islam. It was he who proclaimed the Nizam-e-Mustafa (the rule of Allah) in February 1979, prior to stringing up Bhutto and as a preliminary to depoliticizing the Pakistan polity to build an alternative political order founded, allegedly, on the basic principles of the shariat. It was he too who incorporated much of the 1949 Objectives Resolution in the amendments he made by decree to the 1973 constitution.

The intent and content of the Zia programme was wholly bogus and few were more alive to how far the Zia dictatorship was removed from true religion than the “Islam-pasand” parties of Pakistan. But Benazir Bhutto made the huge mistake of excluding the religious parties, particularly the Jama’at-e-Islami, from the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy launched in February 1981. Zia retaliated by co-opting the parties so excluded into his regime, thus giving his army the veneer of political respectability he desperately needed to impart an air of legitimacy to his regime — and provide the Americans the democratic fig-leaf they needed to cajole recalcitrant elements in the United States of America’s congress to bring in the mullah to fight the US war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The final outcome of the US-mullah-military axis was the taliban government and al-Qaida.

Hence the alarm in India when Nawaz Sharif was overthrown by General Pervez Musharraf on October 12, 1999. Since his election in 1997, Sharif had been building himself up as the bulwark against the spread of talibanism to Pakistan (and thence to India, as many Indians — including those who should have known better — thought). Musharraf assiduously restored the mullah-military axis. But once the Americans, after 9/11, turned on those whom they had once patronized, Musharraf began singing his collaborationist tune, ostentatiously distancing his autocracy from the resident theocracy, pleasing the Americans no end that in Musharraf they had found another Kemal Ataturk.

The theocracy was not amused. In the elections of October 2002, they struck back. Ending the endless divisions among themselves (how many angels can dance on the head of a pin') the religious parties grouped themselves into the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (known derisively at its founding as the Mullah-Military Axis, when it was believed to be the King’s party). For the first time ever in the tangled history of elections in Pakistan, this grouping of religious parties emerged as the single largest opposition group in Pakistan’s national assembly. Their leader, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, almost made it to the prime minister’s chair. He would have succeeded but for Musharraf breaking the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and constituting the breakaway Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) as the true King’s party.

However, the MMA formed the provincial government in the North West Frontier Province and Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s party, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam, is the dominant coalition partner in the Baluchistan provincial government. Fazlur Rahman is now Musharraf’s most formidable challenger, in the vanguard of the agitation to secure the withdrawal of Musharraf’s Legal Framework Order, so as to restore the 1973 Pakistan constitution and render Pakistan as genuinely functioning a parliamentary democracy as we have in India.

Fazlur Rahman’s visit to India last month is now part of the legend and lore of India-Pakistan relations. In his speech to the India-Pakistan parliamentary conference, which I am in Islamabad to attend, he spelt out more unambiguously than when he was on foreign soil in India the rationale for the MMA taking the initiative to crack the 25-year old nexus between the mullah and the military, with the key objective of putting an end to Pakistan’s obsessive confrontation with India.

For the MMA, already restive over the US invasion of Afghanistan, the American occupation of Iraq has shown, he said, that the American goal is world domination and a unipolar American dictatorship over the international order. Quoting a homely Punjabi saying, he warned, “Jitta vadda sar, utna vadda zehr” (The bigger the head of the snake, the more vicious its poison). The subcontinent must, in these circumstances, sink its internecine differences. For now, west Asia was the target. “To keep their chimney stacks belching smoke and to turn Nature’s heat into coolness and Nature’s cold into warmth”, the Americans needed the natural resources of Iraq and its neighbours. The US, he said, can secure their requirements of energy indefinitely by extending a hand of friendship to the countries whose soil bears these riches, but if they continue their endeavours at dominating the region, they will be denied access to the very energy sources they seek to monopolize. But in the process, he warned, there could be a conflagration engineered in the name of the clash of civilizations which could plunge the Human Family and Planet Earth.

It was the sovereignty of nations that was at issue, underlined the good maulana. It was, therefore, incumbent on sovereign nations to protect themselves from the oncoming onslaught on their sovereignty by banding together instead of letting third parties exploit their differences. Hence, he said, his plea for India and Pakistan to come together, without third-party (read American) interference to resolve their quarrels, moving as fast as possible on what could be moved forward easily and then getting down to brass-tacks on the more difficult issues. The establishment, he stressed, did not foresee the dangers of continued confrontation as clearly as did the people. Parliamentarians, as representatives of the people, were more sensitive to the people’s wishes than governments. It was, therefore for parliamentarians to concert their “collective wisdom” to ensure that governments respond to the people’s yearning for peace. He ended with a Chinese proverb: “Even a journey of a hundred miles begins with the first step.” He urged that the first step be taken.

There is much to disagree with in his contextualization of the need for peace and harmony in the subcontinent. But this is clearly the optimal conjuncture, when the mullah-military axis is cracking, for the government of India to take the first step in a journey that is to traverse many hundreds of miles. Alas, there is nothing in the interventions of the BJP delegates to this conference to suggest that the Vajpayee establishment have it in them to take even the first step, let alone journey a hundred miles.

Email This Page