The other Taliban

The other Taliban

  0 comments   |     by Jawede Naqvi

A couple of Western diplomats from Islamabad were in Delhi the other day to probe the prospects of improving India-Pakistan ties, and to find out what if anything the media on both sides could do to bring the countries closer.

I described a bleak picture taking shape. What would you do, I asked, if Pakistan gets to be ruled by the Taliban, through a perfectly democratic process — as the one that ushered in the Nazis in Germany — and India gets a Hindu variant of the zealotry in the form of Narendra Modi, also by the ballot.

The world at large is rightly fearful of Taliban-like fanatics getting hold of Pakistan’s nuclear assets. The same analysts, however, have not paid heed to the possibility of a nuclear nightmare in Delhi should a right-wing Hindutva regime take charge next month. In my view, the adventurist quotient in the latter scenario is no less disturbing than the palpable terror of bigots taking over Pakistan.

Hindu fanatics have gained in strength exponentially from the murder of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, which they plotted, to the bombing of the Samjhauta Express in 2007. Their link with the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 and the massacre of Sikhs in 1984 is well documented. The same people burned Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons alive in a jeep in 1999. He had apparently irked Hindutva fanatics with his Christian missionary activity in a remote village in Orissa.

Yes, it is all too well known that Ziaul Haq was the one who injected narrow religion into the professional armed forces in Pakistan. That such a possibility exists in India has become clear in the run-up to the current general elections.

A former interior secretary and a former army chief, both instrumental in subverting peace talks with Pakistan (and perhaps China) during the relatively agreeable administration of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, are Modi’s ace candidates in the parliamentary race. It is anyone’s guess how deeply and firmly the Hindutva worldview is rooted in the bureaucracy and in the armed forces.

Allow me to surmise Modi’s mindset about nuclear weapons. He is, after all, a staunch member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and the RSS view about India’s nuclear prowess was stated in an (underreported) interview given by a former RSS chief in the wake of the Mumbai terror nightmare of 2008.

Hindutva chief K.S. Sudarshan was asked if India should go to war with Pakistan over the Mumbai carnage. He said war should be the last option because it would not stop there. That was comforting. But, he added, when aasuri (evil) powers start dominating the planet there is no other way but war. You will notice little or no difference between the Semitic view of the end of the world and Hindutva’s faith in the Armageddon.

“It will be nuclear war and a large number of people will … [perish]. In fact, not me but many people around the world have expressed their apprehension that this terrorism may ultimately result in a third world war. And this will be a nuclear war in which many of us are going to be finished.

“But according to me, as of now, it is very necessary to defeat the demons and there is no other way. And let me say with confidence that after this destruction, a new world will emerge which will be very good, free from evil and terrorism.”

The remarks by Sudarshan, who died in September 2012, echoed what Modi had himself said in a TV interview at the time of the attack. He mocked the Congress government as being weak before Pakistan-based terrorists. And he was, of course, for teaching Pakistan a lesson whatever the cost. “I would do with them what I did in Gujarat,” he hissed to an applauding live audience.

It is generally claimed that hardliners soften their position as they move from the opposition to join or lead governments. This didn’t seem to be the case with Atal Behari Vajpayee. The former Hindutva prime minister’s fire and brimstone response to a botched terror attack on parliament in December 2001 led to a scary nuclear stand-off with Pakistan, and a costly mobilisation of troops. Without a bullet being fired Indian landmines killed Indian soldiers.

India’s elections had not even begun when the hawks on TV and their self-styled analysts handed Modi an outright victory. Raghav Bahl, whose troubled TV empire was apparently bailed out by Modi ally Mukesh Ambani, was holding court. He runs Think India, a right-wing lobby. On this occasion he could barely hide his glee at India’s rightward lurch.

Joining the discussion were three well-known former diplomats. There was consensus that India had been too timid in dealing with China and Pakistan. In the case of Pakistan, which one of the diplomats described as a goon of China, it had to be taught a lesson immediately. I wouldn’t be surprised if a terrorist planning to stir trouble between the two countries was drooling at the sight.

With regard to China, India needs to use the Tibet card, whatever that means.

That was the consensus. Never mind the potholes that stalk travellers between Indian towns and cities, but the border road to Tibet had to be immediately built for the military, preferably by inviting private capital. Keep thy fingers crossed, ye diplomats in Islamabad.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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