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Current Affairs ( 7 Jun 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The case for Union of South Asia

By Soulat Pasha


India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, three main countries of South Asia, were once a single administrative and political unit till about 63 years back and were known as India, the largest ever colony of British Empire. The events of 1940’s speedily and swiftly changed the whole scenario and that great mass of land and people of India was hurriedly divided by the leaving British Empire in two countries- India and Pakistan. Pakistan however could not survive long as the largest Muslim country of the world and in 1971 after a bloody civil war/liberation movement it was divided into two independent countries- Pakistan and Bangladesh.


Pakistan of 1947 was demanded by then Muslim League of India, a party of Muslim landowners and middle class led by a westernized lawyer Mr. Jinnah who is known by the Pakistanis as Quaid-e-Azam- the great leader. Indian Muslims were generally apprehensive of Hindu domination in any democratic arrangement of India.  They had these feelings long before the formation of Muslim League or Mr. Jinnah assuming its leadership; as in the third quarter of 19th century when the first political party of India- the Congress was formed, a renowned Muslim scholar Sir Syed warned Muslims of these  political reform movements and advised them not to join the Congress or its efforts for any form of self rule or democracy or independence as it will amount to majority rule of Hindus, which would be harmful for the Muslim minority of India, he advised them to remain loyal of colonial power as it could help save Muslims from tyranny of Hindu majority.   


Although Muslim League may be regarded as communal in the context of united India of 1940’s, nevertheless its leader and the sole driving force since 1935, Mr. Jinnah, was essentially a secular, westernized, enlightened and liberal man. He in fact agitated against mixing of religion with politics as was started by Mr.Gandhi and Maulana Jouhar during Khilafat movement of 1918-20. By that time Mr. Jinnah had become an accomplished leader of Congress, and was known as crusader for solidarity of all Indians, an Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity; he abhorred the very concept of using Islamic jargons like Khilafat for this movement, he sincerely felt that restoration of Khilafat was an absurd and impractical utopia and the movement is an exercise in futility, but the rhetoric, emotions, heat and fervor of the movement was so exciting that the voices of dissent like those of Mr. Jinnah were of no essence. Being dejected he disassociated himself from the movement and ultimately the Congress as well.


Mr. Jinnah tried several other political arrangements immediately after leaving Congress, Muslim League, however, was not his first option as he had a very low opinion about the League, which mostly comprised of landowners who had the prime aim to have closer ties with British local bureaucracy and were known as toadies, lackeys of British rulers. However after not getting proper response from other arrangements he decided to re-organize the Muslim League. It took him about 20 years to regain some respectability and influence in India politics and get his rightful position in the party; while during the same period Mr. Gandhi, heralding several political movements against the colonial rulers had become undisputed leader of Indian masses, and was now known as Mahatma - the great soul.


For the first elections held in 1937 after enforcement of Government of India Act of 1935, knowing the limitations of his party, Mr. Jinnah made a number of seat to seat adjustments with Congress on reserved seats for Muslims in provincial legislative assemblies. His party could not do well in those elections, he however still expected that the winning party, the Congress, whom his party supported on many a seat, will accommodate his nominees in the provincial governments; Congress was however in no mood to give this concession to him or his party; it instead tried making direct contacts with some people elected on Muslim League ticket and easily lured a few. This attitude infuriated Mr. Jinnah, he could not accept this insult and decided never to look back again for any joint policy with Congress and devoted all his energies, organizational and political skills for a popular organized Muslim League to give a befitting reply of this rejection and insult by Congress.  He openly used the Muslim card and started calling the Congress as Hindu communal outfit and Muslim leaders of Congress as mere ‘show boys’ inducted to help give a deceptive secular color to the party.


By 1940 he gained a sizeable support among Muslim leaders of various Indian provinces. In March 1940, when it was known to all that after the ongoing World War the British Empire will give independence to India, the Muslim League, like all other parties, in an attempt to have a share in governing India after independence, passed a resolution in its Lahore meeting which called for separate and autonomous political and administrative arrangement for Indian Muslims. It was a hurriedly drafted resolution, the chief minister of Punjab who had very recently joined the League and the Bengali leaders of League prepared this draft incorporating their respective angles and positions. This resolution/demand spread like wild fire in whole India, courtesy Indian press predominately controlled by sympathizers of Congress and some Hindu communal groups. This situation was amusing for Mr. Jinnah, he for the first time ever felt that he and his party can pinch and inflict pain to the largest political party of India. Now he knew that from this position he can get better political space, job quotas and reservations in Legislative Assemblies for the Muslims of India; he thus more often started using the words like, ‘Pakistan’, ‘divide and quit’ and his own formulated theory of ‘two nations in India-Hindus and Muslims’, in all his oral and scripted expressions.


Soon he was able to bring the entire political discourse in India centered on the issues like Muslim minority and their future political status after the departure of British rulers.  

The period of 1940 to 1945 saw a number of efforts by the British rulers to bring both the parties at some common ground, several missions were sent by London and numerous meetings were arranged by British Viceroy; the communal polarization, however, could not be curtailed, it was a sort of cul-de-sac. In the summer of 1946 however came a fabulous opportunity; the Cabinet Mission from London rejected the demand of Pakistan, but proposed three administrative and semi autonomous zones of United India; Zone A for areas in north-west India comprising of Muslim majority provinces, Zone B for heartland of India and Zone C for Bengal and Assam.


All three Zones to be parts of Central India, the central authority to have control over Defense, Foreign affairs and Communications and to manage these subjects could impose Central taxes.  It was the first and last occasion when both the parties- Congress and League- accepted a scheme which ensured unity of India; Mr. Jinnah claimed that saw the germs of Pakistan in it while Congress found that India would remain united. However the communal press of both sides created problems; Muslim press criticized Mr. Jinnah, who had given up the demand of Pakistan, and for Hindu presses it was like acceptance of Pakistan. Mr. Jinnah was also bitterly criticized in League meetings, yet he defended this scheme being the best political arrangement for Muslims of India. But other party, the Congress, could not sustain the pressure and criticism; the charismatic and fiery Pundit Nehru, who recently became the President of Congress, backtracked. He could not visualize that by doing so he is inviting civil war, chaos, anarchy and consequently the division of India.


The present days Pakistanis, who are fed on fables and stories of long century old struggle for Pakistan, find it strange and don’t understand why and how Quaid-e-Azam (Mr. Jinnah), accepted a formula for United India as late as 1946? Either, he knew (on few occasions he even said that publicly) that people he has in League are worthless, out of currency and counterfeit coins, and obviously he never found them capable of managing the affairs of an independent Muslim state. Or maybe his demand for Pakistan was in fact an attempt to get maximum political benefits and space for the Muslims in India and in the Cabinet mission’s zonal scheme he got the best deal. He was over seventy and knew the gravity of his ailment; he knew that after him the incompetent and opportunist Muslim League leaders will betray the cause of Muslims of India cheaply. He thus accepted the best deal for Indian Muslims.


Once the Congress leadership backtracked from its earlier consent to the Zonal scheme, Mr. Jinnah had no option but to get back to his original demand-Pakistan. He called for Direct Action Day on 16th August 1946, which sparked violent communal clashes and riots in many parts of India, worst affected were Bengal and Bihar. Now it was clear to the Congress leadership that they have only two options, either to accept Pakistan or continue living in a civil war like communal polarization. They obviously accepted the partition of India, which ultimately became effective in mid August 1947.


In hindsight, it appears that acceptance of Zonal Plan of Cabinet Mission could avoid the blood bath this area witnessed  during mass transfer of population in 1947; the people of this area might have never seen any war, trillions of dollars diverted for defense and war efforts and pursuit for Nuclear arsenal could be used for social sectors, instead of 30% population now living below poverty line, about 90% might have been enjoying a comfortable life and this area could become a great economic power much before China assumed this position and above all there would have been no Kashmir dispute which has made both parties claustrophobic to it and is the root cause of  fundamentalism, extremism, militancy, and terrorism of both sides.


Kashmir is certainly the hottest boiling pot for this area. A few months back, a former Pakistani foreign minister of Musharraf era, revealed that in 2007 both India and Pakistan had almost reached to position where solution of Kashmir dispute acceptable to all parties, i.e. Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris, was a matter of few days, but Musharraf got himself badly entangled in judiciary issue, lost public support and the dialogues could not continue. Recently Indian Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh also said something similar, but added that the process may restart from same point where it discontinued, if Pakistan shows willingness to bring the perpetrators of Mumbai carnage to task and give exemplary punishment to these criminals.


 Essentially the Indian demand is justified and must be met with all sincerity and seriousness, why should Pakistan protect a bunch of dozen or so criminals who masterminded the Mumbai acts of terror? Even if these no-state actors did so on prompting of certain people in some state agency in Pakistan, which might have used them as pawns in its proxy war with India, they should be tried and jailed without ay further delay, and no legal or bureaucratic haggling should delay this process. And why can’t people like Daud Ibrahim and other Indian criminals, who are hiding in Pakistan,  be handed over to the Indian authorities? The Pakistanis must realize that these criminals and perpetrators of terrorist acts are not their asset; they are in fact burden and liability; as because of the wrong doings of these people, and their protectors, many million people in this area are suffering poverty and are deprived of basics of human requirements and rights.


Respectable and acceptable solution of Kashmir problem, which Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh says is available, must be enforced and all irritants in its way must be cleared by Pakistan and India. In 1960’s the then President of Pakistan , General Ayub Khan offered joint defense pact to India, Pundit Nehru, the then Indian Prime minister asked back sarcastically, ‘Joint defense! Against whom?” Maybe then India and Pakistan did not have any common enemy, but now they both have extremism and militancy, their common enemy. They have the opportunity to join hands against this evil.


The people of India, Hindus and Muslims, in the recent elections have voted out their respective communal groups which were dividing them; people of Pakistan too for the first time in their history have rejected the forces of extremism and supported the ongoing army operation in troubled northern areas, despite all its clumsiness. Political face of religion proved ugly, disastrous and despised by all. The Mulla-Military alliance no more exists. The extremist groups have very few supporters in political arena of Pakistan; however this small group leaves no chance to malign India in all the acts of terrorists and insurgency in Pakistan.


Their conjecture that India wants to destroy Pakistan from day one of its inception has been proved baseless by history; India, if so desired, could do that by taking over East Pakistan during war in September 1965, when less than 5000 army personnel were posted in that virtually undefended part of Pakistan, and again in 1971 when Pakistan Army had already  embattled, badly beaten and surrendered in former East Pakistan, India could ransack the western part with ease, because the then Pakistan army was highly demoralized by that defeat, but India desisted. The claim that India is fuelling insurgency in Baluchistan too has never been proved, no Indian counterpart of ‘Ajmal Kassab” has ever been nabbed by Pakistanis agencies; unless that is done these allegations remain a fable.


Pakistani nukes is considered as the deterrent and protection in respect of conventional wars; however under the umbrella of this deterrence, adventurism like Kargil and proxy wars in Kashmir and various other parts of India through so-called non state actors has raised many eyebrows in the world, overuse of this deterrent is in fact counter productive and could become a real threat for the country. World can not leave these dangerous arsenals in the hands of unstable, unpredictable and crazy civil or military leadership.


Mr. Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam and founder of Pakistan, conceived India and Pakistan relations to be like USA and Canada, it is however unfortunate that the tide of events and inept handling thereof by both sides has turned these relations like those of USA and Cuba.

President Zardari of Pakistan has rightly diagonized that India is no threat to Pakistan, the real threat to integrity and solidarity of Pakistan is religious extremism and terrorism. The most popular leader of Pakistan Mr. Nawaz Sharif has also time and again emphasized the need to restart the process of composite dialogue between the two great neighbors in South Asia, and removal of irritants in the resumption.


Settlement of major disputes between the two countries is the foremost requirement to eliminate the extremism which is the most dangerous threat for whole world, and because of numerous threads, the safe haven of religious fanatics inspired by rhetoric of Al-Qaeda and Taliban and trained by Afghan war of 1980’s veterans, is northern area of Pakistan.


The largest democracy of the world and growing economic power of Asia has responsibility to show that it is also serious to combat terrorism, which is now being fiercely fought by Pakistani army; it should immediately announce its support and offer a token amount of USD 100 million for relief and rehabilitation of millions of IDP of Swat and tribal areas.


The war on terror in Pakistani areas is not going to be short one, even when small cities and towns in swat and tribal areas are recovered by Pakistani forces, the terrorist may get some hideouts and start guerrilla warfare and target major cities of Pakistan, and also India, for their terrorist activities. We know that US and NATO forces can not stay for long in Afghanistan, as such Pakistan and other regional countries, including India have to share the responsibility against terrorism before western forces leave Afghanistan, otherwise this area may once again witness the repeat of 1990’s chaos in that country which unleashed militancy, civil war and terror which finally resulted 9/11.


The time once again has given tremendous opportunity to the leadership of both the major countries of South Asia to prove that they can look above their petty party politics and bureaucratic approaches of maintaining status quo, and are the statesmen who can change the tide of history for the benefit of the people of this area. India is certainly poised to become an economic superpower, but why should it wait for three or four decades and why should it not attain this glorious position within next 15 years? And why independent and sovereign people of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Kashmir and Nepal should not reap the benefits of living in proximity of an economic super power? Soft borders in South Asia, exchange of people and goods and services for trade, tourism, transit trade, educational and cultural exchanges, industry, agriculture and investments, may achieve the desired goals of peace, stability, alleviation of poverty and development in this area. Event in next few months and years must lead us towards a common South Asian currency and ultimately to a Union of South Asia, on the pattern of European Union. The people of South Asia also deserve a better, harmonious and peaceful region.

Let the leaders of South Asia be bold enough to set new rules, fields and targets for their youth, which is sixty percent of total population of this great land-South Asia.


Soulat Pasha is a Karachi-based political commentator.