April 26, 2002


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Claude Arpi

Homelands in Pakistan

One form of relaxation for me is watching sports programmes on television. On the same sports channel, Pakistan TV beams its daily news and very often I watch it for a short time. The music programmes and the serials, I must say, are not very different from Hindi serials aired on the Sahara channel. If a test were conducted and any foreigner asked which of the two countries a particular programme belonged to, very few would guess right.

The same holds true for the ads. This is no doubt normal for two nations which share 5,000 years (minus 50) of history.

But one thing is radically different and nobody can miss it: the news.

Whatever relaxation I may have enjoyed on the sports channel quickly fades away when I hear (and see) the systematic and constant anti-India propaganda. It seems that this nation (or at least its government) has had for the past 50 years only one obsession: India.

Within this obsession, there is another: Kashmir. You cannot watch a single news bulletin or debate without hearing about the 'excesses of the Indian security forces' on the people of Kashmir 'struggling for their self-determination', though it is usually the same footage of security forces facing a mob during one of the Srinagar bandhs shown again and again.

Now, a new topic has recently appeared on PTV: the regrettable riots in Gujarat, which followed the Godhra incident. Since Gujarat saw an outburst of violence, PTV News seems full of delectation. The tone is, 'did we not tell you that they would do this?' It is so excessive that it makes one feel Pakistan may not be fully innocent of the incident.

It is not only television but also other media who are enjoying this new occasion for India-bashing. For example, a Pakistani news Web site,, wrote an article titled Thank God we have Pakistan last month.

Not only did they declare that "genocide against minorities is nothing new in India or in Indian-occupied areas", but went one step further and announced a partition of India. For the purpose they quote some US media: "This has led to vocal calls from Information Times, an American Media in Washington DC for the breakup of India into smaller countries where minorities are in the government and are able to protect their rights. This idea of partition has again come up after 55 years because the underlying argument of 'Two-Nation Theory', which was basis of creation of Pakistan, a home and safe haven for Muslims is once again valid and applicable on India. However, this time around, rather than creation of disparity in countries, India is eight times bigger than Pakistan, creation of smaller countries of equal area and resources should be carved out of India.

"In Pakistan as well as overseas, every Pakistani is praying for safety of fellow Muslims in India, and is thinking, 'Thank God we have Pakistan', 'Thank God for the farsightedness of Iqbal and Jinnah for creating our homeland'."

While it is not certain that all Pakistanis are praying for the breakup of India, this article raises a very interesting point: is it not Pakistan which is on the brink of breaking up?

Recently, Fortune magazine published a long article entitled 'Kidnapped Nation' by Richard Behar, which is an in-depth look into the catastrophic economic situation in Pakistan. There is no doubt that Pakistan is close to an economic collapse.

Behar was told in Quetta by one of the leaders of the jihadi outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba: "Sept 11 was all the fault of Jews, God will destroy Bush." He also blamed Musharraf for the Taliban's defeat and happily provided Fortune details about the cash, supplies and soldiers Sipah had slipped across the porous border to aid the Taliban.

Behar analysed: "Pearl's death and the mid-March bombing of a Protestant church in Islamabad are only the most visible signs of a dysfunctional nation -- call it Problemistan -- a country that professes to be an ally of the US in its war on terrorism, but probably harbors more terrorists than any place on earth."

This is only one of the many journalists who have begun to see that the best ally of the US in the region is in fact the largest nest of world terrorism and that Musharraf, despite all his declarations to the contrary, cannot do anything even if he wanted to (and it is not certain at all that he wants to).

Another example of the country's bankruptcy is Musharraf's dramatic speech on January 12 when he announced that jihadi groups would no longer be able to operate from Pakistani soil. To give his American mentors proof of his good faith, he arrested 2,000 militants (out of a few millions). Most of them are now free.

It appears that when the Lahore high court directed the Punjab government to furnish details of the records of cases against those who were picked up, the government was unable to substantiate the cases. For example, the leader of the banned Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Prof Hafeez Mohammad Saeed, who had been detained under the Maintenance of Public Order on charges of making inflammatory speeches, has been released as the MPO empowers the government to detain a person for only 90 days.

But more serious problems are in stock for Musharraf; he may pray for India's breakup, but there are today strong possibilities that it may happen to Pakistan.

First, he has no control over very large regions of his territory, one of the worse being the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. A few of weeks ago, a news item reported the arrest of Osama bin Laden's senior aide Abu Zubaydah in Faislabad. It appears that the US intelligence agencies had arrested some Pakistanis in Kabul, who tipped off the Americans about bin Laden's aide.

Another story surfaced a couple of days later: bin Laden himself had been staying in the same house a day or so earlier and had just left (probably informed by one of his contacts in the ISI) when the combined raid by the Pakistani security forces and the Federal Bureau of Investigation flew down to Faislabad. One can imagine the situation in the border areas renowned for their porousness if bin Laden could hide in the heart of the Punjab! (By the way, Musharraf had been announcing for months that bin Laden was dead, but this time he did not comment.)

The district known as the Federally Administrated Tribal Agencies has had a long history of lawlessness. It dates even before the 19th century when the British were the masters of the subcontinent ... except for a piece of land: the land of the Pushtoons (or Pathans). But the empire was always resourceful: a senior British diplomat, Sir Mortimer Durand, was requested to divide this land into two. He did so with a pen and the Pushtoons found themselves in two different countries: Afghanistan and British India. But to this day, the Pushtoon tribes on both sides of Durand's border do not accept the existence of this stroke of his pen. It is even said that the bonds of tribe and ethnicity amongst the Pushtoons are more important than their Islamic faith.

The division did not help the British much and they had no option but to grant autonomy to these areas. It did not deter the population from dreaming of a reunification of the Pushtoon land. In the first years after the independence of Pakistan, the Government of Afghanistan took up the matter with Pakistan through Washington, which first was in two minds about the validity of the Durand Line. But the US administration knew that if Kabul's claims were accepted, it would be the end of Pakistan as a state; it was not in their strategic interests to do so.

Apart from the fact that Musharraf has very little control over the area, the return of King Zahir Shah in Kabul leaves very little doubt that the issue of Pushtoonistan will resurface. The struggle between the Northern Alliance mainly composed of Uzbeks and Tajiks (like Ahmed Shah Masoud) against the Pathan regimes in Kabul is also to be seen in this perspective. It was certainly one of the reasons why Islamabad had to 'control' Kabul's regime and why the ISI with the help of the CIA installed the Taliban.

After 'Problemistan' and 'Pushtoonistan', the other headache for the Pakistani general is 'Sindhistan'. Though a few days ago the Mohajir leader Altaf Hussain said he was 'neutral' about the referendum proposed by Musharraf, he has not always been neutral and the separatist tendencies of Sindh are very much present today.

In September last year, Hussain delivered a fiery speech by telephone from London. He said he "will launch a struggle for self-determination" in Pakistan's Sindh province. He was ready to approach "the United Nations, United States, India and other democratic countries".

For Hussain, 54 years "under the colonial yoke of the Punjabi establishment were enough". He declared that it was the mission of his life to free Sindh.

Hussain, who leads the Mohajirs -- about 20 million Muslims who migrated to Pakistan from India during and after Partition -- feels that his community has received no rights in Pakistan. "We were deceived in the name of Islam."

He accused the Punjabi establishment of regarding the Mohajirs, the Sindhis and the Baluchis as security risks when they get government positions and concluded: "No one will grant you your rights, you will have to take it from the usurpers."

On top of this, Pakistan has a very serious problem in the northern areas of occupied Kashmir. An announcement from the Chinese Xinhua News Agency reported last week that the Khunjerab pass between Sinkiang and Pakistan will finally be reopened in May for the first time after September 11.

This pass is one of the most strategic regions in the world because of the old US-Pakistan-China axis. (One should not forget that it was Ayub Khan who battered the first Mao-Nixon meeting in the early 70s.) Soon after the destruction of the twin towers, it was reported that jihadi tribes had taken over the pass and no one was allowed to go through. The safest bet for China (and perhaps for Musharraf) was to close the pass.

Just before the Agra summit, the general had a series of consultations with political and religious leaders of Pakistan, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, but he did not invite any representative of the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan) for these discussions. The reason came to be known later: in June 2001, Gilgit and its surroundings were in a serious state of unrest due to protests from Sunni organisations over the decision of the local administration to introduce separate religious textbooks in the schools for the Shias (who are in a majority in Gilgit). Embarrassed by the incident, Musharraf stopped all movement between Gilgit and Pakistan and imposed very strict censorship.

In the ensuing riots thousands of activists from different political Sunni groups blocked the roads to the city of Gilgit to prevent Pakistani reinforcements from reaching the spot. They had finally to be rushed by helicopters and the demonstrators were ruthlessly removed. This is only one of many incidents that have occurred recently.

An attitude similar to the one adopted by Islamabad in Sindh and Baluchistan was noted by an Indian journalist who visited Gilgit in March. He was told by Ali Mardan, the editor of the local weekly Naqqara: "If the government continues to ignore the grievances of the Northern Areas, it could even end up facing an armed struggle." He added: "Pakistan does not trust the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. To date, we have never had a local chief secretary or police chief. They are either Punjabis or Pathans." One of the interviewed persons told the journalist: "At least in your part of Kashmir, though he is a puppet, a Kashmiri Muslim is at the helm."

For 50 years these areas have never been administrated by a Kashmiri and even the National Kashmir Committee, recently created by Islamabad under the chairmanship of Abdul Qayyum Khan, has very few Kashmiri members.

Certain quarters in Pakistan may continue to 'thank God for the farsightedness of Iqbal and Jinnah for creating our homeland', but the fact remains that there are today several 'homelands' in Pakistan. One does not see how the general, even if he gets a five-year new lease as the master of Pakistan, will be able to contain the centrifugal forces with his cosmetic reforms and grandiloquent anti-India speeches.

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