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Home > News > Columnists > Col (retd) Anil Athale

Benazir started jihad in Kashmir

December 31, 2007

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It is a tough call to write objectively about assassinated leaders in the subcontinent. Our culture frowns upon anything adversarial said about a dead person. As a historian I have often wondered if this is the reason for our pathetic record in writing our own history. But biting the bullet, I have decided to take the plunge, for a correct understanding of  the factors and forces behind Benazir Bhutto's [Images] assassination is essential in the interest of Indian security and peace in the subcontinent (both are really co-terminus).

Benazir's entry into politics was in the time honoured dynastic mode of the subcontinent. Many remember the shy 17-year-old accompanying the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the Simla conference in 1972 in the aftermath of the 1971 Pakistani defeat in the Bangladesh war. Thus, she was different from Rajiv Gandhi who was not the preferred choice for succession by Indira Gandhi [Images], that honour goes to the late Sanjay Gandhi. That ZA Bhutto chose her over his sons, speaks volumes about her ability. She obviously inherited ZA's intelligence and also unfortunately his demagogy and hatred for India. For let us not for a moment forget that jihad in Kashmir was initiated by her, so also the nurturing of the Taliban. It is difficult to forget her war dance as PM when she shouted 'Azadi, Azadi' to a Kashmiri audience.

Benazir's two truncated tenures as Pakistani prime minister were marked by a lack of performance and massive corruption. Her husband Asif Ali Zardari came to be known as 'Mr Ten Percent' in Pakistan as that much had to be paid to him to get any work done. She had a turbulent relationship with her brother Murtaza, with his wife Ginwa, even accusing her of complicity in his death.

Despite her Oxford education and liberal pretensions, in her two tenures she failed to stem the tide of Islamic fundamentalism. The draconian and anti women 'Hundood' laws as well as blasphemy laws remained on the books in Pakistan. One can even cynically argue that the generals and the Pak army allowed her in power to essentially exploit her friendship with Bill Clinton [Images] (both were at Oxford together) and create a fa�ade of liberalism over the ugly face of Islamist Imperialism, a steadfast goal of the Pakistani military establishment.

But most seriously, when in 1988 I had after a study of Pakistani textbooks highlighted the need to reform their history curriculum (October 1988, Strategic Analysis journal of the IDSA, New Delhi), the issue was discussed between her and Rajiv Gandhi. It even formed part of the Islamabad Declaration of January 1989. But like many other promises this too was never implemented (albeit many in Pakistan have taken up this issue in recent years, like Pervez Hoodboy and Prof AH Nayyar). But the result of her inaction was that the jihadi factories in Pakistani schools, not just madrasas, continued production of an irrational young generation. It is this mindset and her sins of omission and commission that in the end took her life. Maybe in the last few years she was a mellowed person and had genuinely changed.

But her assassination has to be seen in the larger subcontinental context. Her frequent visits to the dargah at Ajmer Sharif put her firmly in favour of the Sufi version of Islam. Islam that is at peace with itself and others. Is it a mere coincidence that recently the dargah had come under attack from the jihadists?

A long-term view of the subcontinent's history shows that this struggle between Sufi and Waahabi and Salafi fundamentalism has been going on for a long time, almost going back to the days of Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb. Benazir Bhutto's assassination is one more reminder of the power of Saudi-funded fanaticism. It seems that Aurangzebism is on the winning side. It is in this context that Baenazir's death is significant and a wake-up call for all rational and peace-loving people of whatever religious persuasion to take on the beast of Waahabism; else the subcontinent and the world are headed for a disaster.

Bhutto's death also brings closer the possibility of 'Talibanisation' of Pakistan and consequent nuclearisation of jihad. Musharraf can be trusted to exploit the American and Western fears on this count to strengthen his hold on power. But the million-dollar question is, does he control the Pak army? Is the army likely to split between modernists/pro-West and jihadis? Maybe the National Security Advisor has the answer.

But for India, it is essential to keep its powder dry to face the mad mullah with nukes.

Dr Anil Athale, coordinator of the Pune-based India Initiative for Peace and Disarmament, is a former joint director, War Studies, and a retired colonel


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