From non-alignment to alignment

The US is designating Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally. This has dismayed many Indians, who sneer that the US is irredeemably pro-Pakistan. In fact, we should hope fervently that Pakistan does become a major US ally against Islamic terror. I cannot think of a better outcome from India ‘s viewpoint. The trend so far is promising.

For decades, Pakistan tried simultaneously to be both Islamic and modern. Modernism demands secularism even where a state religion exists (as in Britain ).

But fundamentalism demands loyalty to Islam above all else, and to the global Islamic community above national ideals.

Pakistan rode both these horses for decades. It claimed to be a rare Muslim democracy (of sorts), which could be the West’s interlocutor with the Islamic world.

At the same time, it was mullah-friendly, aided fundamentalists like Hekmatyar and later the Taliban in Afghanistan , aided terrorism in Kashmir , and talked of an Islamic bomb (A Q Khan did more than just talk).

But after 9/11, Pakistan could no longer ride both the horses. The US said that Pakistan had to help destroy the Taliban and its Islamic associates, or risk being treated as a terrorist state itself.

The US was especially worried that Pakistan ‘s nuclear weapons might fall into terrorist hands, and was willing to take military action to prevent this.

Pakistan had to decide whether to go fundamentalist or modernist. Musharraf chose the latter.

He said his role model was Attaturk, who abolished the Caliphate in Istanbul and made Turkey , for centuries the very epicentre of Islam, a secular state.

This is anathema to Al Qaeda. So, Musharraf has suffered repeated attempts on his life. He has tried to support militants in Kashmir even while battling Al Qaeda, but found that this may simply expedite his assassination.

Thus, he has begun distancing himself from the Islamic elements he once sustained, and who still have powerful friends in Pakistan .

Pakistan has caught and handed over hundreds of Talibanis to the US . It has now sent its army into the autonomous tribal belt bordering Afghanistan . This is self-governing according to Pakistan ‘s Constitution, and has long been a sanctuary for terrorists.

Musharraf has declared that autonomy does not cover the right to harbour terrorists. Al Qaeda still has support in Pakistan . Some encircled terrorists in the tribal belt escaped using a tunnel, suggesting assistance from pro-Islamic Pakistani elements. So, Musharraf has his work cut out. Yet, the overall trend is hopeful.

No Pakistani leader would ever have taken on the militants because of anything India could say or do. But 9/11 has achieved this, giving India a huge windfall gain. Too many Indians view Pakistani help to terrorism through the lens of Kashmir.

In fact, the biggest threat lies elsewhere. Osama bin Laden calls on Muslims everywhere to give their first loyalty not to the country they live in but to his vision of imperial Islam (harking back to the Muslim conquest of Spain and Austria ).

So far, Indian Muslims have, by and large, ignored this siren call. The real danger is that they might take to militancy to combat Hindu militant excesses (as in Gujarat ).

If that happens, the fat will truly be in the fire. Seven bomb blasts in 2002 and 2003 in Mumbai show that militancy has begun to seep into some Muslim pockets in India .

If Pakistan goes fundamentalist, Indian Muslims will feel increased pressure to go down this road too. On the other hand, if Pakistan turns against the mullahs and for modernism, the beneficial effects will be felt among Indian Muslims too.

Had 9/11 not occurred, contacts between Al Qaeda and Pakistani nuclear scientists would have strengthened. At some point, the militants might have obtained access to a nuclear bomb.

While India ‘s own bomb can deter the Pakistan government, it cannot deter nuclear terrorists who cannot be nuked without wiping out civilians. And 9\11 has probably saved India from this dreadful scenario.

Pakistani support to Kashmiri militants has ebbed considerably in recent months. Good news, but this is not the best measure of the beneficial effects of 9/11.

Militancy in Kashmir arose from genuine Kashmiri grievances. Foreign Islamic militants have added muscle to the Kashmiri uprising, but it has domestic roots.

No, the really big consequence of 9/11 will be its impact on the character of Pakistan , not of Kashmir . India needs a Pakistan that comes out squarely against Islamic militancy.

If Pakistan becomes a major ally of the US in this endeavour, we should cheer, not moan. Neither Pakistan nor the US are driven by a desire to help India.

They are serving their own interests. But 9/11 has aligned the interests of all three countries. This alignment is far more important than the non-alignment that Cold Warriors talk of nostalgically.

What do you think?