Barely one week of the Ahmedabad carnage taking human toll of hundreds of muslims in India, the Alice-in-Wonderland speeches at the SAARC Information Ministers Conference in Islamabad about the need for amity and friendship in South Asia provides small solace for the dead and dying in Gujerat. Apropos of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, we are hypocritical about how we wish each other eternal bliss. Given that the bulk of India’s Armed Forces are on our doorstep with intentions of grievous bodily harm (or at least threatening it) for over two months now, this charade we could have done without. Only morons would wish war with India but we must be joking if we are happy to see L K Advani’s pet guided missile Pakistan. As hopes and aspirations among the assembled media persons rose to a peak on the second day of the Agra Summit last June, “iron butterfly” Sushma Swaraj was sent by the “hardliners” to do a mid-morning “walkabout” Press Conference through the corridors of the Agra Sheraton, making it quite clear to whosoever would listen that notwithstanding whatever Atal-ji and Jaswant Singh might promise to Gen Pervez Musharraf on Kashmir, it cut no ice with her (and India’s) real boss, the Home Minister. By late the same night, contrary to all expectations, a rather astounded Pakistani President was in the air on his way home without any agreement.
It started with a muslim mob at Godhra Railway Station setting fire to a train carrying slogan chanting VHP activists back home from Ayodhya, the site of the destroyed Babri Masjid. Kindly explain how a mob got onto a moving train before it reached the railway platform? Try these facts for size, the train pulls into Godhra, the chanting pilgrims, on a high after their Ayodha visit, demanded tea from the 6 or 7 tea-sellers. The tea-sellers, all muslim, refused the tea and a verbal brawl turned into a free-for-all, the fracas turned into a riot. Outnumbered by the local muslim mob, the driver backed the train off from the Station. The tea-sellers hurled burning kerosene stoves through the compartment windows. The momentum of the train fanning the flames, it spread rapidly and the Hindu pilgrims were trapped inside. The provocation notwithstanding, the muslim action setting the train on fire was atrocious, condemnable and led to a far greater tragedy. They lacked the commonsense to realise they would be condemning hundreds of their helpless fellow muslims, outnumbered badly in the BJP-ruled State, to death. The extremists needed a plausible excuse, the tea-sellers at Godhra Railway Station provided that excuse.
It is no use repeating the atrocities that took place in the name of revenge, almost a 1000 muslims have been killed, burnt alive, butchered or simply clubbed to death. A Congress Member of Parliament (and his family) were not spared. The concept of an eye for an eye was replaced with a licence to kill at will. The police on duty stood by as the mobs ran riot, when they did try to restore order, things had gone out of control. Not far on the Pakistan border, 21 Strike Corps troops were never far away. For some inexplicable reason, airlift of two Army battalions to Ahmedabad was delayed for 2 days despite being on standby next to fueled aircraft. Riotous mob chanted for muslims to leave India and seek refuge in Pakistan. To his credit Indian PM Vajpayee went on national TV and radio a number of times to appeal for peace, the element of “ethnic cleansing” was practiced lower down in the pecking order. True to form Indian Defence Minister Fernandes saw the usual Indian bogey, he has ISI on his blinking eyelashes. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh should be proud that not a single incident took place against minorities in their territories despite the horrible TV images emanating from Gujerat. India may be a secular State but we muslim States are far more secular. Question of any revenge against our citizens, whether Hindus or Christians cannot arise, they are Pakistanis (or Bangladeshis) first. The strong moral tenets of our religion makes their protection our religious obligation.
This is no time for recriminations about a vicious uni-polar Hindu society being extremely prejudiced and brooking no dissent. For the sake of the well-being of the 160 million muslims who live in India, it is incumbent upon us to work with India to ensure their safety and security remains paramount. Neither by spoken word, electronic images or in print, should we do anything that will put them at any risk. The urban population of both Karachi and Hyderabad have relations living in Gujerat, obviously they are anguished, anxious that their kith and kin are not subjected to any further harm. As a muslim homeland Pakistan was the aspiration of all the muslims of India, therefore Pakistan and Bangladesh have a responsibility, not only to their own citizens but those who by force of geography are Indian citizens. Keeping in view the welfare and contentment of muslims spread so far and wide in India in small pockets they are virtually helpless, we need a spirit of compromise and understanding. One must commend Indian TV commentators like Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt (and others) for having the courage to speak out on primetime for the defenceless and jog the conscience of the Indian leadership as to their responsibilities. Former Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu has been calling LK Advani a terrorist for years (proven now beyond doubt by the FIR in Karachi lodged as far back as Sep 47), he has exhorted an emergency All-Parties Conference in New Delhi to demand that the Center hand over Gujerat to the Indian Army as they had no confidence in the BJP Chief Minister. Ominously some of BJP’s Coalition parties endorsed this view quite openly.
Former IBM-Boss Nisar Memon became Federal Minister of Information again (previously during the 1993 Caretaker Regime) a few days before the SAARC Information Ministers Conference, how will he reconcile his “Reformer’s” view of the men in uniform with furthering the image of the military regime? As a man of pragmatism one hopes his principles will not make him change his views to suit the occasion and he will stand up in public for what he believes in private. He will have is hands full controlling the prima donnas in his new incumbency, particularly the consummate liar who has been given an extension as MD PTV. The media is a strange world, a few years ago there was an embarrassing moment at a dinner table in Karachi when one of the leading female lights (and another flower child lady) of the left-leaning liberal community in Lahore, an arty-type, labelled me a “fascist” when I ventured to defend the Army and explain a few misconceptions that those assembled were being subjected to, mainly the general lambasting of soldiers. I was hectored (not lectured) for having the temerity of defending the uniform which I once wore. They made it clear my presence was on sufferance out of consideration for the hostess. But lo and behold, both these female pseudo-intellectuals, claws safely tucked in, are now solidly in the ranks of those commercially engaged for image-building of the present military regime! The colour of money is often known to interfere with one’s principles, it can make anyone pragmatic. One of the greatest providers-of in the advertising field being their main sponsor, it all came together very rapidly. Greed has made stranger bedfellows, pun very much intended!
The BJP’s Coalition partners may have exercised their moral indignation, it is extremely disappointing that neither Ms Benazir Bhutto nor Altaf Hussain have voiced their concern for the blood relations of the refugees who migrated to Pakistan over the years. With the Indian Armed Forces poised menacingly on our borders, neither Ms Benazir Bhutto or Altaf Hussain have shown any undue concern for Pakistan’s welfare, not one measly word! One does not expect Benazir Bhutto will burn her bridges with India by criticizing (let alone condemning) anything that the Indians do, but one did expect Altaf Hussain (now that he has a baby daughter and therefore a stake in life) to stand up for his ethnic community. There is a “great game” going on here that defies logic presently but unless we get our leaders to spell out their patriotism unambiguously, the scenario may take a course detrimental to Pakistan. It may be a long, hot summer before we come to the October 2002 Elections.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).