The pace of developments in the Pak-Afghan belt resulting in the restoration of the Sharia-based rule of Taliban at Kabul with the active and open support of the present regime of Pakistan led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is a fundamentalist at heart, has pushed the world towards faith-based geopolitics in a manner that is too brazen to be ignored any more.
Politics relying on communal sentiments is not new — what is new is the assertion of ‘faith’ over politics in the Muslim world, to a degree where the community is being made to accept the line that nothing short of Jehad was needed at present to ‘defend Islam’ and protect the ‘Muslim lands’.
When 9/11 happened and the US declared the ‘war on terror’, two scholars of strategy — Dr Samuel Huntington and Prof Bernard Lewis, according to media reports they were consultants with the National Security Council in US — had ventured to warn the world that the event signalled a ‘clash of civilisations’.
The Al-Qaeda-Taliban axis behind the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers had planned and executed that unprecedented offensive from distant Afghanistan in pursuance of Jehad, carrying the historical legacy of the Wahhabi revolt of the 19th century against the Western usurpers of ‘Islamic’ territory and upgrading that fight from ‘use of the sword’ against the enemy to resort to the ‘covert’ weapon of terrorism.
In the European context Islamic radicals in some cases even claimed that the terror attack was meant to avenge the ‘Crusades’. It needs to be added that the epicentre of that Jehad was in Swat valley of what is now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in Pakistan explaining the Pashtun predominance of Taliban.
In classical Islam there is no distinction between the ‘religious’ and the ‘social or political’ dimensions of life and that is why the political decline of Muslims was responded to by the Ulema including Maulana Abdul Wahab of Arabia and his follower Shah Waliullah in British India.
All of this makes the current rise of militancy in the name of Jehad an extremely worrisome development for the democratic world. Since the protagonists of Jehad back it up with the ‘revivalist’ call for return to the period of puritanical Islam — a concept no ordinary ‘faithful’ would counter — there is a real danger of Islamic radicals prevailing over the Ummah and creating a ‘warfare of religion’ in the times to come.
‘Talibanisation’ of Muslim societies is the deeper risk to the future of democracy — the first preventive step against that has to come from within the Muslim world by way of a conscious announcement by the Saudi-led Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) that in today’s world Jehad should not be invoked for solving any political disputes involving an Islamic country.
Secularism is built into the character of a democratic state that is governed through an electoral process based on the twin principles of ‘one man one vote’ and prohibition on the elected political executive carrying any ‘denominational’ stamp. That is why an Islamic Republic falls short of a true democracy even when it claimed to be following a ‘moderate’ version of Islam.
In a democracy followers of a religion may be in a minority number-wise but they would have complete freedoms of faith and social customs provided these did not violate the civil and penal code of the state.
At the same time, in a democratic state the religious minorities are part of a common ‘political system’ by which the country was governed. There is no question of a communal identity being made the basis for demanding a ‘share’ in the political apex of governance that was installed through a secular electoral process.
It is amazing how this divisive idea continues to be advocated by sections of Muslim intelligentsia who easily forget the perils of the Partition of India. All citizens of India had the fundamental freedom to demand equality before law or equal opportunity to all for economic development — singly or through like minded groups — but this does not in any way justify projection of religion in the political realm of national governance.
Any case of public violence, whatever be the context, would be pursued to its logical conclusion, since equality before law and maintenance of order were at the root of democracy.
Election in a democracy, however, is a game of numbers and even if a community is in majority it does not mean that this will lead to ‘majoritarianism’ in terms of the sway of a particular faith on governance at the cost of minorities.
In India there is a lot of ‘minority politics’ and mobilising Muslim votes on ‘fear’ or ‘assertion of communal identity’ has been common. Many parties went by the cynical calculation that against a politically divided Hindu population, solid support of the large Muslim minority might be a match winner.
However, in the face of Pakistan-backed geopolitics of communal divide that would impact South Asia in the near term, it is extremely important that the thinking leadership of the minority here helped to keep the community from the politics of Pan-Islamism and work for national consolidation.
Nationalism is basically built on shared sentiments about the good things of the past and hope in the prospects of the future. All those who were born in India are the children of this motherland and this symbolism is in line with the Quranic injunction that ‘heaven lies at the feet of the mother’.
By giving the impression that they were opposed to the accepted symbols of nationalism some of the minority leaders are unwittingly creating grounds for a political backlash. This is totally avoidable. This is the time for them to join in the call for rejection of Islamic radicals. India is a practising democracy and its benefits are available to all communities. In the conflict-ridden geopolitics of these times, a strong sense of nationalism, to which every Indian is truly committed, is the base of our defence and security.
The average citizen belonging to one community or the other has the same concerns about livelihood issues and family well being — it is the communal-minded elite and the Ulema who had a history of indulging in faith-based politics for their vested interests. Islamic extremism and radicalism beaming out of the Pak-Afghan region warrant determined action in India against the Pak agents in hiding and those advocates of pro-Pak and anti-India line on Kashmir and other national issues, who crossed the line of law.
The victory of Taliban in Afghanistan has been welcomed in some circles of the minority community here — this would encourage Pakistan to play with India’s domestic scene. Spread of radicalisation in India is a threat that has multiplied because of the current developments in the Pak- Afghan territory in our immediate neighbourhood. India has to deal with Pakistan and Taliban on the merit of their bilateral responses towards this country.
The Doha talks between the US and Taliban have given Pakistan the new profile of a country that did business with radical forces and at the same time offered to mediate between the latter and their hostile opponents. Pakistan’s collaboration with these forces is primarily for targeting India.
The reality of Sino-Pak military alliance has enabled these two adversaries of India to handle a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to their advantage. Pakistan has played a role in establishing a working relationship between China and the Taliban on a ‘give and take’ basis.
Predictably, Pakistan has secured huge loans from both China and Saudi Arabia — one is a new ally against India and the other heavily banks on Pakistan in a situation where Saudis felt vulnerable to the aggressive and adversarial Islamic radicals.
US President Biden sticks to the American policy of banking on Taliban’s peace agreement promise of not letting Al-Qaeda indulge in anti-US activity from Afghan soil. Pakistan has, as expected, got a Taliban government of its choice installed at Kabul again.
It had sent ISI chief Lt.-Gen. Faiz Hameed on an official visit there to ensure that Pakistan retained its mentoring hold on the Taliban regime. Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund nominated as Prime Minister and Sarajuddin Haqqani appointed as Home Minister are UN designated terrorists — they were chosen by Pakistan. The US, it can be presumed, would have liked Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar who held negotiations with US at Doha, to head the government but he could be accommodated only as a Dy Prime Minister.
Mullah Baitullah Akhandzada is the supreme leader or the Emir providing broad guidance to the government. Afghanistan has a cabinet of terrorists and the first announcements from some of them confirm the worst fears about a repeat of the fanaticism that the Taliban rule of 1996 had displayed. The Pak hand in it operated from behind the scenes then but this time around it was open and blatant — Pakistan was confident of acquiring a complete say in Afghanistan once the American troops withdrew from there.
Significantly, the historical fact of Pakistan using the Hurriyat to spread subversion in J& K is proved once again with Prime Minister Imran Khan announcing a day of national mourning in Pakistan on the demise of Syed Shah Gillani, leader of Jamaat-e-Islami in Kashmir who owed allegiance to Pakistan.
Gillani founded the Hurriyat Conference to promote Pakistan’s claim on the state. Syed Salahuddin, Pak-based leader of Jamaat’s front Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir attended Gillani’s prayer meeting at Islamabad. There are plenty of indications that Pakistan is determined to intensify its proxy war against India on Kashmir in the wake of the return of the Emirate to Afghanistan.
For India, strategic convergence with Russia on the security dimensions of what is happening in Afghanistan is extremely important — notes exchanged between the two countries at the highest level have led to a quick follow-up on the process of top level consultations to monitor the impact of Afghan developments globally and in the region. Russia would welcome the exit of the US from Afghanistan but would be wary of the hold of Islamic radicals on that country.
In matters of defence and security President Putin has been a friend of India in a consistent way. Iran under the Ayatollah rule is a fierce opponent of Islamic radicals for reasons that are historic and this is enough for us to keep that country on our side by using diplomatic finesse. As regards the Biden administration, it looks unconcerned with cross-border terrorism stepped up by Pakistan against India in the wake of the Taliban’s success in Afghanistan.
India has to continue building up its ‘natural partnership’ with the US as a part of its strategy against an ‘expansionist’ China but we also have to bring the US President on the same page on the issue of the long-range threat to the security of the democratic order itself — arising from the new found axis between a fundamentalist Pakistan and the Communist dictatorship of China.
The Biden presidency can ignore this to its own peril and will do well to have a deep dialogue with India in the sphere of Security and Intelligence to fix the right strategy for safeguarding the interests of the comity of democratic nations. If this is not done, the image of the US as the leader of the Free World could take a beating.
It is not enough for President Biden to believe that anything like 9/11 would never occur — he has to collectively with the allies and friends of America, set off the strategy of countering the ascendancy of China as the second superpower on one the hand and thwarting the rise of Islamic extremism on the other. America’s security will not be complete if only half of the threat scenario is attended to.
(The writer is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau)