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LETTER FROM LAHORE
Concentric Circles of Dread

by F.S. AIJAZUDDIN

 

Fakir Syed Aijazuddin, OBE, FCA, was educated at Aitchison College, Lahore, and at Berkhamsted School, England. He is a Chartered Accountant by qualification and has had a varied career in the textile, automotive, fertilizer, insurance and investment banking sectors in Pakistan, and in the oil and gas industry in the United Arab Emirates.

His previous books include a catalogue of Sikh and Pahari Miniature Paintings in the Lahore Museum Collection (1977), and a biographical study of Sikh Portraits in the Lahore Fort (1979). He is widely respected as a scholar in, inter alia, the area of Sikh art and history.

More recently, he has published an account of Dr. Henry Kissinger's secret visit via Pakistan to Beijing in July 1971, and a compilation of 209 secret declassified documents of Richard Nixon's presidency, titled The White House & Pakistan, Secret Declassified Documents 1969-1974.

Fakir Aijazuddin is also a direct descendant of the esteemed Fakir brothers who adorned Maharajah Ranjit Singh's court as three of his top ministers, advisers and confidants, and who remained loyal to Sikh interests through thick and thin during the tumultuous post-Ranjit Singh period.

Fakir Aijazuddin currently lives, teaches and writes in Lahore. At the end of December 2008, he will take over as Principal of Aitchison College, Lahore.  

 

 

We are back in the doghouse yet again.

Has there ever been a time ever since we opened our eyes on August 14, 1947 when we have not found ourselves in the crib of a controversy?

The only red associated with our independence was not the colour of the rose petals that should have been showered, but the colour of the blood that flowed from the massacre of unwilling migrants.

We hurriedly - some say, necessarily - allied ourselves with the United States then, and again repeatedly thereafter, without a second look at the consequences of such a fealty, nor at other countries that might have provided our foreign policy with other legs to balance upon.

Over the past 62 years, we have witnessed political mayhem and madness, militarism and militancy, mediocrity in leadership and mendaciousness in our governance. Whenever we thought we had reached rock bottom, we discovered that the bottom is itself layered, like a millefeuille, into a thousand slices. How much further do we have to fall before we crawl back towards our potential?

The latest spate of terrorist attacks in Mumbai has disturbed the mechanical equilibrium of India's commercial capital, a city that prides itself on being the brain of India to New Delhi's brawn. It survives not because it is there, like Kolkata, but because it possesses an unquenchable determination to survive. It is Karachi during the riots, London during the wartime blitz.

It is precisely because of its fragile vulnerability - hundreds of foreign visitors, millions commuting in and out of Mumbai on caterpillar trains everyday, trillions being made every hour at business bourses - that it represents such a tempting and visible target. It is like the unguarded refinery tanks in Karachi's Keamari terminal were at the onset of the 1971 war.

Every Karachiite alive at the time will recall the two Indian planes that flew across the mudflats of Korangi and then bombed the petroleum tanks, igniting a blaze that illuminated a blacked-out Karachi.

But that was wartime.

Come to think of it, there has never been a declaration of war between India and Pakistan. We fought in 1965 and in 1971 without such diplomatic niceties. The present assaults in Mumbai are qualitatively different. They are not acts of war; they are acts intended to provoke war.

The very selection of the targets - the two most famous and luxurious hotels in Mumbai (watering holes for the limitlessly rich and ineffably famous), a railway station crowded with plebeian commuters, a hospital for helpless mothers and innocent children, and a Jewish centre with an expatriate rabbi - makes one wonder whether such an attack could have been state-sponsored terrorism.

Would any government, even a dyslexic Pakistani government, have the capacity to plan such a focused attack, or dare to undertake such a misadventure, cognisant of its consequences? After the lesson of Kargil, would any thinking government want to receive such extra coaching?

Think about it for a moment. The Pakistan Army is stretched to uncomfortable limits in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and the NWFP (North West Frontier Province) and hardly needs the additional strain of defending another front on our country's ragged borders.

Our government has just received a shot in the arm from the International Monetary Fund that has provided fiscal respite until we sink into a predictable relapse. The trends in the economy show a downward slide rather than an upward incline. Would any government dare risk losing such a life-saving lifeline?

The Pakistani public is neither prepared nor equipped for a war against India. Where are the civil defence units that can mobilize our men and convert them into trained combatants? Switzerland, which has not fought a war in 500 years, keeps its male population perpetually trained as a military reserve. Who has the evacuation plans ready for our women and children, and where are the centres to which they will be taken swiftly and safely, beyond harm's way?

Who is the Pakistani Yudhishtra who would dare risk everything - the future of the peace process, the future of Indo-Pak relations themselves, the future of 170 million essentially peace-loving people, in security and with neighbours, the future of the very state of Pakistan itself - on such a foolhardy gamble?

Anyone who has walked in the last footsteps Mahatma Gandhi took in the grounds of Birla House, anyone who has seen in a glass showcase all that was left - a pair of empty joggers - of Rajiv Gandhi after that suicide bomb attack (a macabre first) in Sriperumbudur (Tamil Nadu, India), anyone who has stood on Shahrah-i-Quaid-i-Azam in Karachi where Benazir Bhutto almost lost her life and on the busy road in Rawalpindi where she finally did, anyone aware of these mute cenotaphs of sacrifice must know that terrorism is an explosive weapon whose shards hurt and wound each one of us, regardless of whether we are Indians or Pakistanis.

Patriots on both sides of the border know that they, too, are being held hostage, as surely as the victims in the Taj and the Oberoi were, by terrorists whose perverted dogma knows no theology except nihilism and hate.

It was once asked by someone of a senior functionary in the ISI (Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence) what, if he was his counterpart in RAW (India's Research and Analysis Wing), would he fear most from the ISI. He responded: the very fact that RAW fears us is a measure of our success.

One wishes that the terrorists who jeopardize our lives daily were as afraid of both the ISI and RAW. Meanwhile, over a billion people who do not know enough about each other to hate each other with conviction are condemned to move within concentric circles of dread.

 

[Courtesy: Dawn]

December 6, 2008

Conversation about this article

1: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), December 06, 2008, 10:36 AM.

Fakir Aijazuddin is exactly right in his view of the tenuous state and poignant history of Indo-Pak relations. In the current crisis, what if the terrorists' goal of raising tensions between the neighbors is meant to ensure that the bulk of the Pakistan army, which is currently deployed along the Afghan border, would now be moved to its border with India? This would leave the Pak-Afghan border relatively lightly patrolled - meaning more freedom and manuevering room for the Taliban.

2: Ravinder Singh Taneja (Westerville, Ohio, U.S.A.), December 08, 2008, 6:55 PM.

Another line of thinking suggests that the current crisis was "manufactured" to open the way for breaking up Pakistan; that this is part of a strategy that involves the U.S., India and Israel. Highly improbable, but certainly not implausible.

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Concentric Circles of Dread"









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