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To Islamabad and the Frontier

By Rajmohan Gandhi

Indications of an American resolve to control world events have made many Pakistanis watchful if not fearful, and in their nervousness they look wistfully at India.

FOR WHATEVER they may be worth, let me put down my impressions from a three-day visit to Pakistan made via Dubai in the third week of May. The visit was primarily for research for a new study on Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan — I hoped to meet the surviving colleagues as well as his descendants and also those of his older brother, Khan Sahib. Before Partition, Dr. Khan Sahib had twice served, in alliance with the Indian National Congress, as Chief Minister of the Frontier province. In the 1950s, he became a Minister in Pakistan's Central Cabinet and, later, Chief Minister of a one-unit West Pakistan.

I must record the tremulous hope and guarded wistfulness noticeable in Pakistani attitudes towards India. These reactions were triggered, of course, by Atal Behari Vajpayee's call from Srinagar for an Indo-Pakistan rapprochement, but they were shaped, too, by America's intervention in Iraq.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and accompanying indications of an American resolve to control world events have made many Pakistanis watchful if not fearful, and in their nervousness they look wistfully at India.

As they look around for possible protection, several Pakistanis seem to ask whether friendship with India might not be one way of obtaining it. In this connection they think of China, too, of course, and also of Russia, France and Germany, and, despite a difficult relationship, of Iran as well. Yet, India connotes a distinctiveness that Pakistanis cannot get over even if they would like to.

A senior officer in the Pakistani police who, I am sure, also has some intelligence responsibilities said to me: "We have a natural relationship with India that we do not have with the Arabs or with Iran. Some things in the Arab world are unacceptable to us. With Indians we can talk heart-to-heart, not with the rest." He added: "Indians and Pakistanis should rethink their relations. The border between us is real but unnatural. The border should remain but similar people live on either side." "All we need from India," he went on "is some reassurance of friendship." Men like this Pakistani seem to have expectations of Mr. Vajpayee and hope that inside the Prime Minister's heart the poet will overcome the politician.

A key government figure was a good deal less optimistic. He did not see summitry on the agenda anytime soon, and he favoured negotiations over every step up the mountain. But he wanted to know why Mr. Vajpayee made that statement in Srinagar. I replied that I did not know but my guess I said was that Mr. Vajpayee was at times mindful of history's verdicts, and also that he probably desired a continuance of the popular participation he was seeing in Kashmir. I added that when asked what lay behind his Srinagar utterance, Mr. Vajpayee had answered "Iraq".

The leader in Islamabad I was talking to thought that it was Mr. Vajpayee's Kashmiri audience that had elicited his unexpected remarks. Did the remarks, he asked, signify a substantive shift in the Indian position? How much backing did Mr. Vajpayee's call have in the Indian Cabinet? As for American "pressure" on Pakistan and India, the leader claimed there was no such thing. "All that the Americans provide is stimulus", he said.

Not surprisingly, Government personalities and the Pakistani public seemed to differ on the question of American pressure. The Islamabad Government has to show the Pentagon, the U.S. State Department, and the White House that it is cooperating with Washington — it has no other option. Pakistani citizens, on their part, seem deeply resentful of the new American position.

Anti-establishment opinions are on occasion voiced in the establishment's halls. On May 15, along with a few hundred residents of Islamabad, I heard Tariq Ali, the London-based commentator and activist, deliver the Eqbal Ahmad Memorial lecture in the auditorium of the National Library. The audience seemed to include former members of the civil and military wings of the Pakistani Government, academics and students. A good percentage was that of women. The backdrop for the outspoken speaker on the stage was a large portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah when young, surrounded by books.

Mr. Ali made the following blunt points: The creation of Pakistan had weakened India's Muslim minority. Also, it was the Pakistani army, and its GHQ, that lost East Pakistan in 1970-72. Not to allow Sheikh Mujibur Rehman to form a Government after he won the election was the army's decision, and it resulted in Bangladesh.

Coping with the hegemon, Mr. Ali added, was the challenge before Pakistan now, and it required improved relations with India. A Kashmir solution would be easier in the context of a South Asian Economic Union, for which Pakistan should take the initiative, even if India does not. Jehadis were moving into Kashmir, he said, and Pakistan should not deny it, but China too should be involved in any India-Pakistan settlement over Kashmir.

An Islamabad-based analyst explained Pakistan's media scene to me. Evidently, new TV channels and many newspapers offer space to criticism of President Pervez Musharraf and the Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, but if they so choose security agencies can still make life difficult for individual journalists. Jang, the Urdu paper with the largest circulation, has apparently called for peace with India. TV programmes are livelier and less austere than before, and the regional Press is strong and influential in Sindh, the Frontier, and Balochistan. Anti-India propaganda seems to have toned down.

Jinnah's secularist side is now more emphasised than in the past, especially the August 11, 1947, speech in which Pakistan's founder said that religion was a citizen's personal affair. The analyst talking to me pointed out that the two newspapers that Jinnah had founded, Dawn, owned by the Haroon family, and Pakistan Times, which belonged to Mian Iftikharuddin, once a Congress leader in the Punjab, had a non-religious tone.

The analyst also spoke of Pakistan's recent heroes, whether or not famous. Among the well-known ones on his list are Maulana Edhi, who created a great network for medical relief for the common person, Akhtar Hameed Khan, who helped thousands of poor women in Karachi, Eqbal Ahmad, who fought for justice inside and outside Pakistan, the cricketer, Imran Khan (for his cancer hospital), human rights activists Asma Jahanguir and I.A. Rehman, and the nuclear scientist committed to peace, Pervez Hoodbhoy.

Ruled now by parties of the religious right, the Frontier province emerges soon after one proceeds westwards from Islamabad. I was lucky to find Ajmal Khan Khattak in his humble home in Akora Khattak, beyond the Indus. Once Badshah Khan's young lieutenant, Mr. Khattak spent years with him in Afghanistan and offered a host of memories.

And I was able to meet Badshah Khan's surviving children, Wali Khan, the famous political figure of the NWFP, and his half-sister, Mehr Taj, whose husband Yahya Jan, a schoolmaster who became a Minister in the Frontier, was the brother of the late Mohammed Yunus, who had made India his home.

Dr. Khan Sahib had three sons (Sadullah, Obeidullah and Hidayatullah) from his Pathan wife and a son (Jan) and a daughter (Mariam) from his English wife. None of the five children is alive. Ghaffar Khan had two sons, the poet-artist, Ghani, and Wali, from his first wife, who died early, and a daughter (Mehr Taj) and a son (Abdul Ali), who was the principal of Lahore's reputed Aitchison College, from his second wife, who also died soon after her children were born.

It was my good fortune to meet three generations of the Khan brothers' descendants.

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