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March 6, 2019

Our burden of history

Opinion

March 6, 2019

A couple of years ago, there were riots in some Muslim neighbourhoods of Sri Lanka. Mobs of Buddhist Sinhalese were upset that their Tamil Muslim compatriots had supported the Pakistani cricket team over Sri Lanka’s. Tamil Muslims have been living in Sri Lanka for ages and few have ever stepped foot inside Pakistan. They cannot understand any of the languages spoken in Pakistan and nor can we understand Tamil, yet they have an inexplicable emotional attachment to Pakistan.

Indian politicians trying to gain currency with Hindu nationalist voters often accuse Indian Muslims of being Pakistanis at heart, and there are always tales of mithai being distributed in Muslim neighbourhoods whenever the Pakistani cricket team wins.

Before Partition, Muslims everywhere in India supported the All India Muslim League; this included those people who knew that under no circumstances would their village or city ever become part of Pakistan. Muslims living as far away as Nepal and Kerala supported the Muslim League and gave a helping hand in the creation of Pakistan.

This is the burden of history Pakistan and Pakistanis must live with. But this burden gets more acute. A few months ago an 11-year-old girl was killed in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IOK) by the Indian Army. I am aware of how much the Kashmiris hate the Indian occupation and yearn for freedom but even then I was shocked to see that the girl was draped for burial in a green crescent flag and her mother was raising slogans of Pakistan Zindabad. This brave mother sacrificed her everything for Pakistan, and this is not a small debt on us Pakistanis.

For South Asian Muslims, Pakistan is second their home, their sanctuary, this nation which will take them in a warm embrace whenever the outside world threatens them or rejects them or “others” them.

We have seen minorities being othered in India repeatedly, with the massacre of Sikhs following the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the Gujarat riots being just two examples. Videos of Indian security men, not just in IOK but in India too, beating Muslim men and asking them to say Pakistan Murdabad abound. A video showed a bus driver forced to walk over a green religious flag attached to his bus. How that driver must have felt one cannot even imagine, but since he seemed to be an elderly man he was probably able to deal with the psychological trauma. But not everyone can handle it.

We know of a 16-year-old boy who was stopped by paramilitary forces in IOK and forced to draw a circle in dirt with his nose around their jeep. That teenager, Adil Dar, couldn’t ever get over this and other dehumanising and humiliating acts – and ended up becoming the Pulwama suicide bomber.

Islam doesn’t allow suicide bombing and no sane person can justify it. But one has to be completely oblivious to the reality of Kashmir to not see that the oppression and humiliation the Indian Army metes out daily in Kashmir will have consequences.

In the aftermath of Pulwama, Kashmiri students in India were attacked by Hindu mobs, evicted from homes, colleges and jobs, and India’s Muslims had to bend over backwards to convince their Hindu compatriots of their loyalty. How can India’s Muslim not feel ‘othered’ if they have to prove their loyalty on a daily basis.

But after years of brutal occupation, the plight of Kashmiris is increasingly not accepted as valid by the international community. Even as oppression in Kashmir has worsened in recent years, international sympathy for the Kashmiri cause has decreased. And I think we Pakistanis must accept a large share of the blame for this.

Two years ago, after the martyrdom of Burhan Wani, when India’s cruel and indiscriminate use of pellet guns was at its worst, and the world had begun to take notice of the blinding and killing of innocent Kashmiris, Pathankot happened. India blamed Pakistan-based non-state actors (NSAs) for it and the international narrative changed from India’s oppression in Kashmir to Pakistan’s alleged tolerance of NSAs.

Now after the Pulwama attack, India was again able to change the narrative from its oppression in Kashmir to the existence of NSAs in Pakistan. The anti-Pakistan narratives arising out of these incidents are a great disservice to the Kashmir cause.

It was truly shocking that the international community sided with India as the country intruded into Pakistan’s airspace and bombed trees in Balakot. America, France and Germany approved the Indian attack and asked Pakistan to dismantle the NSA network. Except for Turkey, not a single country accepted our position regarding the NSAs. Even the OIC invited the Indian foreign minister as a guest of honour and went on to tolerate the boycott of the Pakistani foreign minister. Let’s be clear and honest: Pakistan today is largely isolated when it comes to our ability to support Kashmiri Muslims.

India’s plan was to militarily attack and diplomatically isolate Pakistan. But the awesome display of bravery by our armed forces, with a proud effort by Squadron Leader Hasan Mehmood Siddiqui of the PAF, thwarted India’s plan. If India had succeeded, Pakistan would’ve cut a sorry figure in the world – under attack and diplomatically isolated. Fortunately, our armed forces have restored our honour and put India in its place. We must, therefore, build on this success by vowing to carry our burden of history and never failing the people of Kashmir.

The children of many of our most religious and nationalistic leaders live a comfortable life outside Pakistan as successful professionals. This suggests that economic realities often come to dominate feelings of nationalism and religious zeal over time. If India and other countries of South Asia get much ahead of us economically, the allure and dream of Pakistan in the hearts and minds of South Asian Muslims is bound to fade. I am happy that Pakistan still evokes a feeling of warmth in the hearts of non-Pakistani Muslims thousands of miles away. But an economically weak, terror-ridden Pakistan will not be able to maintain this allure.

In newspaper reports we have seen that from the FATF to the UN, and from Western nations to the OIC, our stated position regarding NSAs is not being accepted. Even our friend China tells us to tighten our grip on NSAs. If our existing policies are failing to achieve our desired objectives, then there is nothing wrong with going back to the drawing board and thinking anew. Yet, we have made adherence to this failing policy a test of patriotism.

Now is the time to rethink our policy. If not for the sake of 200 million Pakistanis then for the sake of even more subcontinental Muslims, especially Kashmiris, for whom Pakistan is a dream that’s slipping away.

The writer has served as federalminister for finance, revenue andeconomic affairs.

Twitter: @MiftahIsmail

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