Photograph of Anil Chawla

Author - Anil Chawla

An article that looks at the new war raging across the world from an Indian perspective.

The war that began on 11th September, 2001 has entered its first phase on the evening of 7th October. US missiles and planes have bombed Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden has declared it to be a Jihad between the true Muslims and the Kafirs, while USA is trying its best to portray it as a war of civilized world versus terrorists. In the midst of all these, India is confused.

At the people level, there are various undercurrents in India. On the one hand, there is a strong sense of sympathy for the underdog, while on the other the wounds inflicted by terrorists are still fresh. The muslims (constituting about 15% of the population) are generally inclined to have a sympathetic view of the logic of terrorist attacks. Many muslims believe (rightly or wrongly) that the attack on WTC was carried out by jews with the aim of disgracing muslims. Stories about how thousands of jews working in WTC came late to office on that fateful morning and how a major jewish bank moved out of WTC two days before the attack can be heard in muslim localities across the country. On the other hand, some staunch Hindus who have strong anti-muslim feelings cannot hide their glee. The spectre of civil war in Pakistan has also brought smiles on many faces. Amidst all these emotive reactions, objectivity seems to have taken the back seat.

Looking objectively at a great war like the present one is difficult. In India's case, it is made all the more difficult by its diversity and by its multi-dimensional culture and history. Indian mind cannot accept that US actions are Operation Infinite Justice or even Operation Freedom. Many analysts in India have written that the most horrible act of terrorism in the world was carried out by USA when it dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sanctions that have led to the death of thousands of children due to lack of milk powder and medicines are also seen as terrorist acts. Indians cannot also forget the fact that the same countries who are crying hoarse about the nexus between drugs and terrorism are the ones who fought opium wars just a century ago in the name of right of free trade. Freedom for the white man at that time included the right to sell opium in China. When the brown / black man asked for the same right in USA, it became a capital crime. Similarly white man argued for his freedom and right to settle in America, but the present day immigrants have no such right and freedom. Votaries of freedom of trade and investment oppose freedom of men to migrate and work productively.

Operation Enduring Freedom of USA continues to be haunted by too many such uncomfortable questions and historical baggage. Just when Anthrax scare forces Americans to stock antibiotics, there are some who talk of Infinite Justice and remind that a few centuries earlier biological warfare was used in the same land that is now known as USA. It is said that spreading smallpox by distributing infected blankets to the natives was just one of the dark episodes of the most horrendous genocides carried out by man on earth. Even if these charges of crimes committed a few centuries ago are baseless, memories of USA walking away from international conventions and conferences on slavery, racism and many such issues are a bit too recent.

The point is simple. Not many in India are willing to grant USA and Britain the high moral ground that they seek for themselves. Of course, this does not mean that Indians are willing to treat Osama Bin Laden and Taiban as warriors of God. For thousands of years invaders have come to India from Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. Barbarism of the inhabitants of that mountainous region is well accepted by even muslims of India. Intellectual progressive muslims (like Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer) refuse to accept that the barbaric extremism practiced by Osama or Kashmir militants is Islamic. It can be said that by and large the Indian psyche has a strong distrust and even aversion for the mix of violence, bloodshed, politics, power and religion that has been carried out for more than one thousand years by people using the name of Islam.

This puts India in a situation where it has no bonds of love for either side in the great war that is unfolding across the world. The word love denotes emotions which seem out of place in the hard realities of international politics. Governments often have a tendency to ignore the emotive issues. However, no war can be fought unless the people are emotively charged to fight. No government can adopt a path opposed to the emotions of its people without plunging the country in a state of turmoil. Pakistan is learning this lesson in a slow and expensive way. India will do well to learn the lesson from the predicament of its neighbour. India needs to identify, define and develop its emotional stance.

Deciding emotional issues is not the same as conducting international diplomacy. This is the point which distinguishes leaders from mere politicians. Guiding the country to help the people form their emotions and ideas in line with their own national interests, character, history and culture is something that requires leaders with long-term vision and determination. Unfortunately, India has too many politicians and too few leaders. Kashmir and Pakistan continue to dominate the perspective of our ruling class who are so tied down with day-to-day short term problems that they have neither a world view nor an understanding of historical realities.

It is not often realized that Kashmir problem and Pakistan are both symptoms of a deep-rooted disease and are not the disease themselves. Jinnah, the father of Pakistan, was neither an extremist nor a devout muslim. He was a pawn in the game that Europeans and Americans have played for the past two centuries. Hindu-muslim riots started in India during the British period. Creation of Pakistan was an act of the British Parliament and not of the people of Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan. Stroking the fires of muslim fundamentalism has been the favourite pastime of the imperial powers as and when it suited them. They created Pakistan and Taliban. The arms used by all terrorists across the world are more often than not manufactured in the factories of Western powers whose economy gains from the arms trade. Even now the support that US and Britain have extended to Indian concerns is only partial.

To understand the underlying disease, one must understand that the present war is not a war of civilizations as the Western nations would have us believe. It is the war of two opposing forces of imperialism, both more brutal than each other. Islam has been a cover used by one set of imperialists who ruled India from about 1000AD upto the beginning of nineteenth century. The other set of imperialists ruled India thereafter. In the last century, the white imperialists modified their methods and instead of taking on the burden of day-to-day governance exercised their might through innovative schemes and white-collared strategies. Divide and rule - the maxim that formed the basis of British rule in India has been the foundation of the international world order dominated by USA. In this scheme of things religious fundamentalism has been a convenient tool used by the western powers to further their own interests.

The problem is that in using religious fundamentalism as a tool, the western powers inadvertently strengthened the forces that had opposed them for hundreds of years. History of crusades is a distant memory for the white man who is busy enjoying his wealth. It is not as distant a memory for the poor muslim who feels a sense of deprivation, a feeling that his empire has been snatched away from him. Islam, as it exists in religious books, may be humane but historically Islam has been the backbone of a cruel, inhuman, imperial movement that brought immense power and riches to some of its followers. Ignoring this historical context, Britain created Pakistan, the only nation without history, without traditions and founded on the principle of Islamic nationhood - a concept that has worldwide implcations.

The seed of Islamic nationhood nurtured by British, America and western powers has now grown into a poisonous monster that has spread across almost every country in the world. India lost more than fifty thousand innocent lives during the past ten years due to this poisonous monster, but that did not move USA. It needed five thousand american lives to be lost for the western world to feel the bad breath of this monster. As the western nations rise up to face this monster, they have not given up their old methods. There is no recognition that the encouragement to two-nation theory given by them during the last century in India is the seed of the current crisis or that the existence of Pakistan is the problem and not the key to a solution.

In the midst of this war between two imperial mindsets, India must define her own independent ideological position. Kashmir is a small issue in this great clash of titanic proportions. As a nation, India can take two courses. India can either act as an imperial power that has no desire to let go the land-mass known as Kashmir or alternatively India can display a willingness to let Kashmir go its own course (while integrating Jammu and Laddakh into India) and act as a country that condemns all imperialist forces and designs. The second course is the new path of non-alignment in the present war.

The first course seems to be politically convenient. It seems expedient to mouth rhetoric and act brave. It is also the course which takes us closer to USA and allies. The possibility of settling Kashmir issue with the help of US help seems apparently too attractive. There are many smart analysts across the country who appear on television every other evening and argue for India playing a proactive role as a frontline ally of USA. Such analysts believe that India must be on the side of winner (read USA) and that it is a great opportunity. A long bloody war with casualities running into millions on both sides seems a bit too far fetched to them.

There are only two possible war scenarios -

  1. The war is short and USA emerges as a winner. In such a case after the war USA will not need India and hence will be least inclined to help India get back its lost territory from Pakistan.

  2. The war is long and bloody. Such a war will bleed USA and all allies. The wounds that such a war may afflict may be more painful than the small gains that India may get from getting hold of some land.

In other words, irrespective of the course that the war takes there is very little chance that India may gain anything substantial from it.

In such a situtation, the best option for India seems to be to keep a distance from both imperialists; take the moral high ground and preach peace and restraint to both parties; continue the fight against terrorists in Kashmir but save Ladakh and Jammu by separating these territories from Kashmir and integrating them with India; be prepared to accept the loss of Kashmir unless the Kashmiri people want to be part of India and if it be so, act on a plan of integrating Kashmir fully with India; form bonds of friendship with like-minded individuals and groups across the world especially in Pakistan.

India has been traditionally viewed as an apostle of peace. It is high time that India acquired a role in international politics in line with its image. This war is the defining moment in history. It may cause destruction never seen before. Yet, after all the destruction, the world will survive. At that time the world will need a soothing touch. Let India prepare for that moment. Let India prepare to heal and rejuvenate rather than join the mad war fuelled by imperial greed. India was a world Guru for a long time. Let India prepare to be a world guru once again.


14 October 2001

Please write to me your comments about the above article.

ANIL CHAWLA is an engineer by qualification but a philosopher by vocation and a management consultant by profession.

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