Thursday, April 23, 2009

Legacy of 47

It is a truly remarkable feat, that since the end of the British Raj, India has maintained a relatively stable and well functioning democracy. In a country with such a large, mainly rural and poor population, rife with ethnic, religious and linguistic difference, India's democratic institutions and tradition deserve praise.

Of course, India's modern history has its dark moments, such as the suppression of Sikh rights and the invasion of the Harmandir Sahib complex in 1984. In addition, various Hindu-Right governments have used their influence to stoke communal conflict and violence against Muslims. Its not perfect, but as the elections currently taking place show, India proves that a largely developing and heterogeneous country needn't suffer the pains of dictatorship or obscurantism.

The day Viceroy Mountbatten lowered the Union Jack from Indian soil for the last time, Mohammad Jinnah raised the flag of the believers to the west, in the newly created nation of Pakistan. Since then, a nation built largely on religious homogeneity, Pakistan's relationship with democracy has been uneasy at best. There seems to be an oscillation between resurgent democracy and outright military dictatorship that moves with sine-wave regularity. However, today, as Indians go the polls, Pakistanis are left to deal with a civilian government that has ceaded parts of the country to Sharia Law and Talibinization.

The capitulation of the Swat Valley bodes badly for whatever public confidence Islamabad may have had up to this point. The increasing polarization of the population between moderate, secular forces and Islamic fundamentalists sympathetic to the Taliban's obscurantist vision of the faith, is being felt not only in the far flung provinces of the northwest, but also in major urban centers such as Lahore and Karachi. In the meantime, Washington has unequivocally raised the level of rhetoric and has just stopped short of saying that all would be done to prevent Islamabad from falling.

Pakistan is at a critical juncture in its history. It is unlikely that The Obama administration will sit back and continue to let Zardari's administration fail to reign in Taliban advances. If the ISI still has designs on Afghanistan as an imperial appendage of Pakistan, then it can only be done with implicit coorperation with murderous and regressive elements within the Islamist movement, which will ultimately spill its bile into the Pakistani Military and eventually the civil administration as well. The threat to India is perahps greatest, and nothing should frighten the West more than a conflict between an unstable Pakistan and an ascendant India, both nuclear states with a 60 plus year unsettled grudge.

As I have stated before, Pakistan will be the first serious international crisis of the Obama administration, excluding those he inherited. The legacy of 1947 is coming to a head. The final outcome of this endgame will likely effect not only South Asia, but the Middle East and the West as well. May God bless us all . . .